The Robert Johnson - Night at The Crossroads shows are fast approaching and it got me thinking more about the blues and what it must have been like to be a musician the the post war world 1 years. The depression had hit and music was the one luxury that people could not do without. To be a musician on the road and trying to make it as recording artist is hard, but it is interesting how the trials and tribulations of a musician have not changed all that much.
Musicians still have to play covers to survive and still have to write music to the 3 -4 minute formula to get played on the radio and keep record companies happy. This is what Robert Johnson had to do, and he did it well. He played to whatever audience he could, and often played hits of the day instead of his own music.
Like it or not Robert Johnson's contribution to modern music is undeniably large. He has influenced almost every musician in modern music directly and indirectly. The myth that Robert made a deal at the crossroads was never denied or admitted but his mysterious death at the age of 27 was the start of club that took some of the biggest names in music .Robert Johnson has been been honoured with titles such as
Robert Johnson's knew that his dark and intelligent original compositions had to be recorded, so Robert was put in touch with Ernie Oertle, who offered to record the young musician in San Antonio, Texas. This famous recording session was held November 23, 1936 in room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. They set up a temporary studio and Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall. This has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer or that he did not want any one to know how he produced his sound. This couldn't be further from the truth. Ry Cooder says "Look at Robert Johnson’s picture and listen to his singing and his forceful personality. This is a guy who was afraid of the audience?! Hell, no! This is chew-them-up-and-spit-them-out kind of a guy. I think he was sitting in the corner to achieve a certain sound that he liked. In other words, if you’d have said, “Robert, I’m gonna boost the midrange, take off . . .” – because it’s a dry sound, the acoustic guitar, finally. It’s a boring sound for Robert. He wants to hear wang! He wants to hear the electric. He wants to hear that boosted midrange. And I’ll bet you that if you could have done that for him with equalizing and headphones in the modern era, he’d have been very glad. I’ll bet you if you’d have given him a Marshall amp to play it through, he’d have been extremely glad!" Sitting in the corner is a technique called "corner loading". In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson played sixteen selections, and recorded alternate takes for most of these.
The record company was happy with the sales from Johnson's first sessions so asked him back. In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session in a makeshift studio at the Brunswick Record Building, 508 Park Avenue. Eleven records from this session would be released within the following year. Robert's performances on these sessions were more precise and his songwriting more prepared. On the first recording sessions it can be noticed that songs were ended abrubtly and alternate takes where quite different. This was probably due to the fact that the engineer producer was making Robert aware that his songs we going over time. Commercial songs of the day fit neatly into the 3 minute format so Robert was forced to rethink his arrangements on the spot. The 1937 sessions that Robert recorded were less adventerous, yet more delivered and assured with alternate takes being more or less identical.
The esoteric cloud that shroud Robert's music and even the blues in general is something that white musicians and Rock'nRoll has been chasing since the 60's. The intrinsic feeling that is buried deep within Johnson's music is a feeling of despair and sadness but it is also uplifting to the soul at the same time. Studies have been performed to explain this phenomona and they have revealed that the microtonal singing is main contributing factor. Sound samples were taken by pychology professors in 1924 and the where able to actually look at the sound wave of cottonfield hollers, work and spiritual songs. What they found was that the swooping dips and sudden climbs, attack and release of the notes broke the rules of the even tempered scale that the white folk were listening to. The notes that we listen in the early blues were in between the notes of classical music and were much more expressive with their bends, rises and falls. This is the sound that captures our soul. This is the blues, this is the blueprint of rock'n'roll.
Dont miss this show! Who knows when it will happen again!!!