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The 'Enigmatic Spectre' Himself - Mr Robert Johnson,
This review is from: Complete Recordings (Audio CD)
One of the things that I love most about the great pillar of popular music that is The Blues is the fact that it provides such a stable and accessible platform for so many different musicians to explore and express their deepest, most heartfelt feelings from, each of them able to carve their own unique signature.
One of the most finely-carved of these signatures belongs to Robert Johnson, one of the great early contributors to the blues, and one whose legacy and influence on so many of those who came later cannot be overstated.
Despite his significance to the blues, Johnson's name never seems to have attained the same level of general familiarity as those of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker etc. Indeed, I only discovered him after watching the film The Ghosts of Mississippi with Alec Baldwin, James Woods and Whoopi Goldberg. At one point, Baldwin visits the brother of a murdered civil rights activist who is the DJ of a small southern radio station; at the end of their chat, the DJ puts on a new record which he introduces with words to the effect of "now for something from the grandfather of the blues, Robert Johnson". You only hear the first few notes of the record, but it was enough to intrigue me and to make me look into the man. WELL! What a revelation!
There is very little I can add to what has already been said about Johnson except to say his records really sound as if there are three of them playing! I don't possess enough of a technical knowledge of music to specifically describe what the guy is up to, but can only try to explain that his guitar-playing is unlike anything I've heard before and that his rythmic structures are Just Brilliant. Truly a guitar virtuoso! The combination of his guitar, rythm, voice and lyrics is absolutely haunting, beautiful, melancholy, sweet, mysterious, trippy etc. If you'd like to hear one of the greatest exponents of Mississippi Delta blues, here's your man!
Incidentally, Rolling Stone Magazine's 'Top 100 Guitarists Of All Time' has Robert Johnson at number 5, one place behind Eric Clapton at number 4! I can't think that Clapton would be at all happy to be rated higher than his hero!
(Also, if you're frustrated by the shortage of Johnson's recorded material, then I highly recommend the work of another early blues giant, the equally great Leadbelly - the master of the 12 string guitar, a lot of whose music is reminiscent of Johnson's - Oh, and of course, the incomparable Son House, who had a direct and unmistakeable influence on Johnson's music).