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There's the trade, then there's the tricks of the trade, you unnerstand? - Larry Johnson, Port Townsend 98

Author Topic: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics  (Read 11171 times)

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Online Johnm

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Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« on: May 23, 2006, 07:58:35 PM »
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

   SOLO:

   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?

   SOLO:

   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

   SOLO:

What a great song!

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:26:04 AM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2006, 12:20:44 PM »
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.

Offline blueshome

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2006, 02:03:28 PM »
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".

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2006, 10:48:27 PM »
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,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2006, 10:57:01 AM »
Keep your experts and anoraks - they are still around, although they don't seem to pop up here too often.
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. ??? :)

Offline blueshome

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2006, 12:40:21 PM »
Bunker,

I would consider you an enthusiast and blues lover - you know very well the type of self-seeking arrogance I was inferring - that  possessed by many members of the blues "mafia" here and in the US.

Phil

Offline Richard

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2006, 12:54:24 PM »
Bunker, you are no more an anorak than I am and I don't mind being stuck in time warp either!

As Phil says you are an "enthusiast and blues lover ".
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Online Johnm

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Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2006, 08:31:44 PM »
Hi all,
Another Herman Johnson performance that I have been particularly enjoying is his mysterious "She Is Looking For Me".  It is an eerie, very freely phrased song played in Spanish tuning at A with a slide.  If you have not heard the song before, I would say that the piece it most reminds me of, so far as its sound goes, would be Charlie Patton's  "When Your Way Gets Dark", and it will give you some idea of the esteem that I hold "She Is Looking For Me" in to say that I do not think it suffers by comparison with the Patton performance.  Like many players before him, Johnson often uses the slide to complete vocal phrases, but his use of the device is particularly effective.  Moreover, he utililizes the friction of the slide on his wound strings to get a sound reminiscent of the sound of a chorus of peepers out in the countryside on a hot summer night.  Johnson does not keep time in any regular way with the thumb of his right hand, but the absence of a clearly stated pulse suits the mood and phrasing of the song better than its presence would have.  At the end of most verses Johnson just barely hints at the "3 phrased in 4" vamp found on a lot of Charley Lincoln records, that Charley most often phrased thumb-thumb-slide thumb-thumb-slide thumb-thumb-slide.  This is really a special performance.  Here is "She Is Looking For Me":



   She are looking for (slide), she are looking for me
   Yes, I know she are looking for me

   I'm going to catch me a train, if I have to ride on the top
   Because I know, she are looking for (slide)

   I am looking for my fiancee, and I don't intend to stop
   SPOKEN:  Not until I finds her!
   Because I know she are looking for me

   I dreamed about her a lot and I almost cry
   Because I know that she was looking for me

   Whenever I sees her in my dream, I know she is not satisfied
   That's how I knew that she was looking for me

   Yes, she is looking for (slide), she is looking for me
   Yes I know, she are looking (slide)

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:27:52 AM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2006, 04:49:33 PM »
Hi all,
Herman Johnson came through with another very strong song and performance on "She Had Been Drinking".  He played it on a distorting electric guitar that suited the song beautifully, in a variant of Spanish tuning I have not heard before.  The upper five strings are as they would normally be tuned in Spanish, pitched at A, but Johnson tuned his sixth string down a full octave below his fifth string, ending up with a really eerie-sounding very low root there.  The resulting tuning, A-A-E-A-C#-E, is similar to Roscoe Holcomb's version of Spanish tuning, except that Roscoe's fifth and sixth strings are tuned to a unison rather than an octave apart.  Herman Johnson's left hand on the song is almost exclusively fretting single strings--there are no chord positions as such, and the song could just as well have been down with a slide, though the effect might have been less punchy.  The song has a very funky sort of Latin groove.
Lyrically, the song is a chorus blues, with the chorus changing from verse to verse, a really neat feature.  The song is unusual for a blues in suggesting that drinking can result in something other than a great time.  The first two verses are especially tough.  Where Johnson ended a sung line instrumentally, I will indicate it with a dash.  Here is "She Had Been Drinking":



   CHORUS:  I know you had been drinkin', baby, I had --
   I just don't like it, woman, and it's no need to say I --

   I was standing at the gate when she looked around
   Caught her by the hand and I knocked her down
   Because she had been a-drinkin', my mama had --
   I just don't like it, woman, and it's no need to say I --

   She got a-loose from me, beat me to the door
   She and I stumbled all over the floor
   Because she had been a-drinkin', my mama had --
   I just don't like it, woman, and it's no need to say I --

   You've been giving me lots of trouble, running around
   That man you used to love he must have put you down
   Is that why you're drinkin', well, then I am --
   I just don't like it, woman, and I --

   I know you had been drinkin', then I had --
   I just don't like it, woman, and it's no need to say I --

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:29:11 AM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2006, 04:57:40 PM »
Hi all,
After posting the lyrics to "She Had Been Drinking" yesterday, I realized there is something really striking about the way Herman Johnson uses the guitar to finish the vocal phrases on the chorus.  If you look at his first chorus as an example:

   I know you had been drinkin', baby, I had --
   I just don't like it, woman, and it's no need to say I --

The dashes at the end of each line represent the guitar being used to finish the line.  It seemed obvious that the omitted word at the end of the second line was "do", but I couldn't make sense with it rhyming with the end of the first line.  Then I realized that the omitted word at the end of the first line is "too".  I can not recall another instance in the Country Blues where the rhyme words at the ends of the lines of the chorus are never sung during the course of the rendition, and are only played, trusting the listener to pick up the implicit meaning.  It is a really advanced compositional concept, and I think it is especially cool the way Herman Johnson gave his listeners credit for being able to fill in the blanks.  Hats off!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Doug

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2006, 05:21:09 PM »
I'm no expert but 'anorak' fits me well and I wear it with pride, though the description, 'stuck in a timewarp', suits better. ??? :)

I love Weenie Campbell.  Not only do I get to read about great blues I would probably never have heard of (thanks Johnm!), I get a free lesson in British slang.  I always though anoraks were a type of jacket, so I was wondering why Bunker was wearing a parka with pride until I googled the term... ;)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "Depression Blues"--Herman E. Johnson
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2006, 11:52:51 PM »
I'm no expert but 'anorak' fits me well and I wear it with pride, though the description, 'stuck in a timewarp', suits better. ??? :)
I love Weenie Campbell.  Not only do I get to read about great blues I would probably never have heard of (thanks Johnm!), I get a free lesson in British slang.  I always though anoraks were a type of jacket, so I was wondering why Bunker was wearing a parka with pride until I googled the term... ;)
As this is way off topic I'll keep it short. In Britain an anorak and a Parka (which I used to wear in mid-60s when riding around on my Lambretta GT) are slightly different items of clothing. An anorak became synonymous with those whose hobby was trainspotting and the term started to be used derogatorily to mean anybody with an obsession for collecting, be it locomotive numbers or record matrix numbers.

Online Johnm

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Re: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2006, 05:19:06 PM »
Hi all,
Yet another outstanding Herman E. Johnson song is his "I Am Growing Older".  He plays it on an electric guitar out of E position in standard tuning, pitched at G, so barring extreme high tuning, he would be capoed at the third fret.  Despite his sometimes halting execution, the song accompaniment is beautifully worked out and played consistently throughout the performance.
"I Am Growing Older" employs the phrasing archetype used in Sleepy John Estes' "Airplane Blues", Memphis Minnnie's "Chauffeur Blues" and "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl".  Johnson comes up with some terrific additions to the blues lyric canon, and makes a great point in verse three:  no empathy = no imagination.  He pronounces "filthy" "filther" in verse five.  This is a really blue song, and like most of the lowest blues, it shows the singer in a position of no power.  Things look up a bit in the next-to-last verse and then the other shoe drops.  Tough.  Here is "I Am Growing Older":



   I am growing older, I am growing older
   But I just can't help, I just can't help myself
   After she got all my little pocket change
   She run off with someone else

   I can't tell hardly, I can't tell hardly
   That's Monday from Tuesday, and Tuesday from Wednesday noon
   But either Thursday, Friday or Saturday
   By Sunday I'll be there soon

   Now don't deny me, woman, don't deny me
   That's all that I, that's all that I can do
   But I want you to remember that
   Someday you'll be old too

   Now don't mistreat me, now don't mistreat me
   Because I am growing, because I am growing old
   Now you can have you another boyfriend
   Without you being so bold

   You treats me mean, gal, you treats me mean, gal,
   And you treats me dirt-, filther [sic] and dirty, too
   And you know there is no tellin' what
   A gal like you won't do

   SOLO

   I'm gonna leave here walkin', gonna leave here walkin'
   But I don't know where, I don't know where I will go
   Because the woman I been lovin'
   She drove me from her door

   I got a gal crosstown, man, got a girl crosstown, man,
   And she tall as a syca-, she's tall as a sycamore tree
   She walks through the rain cold weather just
   Man, just to be with me

   But she's deceitful, man, she's deceitful
   And she's tryin' to get, get me all worn down
   After she get all my little pocket change
   She gon' drive me from her town

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:33:06 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2006, 10:08:45 PM »
Hi all,
Herman Johnson played "Leavin' Blues" in the same low-octave sixth string variant of Spanish tuning that he used for "She Had Been Drinking".  "Leavin' Blues" is very freely phrased in a call-and-response fashion, going back and forth between the sung lines and the guitar's answer.  Some of what Johnson plays reminds me of early Robert Pete Williams ( though far less technical), in that it sounds as though occasionally he had no idea what he was going to play until he had played it.  It's a scary way to make music, but if you can get away with it, it can be quite exciting.  The singing is wonderful, as I have come to expect from Herman Johnson.  The track seems truncated; perhaps Johnson made some mistake later on in the rendition that disqualified it from use, but Chris Strachwitz thought the beginning was strong enough to issue as it was.  If that was the case, I'm glad that choice was made.  Here is "Leaving' Blues":



   I wanted to leave here this evening but I will stay here all night long (2)
   Because the girl that I love, she caught that westbound train and gone

   And this road is so foggy, Lord knows I can't see the road
   This road is so foggy until I can't see the road
   It'll take me so long to make it because I'll have to drive so slow

   I'll eat my breakfast here, eat my supper in Mexico
   I'll eat my breakfast here and eat my supper in Mexico
   So goodbye, Miss Corrinna, woman, I won't see you no more

   SOLO
   
   So goodbye, Corrinna, girl, I won't see you no more

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:34:17 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Herman E. Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2006, 12:41:50 AM »
Hi all,
There can be no doubt about Herman Johnson's "Piano Blues" being truncated, for it ends in a fade.  It sounds to be played in conventional Spanish tuning around A.  Johnson recycles many of the instrumental ideas he used on his version of "You Don't Know My Mind", and the rendition, up to the point at which it fades, is a particularly strong one.  Its two verses are tantalizing.  Here is "Piano Blues":



   Mama told sister, "Close the piano down." (2)
   She didn't have no blues, but she hated to hear the sound

   Come here, pretty mama, I wants to whisper in your ear
   Come here, pretty mama, let me whisper in your ear
   I got something to tell you, I don't want no one to hear

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 19, 2020, 10:35:13 AM by Johnm »

 


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