Monday, August 18, 2014

Blind Willie Johnson: Praise God I’m Satisfied

Blind Willie Johnson was born near Brenham, Texas, in 1897. Johnson is one of the greatest guitarists in the history of blues music and likely the greatest slide-guitarist in the country blues genre. Johnson is considered a gospel performer by many, as most of his recordings were of a religious nature.

Johnson was not blind from birth. It is not entirely clear how he lost his sight, but it has been suggested that his step-mother threw lye in his eyes to exact revenge on his father.

Johnson began singing on street corners for tips as a youth. He continued busking for many years when this was apparently his only source of income. He busked in several Texas cities, but it seems he spent most of his time in the Texan town, Beaumont. Johnson only made 30 commercial recordings in his lifetime. These recordings were made for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930.

Fortunately, Johnson recorded after the advent of microphones and his recordings are of high-fidelity. Among his best known sides are: ”God Moves on the Water,” about the sinking of the Titanic, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” which was recorded by Led Zeppelin, “Motherless Children,” which was recorded by Eric Clapton, and “John the Revelator” which has been recorded by many.

Johnson was poor throughout his life, and it was his status as an African-American resident of the American South that contributed to his early demise. After his house was destroyed by fire, Johnson, with no place to go, was forced to sleep in its scorched remains. He contracted malarial fever, and when his wife brought him to hospital, he was refused admittance, likely because he was black. Without treatment he succumbed to the fever on September 18, 1945.

Of several fine compilations of Johnson’s music, “Praise God I’m Satisfied” (1977), “Sweeter as the Years Go By” (1990), and “The Complete Blind Willie Johnson” (1993) are the best.

Blind Willie