Monday, November 16, 2009
OK, so it really is a bit late for the Monday Morning Blues in many parts of the world! This post nearly didn’t happen, between a flurry of technical glitches & desultory playing & singing yesterday. But this morning I marched with determination & guitar into the music room—& also with laptop & webcam—& came up with a take I could live with. I must say it was fun recording in the music room, even if there’s a bit more set-up than just sitting at my desk.
It would be hard to over-state the importance of Robert Johnson to the prevailing contemporary vision of the blues; he also has been triumphed as an important innovator shaping the path blues took toward rock-&-roll, particularly with his hard driving boogie style basslines (which I didn’t imitate on this song, but do on some other Johnson songs I cover). It’s interesting, given the legendary status he attained in the 50s & 60s & continues to hold today, that he was a relatively obscure player during his lifetime, & one who didn’t have the popularity of many other bluesmen who now are more obscure.
There are no doubt a number of reasons for this. Most importantly, Johnson was an incredibly gifted guitar player & singer, & his songwriting was first-rate too, tho less original than casual blues fans realize. He often used ideas from his mentor Son House (as in “Walking Blues” & “Preachin’ the Blues”), & his justifiably celebrated “Come On In My Kitchen” is simply “I’m Sitting On Top of the World” with different (& more interesting) lyrics; “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” had been a big hit for the Mississippi Sheiks, & was imitated in several songs. Johnson’s songs also were influenced by Skip James, Lonnie Johnson, Leroy Carr & Kokomo Arnold, to name a few. But “originality” is not necessarily a value in traditional music: what is a value is taking the existing material to a newly individualized level, & Johnson most certainly did that.
“Walking Blues” is a pretty straightforward song, but it does contain a reference to “riding the blinds,” which not everyone will understand. This means: "To ride the train in the spaces between the baggage or mail cars near the coal tender which have no side doors - they can ride without being seen." (definition courtesy of Harry’s Blues Lyrics.)
Hope you enjoy my take on this wonderful song!