Late-Night Listening

(Updated below.)

I quietly added Licorice Pizza to the blogroll a few days back; you should head over there and listen to some essential tracks from Robert Johnson, the legendary Delta bluesman of the 1930s. His songs are part of the language of rock and roll—covered by Cream, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and many others, but a surprising number of people have never heard the originals. Don’t let the primitive fidelity of the recordings get in the way of the music: “Come on in My Kitchen,” for example, is as lovely a song as you’d ever want to hear, and you’ll probably recognize many of the others.

All most people know about Johnson apart from those spooky/beautiful records for which he’s most famous is that he supposedly sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his talent as a guitarist. Some know that he was also famously poisoned by the husband of a woman he got involved with, although the poisoning is apparently not what killed him not long after. To learn more, read Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, by Elijah Wald, which taught me a lot about Johnson and the musical culture of the Mississippi Delta in the early years of the 20th century. Wald notes that while Johnson is known for those famous sides he cut in the late 30s, they only exist because a record company thought they would sell. They likely represent only a small part of Johnson’s repertoire. To make a living as a working juke-joint musician, he would have had to know all of the popular songs of the day—big-band standards, hits from Tin Pan Alley, country songs, hymns—whatever would entertain a crowd and get him paid. Nobody was interested in recording that stuff, though.

Also Recommended: Singer/songwriter Josh Rouse is clearly inspired by the music of the singer/songwriters of the 1970s. He’s featured on a tribute album called Friends and Lovers: Songs of Bread, doing “It Don’t Matter to Me,” which is one of my favorite Bread tunes. I Am Fuel, You Are Friends has it, and you should hear it.

Monday Morning Update: It appears that one of the best music blogs on the planet, Jefitoblog, might be history due to problems finding a web host for music files. If you’ve taken my repeated recommendations to head over there, you know this is hideously bad news. Jefito not only provides extraordinary amounts of terrific music, he’s a great writer and, from what I can tell, a fine human being in general. One example: He organized Bloggers for a Cure, a cystic fibrosis benefit for blogger Scott Malchus, sending a series of e-mails around to a bunch of like-minded bloggers, many—most?—of whom have never met one another in the real world. I hope that the same community (and his many fans) will come together again to encourage/help/beg/smack around Jefito to get him back up and running again in some way. One of our number, John at You Must Be From Away, speculates on what happened to Jefitoblog and suggests a way the resurrection might happen.

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