Hey you'd like to see a film of Robert Johnson singing and playing guitar right? Would you settle for a banjo? This film on YouTube from a Fox MovieTone newsreel shows Robert Johnson singing and playing banjo and David "Honeyboy Edwards" seated in the foreground to Johnson's right singing Both identifications were made by the publisher of the blues music news website kingbiscuitblues.com Around thirty seconds into the video Johnson stops and covers his mouth laughing, realizing he sang someone else's verse, Honeyboy's, and a voice is heard from behind the cameras saying "Finish the song"
There was a time, in the 1890's when guitar blues was purely instrumental and very advanced and there were many significant styles specific to their practitioners including St. Louis and Kansas City style blues The source of this information is Jelly Roll Morton's 'Guitar Blues' recording from the Complete Congress Recordings which were made sometime around 1938 Morton was born Ferdinand LeMoth in 1884 and began playing piano personally sometime around 1896 and professionally around 1898 Before that, he had played guitar, and in the recording Morton plays guitar blues as he played it in the 1890's and informs us that there were countless blues guitarists playing their own styles including New Orleans blues, Kansas City blues and St Louis blues These guitar styles would have drawn on as an influence ragtime banjo and piano The guitar playing of the Delta region is very different from this music and doesn't draw on it as an influence, it wasn't the music of plantation workers but rather the music of a different social class of musicians who could often read music or would at least try to learn The delta guitar stylists are rather the successors of gospel, not blues, banjo players until Sears Roebuck began including cheap guitars in their catalog in the 1870's The blues of Mississippi was not influenced by the blues of New Orleans, St Louis, Kansas City but like it's predecessor gospel banjo, suitable for singing Before the civil war, John Brown had struck his first blow against slavery in Kansas which was a free state, bordering Missouri, a slave state and in 1872 Frerick Douglas called on freedmen to move to Kansas and later during the Exodusters migration which included St Louis as a destination as well, blacks would try to move to Kansas That meant a ride on a river boat up the Mississippii river to St. Louis and then they would have needed to board a second river boat to travel further northwest up the river to Kansas Many couldn't and would have to remain in St. Louis This is why there was New Orleans blues, Kansas City blues and St. Louis blues So what happened to St Louis, New Orleans, Kansas City acoustic guitar blues? It would be eclipsed by the migration of ragtime to the piano and ragtime piano would become the super money making genre beginning with the premise that the dance halls of New Orleans needed pianists to entertain their patrons all night long and ragtime piano would give rise to a huge sheet music publishing industry Towards the end of the ragtime era, WC Handy would publish some ragtime blues sheet music
What made Robert Johnson so great? Is it some kind of mystery? Johnson was the first Honkey Tonk guitarist Nearly all of the Johnson recordings are very strong representations of Honkey Tonk guitar He was also the first and only acoustic blues guitarist to combine 7th chord rythms with slide guitar If you listen to other acoustic slide guitarists of the day like Charlie Patton, you'll notice they're not playing any 7th chord rythms, they're just playing basic chords Johnson may have been the only recorded blues guitarist to combine 7th chord rythms, Honkey Tonk rythms and slide The guitar playing of the delta region was a successor of gospel banjo while the guitar playing of New Orleans had as a predecessor ragtime banjo but was instrumental and it's practicioners included many who could read music rather than for singing call and response So if you were a delta blues guitar player and you traveled outside of the region you may happen upon guitar players in these other styles According to the Guralnik book he got some instruction from Isaiah "Ike" Zimmerman who he lived with for a year or so as a guest of Zimmerman's in Hazelhurst The magical rich tinny sounds of the Johnson recordings may be attributable to the stringing on his Gibson made Kalamazoo brand guitar Brunswick may have recorded a little slow to give his voice a higher pitch on playback at normal speed I found two photos of Johnson holding a guitar, one with a capo, the other without Hmm Might the capo photo have been taken to explain away the higher pitch? The communist party would adopt blues as their "official" music and sponsor the 1938 New York event at Carnegie Hall which Johnson, billed as the star attraction, the world's greatest blues man, wouldn't live to appear at Here is a video of Robert Johnson singing and playing banjo with David Honeyboy Edwards also singing I made both identifications myself
- What is Blues?
- The pre-ragtime piano and guitar 7th chord music of the Southern and Gulf Coast regions of the United States