Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983
STMcC in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“THERE AIN’T BUT THE ONE THING MAKES MISTER JOHNSON DRINK”

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KING OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS, Vol. II
Robert Johnson
released: 1970
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I fell in love with the music of ROBERT JOHNSON in the late 1970s, and played it frequently during the early 1980s while hanging out with THE LEAGUE OF SOUL CRUSADERS in my “Liquidated Youth”. (Some people have a “drinking buddy” but I had a “drinking gang”.)

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I owned both of the 'KING OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS' albums, and though Vol. 1 had Robert Johnson's most revered Blues masterpieces, including his great “devil” tunes, I always preferred Vol. 2 because I felt it contained more sonic variety. (Even my Ma loved “They’re Red Hot” because of all the changes in pitch that Johnson’s voice assumes in that cut.) I played the hell out of Robert Johnson in those days, and the other Soul Crusaders became infected with the Blues as a result. (They eventually learned some of the words to “Love In Vain” and we’d sing it while driving to the next watering hole.)
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By now, everyone’s heard that Johnson sold his soul to the devil for his prodigious musical talent. (What’re ya tryin’ to cast doubt on one of the great stories in the history of American music? Why ya blasted commie, I oughta -- a-Woo-Woo-Woo!) And hopefully you know that Led Zeppelin ripped off Johnson (and Wolf and Muddy) shamelessly with their first two albums. (Remember that line from Led Zepp II, where Plant sings, “You can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg”? They stole it directly from R.J. But R.J. wasn’t always so crude with his sexual references; he could also be funny. In “From Four Until Late” he sings, “A woman is like a dresser; some man’s always rambling through its drawers.”)
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I have myriad Robert Johnson/Booze ’N’ Blues memories intertwined throughout my personal history to keep me company in my sober, old age. When we Soul Crusaders were in an energetic drinkin’ mood we’d often play Springsteen’s 'BORN TO RUN', 'MORRISON HOTEL' by The Doors, or 'TOO-RYE-AY' by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. When I was in a more mellow, contemplative mood, I’d drink to Van Morrison’s 'ASTRAL WEEKS', 'PIRATES' by Rickie Lee Jones, or 'SMALL CHANGE' by Tom Waits. (Of course, when we were in a Country-Western frame of mind there was just no substitute for the album 'MY BABY BUSTED MY HEART BUT I’M CRYIN’ ’CAUSE I SLICED AN ONION' by Yoey O’Dogherty And His Corn Liquor Boys.)
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But at 3:30 AM, when all the other Soul Crusaders were passed out, me ’n’ Twinkie would head for his bedroom. I know what you’re thinkin’, and it wasn’t like that at all! Despite his nickname, Twinkie and I were both manly men -- like lumberjacks, OK? And we were just going into his bedroom to listen to Robert Johnson. One night, we experienced a Liquidated Magical Moment: we simultaneously heard an R.J. lick that was literally “IMPOSSIBLE” for a single guitarist to play. Our heads snapped and we looked to each other, both of us slack-jawed. We never could find that exact same spot on the album again when in a sober state, so it was just one more of those mysterious things that happen when Boys ’N’ Booze meet (you rummies know what I’m yakkin’ 'bout).
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Twinkie’s real surname was “Johnson”, and borrowing the lyric from 'Kind Hearted Woman Blues', we used to sing out “Now there ain’t but the one thing makes Mister Johnson drink” every time he was having female troubles. (And he was ALWAYS having female troubles, so he did a lot of drinking. I only drank when I didn’t have a woman to give me trouble, meaning this lonesome boy also did a lot of drinking.) And Robert Johnson even inspired me to write my own Blues song, 'Devil On My Coattail Blues'. I’d sing it for ya, but I like ya too much to do that.
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The best performance of R.J.’s 'Love In Vain' that the Soul Crusaders ever gave was the night an angry Napoleon (aka Nappy), my brother (The League’s 5’ 6" “enforcer”), decided to stumble home from The Music Machine dance club when a smart woman declined his request for a dance. It would have been about a 12-mile walk, so we went looking for him shortly after he stormed out.

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Meanwhile, Napoleon had entered a bar to buy a cigar for the walk home, when some big, fat feller with some artificial hair started some crap with Nappy just because he was only 5’ 6”. Well, Nappy -- never one to take any crap from anyone -- reciprocated with some lip o' his own and then left the bar with his cigar.
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Fat Feller, figuring he would show his bar buddies how tough he was, went out after little Nappy and took a swing at him. (Ooooh, big boo-boo, Fat Feller! Ya just don’t antagonize “Little Mad Guy”.) With freakish quickness, Nappy flicked a left jab to set Fat Feller up, and immediately followed that with the right cross.

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Now ordinarily, Nappy’s right cross is enough to send ANY man to the next lunar cycle, if not to the Moon itself. But in this case, being in the “100-proof condition” that he was, Nappy’s punch merely succeeded in putting Fat Feller’s head into the full speed Linda Blair Exorcist-Spin Cycle. By the time the headlights of our van flashed upon the two combatants squared off with each other in the street, Fat Feller’s head was just coming to a stop, his toupee was lying in the dirt in the next county, and all of the fight had gone out of him. (Who knows where it went -- but it was later reported that something with its tail between its legs was seen yelping Westbound on Pico Boulevard, moving with great haste toward the Pacific Ocean.)
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We hustled Napoleon into the van while apologizing to Fat Feller. (Nappy was involved in this altercation, so naturally we had just “assumed” it was his fault.) But undoubtedly Fat Feller couldn’t hear the apology because of the ringing in his ears. And we drove off singing, “Ooooh-Ooooh, all my love’s in vain!”

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When I converted my Robert Johnson LPs to compact disc, I bought ’The Complete Recordings’ but the thing gave me the blues because I didn’t like the fact that all of the alternate takes were placed back-to-back with their released versions, so that unless I wanted to take time to program the player first, I was hearing many of the songs twice in a row. I later sold that set and acquired 'KING OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS Volume 1 and 2' separately, and I’m much happier now.
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Whether you need a soundtrack for drinkin’, fightin’, cryin’, or just general 'carryin' on' -- or need great Blues just for listenin’ to ’cause that’s the kinda guy or gal ya are -- 'KING OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS' is the real deal, the genuine article, true Blues for the true you. Buy it today and start creating your own intoxicated Robert Johnson memories!
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But whatever you do, don’t listen to 'KING OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS' while in public -- especially while you’re driving -- or you’ll have M.A.R.J. (Mothers Against Robert Johnson) madd at ya, and that’s even more dangerous than having Napoleon madd at ya!
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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2 comments:

  1. Stephen,
    I recall well the Robert Johnson album being played at Bay Street and also recall yours and Twinkie's special connection to All My Love's in Vain. Nonetheless, it is difficult to separate such from the distinct memories of hangover's that followed such a listening. Now that I've been sober for 31 years I guess all my drinkin' was in vain. Nope, not true, wouldn't change a drop of that drinking anyway anyhow. Good times my friend, good times.
    Pooh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HANGOVERS-R-FUN!

      But don't take one to Kelbos. Because then you'll take it to Mexico. And then you'll take it to jail.

      You have inspired me to write a new Blues classic:
      'ALL MY BOOZE IN VAIN'.

      Thanks! You the pooh, Pooh!

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

      Delete

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