7 June 1940 (age 76)
Treforest, Pontypridd,Glamorgan, Wales
Pop, rock, country, Soul
I remember watching Martin Scorsese’s wonderful The Blues (a 2003 documentary film series) ten years ago, and there was a fantastic sequence of Van Morrison,Tom Jones & Jeff Beck performing Bring it on Home to Me & Trouble in mind (in the film: Red, White & Blues (Mike Figgis)). I was a big Van Morrison fan, but didn’t really like Tom Jones.. until I saw this. A great performance.
Since then I’ve listened to his music now & then, and his last 2 albums are really great stuff (back to the roots alà Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series)
We have to kick off with the “Red, White & Blues” clip:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
– Revelation 1:1-3
John the Revelator is a traditional gospel blues call and response song. Music critic Thomas Ward describes it as “one of the most powerful songs in all of pre-war acoustic music … [which] has been hugely influential to blues performers”. Blind Willie Johnson recorded John the Revelator in 1929 (or 1930) and is the first known recording (at least to me) and subsequently a variety of artists have recorded their renditions of the song, often with variations in the verses and music.
The song’s title refers to John of Patmos (or traditionally John the Apostle) in his role as the author of the Book of Revelation. A portion of that book focuses on the opening of seven seals and the resulting apocalyptic events. In its various versions, the song quotes several passages from the Bible in the tradition of American spirituals.
This is a dark and brooding masterpiece!
The Blind Willie Johnson version:
Blind Willie Johnson recorded the song on April 20, 1929 (or 1930) in Atlanta (his second (1929) or his fifth and final recording session for Columbia Records (1930)). He is accompanied by his first wife (probably), Willie B. Harris. Johnson was a gospel blues singer and guitarist. While the lyrics of his songs were usually religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. It is characterized by his slide guitar accompaniment and tenor voice, and his frequent use of a lower-register ‘growl’ or false bass voice.
The Best Songs: Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes by Blind Willie Johnson
Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, Bach, Beethoven and Blind Willie Johnson was included on the golden record that was sent into deep space in 1977 as part of the Voyager missions. What potential alien life forms might make of Johnson humming along to his slide guitar on “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)” is anyone’s guess. The track moves me in a way that’s hard to explain, it’s the sound of pure emotion.
Steve Martin, the actor, once told a story about the golden record: “the first message from extraterrestrials has been received… ‘Send more Blind Willie Johnson’.”
Today we will give you more Blind Willie Johnson, we will present the fantastic, “Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes” (audio only):
Wikipedia: “Blind” Willie Johnson (January 22, 1897 – September 18, 1945) was an American singer and guitarist, whose music straddled the border between blues and spirituals.
While the lyrics of all of his songs were religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. His music is distinguished by his powerful bass thumb-picking and gravelly false-bass voice, with occasional use of a tenor voice.
Johnson was not born blind, and, although it is not known how he lost his sight, Angeline Johnson told Samuel Charters that when Willie was seven his father beat his stepmother after catching her going out with another man. The stepmother then picked up a handful of lye and threw it, not at Willie’s father, but into the face of young Willie.
Johnson made 30 commercial recordings (29 songs) in five separate sessions for Columbia Records from 1927–1930.