Wow…sometimes you just got to rock it out…I have said recently that the 0’s were the worst decade of rock music but it was not all bad. In fact, I think rock music started from the beginning and rebooted in that decade (I might write a wordy diatribe about this sometime?) but for now I give you White Stripes– Echoes of Son House and T-bone Walker complete with a crazy wild man singing and playing while a seriously nice respectable attractive lady bangs the drums….this is tasty stuff.
Imagine yourself as a struggling bluesman in the 1930’s going from town to town, playing little juke joints and street corners in the rural south. Maybe you get in trouble with women and whiskey, maybe you catch some grief for playing evil music…I’m just guessing here. You may even wonder if playing this type of music is a good or bad thing. There would not be much fame or money—Rock stars don’t exist yet because you are going to be the first one.
So at a point in your life when you wonder just what the hell you are doing…you meet a white man at the crossroads (because he won’t go into town at night) and sign a record deal that probably makes him a lot more money than you- this seals the deal and makes you devote your life (there won’t be much of it left) playing the devil’s music.
Yeah, I made that up…
The actual legend has the young Robert Johnson meeting the devil at a crossroads at midnight and selling his soul in order to play guitar like no one ever played it before. The devil wouldn’t take too long to collect on this bargain as Robert Johnson would die at the age of 27 by means of poison; either a jealous woman or angry man? (the details are sketchy at best) There is little doubt that he got real talent so quick that people were looking for a story. There is also no doubt that stories fly fast and furious when you leave this earth by tangled means.
When his records were re-released many years later in England…they had a profound influence on musicians like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling stones. If blues is the cornerstone of rock music, it is not too much of a stretch to say that a lot of the weight and grit in that first heavy brick can be traced back to this man. Rock music owes its substance to him.
I have taken shots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they got it right by putting him in with the first nominees.
So as I am starting a page called “The of 7 Wonders of Rock Music” with a crossroads in Mississippi- There is a marker at the intersection of U.S. Routes 61 and 49 in Clarksdale. This is the one that is tagged as the tourist place of this legend… But to complete this wonder, I would also go with any deserted crossroads in the State of Mississippi at Midnight (full moon optional) as a pure rock n roll alternative.
We have the first of the seven wonders of Rock music…6 more to go…get your comments in now to help find the others.
I have started working on a timeline of Rock music and I am being careful; something I post on WordPress might not get corrected immediately. It could stand there for a long time as a monument to my ineptitude-so we go one step at a time.
There is an argument about the first rock song ever created-Is it “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley or one of the many other better sounding songs around that era? John Lee Hooker gets thrown in this mix with his 1948 “Boogie Chillun”.
While my brain is churning these things- I hear “Cheap Sunglasses” on the radio and all I can think is “Damn- that is John Lee Hooker- from the growling “tiger in a cage” vocal to the surly guitar riff.” But then -that is not John Lee Hooker-that is three guys from Texas putting a strong amount of boogie flavor into a song about wearing plastic sunglasses while stalking cute chicks and trying to look cool with epic beards.
They take a musical style and bend it to their own view point- adding in the tight sweaters and cheap sunglasses while removing years and years of the frustration that created the riff to begin with.
I don’t want to start another lawsuit but this goes right to the roots of rock. That difference between inspiration and downright theft. When white musicians started borrowing blues and gospel for the first time -Rock started to gain form. Almost nobody disputes that.
John Lee Hooker playing John Lee Hooker is pure blues. ZZ Top playing John Lee Hooker is Rock Music. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup doing “That’s alright Mama” is delta R&B while Elvis Presley covering the same song is Rock n Roll. It’s like the same river flowing through a different landscape. I am not saying that the originals are bad…I love all of it!!!…Even those famed Robert Johnson records from the 1930’s, but when Eric Clapton takes those records and channels them through his own experience and talent-they become something else…they have to …different time-different culture-different world.