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Herman E. Johnson Lyrics

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Hi all,
I have been listening to "Smoky Babe & Herman E. Johnson--Louisiana Country Blues" a lot lately, and have really been impressed by everything about Herman Johnson's music.  He was an outstanding writer and a particularly expressive player and singer.  His "Depression Blues" is a real stand-out, one of the finest Blues compositions and performances I can recall having heard.  It may be based on some prior model, but if so, I have never heard it's predecessor or can not bring it to mind.  Real originality is quite rare in any style, and I think Herman Johnson may have had it.

"Depression Blues" is an 8-bar blues with two beats added to the final measure of the form, as sung, to accommodate the vocal pick-ups for the next verse.  The solos are phrased more freely.  Johnson accompanies himself on an electric guitar played out of E position, standard tuning (approximately), capoed to the third fret and sounding in G.  His accompaniment carries on a dialogue between the treble, which closely tracks his singing, and the bass, which counterpunches and sets up the phrasing.  Apart from a shift to IV suggested solely by a IV note struck in the bass in the third bar of the form in some verses, the song doesn't appear to have any chord changes.  I have to say, the sound of the electric guitar suits the song beautifully, just as well as the rasty electric guitar on Jimmy Lee Williams CD.  The rhythm and scansion of the lyrics are wonderfully crafted, and Johnson's singing could not be improved upon; he tends to draw out the last syllable of the last word in each verse and really lean on it.  It is great spooky singing.  Here is "Depression Blues":

   I'm looking for a Depression in nineteen and sixty-one
   And what grieves me so bad, I can't have no more fun

   I've been driving, I've been walking, until my hands and feet is tired,
   And I been goin' here and yonder but I can't find a job

   A man called me down in the alley, and I went there by myself
   That man had a little job and give it to someone else

   And I went out on the railroad, my friend told me to go
   He had all the men he wanted and he wasn't gonna hire no more

   Now I'll admit, the times is hard, and that is everywhere you go
   And all I do for my little woman, she just don't be pleased no more

   I walked all night long, my poor feet is soakin' wet
   I's lookin' for that little woman but I haven't found her yet


   I's lookin' for that little woman but I haven't found her yet

   I don't take the daily paper, I don't have time to hear the news
   I'm just a-rollin', rollin', rollin' with the Depression Blues

   I'm gonna take you for my friend, whoever you might be
   But if you hears of a job, will you break it on down to me?


   I'm feeling sad and lonesome, but man, I been sad all day
   But, well, I had a sweet little woman but unkindness drove her away

   Well, it seem mighty hard, but I brought it all on myself
   For she was so kind to me but I was lovin' someone else


What a great song!

All best,

Bunker Hill:
Tastes they are a-changing, methinks. I have looked out four British reviews from the time when Arhoolie first released material by Herman E Johnson (Arhoolie LP 1060, 1973). Critics  referred to his playing as "laboured" or "uncertain" or "sprinkled with cock-ups" or "not up to much". The general consensus on his vocal, "unexciting". However, all to a man, said that the best song on the LP was Depression Blues for its emotional or personal content! One of the reviews ended thus:

"Arhoolie have put out some bravely uncommercial releases in its history, and I wish I could recommend this, if only because Mr Johnson is now retired, and could probably use the money. Alas, I can't see this record as necessary to anybody's collection."

Ho hum...I still own this LP and don't think I've played it since the day I acquired it. Perhaps now is the time to do so. Thanks John.

I have recollection of reminding John about this cd a one of the recent EBA events. I do know that the first time I heard Depression Blues I was moved to tears, so powerful is the performance. Almost on a par with this is "You Don't Know My Mind" which takes Virginia Liston's comic song from the 20's and turns it into a tour de force of "blue" feeling and expression. I still find that I can only listen to this artist when I'm in an "up" mood.

Bunker Hill - shame those reviewers were looking for perfection in playing and performance - talk about lack of understanding of expression of   the human condition!
Keep your experts and anoraks - they are still around, although they don't seem to pop up here too often. This, speaking as a "blues fascist".

Hi all,
You are right, Phil, thanks for bringing Herman Johnson to my attention (though it took me a while to get around to listening to him).  He was certainly not what one would call a flashy player or singer, but I find him exceptionally expressive instrumentally and vocally, and innovative as a player and writer.  At this stage of the game, I would have to say that I do not necessarily place instrumental facility at the top of the list in things I'm looking for in a Blues musician.  I think that a lot of what passes for instrumental fluency may be automatic pilot, disengagement with the material, and having played it a few too many times.  In such instances, it may wind up being "dependable", but if you come away from it feeling like it would have been played the same had the player just been roused from a sound sleep, I'm not particularly interested in hearing it.  Someone who is occasionally klunky, but in the moment, and whose concept sometimes exceeds the ability to execute--I'm okay with that.  As far as I'm concerned, if you never screw up, you're not trying hard enough.
All best,

Bunker Hill:

--- Quote from: blueshome on May 24, 2006, 02:03:28 PM ---Keep your experts and anoraks - they are still around, although they don't seem to pop up here too often.
--- End quote ---
Hee, hee. Indeed they are still around and one HAS popped up here. I'm no expert but 'anorak' fits me well and I wear it with pride, though the description, 'stuck in a timewarp', suits better. ??? :)


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