on 20 May 2001
Blind Willie Johnson was the first black gospel singer and guitarist to be recorded. His first record was 'I know His blood can make me whole' b/w 'Jesus make up my dying bed', both included here. He was born in 1902 in Marlin, Texas and began playing a cigar box guitar when he was five and said that he intended to become a preacher. He played and sang at church events and became famous for his guitar style, using a pocket knife as a slide. He sometimes used the guitar to finish a sentence instead of his voice. Eric Clapton said of his playing on 'It's nobodies fault but mine' that it is 'probably the finest slide guitar playing you'll ever hear.' By his late teens he was singing on the streets of Hearne, Texas, often accompanying a preacher. At 24 he married Willie B. Harris who sang with him on occasions; she can be heard on this disc. The advertisement for his first record said he 'sings sacred songs in a way you have never heard before. Be sure to hear his first record to hear his first record and listen close to that guitar accompaniment. Nothing like it anywhere else.' He had a great influence on the development of blues, gospel and the 60's folk scene his songs were later re-discovered and recorded by such people as Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, The Staples Singers, Peter, Paul and Mary and many others. Here you can here the songs as they were meant to be sung in their raw state as they would have been heard on the streets full of power and passion. His recording of 'Dark was the night' was placed aboard the Voyager spacecraft along with music by Beethoven. This was a tune based on and old hymn, when it was first released one reviewer said it was 'violent, tortured and abysmal shouts (meaning 'shouts from the depths') and groans and inspired guitar playing in a primitive and frightening Negro religious song.' Another has called it 'the most transcendent piece of music in All-American music'.