It was Robert Johnson week in apt. 680, thanks to that LA Times article and that piece in The Guardian. Also, shout to my dad for his hero-worship of Southern gentlemen of color who picked up guitars; this trait has been passed down to me, except I now have the additional tendency to worship gentlemen who lovingly speak of Pyrex and Desert Eagles and Twitter.
Johnson would’ve been 100 as of yesterday, and The Times of course had to trot out all the usual grizzled old British men to validate his place in history, which made me sleepy from boredom. The Times apparently thinks I don’t know my shit-?, as if any grizzled Caucasians who’ve sold and toured successfully are going to introduce me to Mr. Johnson’s work. Also, T-Bone Burnett? Robbie Robertson? Nobody not-boring was available to be interviewed? Prince? I don’t know…Carlos Santana? Ritchie Blackmore? Steve Cropper? Iommi? Fripp? If we want to get really crazy with it, you know, maybe get a quote from somebody under age 67 – Ginn? Tom Morello? SLASH? Anyway, I was crabby about all that but then THE GOD Neil Young popped into the article and saved the day, as he is known to do, with his quote above. That’s more like it. (Still, though, sometimes I keep going: Dr. Know? Ernie Isley?)
Following the release of “Born This Way” and “Judas,” two overstuffed singles that didn’t really hit it out of the Song of Summer ballpark (and the Song of Summer is really what’s up for grabs here), Gaga has gone and rushed out her third single, “Edge of Glory,” and, boy, if it doesn’t go down relatively easy. If the first two tracks off the forthcoming Born This Way were all jangly dance-rock, this is as smooth as an eighties jam straight off the Flashdance soundtrack, and it has the saxophone breakdown to prove it. (At this point, it should be clear this is the song Gaga recorded with Clarence Clemons, of the E Street Band.) The presence of a sax on this track raises the very real and very awesome possibility that there will soon be a saxophone battle going down on the pop charts in this, the year 2011. Katy Perry’s next single, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F),” another Song of Summer contender, also has a saxophone breakdown. (The Killers might want to consider rereleasing “Joy Ride,” off 2008’s Day & Age, if they want to capitalize on this new “trend.”) If for no other reason than that “sax” is an extremely fun, extremely juvenile word to make puns out of, we would be pro this development, but there is, of course, an even better reason — and that is that saxes are awesome. More sax please. More sax for everyone.
second only to Silky Johnson, 2003’s Player Hater of the Year, who once called in a bomb threat to the Special Olympics
But there may be another reason why Johnson recorded facing the wall. Elijah Wald is a musician and the author of the book Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. He says there were pre-war blues musicians who played guitar better than Johnson, as well as musicians who sang better. But Wald says that, unlike most of them, Johnson learned to play from listening to radio and records.
Sound is one of the main things that distinguishes Johnson’s sides from other records of the time. By facing the wall, Wald says Johnson might have made his vocals sound better to a later generation accustomed to high fidelity.
Also I’d really like to go somewhere and listen to Morello talk about Robert Johnson. That would be a very fine few hours I could spend.
You can’t hear a blues tune or a rock tune that don’t have some of Robert’s chords in it,” added another of Johnson’s musical associates in the documentary, the late Johnny Shines, “because he made them all.”