Friday, June 24, 2011

Robert Johnson and the Blues

Robert Johnson is well known to blues aficionados but his music is not as widely known as it could be. He was born in 1911 and died in 1938, age 27. He only recorded twenty-nine songs (and twelve alternate takes) in two recording sessions in 1936 and 1937. His recordings started to be re-issued in 1961 when they became a huge influence on a whole generation of English rockers like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. Here is one of his most well-known songs:

The most famous 'cover' of this song is that by Eric Clapton. Here he is, with Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums in the Cream reunion concert at Royal Albert Hall in 2005.

As you can hear, this is hugely different from the original, as are most rock versions of Robert Johnson songs. But in 2004, Eric Clapton released a CD and DVD entitled Sessions for Robert Johnson in which he offers both electric and acoustic versions of Robert Johnson's music. For one session, they returned to the original location of one of Robert Johnson's recording sessions: 508 Park Avenue in Dallas, Texas. Because he is attempting to return to the original music and atmosphere, this appeals to the historical musicologist in me! Here is Clapton with Doyle Bramhall II on slide guitar doing "Hellhound on My Trail".

Maybe this is a blues version of the "Early Music Movement" where they try and re-create historical musical styles.

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