Johnny Cash: Home Of The Blues

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! This week with a country spin, as I'd like to remember the great Johnny Cash. February 26 would have been his 85th birthday. The song Home Of The Blues off his 1958 album Sings The Songs That Made Him Famous (released by the Sun Record Company) is about his unhappy childhood. Cash's older brother Jack, to whom Johnny was very close, died at the age of 15 after he'd been pulled into a head saw in the mill he worked at in 1944. He was almost cut in two and suffered for over a week before he finally died. Many decades later Johnny Cash still spoke of this horrible accident and said he looked forward to meeting his brother again in heaven.

I walk and cry while my heartbeat
Keeps time with the drag of my shoes
The sun never shines through this window of mine
It's dark at the Home of the Blues

Oh, but the place is filled with the sweetest mem'ries
Memories so sweet that I cry
Dreams that I've had left me feeling so bad
I just want to give up and lay down and die

Jimmie Vaughan: (Everybody's Got) Sweet Soul Vibe

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! This week with (Everybody's Got) Sweet Soul Vibe by Jimmie Vaughan off his 1994 album Strange Pleasure. Most blues songs I've posted so far have been a bit gloomy, so today's pick is a tad more uplifting for a change. Jimmie Vaughan was born in Dallas County, Texas in 1951. Based in Austin, Vaughan plays Texas blues, which is usually characterised as more jazzy and swingy than other blues styles, such as the Delta blues and Chicago blues. He formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds in the mid-1970s and stayed with them until 1989, when he left the band to play with his younger brother, blues rock guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. Tragically, Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash in 1990. Strange Pleasure was Jimmie's first solo release. It also features the acoustic song "Six Strings Down" about the death of his brother.

Peter Green: A Fool No More

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! This week with the slow blues A Fool No More by Peter Green. It is off his 1979 album In The Skies. Having founded Fleetwood Mac in London in the late 1960s, Green used to be a preeminent blues rock guitarist during the British blues movement. Even audiences not listening to the blues will probably recognise some of his songs, such as Black Magic Woman, which was later covered by Santana. Peter Green began taking larger doses of LSD around 1970, leading to him leaving Fleetwood Mac. Succumbing to mental illness, Green underwent treatment for schizophrenia in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-1970s. Although he reappeared on the music scene sporadically towards the end of that decade, he has mostly remained in obscurity from 1980 onward.

Tommy Johnson: Canned Heat Blues

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! This week we're going all the way back to the early days of the delta blues. Tommy Johnson was born in the small town of Terry, Mississippi in 1896. He later moved to Crystal Springs and then, after getting married at the age of 20, to a plantation near Drew, Mississippi. That plantation was very close to the famous Dockery Plantation, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of the delta blues due to the number of blues musicians who lived and worked there. It was there that Tommy Johnson met fellow musicians, including the great Charlie Patton and Willie Brown. (Other residents of the Dockery Plantation were Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf.)

An alcoholic for most of his life, Tommy Johnson adopted a sinister persona -- not just through his blues songs but also through the creation of a legend: Johnson, so the legend goes, sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for his skillful guitar playing. This same legend was later picked up by Robert Johnson and is mostly attributed to him these days, although Tommy Johnson appears to be the original source for it. The two musicians were not related, by the way.

Here's Tommy Johnson's Canned Heat Blues, recorded for Victor Records in 1928. The song's about Johnson drinking methanol from a cooking fuel:

Cryin', mama, mama, mama
Cryin', canned heat killin' me
Plead to my soul, Lord
They gon' kill me dead.

Elmore James: Dust My Broom

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! Today featuring the great Elmore James, known as the "King of the Slide Guitar", with his rendition of the Robert Johnson song Dust My Broom. Although born in Richland, Holmes County to the right of the Yazoo river and hence just outside of the Mississippi delta, Elmore James became one of the most famous representatives of the delta blues. His versions of delta blues classics relied heavily on amplification of his instrument -- a rather innovative technique at the time -- bringing him to the forefront of the blues scene in the 1950s and early 60s. James is best known for his electric "bottleneck" slide guitar playing, which influenced many later blues players, including late Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, Fleetwood Mac's Jeremy Spencer, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.