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

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON CONSIDERED: From deep in the soul to deep space

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON CONSIDERED: From deep in the soul to deep space

The old saying, “You gotta sin to get saved” perhaps accounts for the wayward careers and emotional U-turns of people like Little Richard and Roy Buchanan who would vacillate between... > Read more

Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials: Jump Start (Alligator)

Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials: Jump Start (Alligator)

When Bruce Iglauer founded Alligator Records in Chicago 40 years ago it was to release albums by the likes of Hound Dog Taylor and Albert Collins who were burning up local clubs with their... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

ONE WE MISSED: Various Artists; Stand Up People (Vlax/Southbound)

ONE WE MISSED: Various Artists; Stand Up People (Vlax/Southbound)

Our rationale here is that we did not so much "miss" this, as just didn't write about it when it was released in New Zealand during the last quarter of 2013. And what is it? Well,... > Read more

GUEST WRITER GEOFF HARRISON reflects on Keith Emerson and the Moog synthesiser revolution

GUEST WRITER GEOFF HARRISON reflects on Keith Emerson and the Moog synthesiser revolution

Keith Emerson's recent passing powerfully resonated with me – and not just the way he left in early‑March but, more reflectively -- on how that instrument he mastered and pioneered back... > Read more