Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Forgotten Man: Meet The Grandfather of Rock N’ Roll – Veterans Today

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by Johnny Punish

So recently, my poetic son wrote and shared some new amazing lyrics with me, To me, they rang of oppression, racism, and poverty.  I said, “hey let me put those words into music”. As I developed the song, it started to become clear to me that was about a forgotten man; you know, that man who lived during the Depression Era of the 1930s?

That forgotten man, a returned World War I Veteran who was down and out on his luck, was expressed like no other in the classic film Goldiggers of 1933 whereby the last scene is called “Remember My Forgotten Man” sung by Joan Blondell and Etta Moten.   This song turns that movie into an unforgettable everlasting homage to the reality of that terrible poverty-stricken era in America; a classic that should be on your list of 100 movies to see before you die.  So if you have NOT seen this movie, go watch it.  It’s amazing! Anyways….

Like I said see, this Forgotten Man could be any one of the millions of us living today in poverty in America where so many at the very top are wealthy beyond the stratosphere yet millions live paycheck to paycheck, one step away from living on that mean street the sultry Joan Blondell and great Etta Moten so eloquently describe in Remember My Forgotten Man.

Anyways, in my research, by accident, I ran into an article about this cat named Robert Johnson, a bluesman who lived in the early part of the 20th century.  It was titled “The Devil’s Music: The Life And Legacy Of Robert Johnson” (see below).

I had no idea of the importance of this forgotten man.  So I explored more. My eyes wide open ears going crazy I found out that there would be no Rolling Stones without this man!  What? Whoa! I had to learn more. So I read and read and read.

Anyways, to honor my deal with my son and this guy who many call the grandfather of Rock N Roll I came up with this insane rock opera which I titled “The Forgotten Man”.  To honor Robert Johnson and to express that he was our first forgotten man, I added the lyrics as follows;

“You hear every Robert Johnson
Howlin’ in the Wind
They put them out to die
Under the poverty skies
Who cares if they were
An honest guy
Forgotten men and minstrels
They gonna die”

My epic song features the amazing vocals of Jamila Thompson from Atlanta, Georgia. Some of you may know here from the music TV Show, The Voice.  She is something else boy!  It also features vocals from the angelic eSoreni and some really cool extra guitars by Stefano Andrigo from Milan, Italy.  Here, you can watch and listen to my song on YouTube.com

Anyways, I hope you like it. But more, importantly, I hope that you, like me, are actually interested in knowing who this Robert Johnson guy really was?  If so, read below and watch all the videos below. Enjoy the history of music, which is actually, the history of America!


The Devil’s Music: The Life And Legacy Of Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson influenced everyone from Muddy Waters to The Rolling Stones, and shaped the future of rock’n’roll. We celebrate his life and legacy.

By UndiscoveredMusic.com

“Robert Johnson – the root source for a whole generation of blues and rock and roll musicians.”
“The most emotionally committed of all blues-singers.”
“The greatest singer, the greatest writer.”
“The greatest folk-blues guitar player that ever lived.”
“The most accomplished and certainly the most influential of all bluesmen.”
“He is a visionary artist.”

These are just some of the descriptions offered by musicians and writers that have been awed by the music of Robert Johnson. Little wonder then that the man’s life and work have become the stuff of legend.

Even the facts of his life are confusing. He was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi on or around 8 May 1911 and died 27 years later, on 16 August 1938, at Three Forks, near Greenwood, Mississippi; even at a time when life expectancy was shorter, Johnson’s was a short life.

Robert’s mother, Julia, had ten children before Robert was born, all ten being born in wedlock, with her Sharecropper husband, Charles Dodds. Julia was probably around forty years old when Robert was born illegitimately; his father was a plantation worker called Noah Johnson. Charles Dodds had moved to Memphis as a result of problems he was having with some prominent Hazelhurst landowners. Robert was sent to live with him when he was around three or four years old, by which time all of Dodd’s children had moved to Memphis.

Robert Johnson grew up in Memphis and learned the basics of the guitar from a brother. Then, aged around eight or nine, Robert moved back to the Delta to live with his mother and her new husband Dusty Willis. He became known as Little Robert Dusty. By all accounts, Robert was more interested in music than he was on working in the fields, which put him at odds with his stepfather. By the time he was nineteen Robert had married Virginia Travis on February 17, 1929, in Penton, Mississippi; she was sixteen and died in April 1930 as she was giving birth. Around 1930, Son House, considered by many to be the most gifted of the Delta bluesmen of this time, moved to live in Robbinsville, which is when Robert first heard him play.

Son House recalled many years later “he blew a harmonica and he was pretty good with that, but he wanted to play guitar.” It was from House and his friend, Willie Brown that Robert learned. He would watch them play and when they took a break he would use one of their guitars, according to House he was not good at all, “…such a racket you never heard!…get that guitar away from that boy” people would say, ”…he’s running people crazy with it.”

In May 1931, Robert married Colleta Craft in Hazlehurst, Mississippi but continued to travel the Delta, improving his guitar playing and playing at Juke joints and picnics. By 1932 Robert played for Son and Willie; they were staggered by his improvement. “He was so good. When he finished, all our mouths were standing open.”

Robert resumed his Delta wanderings, as well as visiting Chicago, New York, Detroit and St Louis that we know of. The story goes that he would often concentrate his performance on just one woman in the audience; a risky business in a world where men were happy to fight when they felt aggrieved.

Johnson traveled and played with Johnny Shines, who later recalled that Robert was always neat and tidy, despite days spent traveling dusty Delta highways. Johnny also recalled that Robert was just as likely to perform other people’s songs, as he was his own. He sang songs by everyone from Bing Crosby to Blind Willie McTell and Jimmie Rodgers to Lonnie Johnson. Robert, like many others, performed the songs that earned him money, songs his audiences requested.

On Monday, November 23 he cut ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’, the first of thirteen takes of eight different songs. Three days later he was back and cut ’32-20 Blues’ and then the following day he cut nine more takes on seven different songs. He was paid possibly no more than $100 and Johnson was soon on a train back to Mississippi to resume the life of an itinerant musician, temporarily richer having pocketed money from his recording session.

His first release was ‘Terraplane Blues’ coupled with ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’; it would be the only one that sold in reasonable numbers at the time. Next came ‘32-20 Blues’ coupled with ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’, followed by I’ll Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ and ‘Dead Shrimp Blues’. While his sales were not prolific they were clearly good enough for Johnson to be summoned back for some more recording. This time he went to Dallas and recorded three more sides on 19 June 1937, the following day he cut thirteen more takes of ten more songs.

After his recording session, Robert played around Texas, accompanied by Johnny Shines. They played Jukes, parties and dances, just as they had always done before heading back to Mississippi via Arkansas. Details of the rest of this year are sketchy, although it is known that Robert spent some time in Memphis and Helena, Arkansas.

Gayle Dean Wardlow, a Mississippi journalist, went in search of Robert Johnson’s death certificate and found it in 1968. It confirmed that Robert had died in Greenwood on 16th August 1938 aged 27 years-old.

Photo: The Devil’s Crossroads sign in Clarksdale, Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress

Was Robert Johnson murdered?

We have only hearsay as to precisely how he died. It is believed that Robert was playing a juke attached to The Three Forks Store near Greenwood, Mississippi. According to David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards he was poisoned at the store, He got so sick that he had to be taken the three miles into Greenwood where he died. The supposition is that Robert had an affair with the wife of the owner of the Three Forks, and it was he that poisoned Robert.

Through the research of Gayle Dean Wardlow, it has come to light that on the back of the death certificate was information that points to the fact that Johnson may have been born with congenital syphilis. According to a Doctor, it is possible that he had an aneurysm caused by syphilis and his love of drinking moonshine.
Where is Robert Johnston buried?

Just where he is buried is just as confusing as how he died. There are three headstones erected in separate cemeteries around Greenwood. One has a headstone erected by Sony Music, at another location a headstone paid for by the members of ZZ Top. In the summer of 2000, an 85-year-old lady called Rosie Eksridge said that her husband helped to bury Johnson in a graveyard about 3 miles from Three Forks; this has now had a headstone placed in the graveyard.

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