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Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - Me and the Devil - Robert Johnson.


A few years ago, I was playing outside a sleepy little village restaurant, south of France. A guy finished his sandwich, went to his car and brought back a guitar. He plugged it in and this is what happened ...

Posted by Jim Bruce on Wednesday, July 15, 2015

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Robert Johnson - King of the Delta BluesMe and the Devil is perhaps the most famous Robert Johnson song,

- after Crossroads and obviously evokes his long standing musical relationship with the Devil. Everyone knows the story of the Crossroads and what happened there, but we don't really know where this delta blues legend came from. Logic tells us that it was easy to blame bad luck and anxiety about life on something else, like a spirit that wants your soul. On top of that, his emotional skill on the blues guitar was nothing short of supernatural (I guess!) Me - I think he was just an intense young man who practiced an awful lot.

While it's true that he had a fantastic emotional appeal, he wasn't very original. Many of his songs can be traced back to earlier songs by other people. Walkin' Blues, for example, was played incredibly well by Muddy Waters who stated that he was playing it long before he heard Johnson's record. Son House and several other blues men had a version, and it's probable that he got it from House, as he hung around the older man when he was learning how to perform in the local bars and juke joints. Sweet Home Chicago was almost a direct copy of Scrapper Blackwell's Kokomo Blues, which was a very inventive and appealing song.

Another contemporary of Johnson's, Johnny Shines, played Sweet Home and does a very fine job.

Shines would have been the blues legend that Robert was, but he just lived too long!

They did travel together and a recently discovered photo of them both has been ratified as genuine by the Robert Johnson Society, showing them both young and dapper in slick new suits of the day.

Johnson and Shines - Blues Guitar SlingersWe can only imagine the kind of live they  must have had and it was easy to understand how a couple of young bucks would learn guitar and take the next train out of their small town, heading for Chicago or another exciting town to sample the best of the nightlife, the liquor and the ladies, which is what killed him very soon. He took a fancy to a bar owner's girl, and he laced a beer with poison - that was the end of Johnson at 26.

RJ used a variety of keys and chord shapes in his music, such as E, A, dropped D and open G. Open G of course was used for Walkin' Blues and Crossroads, while Me and the Devil was typical of his work in the key of A. Although we try to be fresh and deliver new ideas in our guitar playing, it's inevitable that a guitarist develops certain signature licks or runs, and Johnson was no exception.

He would start normally high up on the fret board and gradually moving down to the A chord, which he formed with his forefinger and pinky. This Raised the tension before settling into the song proper. Usually, he would go back up the fretboard to sing a 'middle eight' or take a musical break, introducing variations to make the music more interesting.

Robert Johnson's guitar

A striking thing about his music is the relationship between the guitar and his vocals.

Normally, we fit the vocals into spaces in the guitar music where there is not too much going on - it's difficult to concentrate on both things at the same time. This inevitably means that words are sung on or off the beat, but are usually regulated an governed by the guitar technique. In Johnson's case, this wasn't true. His vocal delivery and guitar were asynchronous and didn't seem to depend on each other.