Robert Johnson pwns Eric Clapton

by zunguzungu

From the Guardian:

Eric Clapton once described Johnson as, “the most important blues singer that ever lived”…[but] nearly 50 years after Columbia first packaged his work as King of the Delta Blues, we discover that we’ve been listening to these immortal songs at the wrong speed all along. Either the recordings were accidentally speeded up when first committed to 78, or else they were deliberately speeded up to make them sound more exciting. Whatever, the common consensus among musicologists is that we’ve been listening to Johnson at least 20% too fast. Numerous bloggers have helpfully slowed down Johnson’s best-known work and provided samples so that, for the first time, we can hear Johnson as he intended to be heard.

I, like many people, only know of Robert Johnson through Eric Clapton; I know Cream’s Crossroads a lot better than Johnson’s, and like it more too. But I love the fact that the figure of origin, used to authenticate electric blues by so many white electric bluesmen like Clapton, cannot now be disentangled from studio gimmickry. Part of the Clapton thing was that he was supposed to be taking the acoustic, rural, old, and black song of the Robert Johnson figure and making it young and white and modern and urban and electric. Rock and Roll as the electrified blues is every hack music journalist’s favorite cliche. And now it turns out that Johnson was himself playing games in the studio, that the authentic backdrop which your white bluesbreakers were trying to modernize was already always a function of industrial reproduction. Lovely. And yet, your music writers still can’t get over the desire to return to the original rural black acoustic singer  — the completely unsupported sense that “he intended to be heard” as slow rather than fast — because of course, Johnson himself couldn’t have been the one who speeded up his playing on tape to make it sound more awesome. Only white people get to speed up and electrify his songs…

(More here)