Robert Johnson is my favourite bluesman of all times, so I wanted the post about him to be really good. Otherwise I would feel I’m not doing him justice (and even now I’m nervous because I want to make sure that doesn’t happen). Therefore, I’m doing it in two stages, with this post serving as an introduction to the post I’ll do in a couple of days.
Brian Jones had the first album, and that’s where I first heard it. I’d just met Brian, and I went around to his apartment-crash pad, actually, all he had in it was a chair, a record player, and a few records. One of which was Robert Johnson. He put it on, and it was just-you know-astounding stuff. When I first heard it, I said to Brian, “Who’s that?” “Robert Johnson”. I said, “Yeah, but who’s the other guy playing with him?” Because I was hearing two guitars, and it took me a long time to realize he was actually doing it all by himself.
I’ve never heard anybody before or since use the form and bend it quite so much to make it work for himself. The quality of the songs themselves-I mean, he came out with such compelling themes, they were actual songs as well as just being the blues. The songs and the subject matter, just the way they were treated, apart from the music and the performance. And the guitar playing-it was almost like listening to Bach. You know, you think you’re getting a handle on playing the blues, and then you hear Robert Johnson-some of the rhythms he’s doing and playing and singing at the same time, you think, “This guy must have three brains!”
To me Robert Johnson’s influence-he was like a comet or a meteor that came along and, BOOM, suddenly he raised the ante, suddenly you just had to aim that much higher. You can put the record on now, and it’s as fresh and interesting as the first day you heard it. Everybody should know about Robert Johnson. When you know about something, and comperatively few other people know about it, that’s a crime in a way; you’ve got to do what you can to tell people, “Hey, check this cat out. Because you’re in for something extra in your life.” You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it.
by Keith Richards
Come back in a couple of days - you’re in for something extra in your life, as Keith put it. Since it’s Robert Johnson, I couldn’t agree more.