You guys sure are impatient for some Robert Johnson. Are you worried I might stop posting again before I get there? Or are you wondering if, given my previous comments about old blues, I might give him a bad review? Or perhaps some of you just think if you say his name three times he'll reappear and drop a new song on us? Well, I was
gonna wait til I finished all of the Johnsons before popping off another post (that's what she said!)
but whatever. Give the people what they want, I always say (<---I actually never say this.) MARV JOHNSON
-- In 1959, Marv was the very first artist signed to Berry Gordy's Tamla Records. (Quick history lesson: Tamla was the first of Gordy's label imprints. The first record on the Motown label proper was "Bad Girl" by The Miracles.) Since Motown wasn't yet an established force of its own, Marv and Gordy's first single, the delightfully bouncy "Come To Me"
, was distributed nationally by United Artists. Shortly thereafter, UA signed Marv directly, but Berry stayed on as his manager and songwriter; both "Come To Me" as well as the even better, even bigger hit "You Got What It Takes"
were co-written by Gordy, as were many other early Johnson releases. Marv had only one more major chart appearance, "I Love The Way You Love"
(again co-written by Gordy), but those hits were enough to convince United Artists to release two whole (unimaginately titled) albums in 1960 -- Marvelous Marv Johnson
and More Marvelous Marv Johnson
-- both of which were reissued as a 2-on-1 CD by Collectables. They are typical soul music records of the era; all three big hits are here, plus a whole buncha really undistinguished filler. The first album is chock-full of some seriously pointless versions of Gershwin standards ("S'Wonderful", "I Can't Get Started", "Love Is Here To Stay", and of course, "Summertime", because everybody had to record that back in the day for some unfathomable reason) and the whole affair is way overproduced with strings and horns and goopy backup singers attempting to compensate for Marv's uninspired performances and poor song selections. (Not that Marv's voice is bad or anything, but Smokey Robinson he ain't, and away from the modern pop sound of his hits, he is way out of his depth.) At least the filler on album two is Berry Gordy/Smokey Robinson toss-offs but even still, this is mostly pretty undistinguished stuff. The disc is rounded out with a few stray singles -- including a truly wretched version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" -- that never made much of a chart impression, nor did they deserve to. PETE JOHNSON
-- Y'all like barrelhouse boogie woogie piano, right? Of course you do. Everybody does! And Pete Johnson, well, he's the fuckin' man. The single disc I have filed under his name (I've got more of him backing Big Joe Turner, but at this rate it's gonna be another seven years before I get that far) is another of my cobbled-together-from-various-comps affairs, covering the years 1936 (when Johnson was a member of Harry James's Boogie Woogie Trio) through 1946. Deeeeeeelightful stuff. There's fast numbers and
slow numbers! Diversity! But seriously, when music is this animated and joyful, I don't really care how samey the particular songs are. I mean, come on -- how can anyone not groove to this
? There's lots more Pete Johnson music available, so the fact that my disc is a self-made comp and I can't recommend any particular CD should be of no consequence. If Pete Johnson is playing piano (excuse me, I meant pianny), it's good. 'Nuff said.ROBERT JOHNSON
-- Unlike so many other Delta bluesmen, who at this point I've kinda come to fear when they show up in this project, I wasn't the least bit worried about this one. That's because Robert Johnson's near-universal adoration is most definitely earned. More often than not, the people singing his praises are guitar players who found inspiration in his bottleneck playing, which is great, to be sure, but to my ears it's his often acrobatic vocals that do the real heavy lifting.
Because there's really no reason in this day and age to own anything but his Complete Recordings
, that's indeed what I have. Dude only recorded 29 different songs, after all -- might as well own them all in one place. Unfortunately, just like the idiots at Blue Note, the compilers here thought it was a good idea to put the master and the alternate takes right next to each other in the running order (when obviously they should have been split between discs, amirite?) But that's a quibble about the presentation -- there's no arguing with the greatness of these songs or the performances by Johnson which range from the peppy ragtime "They're Red Hot"
to the absolutely terrifying "Hellhound On My Trail"
. I don't know that I need to say much more. Either you've explored Johnson's music on your own or you're probably just not interested; it's not like you've never heard of him, right? Anyway, hopefully some of the more impatient commenters here will chime in with their own thoughts.Possibly important note for listeners to Robert Johnson: It's pretty well-established at this point that Robert Johnson's recordings were all sped up a bit before their release. I don't think there's a consensus as to whether this was by mistake or done intentionally to make them sound more otherworldly. Whatever the reason, while it's possible to find examples of people "correcting" the speed, the CD presents these tracks as they've been passed down and there's really no way to know for sure what the proper speed is. Many scholars have claimed they're at least 20% too fast. That seems like a stretch to me, as it does to this YouTube poster who adjusted them by ear. I think he's probably more in the ballpark. The curious can hear his slowed-down versions of "Hellhound" and "Red Hot" and judge for themselves. I think both versions sound pretty great, so I don't much care ultimately, but it's interesting nonetheless, not just because of the effect it specifically has on how modern ears imagine Johnson, but also as an example of how changes in technology have an effect on future playback.
Next up . . . one more Johnson to go!