Robert Johnson started my fascination
with one-man, guitar-driven country blues.
I was completely floored the first time I was exposed to this music,
I couldn't believe that one musician was making all those sounds.
Robert Johnson synthezised many elements of his peers and role models
into one, hypermodernistic package, geared for the radio age.
His accomplishments build on the work of the founding fathers of
country blues, names like Son House, Charlie Patton, Willie Brown
and Tommy johnson. Tommy Johnson is one musician I can't seem to
get enough of. There are countless details in his vocal delivery
that, together with the guitar accompaniment, define much of the
poetry and complexity of the genre.
With Tommy Johnson, we're light years away from the three-square-chord
"blooze" blueprint - and I mean that as a good thing.
Much of the early country blues stuff that is compelling to me incooperates a very high level of detail and variation, countless
subtleties in rhythm, chord voicing and melody.
Players like Booker White and Blind Willie McTell often hint at
layered harmonies, rythms and chords, and
this attention to detail can really make a recording. This stuff
is often breathtakingly beautiful,
and you need to really listen hard in order to pick up all the subtleties
as a player.
The one bottleneck player that I find to be the best of them all
is Blind Wiillie Johnson. I'll spare you the biographical details
of his life,
suffice to say that he had it rough. For me, BWJ's music personifies
human dignity in the face of adversity, and listening to his songs
is always a moving experience. Not easy listening, but real live
art, as poignant today as when he recorded it.
Technically, as well as emotionally, Willie Johnson's bottleneck
style is incredibly evolved -
his playing is microtonally fluid and eminently expressive.
Needless to say, i very strongly recommend the recordings of all
of these players to anyone who's getting into this style -
both as a player and a listener. If you search on your favorite
online recordshop, you'll find that they've all been reissued on
Of more contemporary players I really enjoy the work of Steve James,
Mike Dowling, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Bob Brozman
- to name a few. All of these players have expanded the vocabulary
of the genre while preserving all the things that make it great.
Dowling's just about the cleanest, most elegant player there is,
Steve James is a true innovator and achieves awesome momentum, Alvin
Hart is probably the best interpreter of original country blues around, and Brozman continues to push the boundaries
of the resonator guitar with characteristic gusto and energy.
Each of these players have been important sources of inspration
for me. I try to blend and merge the elements of their styles
with my own ideas - I feel this is the way things have always been
in the realm of country blues, indeed in all rythmic music.
Players listen to each other, and the desire to learn drives things
forward. Robert johnson is probably one good example of this
drive, he was a big fan of players like Kokomo arnold, Skip James
and Peetie Wheatstraw, and these players formed large parts
of his vocabulary, together with the obvious central influences
of Patton and House.
For me, playing this music is not so much reaching back into something
archaic and museal, as it is about continuing to nurture and
communicate a type of music that is fundamentally timeless in its
quality. The exact replica of the old tunes is a step on this route,
the next step is being creative with the tradition - as the tradition
has always been.