God don't never change: The songs of Blind Willie Johnson
ALLIGATOR (AL 4968 02)
Alligator Records is proud to announce the February 26, 2016 release of God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson. The album (to be issued on CD and vinyl) features newly recorded versions of the iconic slide guitarist/vocalist's most seminal material. Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Cowboy Junkies, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Sinéad O'Connor, Luther Dickinson, Maria McKee, and Rickie Lee Jones all deliver deeply moving interpretations of Johnson's otherworldly "gospel blues" music.
Produced by Jeffrey Gaskill (producer of the twice Grammy-nominated compilation, Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan), God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson highlights the music of one of the greatest and most influential slide guitarists and vocalists who ever walked the Earth. Johnson sang his sanctified gospel lyrics with overwhelming intensity, his deep, raspy voice accompanying his haunting, blues-drenched guitar playing. Rock fans will no doubt recognize many of his songs which have been recorded over the years by artists ranging from Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan. Johnson's recording of John The Revelator was included in the Anthology Of American Folk Music, archivist Harry Smith's 6-LP collection released in 1952 that set the folk revival of the 1960s into motion. God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson is, according to Gaski ll, "my life's work." The project was years in the making, and Gaskill is thrilled it's ready to be released. "You gotta serve somebody," he says, referencing his earlier compilation, "and I got the songs of Blind Willie Johnson."
Blind Willie Johnson recorded a total of 30 songs between 1927 and 1930 for Columbia, leaving behind a priceless legacy of the unforgettable music he created by marrying the raw, gospel fervor of his voice with the steely blues fire of his guitar. His songs were mostly traditional or came from hymnals, but when Johnson performed them, he transformed them with his soul-shaking voice and amazing slide guitar. Johnson was among the best-selling black gospel artists of the era, but the Great Depression ended his recording career.
Johnson’s life has been shrouded in mystery, but scholars, most notably the tribute album's liner notes author Michael Corcoran, have unearthed a few details. Born in Pendleton, Texas in 1897, Johnson grew up around Marlin, Texas. A legendary story has his stepmother, in a fit of rage, throwing lye in his face when he was seven, blinding him for life. He traveled the area as a street singer, moving between Dallas, Galveston, Houston, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and finally to Beaumont, where he thundered out his street corner evangelism, spreading his sacred message through his transfixing music. He died in 1945 in Beaumont, Texas at the age of 48.
Luther Dickinson calls Johnson's music "primitive modernism," his sound opening up "a whole other universe. He touches everybody. His music is so of the earth that it still sounds completely modern. It’s timeless and like nothing else ever recorded. If we could hip anybody to Blind Willie Johnson, their lives would be enriched for sure."
Derek Trucks wholeheartedly agrees, saying, "I never heard a slide player, even to this day, play with that much emotion. I've only heard a few things that have hit me quite that strongly. There's something so honest about his recordings. He's one of the few handful of musicians whose music really feels sacred to me. Johnson's songs, lyrics and the ability to pair the slide with the voice were amazing. It feels like it came out of a different world."
According to Rickie Lee Jones, recording Dark Was The Night--Cold Was The Ground -- Johnson's best-known performance -- was life-changing. She incorporated lyrics to the tune which dated back to the late 1700s. "The blues is everyman's cry," she says. "The song is part of me now."
Blind Wille Johnson's recording of Dark Was The Night--Cold Was The Ground is now also a part of the cosmos. It was included -- along with Beethoven and the sound of a human heartbeat (among other tracks) -- on a gold disc sent into outer space on the Voyager 1 space probe back in 1977, a timeless representation of Earth's humanity for other sentient beings to one day discover.