Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BOTB-CROSSROAD BLUES

I have been complaining about losing interest in blogging, but I had a couple of song ideas as I type this on September 20, and so have a couple more entries scheduled for BOTB.

The last post felt like work-these two didn't. It's better when they don't feel mandatory.

It works pretty simply.

Two (or, in today's case, three) versions of a song, and you, the unsuspecting reader, pick the one you like best and say why in the comments.

If you think this is a pointless exercise, blame these two bloggers:

Far Away Series

STMcC Presents BATTLE OF THE BANDS


If you like the idea, these guys are bandwagon jumpers like me:

Tossing It Out

Your Daily Dose


And those who came after:

Curious As A Cathy

The Creative Outlet of Stratplayer

The Sound Of One Hand Typing


Today's post was sparked by a recent Stephen T. McCarthy post (which I am pretty sure was recycled....figures a guy who used to work on the TV show MASH would subject us to reruns).

A lot of rock and roll guitarists cite Robert Johnson as a key influence.

Legend has it that Johnson sold his soul to Satan to obtain his musical talent, and his music, recorded on low fidelity euqipment in hotel rooms, has certainly endured.

As an itinerant musician who played mostly on street corners or in juke joints, Johnson saw little success in his lifetime.

The release of King Of The Delta Blues SIngers in 1961 brought his music to a wider audience. Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer who ever lived," and one of his earlier hits (with Cream) was a Johnson cover ("Crossroads"), and he has returned to that well many times, including an entire album (Me And Mr. Johnson).

While it's not my favorite Johnson song, I thought "Crossroads" might be the best choice for today as Clapton's version will be the most recognizable to those not familiar with Johnson.

Here is the Robert Johnson original. Try not to let the fidelity of the recording sway you-it was recorded in 1936 in a San Antonio hotel room.




Here is the Eric Clapton/Cream cover from Wheels On 
Fire
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And finally, here is Todd Rundgren's version from Todd Rundgren's Johnson, his album of RJ covers. 



video


Todd described the album more as covers of British rock guitarists covering Johnson rather than a tribute to the blues legend himself (since RJ's recordings were all acoustic).

You know what to do and where to do it.

I could spend the next several years featuring covers of Johnson tunes-while Johnson only recorded a couple of dozen tunes, I own a much larger selection of albums by a wide range of artists devoted to his songs.

But let's see what people think about this one... 

28 comments:

  1. Naturally I have never heard of Robert Johnson before now. I mean this guy is older than my daddy. When I saw the two newer contenders playing against Johnson I thought I knew who I would declare the winner, but I was surprised. Johnson is really good on the guitar, but even, if the recording had been better I still don't I care for his vocals. Eric Clapton, what's not to like? He's good on the guitar and has the voice...yeah, you knew there was a but in there...but the over-all flavor of his version didn't speak to me. That being said, I by far enjoyed Todd Rundgren's cover the best!

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    1. One can never go wrong voting for Todd!

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  2. Oh yeah -- definitely familiar with the Robert Johnson original and the Clapton/Cream version. I've stolen some of the licks from Clapton's solos. ;)

    Had never heard the Todd Rundgren version -- I knew he did a whole album of Robert Johnson covers but hadn't heard any of it. It's actually good, and kinds nice to hear a guy usually so focused on arrangement and production just kind of let loose with his guitar playing. Sounds like he's more having fun than he's "trying to make a record."

    But while Todd does a good job and is clearly capable, I'm afraid it doesn't quite reach the level of Clapton or Johnson. And while the original is wonderful, I'm voting for Slowhand in this one. This recording, even with all the Baker/Bruce "let's all solo at the same time as Clapton!" clutter, is too ingrained in my brain to vote against.

    So EC for me.

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  3. Johnson's version is an interesting historical artifact that as a rule I would not sit around listening to it. I can understand the influence of it, but it's not my favorite.

    Todd's version is well produced and well performed, but their is something that strikes me as weird about it. Maybe it reminds me too much of the way one of my friends might perform it. It's good, but for me somewhat stilted.

    I'm going with Cream. I'm most familiar with this version and prefer to hear it done this way.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  4. I admit I'm familiar with both the Johnson and Cream versions, but had never heard Todd's before, and I was a bit surprised to find how much I enjoyed his 'bluesy' sound.

    I'm probably most familiar with the Cream version and I do like it in itself, BUT the pure sweet simple blues of Robert Johnson is hard to beat. Too bad the recording isn't as smooth as the others, but even so, it gets my vote.

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    1. Todd rules, of course!

      I do see why McCarthy used to break out the RJ tunes in the wee hours, but the fidelity of those old recordings is both a plus and a minus.

      On the one hand, I'd love to hear them with clearer sound quality.

      On the other, there is an inherent charm to the quality, especially when I play my vinyl copy.

      We could save the politically correct police a lot of lobbying time-if everyone in America listened, really listened to some of the old Delta blues recodings, they'd have an appreciation for what it was like to be black in America.

      We don't need to dwell on it or apologize for it, but we should try to understand it.

      That way, the iPhone being a model 4 won't seem like such a tragedy...

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    2. Well said. I laughed at that iPhone remark.

      After living three years in the Caribbean, I won't patronize anybody by saying I found out what it was like being black in America, but I did learn what it was like to be the minority and have your race/color referred to as a 'dirty remark'. An eye opening experience in exactly what we don't understand.

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    3. There was a book I read back in high school called "Black Like Me," and if memory serves me it was non-fiction, about a white man posing as a black man. Pretty powerful-in fact, I may try to find a copy and re-read it.

      "Diversity" has become a corporate buzz word, but it seems to be lip service. I truly have always thought that diversity among people is what makes us interesting. Can I claim to be 100% free of prejudice? No-watch when I get cut off by someone and I'll usually let something insensitive fly.

      But overall, I've always assumed that deep down, most people of whatever origin are just as screwed up and insecure and trying to figure this life out just like me.

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  5. I'd heard both RJ's and Cream's versions, but not Todd's. The original is, well... original. When something like this is created it is just very special, and I recognize and appreciate it for that. He was a Founding Father of blues. Besides the "intellectual appreciation," I like Johnson's version, too.

    Todd's version is fine, to my ears, but not great.

    But even though I'd heard Cream/Clapton's version 250 times, hearing it again immediately following the version by his hero and song originator, I was struck by how VERY original Clapton's version was in its own right. The guitar work is better than Johnson's, IMO, and not at all derivative. The tempo totally alters the feel, too.

    Even though on the surface it might seem "easy" to one vote for them, this is a strong and seriously-considered vote for Cream.

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    1. Johnson's version certainly reflects a true feeling of "blues," something I am not sure Clapton or Rundgren can truly appreciate given their respective successes...although IClapton certainly experienced some pretty low emotions when his young son died (and I wish he'd not had to sample that taste-no parent should).

      We all get the blues, of course, but Johnson's life was hard.

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    2. So... your own vote is not for Rundgren? I'd guessed your own order would be:
      1) TR
      2) RJ
      3) EC/Cream

      But it sounds like maybe you are voting RJ. I know you never worry about waitin' til the end to spill it!

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    3. Actually, this was my least favorite song on the Rundgren album.

      It would be a toss up between RJ and EC, but I'd probably give the nod to the rock arrangement, although RJ does some pretty amazing stuff with just six strings.

      I have to be in a mood for acoustic blues, and I'm always in the mood for electric blues.

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  6. LC, I think I should have listened to these when I felt better.

    On the one hand, I can appreciate that Johnson did something pretty amazing in a hotel room with "limited" equipment. And I think it might be my favorite at about 3am after a few drinks. Instead, it is closer to 6pm and my fever is coming back (and I don't mean the good kind) and I am ticking off the minutes until my next dose of cold medicine. (Yeah, I am still popping the C, too!)

    I think the guitar work on the Cream version is pretty stellar in its own right. To this set of ears, it loosely hangs on the original and then goes its own way. Eric Clapton's voice is always a pleasure to listen to.

    I know that Todd is Your Man and his version was perfectly fine. Honestly, nothing wrong with it. I enjoyed it. I always feel like I'm walking on eggshells when I critique Todd here. ::tiptoeing very carefully:: But it didn't rock my socks off. There, I said it. (Sorry!)

    I do believe I liked the Cream version best and not because it is all that familiar to me. I have heard it - at most - a handful of times.

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    1. Well I am hurt.

      Not really-see my comment to Six above...I picked this song because people named something other than McCarthy would be familiar with it...if I wanted to make it truly a Rundgren/Johnson competition, I'd have selected "Dust My Broom" or "Hellhound On My Tail" and then would hunt down and punish anyone voting against Todd.

      But you can see the potential repercussions to that course of action, so I went with "Crossroad Blues."

      Clapton really made this song his, so unless one is a huge fan of acoustic blues, a vote any other way is a surprise to me.

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  7. LC ~
    Based on a remark in your recent Email, I was SURE this was the 'BOTB' you had coming up next.

    I was familiar with, and like, all of these versions. Johnson and Cream (Clapton) I obviously knew long before I met you. And, of course, it was you who turned me onto the Rundgren cover.

    They're all good in their own way... but...
    ...you already know who gets my vote.

    Too many drunken 3:00 AM listening sessions featuring Robert Johnson to go against the legendary Bluesman now.

    Fun Fact (as Beer Boy Bryan likes to say) :
    The vast majority of BOTBers don't know this but the photo logo we all use (with the two guitars, one blonde and one red) comes from a frame in the 1986 movie 'CROSSROADS' starring Ralph Macchio. It's the story of a young Classical guitar prodigy from Long Island whose true love is Blues and particularly the Blues of Robert Johnson. He sets out on an adventure to try to find the mythical "Robert Johnson's Lost Song".

    It's a very good movie that I highly recommend. And I took that photograph from my television screen and added the 'Battle Of The Bands' title to it.

    So, in a way, the whole 'Battle Of The Bands' bi-monthly Blogfest is tied in to the music of Robert Johnson.

    Good 'BOTB' blog bit, LC.

    Give my vote to the original: "The one and only Willie Brown"-- er, I mean, "the one and only Robert Johnson".

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. Yeah, if we hadn't discussed this at length over the years, your last post would have been enough for me to tally your vote for RJ without reading this comment.

      I think you lent me Crossroads except I remember it having Britney Spears in it....

      I kid-I liked the movie, although there was a mystery novel I read that borrows the "lost Johnson songs" idea that I liked better. Maybe if they had cast someone other than Ralph Macchio....or if they'd cast Pat Morita as the crusty old blues guitarist...

      LC

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  8. My vote on this would be Cream. Though the more I listen to Robert Johnson's version the smaller the gap is. Clapton does make the song his own turning it into an electric rock blues masterpiece. Johnson recording and sound is raw, his vocals don't appeal to everyone. That said they do grow on you.

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    1. I think the Cream version has immediate appeal, where the Johnson version does require repeated listens to fully appreciate.

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  9. I like Robert Johnson and can appreciate what he's doing with this song, but personally I just like the sound of it as more of an arrangement than a guy and a guitar. And while Todd's isn't bad, the Cream version is my clear choice for winner.

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    1. I say this a few times above, but Cream really has the iconic version.

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  10. Although the Cream version is most known and I love it I must go with the original Johnson version. It is raw and magical. You can feel the harshness he went through and it speaks to me. The 3rd one is good but not liking it as much as the other 2. Besides, years ago I saw a great film that hardly anyone has seen and I believe it is called "Crossroads" and it stars, of all people, Ralph Macchio. The music in this film is great. It is a gem few probably know about and I have a feeling you may enjoy

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    1. Birgit-

      Already have seen it, and I did enjoy the film in spite of Ralph Macchio.

      I make the same point you do on the RJ version-you feel what he lived through, although I can't fault people who vote for the Cream version.

      Larry

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    2. Hey, there wasn't anything at all wrong with Ralph Macchio's performance in 'CROSSROADS'. He did a good job in that role.

      It was the girl who played his love interest, Jami Gertz, who was pretty bad. But even her poor performance couldn't ruin a pretty darn good, interesting, Blues-based Fantasy movie.

      I've lost count of how many times I've watched 'CROSSROADS' but it still entertains me from beginning to end.

      Heck, it was directed by Walter Hill, and he ain't no slouch.

      ~ D-FensDogg
      'Loyal American Underground'

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    3. I just don't like Ralph Macchio...he pretty much plays a pussy in every role I've seen him in...but I'm not saying the film was bad.

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  11. Got to go with Cream. I know I'm preaching heresy, but I like the faster tempo.

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    1. No heresy, CW-that has been the version of the song for almost fifty years....

      Larry

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    2. I've gotta go with the original. Johnson captures that gut-deep authentic feeling that isn't quite there in the other two versions. I like the other two, but they're like pale imitations of the original. Kinda like Steve Martin playing a black man.

      I still have a copy of "Black Like Me." If you haven't already read it, another eye-opening book you might like is "Yes, I Can," the autobiography of Sammy Davis, Jr.

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  12. I listened to a lot of acoustic blues in my college days, and I have to go with Robert Johnson. He influenced a lot of the early Chicago bluesmen, most notably Muddy Waters, who covered a lot of Johnson's songs, and it's that sound that gets to me.

    John Holton
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

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