Review of Revelation - Blind Willie Johnson - The Biography
Review of Revelation - Blind Willie Johnson -
The Man, The Words and The Music
By D. N. Blakey
There are still many artists from the world of blues, gospel, songster and other related music who’s biographies are well overdue. I’ve not written one and I am more than likely not to. For me, if I were to embark upon going to the trouble of writing any lengthy piece of work, particularly of an academic nature and then go through the process of proof reading, artwork, publishing etc., then I would want to make sure that the piece is well researched, informative and with an element, no matter how small, of entertainment thrown in to help things on their way. If I would be able to stick my neck out and offer a few theories or speculations into the bargain then even better.
To get an idea of what this book does, I think that I need to begin by throwing a few statistics your way. It’s a soft back, 322 pages 9” x 6” (228mm x 153mm). Sounds big. Packed with lyrics and info? No.
Pages with the most text on them have around 250 words and there aren’t many pages like that. Johnson’s image, from the one known photograph of him, is repeated no less than twenty times throughout the pages, often with a full page being used to carry a single, postage stamp size, reproduction.
As if the rain forests aren’t creaking enough (and less so as time goes by) Blakey gives us the lyrics of Willie’s songs…twice. First we have them, in upper case, with the lines double spaced so that we get approximately ten lines on each page. Then, for those who weren’t paying attention the first time round, we have them again, in exactly the same format but this time we get “Lyrics with commentary”. This gives us vital and hitherto undocumented information such as “Intro is three brisk strums on guitar” and “Sometimes Johnson sounds like he says
We are told when the bottleneck rattles along the fret board and are alerted to the fact that on at least one occasion Johnson omits to begin a verse with “Well”. Of course, had I have been able to purchase this book back in the sixties when the RBF album came out I would have demanded my money from the record shop on the grounds that Johnson was trying to pull a fast one by skipping a “Well” so that he could have the recording session wrapped up and nip off home early.
There are, however, some nice descriptive passages from Blakey who allows his imagination to colour in a little about Johnson turning up for and leaving the sessions, something that the book would have benefited more from to make up for the lack of new information about Johnson and his life. And for a committed born again atheists like myself, it is always interesting to get the Biblical references in the songs sorted out in ones mind and Blakey does lend a hand in that.
It would seem that this book has been written by an author who is very big fan of Johnson and holds him in high esteem. Maybe he got tired of waiting for the book that surely could be written, to be published and just decided to put at least something on the shelf while we wait. If you are like me and would rush out to buy the lost recordings of Blind Willie Johnson, even if they were of him coming down eight flights of stairs, locked in a wardrobe, strumming “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”, then buy the book and stick it on the shelf as a token. If you are eager for the facts and a gripping read and you have an issue with the excessive use of paper then put that credit card away, there are no revelations here.
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