Today I had one of those “How did I get here?” moments as I caught myself dipping my head along with the beat in the song I posted here earlier today.
Eric Clapton’s 2004 album Me and Mr. Johnson was my first foray into the intriguing and historically significant genre of music known as Delta Blues. I spent many hours in the car with my Dad listening to the album from start to finish, and it had a very real impact on my musical tastes, my guitar playing, and, subsequently, my life.
The album is composed entirely of songs written by legendary Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson in the 1930’s.
The legends surrounding Robert Johnson have been perpetuated for the last 80 years through other artists, authors and film makers. Johnson is part of the infamous 27 Club, but he is best known for allegedly selling his soul to the devil at the “crossroads” in order to become the most successful guitarist around. Johnson’s complete recordings include just 41 tracks, but that material has provided enough inspiration to be considered some of the most influential music of all time.
Clapton’s rendering of the music is the most accessible, and also, not surprisingly, the best produced. Many artistic liberties have been taken (the addition of piano and other instruments, a wider variety of tempos, more solos), but these interpretations of the song are able to maintain a surprising level of authenticity while simultaneously bringing the aging tracks to life. Simply put, I love listening to it no matter where I am or how I feel.
Me and Mr. Johnson has stuck with me for nearly 10 years now because of tracks like “They’re Red Hot”, “Stop Breakin’ Down” and “Hell Hound On My Trail.” I won’t claim to understand what Johnson’s life down on the Mississippi Delta was like in the 1930’s, but when my ears catch wind of these tunes on a warm summer day it makes those days a little easier to picture. The Delta Blues are origin of country, rock and even a great deal of pop music, and Eric Clapton’s interpretation of it is the best way for my generation to begin enjoying it.