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The words was the hardest thing to get and make 'em stick. Sometimes you'd sit down at night and write two or three songs, but they had the same tune to mostly all. All the blues pretty near sound alike unless you got a rare voice and put turns and trills in it - Thomas A. "Georgia Tom" Dorsey interviewed by Jim O'Neal and Amy van Singel, The Voice Of The Blues

Author Topic: Lemon and Robert Johnson  (Read 1276 times)

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Offline iwbiek

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Lemon and Robert Johnson
« on: April 06, 2015, 01:02:53 PM »
I have a question about a rather peculiar Blind Lemon Jefferson compilation I bought way back in 2000.  It's something I've wondered about for years.  I was just getting into blues as a serious fan, and the first two CDs I bought as such were "Rolling and Tumblin'," a bargain-priced 2-CD compilation of late Elmore James studio cuts (still highly recommend it), and the only Blind Lemon Jefferson CD Barnes & Noble had at the time: an odd offering from Tradition called "Moanin' All Over."

On the back of the CD was a little blurb that began "Blind Lemon is the 'father' of the blues, after all, he taught Robert Johnson."  Being a novice at the time, I didn't know any better.  A few weeks later, I picked up a Robert Johnson compilation.  It wasn't the famous 2-disc Root 'n' Blues set--I got that about a year later--but rather a solid one-disc compilation called, I believe, "King of the Delta Blues."  It had a rather detailed booklet with it and I was very excited to read about Lemon's relationship with Robert Johnson.  Of course, there was zilch.  By the time I got the 2-disc with its fatter booklet, I knew no such relationship had existed, but I had hoped at least to find out how such a misconception had started.  Again, zilch.  Ditto with Yazoo's Blind Lemon "King of the Country Blues" compilation with its detailed booklet--no mention of R.J. at all.

In the intervening 15 years, I have searched the net now and again for some clue, only to find nothing.  It seems Lemon and R.J. are in fact almost never mentioned in the same article.  Now, I always knew the Tradition CD had to have originally been an LP because there are only 9 tracks, and the selection is so obscure: mostly later Lemon tunes; the only song that can reasonably be called classic Lemon is the first track, "Black Snake Moan."  In the booklet, sure enough, it says, "Original LP release: Blind Lemon Jefferson Olympic 7134."  The liner notes are credited to Anton Glovsky, reissue produced by David Greenberg.  The kicker is, even the booklet says NOTHING about R.J. or their purported relationship: only the little paragraph on the back of the CD says this, and I don't know if that was written by Glovsky or what.

What do you think?  Some long-lost, obscure legend?  A cheap marketing ploy to hop on the '90s Robert Johnson hype (the CD is copyrighted 1996)?  Does anyone know anything more about either the Tradition CD or the original Olympic LP?  Anyone here work or used to work for Tradition?  The whole thing has bothered me for years because it seems to be a total dead-end.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2015, 01:08:52 PM »
It was obviously written by someone who either did not know the truth or didn't care.  I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.  Best bet was that they were looking to sell Lemon's music on the basis of a spurious association with Robert Johnson.
All best,
Johnm

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2015, 01:31:07 PM »
I guess I just have a hard time believing that a label with a history like Tradition's would be that irresponsible.  Then again, I have a couple other of their blues releases from the same time and, while the music is solid (and even rather rare sometimes), the documentation is shoddy at best.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2015, 02:19:38 PM »
I have the original Blind Lemon Jefferson Olympic 7134 LP, but it's buried under a ton of stuff, so it may be a while before I can check it out. IIRC, I  picked it up  in the early-mid 1970s and it was probably a closeout or bargain label that I saw and grabbed. I also have a couple of the Milestone re-issues from that era.

What do I think?  It is/was probably a case of "someone says," --but "sayin' don't make it so," thus without independent verification, I wouldn't lend it any credence.

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2015, 02:30:01 PM »
I don't give it any credence at all, but the whole thing is so random and so unnecessary (it's not like Lemon didn't have plausible connections with other famous blues artists), I'd just like to know if anyone else has ever heard this rumor.

BTW, I'd love to know if the original Olympic LP mentions it, whenever you get a chance to dig it out! :)

Offline oddenda

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2015, 09:16:15 PM »
It IS likely that RJ heard Lemon's recordings, though - he was of the newer generation to use recordings as partial mentors!

pbl

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2015, 10:02:46 PM »
I have the original Blind Lemon Jefferson Olympic 7134 LP, but it's buried under a ton of stuff, so it may be a while before I can check it out. IIRC, I  picked it up  in the early-mid 1970s and it was probably a closeout or bargain label that I saw and grabbed. I also have a couple of the Milestone re-issues from that era.
Scroll down to item 75 in Stefan's BLJ discography where the original LP can be viewed and the notes read.

http://www.wirz.de/music/jeffefrm.htm

Offline Shovel

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2015, 08:40:45 AM »
Best bet was that they were looking to sell Lemon's music on the basis of a spurious association with Robert Johnson.

It IS likely that RJ heard Lemon's recordings, though - he was of the newer generation to use recordings as partial mentors!
pbl

I think these two posts likely provide the foundation of a meaningful answer.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2015, 08:55:04 AM »
Hi all,
It's worth mentioning that while Robert Johnson certainly learned via recordings, as did so many musicians once recordings started being available, his recorded repertoire, at least, is notably devoid of riffs or ways of getting around on the guitar derived from Lemon, nor does he employ vocal devices or lyrics derived from Lemon's music.  His two most notable influences from recordings are Scrapper Blackwell, for his playing out of A position, and Lonnie Johnson for "Drunken Hearted Man" and "Malted Milk".  "Hellhound On My Trail" almost certainly derives from Skip James, whom he may have seen in person.
It would be really interesting to know the derivation of Johnson's way of playing in Spanish that he used for "Terraplane" and "Stones In My Passway", and whether he came up with it on his own or it showed the influence of the unrecorded (as far as we know) Ike Zinnerman.  Those songs don't show a Son House influence, or that of any recorded player prior to Robert Johnson that I have heard.   However Johnson came by that sound, it is strong, strong, strong, just terrific, both instrumentally and vocally.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Stuart

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2015, 08:57:18 AM »
Thanks, Alan--It saves me from going on a major archeological expedition (in my own living room!), but I'll definitely take a look at some point the next time I descend into the lower depths.

I agree, Peter. But the wording seems to imply that RJ was personally taught by BLJ--to this reader anyway. There's no doubt that RJ learned from records, perhaps BLJ's among them, as the "Roots of RJ" compilation seems to suggest. (Thanks for the clarification, John.)  I think that many of us can say that we've been "taught" something from someone, even though we've never received any personal  instruction from the person. But that's a whole 'nother topic.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2015, 08:58:50 AM by Stuart »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2015, 11:47:25 AM »
It would be really interesting to know the derivation of Johnson's way of playing in Spanish that he used for "Terraplane" and "Stones In My Passway", and whether he came up with it on his own or it showed the influence of the unrecorded (as far as we know) Ike Zinnerman.  Those songs don't show a Son House influence, or that of any recorded player prior to Robert Johnson that I have heard.   However Johnson came by that sound, it is strong, strong, strong, just terrific, both instrumentally and vocally.

Recently I've been thinking that Johnson's playing in the style you're talking about might have been influenced quite a bit by Big Joe Williams. I think Big Joe's early recordings (in his capoed-up-the-neck six-string phase), while not sounding exactly like "Terraplane," etc., bear more than a passing resemblance. "49 Highway Blues" especially reminds me of Johnson (and has a verse about the crossroads to boot!).
Chris
« Last Edit: April 07, 2015, 11:48:29 AM by banjochris »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2015, 12:56:29 PM »
Good point, Chris, I hadn't thought of Big Joe.  I can hear some of the rhythmic similarities between Robert Johnson and him, which is where I think Johnson diverged most notably from other players in Spanish prior to him.
All best,
Johnm

Offline harry

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2015, 01:29:22 PM »
However Johnson came by that sound, it is strong, strong, strong, just terrific, both instrumentally and vocally.

I think Peetie Wheatstraw was a major influence vocally. You can hear that on Steady Rollin Man.

Offline Shovel

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Re: Lemon and Robert Johnson
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2015, 02:12:10 PM »

I think Peetie Wheatstraw was a major influence vocally. You can hear that on Steady Rollin Man.
Voice-wise - Robert Johnson and Sleepy John Estes sound similar to me
« Last Edit: April 23, 2015, 05:56:52 PM by Shovel »

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