A Scattered History of the Blues Vol. 9: Spiritual Blues

Spiritual blues 9


And so in the end we all end up thinking about God.  To wind up this series, we present a mighty collection of blues directed at the Almighty.


Seminal gospel-blues artist Blind Willie Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest bottleneck slide guitarists. Yet the Texas street-corner evangelist is known as much for the his powerful and fervent gruff voice as he is for his ability as a guitarist. He most often sang in a rough, bass voice (only occasionally delivering in his natural tenor) with a volume meant to be heard over the sounds of the streets. Johnson recorded a total of 30 songs during a three-year period and many of these became classics of the gospel-blues, including “Jesus Make up My Dying Bed,” “God Don’t Never Change,” and his most famous, “Dark Was the Night — Cold Was the Ground.”

BWJIt is generally agreed that Johnson was born in a small town just South of Waco near Temple, TX, around 1902. His mother died while he was still a baby, and his father eventually remarried. When Johnson was about seven years old, his father and stepmother fought and the stepmother threw lye water, apparently at the father, but the lye got in Willie Johnson‘s eyes, blinding him. As he got older, Johnson began earning money by playing his guitar, one of the few avenues left to a blind man to earn a living. Instead of a bottleneck, Johnson actually played slide with a pocketknife. Over the years, Johnson played guitar most often in an open D tuning, picking single-note melodies, while using his slide and strumming a bass line with his thumb. He was, however, known to play in a different tuning and without the slide on a few rare occasions. Regardless of his excellent blues technique and sound, Johnson didn’t want to be a bluesman, for he was a passionate believer in the Bible. So, he began singing the gospel and interpreting Negro spirituals. He became a Baptist preacher and brought his sermons and music to the streets of the surrounding cities. While performing in Dallas, he met a woman named Angeline and the two married in 1927. Angeline added 19th century hymns to Johnson‘s repertoire, and the two performed around the Dallas and Waco areas. (Read More)


Rev. Gary Davis

Rev. Gary Davis

In his prime of life, which is to say the late ’20s, the Reverend Gary Davis was one of the two most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field, playing before thousands of people at a time, and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Donovan; and Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis.

Davis was partially blind at birth, and lost what little sight he had before he was an adult. He was self-taught on the guitar, beginning at age six, and by the time he was in his 20s he had one of the most advanced guitar techniques of anyone in blues; his only peers among ragtime-based players were Blind Arthur Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Willie Johnson. Davis himself was a major influence on Blind Boy Fuller. (Read More)


I hope you’ve enjoyed this scattered history. This last volume is a killer!


Track Listing:

Blind Willie Johnson

01 Can’t Nobody Hide From God

02 Dark Was the Night — Cold Was the Ground

03 Everybody Ought To Treat A Stranger Right

04 God Don’t Never Change

05 I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole

06 Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed

07 John The Revelator

08 Let Your Light Shine on Me

09 Motherless Children Have a Hard Time

10 Praise God I’m Satisfied

11 Take Your Burden To The Lord and Leave it There

Rev. Gary Davis

12 Tired, My Soul Needs Resting

13 Lord, Stand By Me

14 Blow Gabriel

15 Crucifixion

16 I Am The True Vine

17 Lord, On Your Word

18 Twelve Gates To The City

19 I Am The Light Of This World

20 He’s My King

21 Who Shall Deliver Poor Me

22 Get Right Church

23 Jesus Met The Woman At The Well

24 I Want To Be Saved



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s