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Blind Willie Johnson’s Hard Life

Last week, I did a post on the passing of Samuel Charters, a very important researcher and blues archivist. The post featured an interview with Charters, who discussed his search for Blind Willie Johnson.

Johnson was born in Texas in 1897. He mother died and his father remarried when he was young.

The Wikipedia profile said that he drew from both sacred and blues traditions. The profile tells the story of how Johnson went blind, as told to Charters. Lye supposedly was thrown in his face by his father when he caught his stepmother with another man. He threw the lye out of spite.

The end of his life was very sad. Johnson was living and preaching in Beaumont, Texas. His house burned down. He was broke and lived in the ruins. According to Wikipedia, Johnson slept “on a wet bed in the August/September Texas heat.” He died in 1945.

I could find no video of Johnson, though what apparently is a recreation of him playing at a small store from a Martin Scorsese documentary had me fooled. I was disappointed when I found out it was not real.

Above is “John the Revelator,” a song associated with Son House. It’s done in call and response style with a female singer.

Below is “The Soul of a Man.” Here are some of the lyrics, as posted at MetroLyrics. Of course, as a blues it probably wasn’t written by Johnson. It’s great in any case:

Won’t somebody tell me, answer if you can
Want somebody tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I’m going to ask the question, answer if you can
If anybody here can tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I’ve traveled in different countries, I’ve traveled foreign lands
I’ve found nobody to tell me, what is the soul of a man?

Wikipedia and MetroLyrics were used to write this post.

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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