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.

Lead Belly: Midnight Special

It's Sunday, and Sunday is blues day! Today I've been listening to Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly. He was born on 20 January 1889 and died on 6 December 1949. Here's his version of the traditional folk blues song Midnight Special, which many listeners will know from later covers by Little Richard, The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival amongst others:

The 12-string guitar quickly became Lead Belly's signature instrument, but he was perfectly capable of playing other instruments too, including the harmonica, mandolin, piano and accordion, as evidenced by many of his recordings. Luckily, John and Alan Lomax toured the Mississippi delta in the 1930s and 40s on behalf of the Library of Congress to record many of the delta's black blues musicians, who were still mostly living and playing around the farms they'd been working on as field hands. The famous Library of Congress recordings also captured several cuts by Lead Belly on aluminum or acetate discs, including another great version of Midnight Special.

To round things up, here's the CCR version for comparison: