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.