Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stop Breaking Down


Stop Breaking Down
Download Track Listing/Jewel Case insert

This month's disc will cover Robert Johnson and his subsequent impact on the blues and more importantly rock and roll.

Robert made 63 recordings during his lifetime. 41 of them have been found and released. These 41 recordings are of 29 different songs. Only 11 of these were released as 78's during his lifetime, with another being released posthumously. Only one of them would have been considered a hit record by the standards of that time (a minor one, at that).

So why is held in such reverence today? Damn fine question. Timing is everything.

In 1961 the "King of the Delta Blues Singers" album was released. Around the same time time you have Son House spreading tales of Robert extraordinary talents and how he acquired them from selling his soul to the devil. Couple this with an exploding folk blues movement and the start of the British invasion - Bingo, Bango - a legend is born. The argument has been made that if his songs were not prevalently covered by white rock musicians, he would have been just a footnote in the history of the blues

Which isn't to say Robert didn't have some mad skills. Keith Richards, when he first heard him at Brian Jones' apartment, wanted to know who the other guitar player was - he couldn't believe that there was only one guitar player making the music he was hearing. And the songs he wrote have become classics . . . except he didn't necessarily write them, or at least all of them. In true blues fashion, it would seem that he may have nicked more that a few of them from his contemporaries.

One fan of his mad skills during his lifetime was John Hammond. Hammond was recruiting talent for a concert at Carnegie Hall - Spirituals to Swing - and sent for Robert to be there. Robert was unable to make the trip, however, because he was dead - poisoned by a jealous husband of a women Robert was putting the squeeze on. Hammond recovered from this disappointment, however, to go onto launch the careers of, among others, Billy Holiday, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The collection I present to you on this disc is specifically intended to show the different arrangements his music has been bent and formed into, from solo acoustic (Clapton's "From Four Till Late"), gospel (Taj Mahal's "Sweet Home Chicago"), hard rock (Cream's "Crossroads"), piano blues (Peter Green's "Phonograph Blues") to full fleshed out rhythm & blues (Ike Turner's "Dust My Broom")


32-20 Blues
Robert Johnson
November 26th, 1936
The Complete Recordings
Let's see . . . we've got a brother talking about laying a beat down on his cheating bitch . . . Robert was the first rap star! "Robert Johnson" is not a very good rap name, however. Let's see if we can't find another one for him . . . R.Johnson (nah - too much like R.Kelly) . . . how about Puff Bobby (nah, that's been done too) . . . I got it - RoJoSo! That's fizzle my gizzle.

32-20 Blues
Gov't Mule
1999
Live...With a Little Help from Our Friends
These guys sound a lot like the Allman Brothers . . . which is no surprise since that's where they came from from.


Cross Road Blues (Alternate Take)
Robert Johnson
November 27th, 1936
The Complete Recordings
We'll discuss the whole "selling soul to the devil" thing here. Legend had it that you could go to the crossroads, hand the devil your guitar and he would in turn tune it in exchange for your soul. Follow the lyrics, however, and it's obvious that he was hitchhiking.

Crossroads
Cream
1968
Crossroads
Probably the most famous cover of one of Robert Johnson's songs. It's not a complete cover of the song, however. The "Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
You can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside" lyric is from another Robert Johnson song "Traveling Riverside Blues", which will be covered on a future disc.


I Believe I'll Dust My Broom
Robert Johnson
November 23rd, 1936
The Complete Recordings
This is one of the songs he nicked. Supposedly it is derived from Kokomo Arnold's "Sagefield Woman Blues". By all accounts, the bottle neck riff used was all his and has subsequently been used many times over.

Dust My Broom
Ike & Tina Turner
1966
Shake a Tail Feather
If Ike Turner hadn't been such an asshole, he would be regarded as a genius. He really produced some fantastic music over the years. Of course, now Tina gets all the credit these days.


From Four Till Late
Robert Johnson
June 19th, 1937
The Complete Recordings
One of my favorites songs from Robert Johnson. To me it sounds different than the rest of his stuff. Always partial to the "A woman is like a dresser, some man always
ramblin' through its drawers" lyric as well.

From Four Until Late
Eric Clapton
2004
Sessions for Robert J.
2nd of 3 appearances of Eric on this disc (Cream & John Mayall). Could have made a whole disc of just Clapton covering Robert Johnson - he made 2 discs of it himself.


Last Fair Deal Gone Down
Robert Johnson
November 27th, 1936
The Complete Recordings
"If you cry about a nickel, you'll die about a dime"

Last Fair Deal Gone Down
Keb' Mo'
1996
Just Like You
Keb' Mo' is nice. A little too white. But nice none the same.


Love In Vain Blues
Robert Johnson
June 20th, 1937
The Complete Recordings
Though it may not be his bluesiest sounding song, it is definitely his saddest. For the longest time, however, when he sang "When the train rolled up to the station and I looked here in the eye" I always took that as he looked into the train's eye - i.e. it's light. Makes more sense that he looked into Willie Mae's eye . . .

Love in Vain
Rolling Stones
1995
Stripped
This song was not on "King of the Delta Blues" album. It did appear on a bootleg in the late sixties before being released on the "King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2" in 1970. It was from these bootlegs, however, that the Stones first heard it and went about recording it. I assume you already have the version of this song from "Let It Bleed" - I mean everybody has "Let it Bleed", no? Well, if you are not familiar with the "Let It Bleed" version seek it out - some delicious slide playing by Keith and mandolin by Ry Cooder. I like this version as well - ends with Mick playing harmonica (I am assuming it's Mick - I doubt Keith could blow that hard)


Phonograph Blues
Robert Johnson
November 23rd, 1936
The Complete Recordings
This song, like many other blues songs, is full of double entendres. "Now, we played it on the sofa, now, we played it 'side the wall" - I don't think a phonograph would actually play "side the wall". "My needles have got rusty" - this was before penicillin.

Phonograph Blues
Peter Green Splinter Group
1998
The Robert Johnson Songbook
Peter Green was a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, which was originally formed as a blues band. Peter left, Lindsay Buckingham came in with Stevie Nicks. Needless to say, they were never the same. Nice piano workout of the song, however.


Ramblin' On My Mind (Alternate Take)
Robert Johnson
November 23rd, 1936
The Complete Recordings
I find it amazing that they have the exact date (and time too) for these recordings. I just downloaded a version of "Day Tripper" done live by Eddie Vedder & Liam Gallagher and I can't find out when it was recorded but they had all these records available from back then.

Ramblin' On My Mind
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers
1966
Crossroads
This is the first song Clapton ever recording singing lead. The Yardbird's didn't let him sing . . maybe that's why he left.


Stop Breakin' Down Blues
Robert Johnson
June 20th, 1937
The Complete Recordings
This version is closest to the version later recorded by the Rolling Stones (and subsequently the White Stripes). On the second version he includes a lyric about a fiddle player and his bow. Most of the alternate versions of his songs really don't vary that much from the original - usually just slight variations of the lyrics. This is the only one I found where there is actually a different verse.

Stop Breaking Down
White Stripes
1999
The White Stripes
Jack White is an interesting dichotomy - on one hand, he could be the second coming of Christ. On they other hand, he could be Satan. That's what makes him great - along with Meg's drumming (I know Bert's opinion of Meg - Bert's fucked up). There is another version of them playing this during a Peel session - slower and bluesier - that would have been on the disc if it wasn't three minutes longer than this version. If you look real hard I bet you'll be able to download it. In fact, you shouldn't have to look that hard at all.


Sweet Home Chicago
Robert Johnson
November 23rd, 1936
The Complete Recordings
A very popular song of his . . . covered numerous times. But I doubt it is actually his song - I would suspect it is more a traditional song he adopted for himself.

Sweet Home Chicago
Taj Mahal
1973
In Progress & In Motion 1965-1998
I dig the way he 'gospels' this up. By they way, thats the Pointer Sisters backing him up


Terraplane Blues
Robert Johnson
November 23rd, 1936
The Complete Recordings
This was the first record released during his lifetime. It was also his best selling one as well. I guess the Counting Crows shouldn't fell so bad.

Terraplane Blues
John Lee Hooker
1987
The Very Best of John Lee Hooker
A Terraplane was a low priced sedan offered by the Hudson Motor Car company from 1933 to 1938. But Robert (nor John Lee) weren't really signing about a car now, were they.


Walking Blues
Robert Johnson
November 27th, 1936
The Complete Recordings
"She got a Elgin movement from her head down to her toes; Lord, she break in on a dollar most anywhere shes goes"
Not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds dirty.

Walkin' Blues
Muddy Waters
1950
The Chess Box
Muddy calling out his bass player on this song - Ernest "Big" Crawford - lead me to name our first dog "Crawford"



I know, that given the poor sound quality, the Robert Johnson songs may be tough to listen to. Give them a listen, however. Follow the lyrics (I have included links to the lyrics of each song). See if you can hear the two guitars Keef heard.

One last note - there is an argument, an interesting one at that, that Robert's songs were actually speed up 20% from their actual recorded speeds. Listen to the samples posted on this website - see what you think.

'til next month.

1 comment:

Danny said...

I hope you didn't buy that Gov't Mule song, I have a copy on my hard drive. and the only way i knew it was RoJoSo was cause you left the book in the bathroom.

anyway, thanks for the cut, not sure why i got it. but its appreciated. enjoying the disc so far.