Tommy Johnson – 1928 – 1929
Cool drink of water blues – Big road blues – Bye-bye blues – Maggie Campbell blues – Canned heat blues – Lonesome home blues (take 1) – Lonesome home blues (take 2) – Big fat mama blues – I wonder to myself – Slidin` delta – Lonesome home blues – Boogaloosa woman – Morning prayer – Black mare blues (take 1) – Black mare blues (take 2) – Ridin` horse – Alcohol and jake blues
Probably because he doesn’t have the same romantic aura around him as his homonym Robert, Tommy is not the Johnson that history, or more exactly the medias, remember.
His recording career was brief, only 17 titles all available here, but the quality was constant.
During two sessions, one for Victor (songs 1-8) and the other for Paramount (9 to 17) he recorded one of the most interesting, rich and unique work in term of Delta Blues, that’ll influence many generations after him (Howlin Wolf, Houston Stackhouse…). He was also one of the first to come with the “crossroad mythology”.
His voice is full of intensity especially on autobiographical pieces like “Canned heat Blues” or “Maggie Campbell Blues” (named after one of his wife) and can turn into a high pitched falsetto, sometimes close to yodel. He supports it with a solid guitar style inspired by Charley Patton. Some sides show him backed by a second guitar (Charlie McCoy) or a clarinet and a piano on Black Mare Blues.
Maybe the Paramount sides compared to the Victor recordings don’t fit your quality standards, which is not a surprise from the label (Paramount not Document), but make the effort and you’ll be rewarded ten times by the quality of the music you’ll hear.
Sadly Johnson’s bad temper and his alcoholic habits didn’t allow him to build a “serious” career, which I guess lead to more alcoholism. He lost his royalties gambling and drinking and died in extreme poverty in 1956.
His musical legacy is a must have for anyone who’s interested in Delta Blues and Blues in general.
Fred “Virgil” Turgis