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75 years ago, Robert Johnson walked into the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. He had been brought there by Ernie Oertle, an executive with the American Record Company, which had refashioned a hotel room into a makeshift studio. The company had brought people from all over the country to record, and the range of artists in the hotel that day was startling. Blues musician and writer Scott Ainslie lists them: “Gospel musicians, polka bands, string bands.”
“Johnson’s session was sandwiched between a hillbilly band and a group of sisters who played Spanish guitar music,” Ainslie says. Johnson walked into the recording room and settled down, facing into a corner. He tuned up his guitar and began to play.
Billy Gibbons, the guitarist for ZZ Top, is a big fan of the recordings Johnson made that day. He says he’s particularly impressed by the way Johnson’s hands struck the strings of his guitar.
“This was just one guy, ” he says. “Meat on metal on wood. But what he came with was fierce.”
Read the full article and listen to All Things Considered at NPR.org.
In June, the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas bought 508 Park Avenue, the downtown building where, in 1937, Robert Johnson recorded almost half of the 29 songs that make up his entire discography. The church plans to renovate the building.
In the 1930s, Johnson — who would have turned 100 this year — was an unknown vagabond musician who primarily worked the Delta blues circuits in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, his home state. It was his dream to cut a record, and in late 1936 a music producer took him to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where, in a small room, he recorded “Cross Road Blues, “Sweet Home Chicago” and 14 other songs.
Seven months later, Johnson was called back to Texas, this time to Dallas. He worked with Don Law, a producer at Brunswick Records, and recorded the final 13 songs of his career, including “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Love in Vain” (which the Rolling Stones covered) and “Traveling Riverside Blues” (covered by Led Zeppelin).
First Presbyterian plans to start renovating the 23,000-square-foot building next year, creating a cultural center complete with a museum, a performance space, an art studio and a music education center called “The Spirit of the Blues.” A recording studio will be built in the same area where Johnson and others cut records — including Bob Wills, the Western swing musician — and the vacant building next door will be torn down and replaced by a band shell-style outdoor amphitheater.
Read more at The New York Times.
Robert Johnson is included in Rolling Stone’s new list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time. Here is an excerpt:
He was barely known for decades after his 1938 death. But the 29 songs Robert Johnson recorded in 1936 and 1937 became holy writ to rock guitarists from Clapton to Dylan. … Dylan remembered playing King of the Delta Blues Singers, the 1961 LP that rescued Johnson from obscurity: “The vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up. The stabbing sounds… could almost break a window.”
Here is an excerpt from The Associated Press review of Robert Johnson’s “The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Edition”:
“Johnson was no ordinary musician, and justly, Sony’s Legacy division has treated his work with respect and detail. In the box set titled ‘Robert Johnson: The Complete Original Masters, Centennial Edition,’ homage is paid on 100th anniversary year of Johnson’s birth with a dozen 78 rpm replicas of each of his released songs. … To hear the bluesman play classics like ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ and ‘Love In Vain Blues’ on this medium is a treat. The slight crackle from those original recordings feels right at home between the newly etched grooves on a vinyl platter. … Johnson is one of the most important American artists ever recorded. Thus, this sort of packaged adoration seems fitting for a young man who influenced so many.”
Read more at The Associated Press.
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