World Music Network are pleased to announce two brand-new Rough Guides, out now: The Rough Guide To Blues Legends: Blind Lemon Jefferson and The Rough Guide To Blues Legends: Blind Willie Johnson.
Both albums can be purchased in CD, vinyl and digital formats and are also available with a subscription to World Music Network.
Dubbed the ‘Father of the Texas Blues’, Blind Lemon Jefferson had a mesmerizing guitar-picking style and an impressive vocal range. A true blues legend, his approach influenced the likes of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Son House. This Rough Guide presents a lovingly remastered selection of his varied repertoire, from deepest blues to raucous ragtime and God-fearing gospel.
Blind Lemon Jefferson sang his own epitaph throughout this life, a grizzly anecdote that forms the refrain of his most well-known and most-covered song, ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’. Characteristic of his style, the lyrics to the song are laced through with sour notes of irony that are underpinned by his brooding bluesy guitar.
Blind Lemon Jefferson’s life is a riddle of ironies and inconsistencies to the modern-day investigator. Even the extent of his sight impairment is contestable. What can be known for certain is the far-reaching arm of his lasting influence. His style formed the basis of the blues paradigm echoed by the likes of Charley Patton, Furry Lewis and Barbecue Bob. His classic recordings also influenced such legends as Robert Johnson, Son House, B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Stretching even further, folk and rock musicians such as Bob Dylan and Carl Perkins later reflected his influence, too.
Jefferson’s songs have varying inspirations: ‘Jack O’Diamonds’ is a Texan folk ballad sung by railroad men gambling in hot and dusty bars, while ‘Corinna Blues’ was inspired by the popular American song ‘See See Rider Blues’, first recorded by Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey in 1924. His songs also give differing impressions of the man: ‘Black Snake Moan’ paints him out as a womanizer, while ‘All I Want Is Pure Religion’ regarded in connection with stories of his refusal to play on a Sunday for any amount, suggests an altogether different image. Marvel at the mystery and drown in Jefferson’s heady bluesy brew on this lovingly remastered Rough Guide.
The bumper bonus album explores the artists that Jefferson inspired. His sound resonated with the likes of Skip James, Leadbelly, Blind Willie McTell and Memphis Minnie, all heard here.
Blind Willie Johnson was a fire-and-brimstone guitar evangelist who played sacred songs so mean that his legacy has gone down in blues history. Revel in the mesmerizing bottleneck guitar playing of the Texas blues preacher on remastered classics as ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’, and ‘God Moves On The Water’.
In early 1920s Texas, on the streets of Marlin, Blind Willie Johnson used to sit busking, his low moaning voice and gutsy guitar penetrating the daily humdrum of life. Although this same street-side musician went on to record thirty sides for Columbia, Johnson never thirsted to be a musician and was instead intent on preaching the gospel.
His deep-held dedication to his faith is heard in his compositional style and song choices, many of which were adapted from old hymns. ‘Let Your Light Shine On Me’ was a popular hymn published by the evangelist Homer Rodeheaver in the early 1920s and ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ is a lyric taken direct from a hymn titled ‘Gethsemane’, written by English clergyman Thomas Haweis in 1792.
Another gospel inflected number, ‘If I Had My Way I’d Tear The Building Down’ references the biblical narrative of Samson and Delilah, drawing on themes of deceit and corruption. Legend has it that Johnson was nearly arrested for attempting to incite a riot by singing this song outside a New Orleans Custom House. To elicit such a strong reaction from the authorities, Johnson sure must have been playing up a storm and enticing the crowds.
World Music Network have painstakingly remastered the warped and hissing recordings that exist of Johnson, and on this Rough Guide his slide guitar technique sparkles and fizzes out across the texture like never before. As testament to his earth-shaking and historically significant style, Johnson’s recording of ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ was included on the Voyager space probe, a rocket that was sent on a mission to seek out other life forms in the universe.
After you have devoured the main disc, enjoy the bonus disc and raise the roof with more of the best gospel from the likes of Reverend Gary Davis, Bukka White, Edward Clayborn, Jaybird Coleman and more. Like Blind Willie Johnson, these artists straddled the line between the Lord’s song and that of the old blues style.