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Much of Robert Johnson’s life is a mystery, other than his recordings and the documentation surrounding those. Oh, there are definitely stories and personal accounts from the people who spent time with him, but I suspect much of that was speculation and apocrypha.
His early life was unlike his peers, having grown up in a relatively prosperous family – although having nine siblings wasn’t unusual for the time. His father was forced to leave their town after a land dispute, and Robert was sent along with him. A few years later, he was shuffled back to his mother and new stepfather, who was quite a few years younger than she. It was at this point that he began to show an interest in music. A school friend noted that he had taken to playing the harmonica and jaw harp.
In 1929, at age 18, he married 16-year old Virginia Travis. She died in childbirth after only having been married a short time, and her surviving relatives told a Blues researcher later that they believed her death was a direct result of his decision to sing “secular” songs. Back then, it was known as “selling your soul to the Devil,” and it was at this point that the author, Robert “Mack” McCormick, thinks Robert chose to become a full-time musician.
The story is that at this point, Johnson was known as a good harmonica player, but a terrible guitarist. When Robert left the area, supposedly searching for his birth father, he learned guitar stylings from Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman. Zimmerman was the subject of many tall tales of his own. When Johnson returned to Martonsville, he was a markedly improved guitarist, and the legend of Robert Johnson, “King of the Delta Blues” was born.
Notably, he’s also a member of the infamous “27 Club,” which has over 50 entrants and climbing.
Waters, also a pioneer in the musical field, was a huge influence on modern music. He was known as “father of modern Chicago Blues”. His song “Rollin’ Stone” inspired not only the name of the magazine, but of the iconic rock band, “The Rolling Stones”. Artists that have attributed their fame in part to Muddy Waters: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Etta James, Foghat, Allman Brothers, AC/DC, and MANY more.
His pioneering techniques and experimentation with amplification and electrical instruments have been said to be the bridge between the blues and modern rock and roll. In 1958 he took his electric slide guitar on tour in England and it made headlines. Later, he was panned by critics for a slightly psychedelic turn with Electric Mud in 1968. He eventually disowned the album himself, but that didn’t negate the methods he used that inspired many other musicians.
He died in 1983 of heart failure, but his music lives on. Chicago has dedicated several streets to him, and there is also a mural in the downtown part of the city. A Mississippi Blues Trail marker is at the site of his boyhood cabin in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Eddie “Son” House, Jr
Unlike Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, House was not famous in his time. He was a early influence on both of those artists, and recorded songs for Paramount Records in 1930. However, being as that was quite untimely (see: The Great Depression), his records didn’t sell well, and he fell into relative obscurity.
I know, you’re scratching your head now, wondering why Connor Mason would’ve heard of him if he wasn’t famous, right? Well, House was rediscovered in 1964 due to a huge resurgence in the Folk and Blues genre. He was welcomed into the music industry with open arms, and subsequently toured throughout the 1960s quite successfully.
Eddie appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, the New York Folk Festival, the European tour of the American Folk Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the Toronto Days of Blues Festival, as well as many other live shows. He became quite ill in the early 1970s, and retired in 1974.
Eddie’s single, “Preachin’ the Blues” was inducted in to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.
Bessie, known as the Empress of the Blues, was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. Incredibly colorful, she was sometimes ostracised and often dismissed by recording companies. An executive at Black Swan records reported that she took time out from singing in order to spit. Even her admirers considered her “low class” or “rough”, which may have stopped her from getting some early opportunities.
Luckily, she spent a short time as a dancer with the Stokes troupe, alongside Ma Rainey. While there, she developed a somewhat magnetic stage presence, and managed to build a fairly successful reputation in the South and along the East Coast. She was scouted by Frank Walker, a talent agent who had seen her perform years earlier, and he signed her to a contract with Columbia records.
After becoming the highest black entertainer of her day, Columbia named her “Queen of the Blues”. That was quickly upgraded to “Empress of the Blues” by the press. Her music was ahead of its time, empowering women with themes of independence, respect, and even sexual freedom.
After the Depression also halted her career, she tried her hand at Broadway and Film. She was lauded, but the projects were not. When Swing came into fashion, she jumped on the opportunity to return to music. She made $37.50 for Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia) per each selection. She made four of these recordings.
Unfortunately, these were the last recordings she ever made. She was in an automobile crash in 1937 while driving between Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the scene, she appeared to have severe injuries. (Blood loss and extreme arm trauma). The doctor attending to her at the scene moved her to the side of the road, and then to a house 500 yards further.
Almost a half hour later, Smith was in shock and no ambulance was in sight. Dr. Hugh Smith, who had seen her at the scene earlier, returned, and decided to drive her to Clarksdale himself. While clearing the backseat for Bessie, HIS car was sideswiped and both cars were wrecked. His car only barely missed hitting Bessie who was lying off to the side.
At this point, two ambulances finally arrived, one from the black hospital, and one from the white hospital. Bessie was taken to the black hospital, while accident victims from the second collision were taken in the other ambulance. She was operated on but never regained consciousness. Her funeral in Philadelphia was attended by over 10,000 mourners.
Don was born in Laytonstone, London who sang with the London Choral Society before moving to the US in 1924. He farmed in Alabama, became a bookkeeper for Brunswick Records in Dallas, TX, and when that company was taken over by the American Record Corporation in 1931, he became a talent scout. He worked along with Art Satherly, another London ex-pat, trying to discover new talent all over the southern region of the US. Another scout, Ernie Oertle, introduced the pair to Robert Johnson.
When ARC was taken over by Columbia Records, Law relocated to New York City to head up their children’s division. He quickly decided to return to country music, and in 1945, took over their recordings in the East region, while Satherly took the West. When Art retired in 1952, Law decided to head up the national country music division. He recruited singers Carl Smith, Lefty Frizzell, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, to the label.
Law’s productions in the late 1950s and early 1960s included Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans“, Marty Robbins’ “El Paso“, and Jimmy Dean‘s “Big Bad John“, all of which topped the US pop chart and helped bring country music to a wider audience. He also produced most of Johnny Cash’s recordings during the period. According to Law’s induction notice at the Country Music Hall of Fame, “along with Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Ken Nelson at Capitol, Law was instrumental in re-establishing country’s commercial viability during the so-called Nashville Sound era” from about 1957.
He retired from Columbia Records in 1967, but set up an independent production company, Don Law Productions. He retired completely in the late 1970s. He died from lung cancer in 1982 in La Marque, Galveston, Texas, at the age of 80. He was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Their mission this week is to make sure Robert Johnson records his songs at the Crossroads, becoming “King of the Delta Blues”. In doing so, he’ll make way for most of modern music. Blues, R&B, Jazz, Rockabilly, leading up to the big daddy – Rock & Roll. His contribution is so important to pop-culture that it becomes important to history in general. I have to say that I (Karen) agree. (Side note: Delta Dawn by Helen Redding)
Flyn is a Four Letter Word
Flynn is sent on the mission by Agent Christopher, to the dismay of the majority of our Time-Team. She says that they “either start trusting him or they don’t,” to which Rufus replies, “WE DON’T.” Denise has an ulterior motive however – because she wants Wyatt to hang back in order to carry out her own private mission – which leads us to…
Wyatt is sent to find and then infiltrate Rittenhouse’s “secret base,” so our team can get rid of them once and for all. That way they can attack them on two fronts, both in the present and in the past. I may not be in love with the childish snickering between Wyatt and Rufus in the bunker, but I certainly can’t argue with his badassness when it comes to his Army training. Although he can’t pull the trigger on Carol – I suspect that’s more for Lucy’s benefit than anything else.
On November 23
Holidays & Events
Earliest day on which Black Friday can fall, while November 29 is the latest; observed on the day after Thanksgiving (United States), and its related observances: Buy Nothing Day (North America, Great Britain, Sweden)
534 BC – Thespis of Icaria becomes the first recorded actor to portray a character onstage.
1644 – John Milton publishes Areopagitica, a pamphlet decrying censorship.
1810 – Sarah “Sally” Booth debuts at the Royal Opera House.
1889 – The first jukebox goes into operation at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.
1924 – Edwin Hubble‘s discovery, that the Andromeda “nebula” is actually another island galaxy far outside of our own Milky Way, is first published in The New York Times.
1936 – Life magazine is reborn as a photo magazine and enjoys instant success.
1963 – The BBC broadcasts the first episode of An Unearthly Child (starring William Hartnell), the first story from the first series of Doctor Who, which is now the world’s longest running science fiction drama.
1971 – Representatives of the People’s Republic of China attend the United Nations, including the United Nations Security Council, for the first time.
1981 – Iran–Contra affair: Ronald Reagan signs the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), giving the Central Intelligence Agency the authority to recruit and support Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
1992 – The first smartphone, the IBM Simon, is introduced at COMDEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
1993 – Rachel Whiteread wins both the £20,000 Turner Prize award for best British modern artist and the £40,000 K Foundation art award for the worst artist of the year.
2015 – Blue Origin‘s New Shepard space vehicle became the first rocket to successfully fly to space and then return to Earth for a controlled, vertical landing.
870 – Alexander, Byzantine emperor
1749 – Edward Rutledge, American captain and politician, 39th Governor of South Carolina
1804 – Franklin Pierce, American general, lawyer, and politician, 14th President of the United States
1887 – Boris Karloff, English actor
1888 – Harpo Marx, American comedian and musician
1892 – Erté, Russian-French illustrator and designer
1925 – Johnny Mandel, American composer and conductor
1936 – Steve Landesberg, American actor and screenwriter
1950 – Charles Schumer, American lawyer and politician
1953 – Rick Bayless, American chef and author
1954 – Bruce Hornsby, American singer-songwriter and pianist
1960 – Robin Roberts, American sportscaster and journalist
1963 – Gwynne Shotwell, American businesswoman, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX
1970 – Oded Fehr, Israeli-American actor
1971 – Chris Hardwick, American comedian, actor, producer, and television host
1992 – Miley Cyrus, American singer-songwriter and actress
1814 – Elbridge Gerry, American merchant and politician, 5th Vice President of the United States of America
1899 – Thomas Henry Ismay, English businessman, founded White Star Line
1958 – Johnston McCulley, American author and screenwriter (Zorro)
1974 – notable victims of the Massacre of the Sixty:
Abiye Abebe, Ethiopian general and politician (b. 1918)
Aman Andom, Ethiopian general and politician, President of Ethiopia (b. 1924)
Aklilu Habte-Wold, Ethiopian politician, Prime Minister of Ethiopia (b. 1912)
Asrate Kassa, Ethiopian commander (b. 1922)
Endelkachew Makonnen, Ethiopian politician, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
1974 – Cornelius Ryan, Irish-American journalist and author (A Bridge Too Far)
1990 – Roald Dahl, British novelist, poet, and screenwriter
1991 – Klaus Kinski, German-American actor and director
1992 – Roy Acuff, American singer-songwriter and fiddler
1995 – Louis Malle, French-American director, producer, and screenwriter
2012 – Larry Hagman, American actor, director, and producer
2014 – Marion Barry, American lawyer and politician, 2nd Mayor of the District of Columbia
2016 – Andrew Sachs, German-born British actor (Fawlty Towers)
Next Episode’s Summary & Promo
MRS. SHERLOCK HOLMES (TV-14)
Links from this episode:
Friend of the show, Michael Ahr, writes about this episode on DenofGeek.com
Fangirlish review about “The King of the Delta Blues” is here.
MovieTVTechGeeks says their credible source from last season has given them a head’s up on a S3 renewal! (not fact YET folks)
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