Friday, January 21, 2011

Making Deals with the Devil

"Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived. He was true, absolutely, to his own vision, and as deep as I have gotten into the music over the last 30 years, I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really."
-Eric Clapton

Mention the name Robert Johnson to nearly anyone knowledgeable about that blues and they're bound to have lots to tell you about him. Johnson learned from his contemporaries, men such as Son House, Lonnie Johnson, Elmore James, and others, but quickly surpassed their skills. Although one of the most celebrated bluesman in history, Johnson died at the tender young age of 27, and every single one of his recordings (including alternate takes) can be collected in just two CDs (and found in the box set Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings).

Regardless of the duration of his career, or the depth of his recorded releases, Johnson's legacy is one that affected the development of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and indeed American music period. Countless musicians mention his name as an idol of theirs, or reference his songs as instrumental in the development of their own sound. Musicians such as Eric Clapton above, the electric bluesmen of the 60's, and numerous rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, and Cream.

Numerous legends suggest that Johnson made a pact with the devil for his musical mastery, but had he lived past 27 (when he was reportedly poisoned for flirting with a jookhouse owner's wife while playing at his establishment!), Johnson would have turned 100 this year. With that in mind, Big Head Todd and the Monsters have decided to release a tribute album full of covers of some of Johnson's most powerful songs titled 100 Years of Robert Johnson. They've dubbed themselves the Big Head Blues Club, and invited several esteemed guests along for the ride: Charlie Musselwhite, Hubert Sumlin, Ruthie Foster, and B.B. King.

The resulting music, while using Johnson's material, has a substantially different feel to it, which is good because, hey, it's Robert Johnson - you just can't compete with him at his own game. It's more akin to the electric blues of the 60's than the roots of the 20's and 30's (check out B.B. King singing on Crossroads Blues). While it might not match Johnson's emotional intensity, it conveys his spirit and does jump with more vibrancy due in parts to the electronic sound as well as simply the recording technology that delivers it to us.

In addition, the band will be touring over the next few months in support of the album, check below for dates if you like what you hear.

and the original:

Visit the official Robert Johnson website and his Facebook page.
Visit Big Head Todd and the Monster's website and become their friend on MySpace and Facebook.

Upcoming Tour Dates

Jan. 28 San Francisco, CA Regency Ballroom
Jan. 29 Costa Mesa, CA Orange County Performing Arts Center
Jan. 30 San Diego, CA (2 shows) Anthology
Jan. 31 Santa Barbara, CA Campbell Hall / UCSB
Feb. 04 Austin, TX Paramount Theatre
Feb. 05 Dallas, TX Lakewood Theatre
Feb. 10 Ann Arbor, MI Hill Auditorium / U of M
Feb. 11 Chicago, IL Orchestra Hall
Feb. 12 Kansas City, MO Uptown Theatre
Feb. 13 Meridian, MS Riley Center / MSU
Feb. 16 Chapel Hill, NC Memorial Hall / UNC Chapel Hill
Feb. 17 North Bethesda, MD The Music Center at Strathmore
Feb. 18 Boston, MA Berklee School of Music
Feb. 24 Ridgefield, CT Ridgefield Playhouse
Feb. 25 Princeton, NJ McCarter Theatre
Feb. 26 Blue Bell, PA Montgomery County Community College
Feb. 27 New Bedford, MA Zeiterion Theater
March 4 Milwaukee, WI Potowatomi Casino
March 5 Omaha, NE Holland Performing Arts Center
March 6 Minneapolis, MN Orchestra Hall
March 8 Urbana, IL Krannert Center – Tyrone Festival Theatre

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