Monday, March 22, 2010

Robert Johnson - "Hellhound on My Trail" (Vocalion 3823)
Charley Patton- "A Spoonful Blues" (Paramount 12869)

Mr. Law said he meet me in Itta Bena
Come next March
Says he'll catch up with me
Round the fifteenth then
Take me off to Shreveport
And I can play some more songs
Buy me a motel room
Buy me a woman
If need be
Put the plate glass up
Plug in those Micro phones
And record more songs
But there ain't gonna be no Shreveport
Ain't gonna be no March

The Greyhound should be coming soon
And I'll climb in back,
Shake the dust off and
Sleep til Greenwood

The broken sun will slide down the crooked sky
A chipped bottleneck
Slid across a splintered fretboard
And I can sleep til Greenwood

The sky right now it's
The color of Cora's eye I saw her last
A bruised sky it is, bloodshot,
Streaked with golden liquor and purple clots
But the sky don't sit on any porch
The sky don't cry and look up at me
Wondering why I hit so hard

Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings CD cover

The Greyhound should be coming soon
I'll mount them stairs
Climb in back, and
Sleep til Greenwood

That goddamned Son House it was
Said I musta drawn a pact with Satan
To play my slide so good
Way he tell it, one summer night
I met a man with horns
Carrying a Diamondback whip
Way he tell it, ole red skin devil
Dipped a quill in my wrist
And I signed his papers
Gave my soul over
And I could play.
Son House is a goddamned fool

The broken sun will slide down the crooked sky
Chipped away, chipped away by nightfall
We're all so chipped away
And I can sleep til Greenwood

Let me tell you what it's really like
After fourteen hours of strumming
On a ricketty stool, your back begins to howl
And your fingertips bleed red film onto flatwound strings
Even the fields don't hurt so much
Eight weeks of hopping buses
Sleeping in culverts
Tossing turning sopping wet
Dodging boss men hound dogs
At three AM

And some poor woman in Biloxi is crying
Why or some other woman you've bedded down is
Crying why, or some chile of yours
They want a dipper of water and you ain't
Got time, you ain't got time 'cause you're
Getting close the guitar sounds like a
Regular church bell and you're approaching
The Blues. Your grandma don't feel Jesus
That strong, but they want some drink of water
And you gotta give 'em the satisfying smack
Upside they're so dumb, and they ain't even
Got what little you do.

Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Singers album cover

The Greyhound should be stopping soon
And I'll climb in back,
Release my soul some and
Sleep til Greenwood

In Greenwood I'll drink his poisoned whiksey
Why do I gotta know I'll drink his poisoned whiskey?
Next week, I guess I'll meet his woman
At the back door, and then come Friday
I'll drink from his Mason jar.
And just like the hellhound on my trail
Just like the phonograph blues
Just like the beatup woman blues
Just like the whiskey-drunk blues
Just like the goddamned slide guitar blues
It's just got to be

You chase them and they chase you
And if you're dogged and driven,
You catch 'em
And if an evil rider drags you down,
They catch you
It's got to be

And you can tell Son House
I didn't meet the devil at no crossroads--
I met the devil at birth
And his name is 12-bar blues
He's the exhaustion that's spun from desire
The exhaustion that blackens your eyes
And puffs up your soul
He smells like woodsmoke and ash
The smell of two AM
A Friday gathering up in Copiah
And his words are joyous doom
Passages read while hugging the
Kind-hearted woman who knifes you
His signs are the bloody fingertips
And the broken jaw.
It's got to be.

So I'll drink his goddamned jealous lover whiskey
And lay me down.

The broken sun will slide down the crooked sky
A chipped bottleneck
Slid across a splintered fretboard
Amd I can sleep at last

Robert Johnson - Hellhound On My Trail (1937).mp3

192 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (or more) (Right click and save as target)

File Under: Delta Blues


I wrote the poem above--entitled "Hellhound," natch--a little bit short of 20 years ago. I was taking a creative writing class at FIU when I came across Tim's copy of Greil Marcus' Mystery Train and something therein caught my imagination.

In keeping with the vague idea that I should try to centralize my music writing here, I've edited a little bit, and here goes nothing, boosted the thing into the blogosphere.

As with the Beatles, as with The Talking Heads, as with Exile on Main Street, I think it is possible to overstate the importance of Robert Johnson. People HAVE overstated the importance of Robert Johnson. They have overstated how good he is.

Certainly his best tunes, like "Love in Vain," like "Travelling Riverside Blues," maybe even like the "Hellhound" presented here, almost live up to the colossal mythology. But c'mon, admit it with me: sometimes his underwhelming vocals play like vaudeville, or even worse, minstrelsy, and while Johnson is certainly an accomplished guitar player, he is to my ears not the best of the delta blues players. Skip James and Leadbelly come to mind as his superiors, and now, so does Charley Patton, to whose music I was introduced last week.

I've heard the complete catalogues of neither artist, but from what I have heard so far, I should say that Patton fairly cleans the floor with Mr. Johnson. Patton's gruff vocals are more powerful than Johnson's, and his slide guitar work is more deft, more strong, more blue.

"Hellhound" is pretty great, but you wanna hear some sick fucking slide that resonates even for those jaded listeners who are used to the rabid and amplified stylings of rock 'n' roll era players like Thorogood or Allman? Then check out "A Spoonful Blues" right here. Robert Johnson may have the core mythology that enchants the college students, but goddamn, Charley Patton's got the goods.

Charley Patton - Founder of the Delta Blues - 14 - A Spoonful Blues.mp3

192 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (or more) (Right click and save as target)

File Under: Delta Blues


tad said...

Rastro: Jeezus! The poem is F'in BRILLIANT.
An acquaintance tossed me the 2 CDs of Robert Johnson's COMPLETE RECORDINGS awhile back, & I got thru most of it & was even suprised I recognized a few of the songs. But it's just 2 primitive 4 me (even tho I liked the scratchy old 78-rpm sound). I can't really hear what the fuss was about. Obviously U got a Whole Helluva Lot More outta RJ than I did. & Charlie Patton I've never heard.
But the poem, man -- holy jeezus. It's a whole diffrent genre, but now I've got no doubts that U could write a poem about Soft Machine's THIRD.
Keep up the great stuff. & holy crap, do U have more poetry that's as good as this? -- TAD.

rastronomicals said...

Tad --

Sorry you didn't like the poem :-)

Funny how I remember it being better than it actually is, but I haven't written much that's superior to "Hellhound." I've got a decent baseball poem about a Nuke Laloosh-type character who throws a perfect game in AAA, but that doesn't belong here.

I've also got, as I'm thinking, an elegy or actually a death poem about Jim Morrison. At this point if it's good enough I should probably post it. Wonder if I can find it?

Third continues to confound me. "Moon in June" came on Jr. the other day as I was shopping. Blew me away as always, and I started framing a mental outline for a post. But when I got home and started trying to write, the whole thing just collapsed, and I ended up writing about Iron Maiden instead.

One day . . . .