Legends of Country Blues
If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll have noted that I favor JSP remasters.
In case you don’t want to buy 5 CDs worth of any one artist, I’m recommending this lil’ package for ya. It’s as advertised, Legends of Country Blues. All done up in a JSP bow.
This is pretty much the textbook if you want to study the prewar recordings of some of the most important figures ever to be recorded. A vast amount of early Skip James, and all far better sonically than the Yazoo versions we used to have to rely on. (Don’t get me wrong, I am SO grateful to Yazoo for keeping me alive for so long! But, JSP has straight up outdone ’em here …).
Plus, pre-war Son House (which, in my opinion, isn’t actually as mesmerizing as his later recordings, but still, it’s fucking Son House!), pre-war Bukka White (ditto vis-à-vis mesmerizing, ditto vis-à-vis it’s fucking Bukka White!), the eerie, eerie, eerie magic of Tommy Johnson, and even a slew of Ishman Bracey.
In short, legends of country blues, indeed.
Tommy Johnson – 1928-1929 Complete Recorded Works
Next to Sleepy John Estes, Tommy Johnson has what I consider to be the most eerily, heartbreakingly, mesmerizingly compelling voice in the country blues canon.
Imagine a hoarse ghost yodeling.
Was he a particularly adept guitarist? Definitely not.
Was he an original lyricist? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Did he record a significant body of work? Nope. Something like 17 songs, over a two year period. That’s all.
Will his music haunt your dreams? Yes.
I had the great pleasure of bein’ joined on stage last night at Aptos St. BBQ w/ blues harmonica legend Virgil Thrasher (you may recall him from decades of mojo-laden music w/ country blues icon Robert Lowery). We did about 2 hours straight, and amongst other things, hit on some lovely ol’ country blues songs that have been real close to my heart for a real long time … Here’s some raw, guerrilla audio of two of those tracks (recorded last night); hope you dig:
The first is a tune by Delta man Tommy Johnson, and it’s worth noting that it opens with what I think is one of the great haiku-spirit blues couplets of all time:
Who’s that yonder, comin’ down the road?
Lord, it look like Maggie, but she walkin’ slow
That’s a whole lot of pathos right there … so simple, but I get chills even typin’ it out … so much meaning writ into those few words …
The next song is a staple of a kind, and this arrangement is a bit of a modge podge worth of versions, drawin’ mainly on a cocktail of Blind Willie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, and Dave Van Ronk …
Anyhow, hope you dig, and thanks as always fer listenin’…
If every picture is a poem, this is a haiku:
What song to sing when
the moon’s white eye shines? Which tu-
ning, and how open?
In alphabetical order, these are the songs I chose:
- 99 Bottles (PB)
- A Little More Evil (PB)
- Baby, Please Don’t Go (Bukka White)
- Big Road Blues (Tommy Johnson)
- Catfish Blues (Willie Doss)
- Comin’ Up Aces (PB)
- Cornbread (PB)
- Dead, Boy (PB)
- Death Letter Blues (Son House)
- Down & Out In This Town (PB)
- Down South Blues (Sleepy John Estes)
- Down The Drain (PB)
- I Shall Not Be Moved (Mississippi John Hurt)
- If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day (Robert Johnson)
- Jesus, Make Up My Dying Bed (Blind Willie Johnson)
- Livin’ On A Bad Dream (PB)
- My Car Walks On Water (PB)
- Seven’s In The Middle, Son (PB)
- That’s No Way To Get Along (Rev. Robert Wilkins)
- There Go John (PB)