1936 - This was the depths of the Depression, and new blues artists were not selling very well unless they had the Chicago band sound behind them. Still, Johnson's debut produced one moderately good seller, "Terraplane Blues," a high-powered double-entendre number about a fashionable make of car. It did not set the blues world on fire, but impressed a lot of people back home in the Delta. "We hear a couple of his pieces come out on records," Son House remembered. "Believe the first one I heard was Terraplane Blues. "Jesus, it was good. We all admired it. Said, "That boy is really going places."
There is no dispute about how important the recordings were to Johnson himself. He proudly brought records to various far-flung family members, and Johnny Shines recalls the pleasure he took in talking about the process: "Nearly every time I came upon Robert he'd be telling me about some new recording session. He'd tell me about things I'd never seen, like 'start lights' and 'stop lights' used in recording. About seventy-five to a hundred dollars was all the money he ever got." .
In those days, rural artists were rarely paid any royalties for their records. Even if they were offered the option of a royalty deal, it was a gamble that few would take when balanced against a lump sum, paid immediately in cash. Johnson probably got a few hundred dollars for his sixteen sides (recorded November 23, 26, 27) - a small payment considering what they would become, but a fortune for a wandering guitarist in the midst of the Depression.
It was very likely the most money he had ever had at one time, and may have paid for the slick suit he is wearing in his studio portrait. The recordings also would have increased his drawing power, and hence his earnings at juke joints and house parties. .
THE BLUES! We take a moment on our list to regonize some of the roots in blues music that I really love and enjoy. I did not put any of these guys on my list because, well mainly to make it easier on myself to not have to add in more people to rank haha. But I do love blues music, like they used to say on a blues program on a local radio station (which I don't believe they do anymore 🙁) "Anything blue will do." The regular radio stations might not play this classic great music, but it is great to just put on a blues station on satellite radio or shuffle the many songs I have downloaded on my phone or pull one of the many blues artist cds off my shelf. To quote Joliet Jake Blues John Belushi "I suggest you buy as many blues albums as you can!" The roots of rock! So many great artists that impacted music thru the blues. Too many to name however pictured are some of the greatest and my all time favorite blues masters. Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, and centered is my favorite of them all Muddy Waters. But really from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Taj Mahal I love all the old blues. And really it was all thanks to The Allman Brothers Band (and eventually the Martin Scorsese THE BLUES Boxset which led me to buy a lot of blues cds) but it was thru ABB that I even learned who most of these guys were. So thanks again to The Allman Brothers Band! And there was a little interlude to my list with THE BLUES!
Hellhound on my Trail....My path has crossed a time or two with the great delta bluesman, Robert Johnson, since visiting his grave (pic 4) just north of Greenwood, MS, last October. Two weeks ago I passed by where he recorded half of his catalogue in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas (pic 3), and today I walked over to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, up to the fourth floor, and down the corridor to room 414 where he recorded the other half in 1936 (pic 2). This print depicts the legend behind the guitar virtuoso. The Faustian myth of making a deal with the devil at the crossroads in Clarksdale for his guitar prowess is depicted below his portrait (only two photographs of him exist & incidentally, this story was being passed around with Tommy Johnson and Peetie Wheatstraw until it stuck with Robert). At the top of the print is a bottle of poison. Apparently RJ was hitting on the bartender’s wife, and received the lethal concoction. Lastly, the image depicts three burial sites, all within a short distance of each other, all on the grounds of a “Zion Baptist Church”. This was the only reference that was printed on his death certificate rather than an actual address. However, most historians believe he’s in an unmarked grave in Greenwood. In an interview done some years later, the caretaker’s wife attests to seeing RJ being leaned up against a pecan tree in the cemetery before her husband buried him. #robertjohnson#blues#deltablues#crossroadblues#blockprint#printmaking#myth#guitar
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