Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Certain Songs #1944: Robert Johnson – “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” | Medialoper

Album: The Centennial Collection
Year: 1936

. . .

This is probably the oldest song I’m going to cover on Certain Songs. I’m not going to say that it’s the oldest song I love — after all, both “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “La Bamba” probably go back centuries — but, with the possible exception of something from one of the Harry Smith anthologies, it’s the oldest captured performance that resonates with me.

“Kind Hearted Woman Blues” was the very first song that famed country producer Don Law — a great reminder at how musically artificial some of the divides of American popular music truly are — recorded with Johnston after Law probably walked up to him and said, “here I am, let’s make records!” And the first result was a timeless tale of lust, frustration and infidelity.

I got a kindhearted woman
Do anything in this world for me
I got a kindhearted woman
Do anything in this world for me
But these evil-hearted women
And they will not let me be

In any event, it’s hard to add to the volumes and volumes written about Johnson after Law’s initial 1961 compilation, King of The Delta Blues Singers, made it across the pond and fucked with a generation of British guitarists. By that time, of course, Johnson was long dead and essentially forgotten. But like the Velvet Underground, Big Star and The Replacements, there were true believers like Law who kept the flame alive, with the end result being that Johnson’s music is now known worldwide.

And if you love rock ‘n’ roll, it’s all there except for the backbeat — and Johnson’s rhythm guitar provides plenty of that, actually — especially on the bridge, which might be the chorus, I guess.

Ain’t but the one thing
Makes Mr. Johnson drink
I get worried about how you’d treat me, baby
I begin to think
Oh babe, my life don’t feel the same
You breaks my heart
When you call mister so and so’s name

The second half of that is sung in an otherworldly falsetto that remains both shocking and chilling at the same time, following that up with a guitar solo. By the end of the song the kind-hearted woman is now studying evil all the time, and things do not look good for Mr. Johnson.

“Kind Hearted Woman Blues”

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