Posts Tagged ‘Robert Johnson’

Saturday Single No. 666

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

Well, look at that number! Just as some builders skip the thirteenth floor when they plan their buildings, I imagine some folks might just skip by that unsettling integer when it comes to them. License plates in Minnesota have three letters and three digits, and I wonder if there are drivers who ask for a different plate number if the one they’re issued carries 666. I imagine so.

It is, of course, “the number of the beast” as told in the book of Revelation of the Christian Bible. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

In the Textus Receptus manuscripts of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation (13:17–18) cryptically asserts 666 to be “man’s number” or “the number of a man” (depending on how the text is translated) associated with the Beast, an antagonistic creature that appears briefly about two-thirds into the apocalyptic vision. Some manuscripts of the original Greek use the symbols χξϛ chi xi stigma (or χξϝ with a digamma), while other manuscripts spell out the number in words.

In modern popular culture, 666 has become one of the most widely recognized symbols for the Antichrist or, alternatively, the devil. The number 666 is purportedly used to invoke Satan. Earnest references to the number occur both among apocalypticist Christian groups and in explicitly anti-Christian subcultures. References in contemporary Western art or literature are, more likely than not, intentional references to the Beast symbolism. Such popular references are therefore too numerous to list.

It is common to see the symbolic role of the integer 666 transferred to the digit sequence 6-6-6. Some people take the Satanic associations of 666 so seriously that they actively avoid things related to 666 or the digits 6-6-6. This is known as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

We’re not skipping past the number today. And there are plenty of tunes about the devil to choose from. (We’re going to ignore 666, the 1971 album by the Greek progressive rock group Aphrodite’s Child.) A RealPlayer search for “devil” brings us 286 tracks, and after the usual winnowing – ignoring, for instance, everything here by the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils and most of the 1988 album Devil’s Slide by Bob Brozman – there are plenty of tracks to work with.

Some come in multiples, of course: Four versions of “Devil & My Brown Blues,” six of “Devil Got My Woman” (plus a gender-flipped version, “Devil Got My Man” by Rory Block), four of “Friend Of The Devil,” nine of “Me & The Devil” or “Me & The Devil Blues,” four of “Sympathy For The Devil” (with one of them, a 1971 take by Blood, Sweat & Tears, appending an opening instrumental called “Symphony For The Devil”), three of “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil),” plus a few other titles that show up more than once.

So we’re going to pull up one of the versions of “Me & The Devil Blues,” and if we’re going to do that, we may as well as go straight to the source of the song, Robert Johnson. He recorded two takes of the tune during a June 20, 1937, session in Dallas. The first take, offered here, was released as Vocalion 4108.

‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ . . .’

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving week, and although we’re not celebrating the holiday until Saturday at my sister’s place, it’s still busy around here, and my time is not entirely my own. (The holiday delay arose because my Chicago-based niece and her family won’t arrive in Minnesota until Thursday morning, and no one saw the need to squeeze their arrival and a big family dinner into one day, so we went with Saturday.)

With time at a premium, I did a little digging in the digital files this morning, looking for something that fit today at least a little bit, and I found myself in San Antonio eighty years ago today. That was when – in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel* – Robert Johnson laid down two versions each of eight songs. Seven of those tracks would be released on Vocalion and alternate versions of six of those tracks were included in the 1990 box set The Complete Recordings.

(The alternate takes of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues” have never been found, according to everything I’ve seen.)

That was Johnson’s first session; he would record for two more days in San Antonio and then spend two days recording in Dallas the next June. So, to mark the eighty-year anniversary of that first day of recording in San Antonio, here’s the alternate version of “Come On In My Kitchen.”

(Counting the two versions Johnson recorded in San Antonio, I have twenty-seven versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” It’s been a few years since I dug into covers of the tune, and I imagine I’ve added a few since then, so I may look again in the next few weeks at all the ways one can be invited into the kitchen.)

*When I was in San Antonio nine years ago, the clerk at the desk in the Gunter Hotel said with an air of resignation that the number of the room in which Johnson recorded was lost to history. This morning, I saw that Wikipedia lists Room 414 as the location for the recordings. I don’t know if that’s something that’s been unearthed in the last nine years, or if it was known earlier but the clerk was unaware of it, or if the clerk knew but the hotel simply doesn’t want blues and history buffs wandering around the fourth floor taking photographs and perhaps other things as well. If I had to choose, I’d opt for the latter.