Originally post on May 17th 2007…
Ever heard of Robert Johnson? If you’re not a well versed musician or if you’re not into the blues at all, then it’s quite likely you’ve never heard of Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson is probably the premier legend of American music. There is no other musician in American music history that has more mystery or reverence to his past than Robert. For me it I learned about it when I was learning to play guitar. I had heard about a movie with a guitarist by the name of Steve Vai, where he was playing the devil’s guitar player. The movie in question is actually a fun rental for musicians. It’s called Crossroads – and no I’m not referring the horrendous Brittney Spears version that has nothing to do with music.
The movie in question stars Ralph Macchio and Jamie Gertz. In it he plays a student at Julliard, the famous Classical Music Conservatory. He gets wrapped up in the history of Robert Johnson and wants to learn all his material including a supposed lost song. He hunts down the last of Robert’s friends (Willie Brown) who is still alive and breaks him out of an old folks home. They then journey to the historical crossroads to get back Willie Brown’s soul from the devil. The scene that rocked the whole movie is the dueling guitar part between Steve Vai and Ralph. It’s a great solo to learn. I know I did.
There is no way in hell that I could do any of the story about Robert Johnson any justice. I would suggest reading that Wiki site. It’s insane. But how much is truth at this point is tough to tell. I will say that it is facinating. It’s why when I found that my dad had purchased the infamous box set “Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings” I had to borrow it indefinitely. It still remains in my possession. It contains two CD’s with what is apparently all the songs and alternate takes he ever recorded. With those CD’s comes a booklet that describes his life and his recording. Even more interesting reading.
Through out recent popular music history many artists have done cover versions of Robert Johnson songs. One of the more popular is by Eric Clapton’s storied past – Crossroads. That’s right here’s the original he got the inspiration from.
If this is your first exposure to Robert Johnson you need to do yourself a favor and go buy the two disc set. It’s a true time capsule of music. One thing I learned today is that there’s a good chance that the released versions were actually sped up from their original speeds. So a little later today I’ll be putting a song or two into my recording setup to slow it down and find out if slowing it down actually brings it into the key and speed Robert intended.