Wherein we visit the original tune and a couple of covers to see how other bands mash it up …
“Did Blues King Robert Johnson Sell His Soul To The Devil To Become The World’s Greatest Musician?” screams the headline on a blog. Did he? Can you actually do that? I don’t know.
As I said in a series I did on the blues a while back, “And while he didn’t invent the blues, I don’t think there is much argument that singer/writer/guitarist Robert Johnson was one of the most influential recording artists ever. Everyone from B.B. King to Clapton has covered his songs, of which there are only a relative handful. There were earlier bluesmen such as Charlie Patton and Leadbelly. But Robert Johnson is the guy that most modern blues artists go back to most frequently.”
“Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” comes from one of Robert’s few recordings before he disappeared in a blaze of blues glory, hellhound on his trail. From 1937:
There is no greater devotee of Robert Johnson’s than Eric Clapton. “It is a remarkable thing to have been driven and influenced all of my life by the work of one man,” Clapton said. “And even though I accept that it has always been the keystone of my musical foundation, I still would not regard it as an obsession; instead, I prefer to think of it as a landmark that I navigate by, whenever I feel myself going adrift.
I am talking, of course, about the work of Robert Johnson. Up until I heard his music, everything I had ever heard seemed as if it was dressed up for a shop window somewhere so that when I heard him for the first time, it was like he was singing only for himself, and now and then, maybe God.
At first, it scared me in its intensity, and I could only take it in small doses. Then I would build up strength and take a little more, but I could never really get away from it, and in the end, it spoiled me for everything else. Now, after all these years, his music is like my oldest friend, always in the back of my head, and on the horizon. It is the finest music I have ever heard. I have always trusted its purity, and I always will.”
From his 2004 album, Me and Mr. Johnson:
I don’t think I even knew this song that well until I heard the Stones do it on the great Exile on Main Street. This one’s got Mick’s wonky-wonky harmonica and Mick Taylor’s slide guitar. Somehow the Stones manage to make it all sound evil: