Finalized the album artwork with graphic designer Jenn LaBelle this morning.  Should be ordering the pressing of the CD by the end of this week, and getting all of my digital assets in a row shortly.

I just hope no one from my record label leaks the record before the release date.

That would be terrible...

Keep your eyes out.

22 Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings

022: Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

I just need to come right out and admit it.

I need to take a class in The Blues...or have someone who loves it impress upon me why I should also love it.

I can't get there.

Maybe it's the standardization of it...the chord changes that give the style its distinctive sound, also make it very predictable to me.  It also makes it so that one song tends to bleed into the next (Sweet Home Chicago into Ramblin' On My Mind are good examples of this).  I am not saying this because I think I'm superior (not even a little).  I'm calling out what must be my personal block from appreciating the Blues.  And yet, knowing the block isn't the same as getting past it.

Enough about me.

Robert Johnson is said to be the greatest blues singer who ever lived.  He recorded these songs over a 2 year period, during 5 sessions between 1936 and 1937.  There was a time in my life when that would have seemed like an unthinkable distant past...but it's not even a hundred years ago.  It's crazy to think that music has done what it's done (insert your soap-box-spiel here) in that amount of time.

I admit, there's something about his voice that struck me as that of an older man.  I was shocked to learn that he was only 27 when he died.  That means he was only about 25 when he recorded this.

He is revered by many, including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, and Bob Dylan.  He is also considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time.  Listening to his playing on Terraplane Blues, I can certainly understand why.  There is mythology around his playing.  They say that he played as a young man, but was not good at all...He went away for about two years, studying with some local blues guitarists (perhaps even in graveyards), and came back a virtuoso.  Somewhere along the way, the belief came that Johnson made a deal with the devil--meeting him at midnight at The Crossroads (in Mississippi or Tennessee, depending on whom you believe).  The devil took Johnson's guitar, played a couple of tunes for him, handed it back--and he could play it better than anyone alive.

Good story.

I love They're Red Hot--which is not technically a blues song...I like it because it shows another side of him, and also conjures a different place and time.  I also really enjoy Love In Vain, which was later covered by The Rolling Stones.





021: Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight

I have to admit.

The first time I heard this, I was not loving it either.  It's just not my bag.

But once I got past that...I realized how much fun he's having with this music.  And how this must have blown the mind of so many kids at the time.  This was the first wave.  So early that they didn't know what to call it.  He was a black man playing "country and western" songs.

I think the first thing that hooked me was his vocal delivery in his song Too Much Monkey Business.  So much confidence, and cool--not even getting to the fact that he wrote this (and the other 27 songs).

I love how the story of Rock & Roll is conveyed through the songs here--like the role of DJ's in Roll Over Beethoven, or the dancing around the Juke Box in School Day, teenage rebellion in Sweet Little Sixteen, or the necessity of serious guitar chops in Johnny B. Goode.  The music is selling the ideal, and the ideal (and lifestyle) sells the music.  A nice and tight eco-system.

I enjoy the device of calling out the time at the beginning of each verse on Reelin' and Rockin'--it's only one example of his songwriting mastery and versatility.  I never knew that The Beach Boys stole the music of Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen for their Surfin' USA.  That's one thing I'm most surprised by in this whole blog project--how many of the greats have "borrowed" or outright stolen songs from their idols, many times without even denying it.

Memphis, Tennessee sounds like an early Paul Simon song.  Around this point in the 1 hour plus playlist, I get lost in the songs in a similar way that I describe happening with the blues...they all sort of gel and blend, becoming mildly entertaining, but nondescript.  No Particular Place To Go kind of breaks the spell and wakes you up again...






Though I've said it before, I've never meant it more...I'm glad I listened to both of these musical giants.  I think I would enjoy them much more, sprinkled in with other music.  Focusing too much on them, just doesn't work for me.  I don't think I'll come back to these collections...but I would love to hear many of the songs from either Robert Johnson or Chuck Berry pop up on a future playlist.

Up Next

020: Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982) 019: Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.