Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Delta Blues, Reborn and Remastered (Rough Guide/Southbound)

 |   |  1 min read

Hard Times Killin' Floor, by Skip James (1931)
Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Delta Blues, Reborn and Remastered (Rough Guide/Southbound)

Tommy Johnson is one of the more interesting figures in the shadowland of the Delta blues of the Twenties: he recorded fewer songs than the acclaimed Robert Johnson who was no relation (just 16 in '28 and '29) and recent research has suggested that Robert inherited the legend of his pact with the Devil at the Crossroads from Tommy who had made that claim.

Tommy Johnson was also quite some performer, a proto-Hendrix if you like, because he would play guitar behind his head and between his legs. He was also a gifted writer and an expressive singer, gave the name to the band Canned Heat (after his Canned Heat Blues about drinking ethanol!) and he was a hugely influential figure in the Southland.

Despite that small catalogue of recordings (he mistakenly believed he wasn't allowed to record any more) he continued to perform and teach up until his death in '56 at age 60.

Johnson is one of 25 seminal blues artists – alongside Bukka White, Skip James, Son House, Bo Carter, the Mississippi Sheiks, the Mississippi Moaner, Geeshie Wiley, Ruby Lacey, Memphis Minnie and Charlie Patton – on this useful collection which is an introduction to the acoustic blues out of Mississippi and Tennessee, much of which has the feel of pure country and rural life.

These are songs of pain, sex, faith, the Devil, fear, hard times, betrayal, jail time and much more which informed the lives of so many at that time.

And voices like those of Skip James, Son House, Ishman Bracey, Johnnie Templeand others are so powerful and distinctive they cut across the distant decades and channel pure emotions.

Liner notes are minimal but just bang this into your computer and start searching . . . the lives and stories will appear before your eyes and ears. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Blues articles index

JEFF HEALEY INTERVIEWED (1989): Keeping the future open

JEFF HEALEY INTERVIEWED (1989): Keeping the future open

Sitting in his Sydney hotel room, Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey talks lovingly about his collection of 11,000 78rpm records (“I bought another 30 or 40 today in a shop near here.”)... > Read more

BLIND BOY FULLER PROFILED: Still truckin' on

BLIND BOY FULLER PROFILED: Still truckin' on

Unlike so many other bluesmen and women of his era, Blind Boy Fuller (1907-1941) lived a life that was well documented, enormously prolific and fairly profitable by the standards of the day.... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

DON GIOVANNI REVIEWED (2014): When opera goes clubbing

DON GIOVANNI REVIEWED (2014): When opera goes clubbing

It was Mae West who said, “Keep a diary and perhaps some day it will keep you”. This presumes you've had an interesting life, but former Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman... > Read more

GUEST WRITER GREG PARSLOE looks at when Grand Prix drivers would crash and burn

GUEST WRITER GREG PARSLOE looks at when Grand Prix drivers would crash and burn

In those years between 1961 and '73 – when Grand Prix drivers “wore lucky charms instead of seat belts” – those behind the wheel seemed expendable. A conveyor belt of new... > Read more