Big Plans For Robert Johnson's 100th Birthday
The 'deal' brought forth Johnson's incandescent guitar technique and a run of 10-inch 78 rpm singles for the Vocalion, Oriole, Conqueror and Perfect labels recorded in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937.
Those songs have become a cornerstone of Columbia Records' identity, and will be celebrated on two Centennial releases from Columbia/Legacy, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.
Over the years, Johnson's influence has resounded in the music of Muddy Waters ("32-20 Blues"), Elmore James ("I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"), Junior Parker ("Sweet Home Chicago"), John Hammond Jr. ("Milk Cow's Calf Blues"), the Rolling Stones ("Love In Vain," "Stop Breakin' Down Blues"), John Mayall ("Ramblin' On My Mind"), Cream ("From Four Until Late"), Eric Clapton ("Cross Road Blues"), Johnny Winter ("When You Got a Good Friend"), Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt ("Walkin' Blues"), Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top ("Hellhound On My Trail"), Led Zeppelin ("Traveling Riverside Blues"), Keb' Mo' ("Preachin' Blues"), Cassandra Wilson ("Come On In My Kitchen"), and countless others. It is by far the most empowering body of work in American history to emerge from one solitary blues figure.
As recently as this year, John Mayer was nominated for a Grammy Awardฎ for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, for his cover of "Crossroads" on his Battle Studies album, Columbia, 2009. "Cross Road Blues," of course, gives Eric Clapton's annual Chicago music festival its title.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson's birth, Columbia/Legacy pays homage to his spirit with ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS - CENTENNIAL EDITION, a multi-faceted "box set" encompassing stand-alone vinyl, CD and DVD components. Its components include:
1) A hardbound vintage book, with sleeves housing the dozen 78rpm vinyl-disc replicas (now at 45 rpm) originally released by Johnson, including a lavish 10-inch-square booklet;
2) ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION, a new double-CD which includes all 29 songs he recorded in 1936 and '37, for a combined total of 42 masters and alternate takes;
3) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS, a double-CD comprising:
CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault, a dozen rarely-collected 78s (i.e. 24 A-sides and B-sides) from the Victor archive by Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell, and others, recorded between 1928 and 1932; and
CD Two: Also Playing , 10 tracks featuring artists recorded during the same San Antonio and Dallas sessions as Robert Johnson, a musical hotpot ranging from folk and hillbilly, cowboy and Mexican to Texas Swing;
4) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN'T YOU HEAR THE WIND HOWL?, a DVD of the critically-acclaimed 1997 documentary film, directed by Peter Meyer, hosted by Danny Glover, and featuring Keb' Mo' as Robert Johnson. The 76-minute film also includes interviews with Robert Cray, Johnny Shines, John Hammond, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., Henry Townsend, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
The most unique component of ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS - CENTENNIAL EDITION will be a 10x10-inch hardbound book that recreates the look and feel of Johnson's classic 78rpm vinyl singles. The book will be constructed in the style of vintage multi-sleeve albums of the 1930s and '40s, with each sleeve containing an actual vinyl replica disc. An additional sleeve will house a smaller book that includes a new 1,500-word essay written by Ted Gioia, Texas-based pianist and music historian, and the author of Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music (2008); Work Songs (2006); and The History of Jazz (1997). Complete historic track annotation and discographic data is also featured.
Gioia's notes painstakingly examine the songs that were laid down on each of the five days that Johnson recorded in 1936 and '37:
Monday, November 23, 1936 (San Antonio, Texas): "Kindhearted Woman Blues," "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Ramblin' On My Mind," "When You Got A Good Friend," "Come On In My Kitchen," "Terraplane Blues," "Phonograph Blues";
Thursday, November 26, 1936 (San Antonio, Texas): "32-20 Blues";
Saturday, June 19, 1937 (Dallas, Texas): "Stones In My Passway," "I'm A Steady Rollin' Man," "From Four Until Late";
Sunday, June 20, 1937 (Dallas, Texas): "Hellhound On My Trail," "Little Queen Of Spades," "Malted Milk," "Drunken Hearted Man," "Me And The Devil Blues," "Stop Breakin' Down Blues," "Traveling Riverside Blues," "Honeymoon Blues," "Love in Vain," "Milkcow's Calf Blues."
THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION double-disc set shares the same genealogy as 1990's Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings, but that package has now been updated for a new generation. The set includes a new essay by Ted Gioia alongside a new biography of Robert Johnson written by Stephen C. LaVere (completely different from his essay in the 1990 version). Also included are new illustrations, photo images, and a family tree of music originating from Robert Johnson. THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION will ship as part of the ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE MASTERS CENTENNIAL EDITION package, but it will also be available as a stand-alone item at retail.
Less than 14 months after Johnson's last recording date, he was dead at age 27. The young bluesman was poisoned with strychnine-laced whiskey by a jealous husband at a jook joint, and days later he died on the night of August 16, 1938. Gioia points out that the closest thing to a hit record Johnson would enjoy during his lifetime was his first release on Vocalion Records, "Terraplane Blues" b/w "Kindhearted Woman Blues." Ten more records were released while he lived, and one posthumously, "Love in Vain" b/w "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)."
"At times," Gioia writes, "the legend of Robert Johnson has threatened to overwhelm the artistry of the man indeed nothing about this musician is more famous than the word-of-mouth accounts of him selling his soul to the devil at a midnight crossroads in exchange for his singular mastery of blues guitar the best efforts of scholars to present this artist in ordinary, human terms have done little to cut through the mystique and mystery that continue to surround him. Robert Johnson remains larger than life, a figure from American music who has also become part and parcel of American mythology."
In March, The Robert Johnson Blues Foundation (located in Crystal Springs, Mississippi) will announce a series of national and international centennial events for "Robert Johnson - The King of Delta Blues." Steven Johnson, the Vice President of the Foundation and grandson to Robert Johnson, explains:
"My grandfather is revered globally. This centennial celebration involves combining a unique blend of theatre, live musical performances, artistic exhibits and dialogue that highlight the complexity of his life while celebrating his genius. Our events will be following the Robert Johnson Blues Trail, which will allow us to travel to many of the cities where he shared his talents and where his music is most loved. This is important because his voice, style and musical gifts were the foundation for American popular music." For more information about the centennial events visit www.RobertJohnsonBluesFoundation.org.
ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS CENTENNIAL EDITION (Columbia/Legacy 88697 86066 1)
ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION (Columbia/Legacy 88697 85907 2)
CD Two (Dallas sessions) Selections: 1. Stones In My Passway (D4) 2. I'm A Steady Rollin' Man (D4) 3. From Four Till Late (D4) 4. Hellhound On My Trail (D5) 5. Little Queen Of Spades (D5) 6. Little Queen Of Spades (alternate take) (D5) 7. Malted Milk (D5) 8. Drunken Hearted Man (D5) 9. Drunken Hearted Man (alternate take) (D5) 10. Me And The Devil Blues (D5) 11. Me And The Devil Blues (alternate take) (D5) 12. Stop Breakin' Down Blues (D5) 13. Stop Breakin' Down Blues (alternate take) (D5) 14. Traveling Riverside Blues (D5) 15. Traveling Riverside Blues (alternate take) (D5) 16. Honeymoon Blues (D5) 17. Love in Vain (D5) 18. Love in Vain (alternate take) (D5) 19. Milkcow's Calf Blues (D5) 20. Milkcow's Calf Blues (alternate take) (D5).
BLUES RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS