lunedì 9 febbraio 2009

Cross Roads - Discovering Robert Johnson

Cross Roads - ore 13.35
Discovering Robert Johnson
by Eric Clapton

I don't think l'd even heard of Robert Johnson when I first found the record; it was probably fresh out. I was around fifteen or sixteen, and it carne as something of a shock to me that there could be anything that powerful. I played it, and it really shook me up because it didn't seem to me that he was particularly interested in being at all palatable, he didn't seem concerned with appeal at all. All the music I'd heard up till that time seemed to be structured in some way for recording. What struck me about the Robert Johnson album was that it seemed like he wasn't playing for an audience at all; it didn't obey the rules of time or harmony or anything - he was just playing for himself. Il was almost as if he felt things so acutely he found it almost unbearable. This was an image, really, that I held on to for a very long time.
At first it was almost too painful, but then alter about six months I started listening, and then I didn't listen to anything else. Up until the time I was 25, if you didn't know who Robert Johnson was I wouldn't talk to you. It was almost like that. It was as if l had been prepared to receive Robert Johnson, almost like a religious experience that started out with hearing Chuck Berry, then at each stage went further and deeper until l was ready for him. Even then I wasn't quite ready. It was still too powerful, and very frustrating for me, too, because I realized I couldn't play his music any more than I could play Muddy Waters' music. It was just too deep for me to be able to deal with.
It became, then, a question of finding something that had a riff, a form that could be interpreted, simply, in a band format. The easiest place to start was with the songs where he would play that Jimmy Reed figure on the bass lines. In "Crossroads” there was a very definite riff that carne, more or less, from "Terraplane”, actually. He was playing it full-chorded, with the slide as well. I just took it on a single string or two strings and embellished it. Out of all of the songs it was the easiest for me to see as a rock 'n' roll vehicle, but there were certain songs on the album that I wouldn't touch. They were just too fragile, too beautiful, to be dissected or arranged. At this stage in my life I probably wouldn't touch any of them, but back then I had less inhibition, so I singled out the ones that seemed most accessible and then I tried to make them even more so to today’s market. So that people would like them, in a sense, on a somewhat shallow level, and then ask questions afterwards. To have tried to mimic Robert, vocally or musically, it seemed to me, wouldn't have made him accessible at all to people that were listening today. It would have just left the music where it was - and not as good as what it was either. What I was trying to do was to draw out the spirit of what was being said as much as the form or the technique; I was trying to extract as much emotional content from it as I could, while respecting the form at the same time.
Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived. He was true, absolutely, to his own vision, and as deep as I have gotten into the music over the last 30 years, l have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really. I know when I first heard it, it called to me in my confusion, it seemed to echo something that I had always felt.
His best songs have never been covered by anyone else, at least not very successfully - because how are you going to do them? In some ways a song like "Hellhound On My Trail" is hardly there, it's almost in the air - what he doesn't say, what he doesn't play, it's so light and menacing at the same time. I just think it's time to recognize Robert Johnson for what he was. I don't think there's any need to analyze it too much. It would-just be great if people could simply appreciate his music for what it is, for its truth and its beauty, without its having to be a scholarly event.

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