Robert Johnson's originality?


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07-07-2009, 01:46 PM
As delta blues most famous singer and guitarist, I wouldn't deny his talent or ability. And as is so common in the blues world, borrowing and covering other artists work is quite common. But when listening to other early blues singers I come across Lonnie Johnson, and I was immediately struck by his similarity to RJ. I was even more surprised when i come across specific songs that are almost identical to Johnson's (guitar and vocal lines):

Drunken hearted man - RJ:

As opposed to Life saver blues - LJ:

Malted milk - RJ:

opposed to Mean old bedbug blues - LJ:

Maybe it's just me, and they're not as similar as I think (Lonnie uses alot more jazzy lead lines). And I'm not trying to say that RJ is a talentless rip-off. All I want to know is does anyone know of other RJ songs which are heavily derived from other songs, and if so which ones?


07-07-2009, 01:56 PM
It looks like Lonnie started playing before Johnson did. I'm guessing it's just a coincidence.

ze monsta
07-07-2009, 03:07 PM
Robert Johnson "borrowed" a whole lot. He wasn't a particularly original musician. Kokomo Arnold and Skip James are "borrowed" a lot. I read that Robert Johnson aspired to be like Lonnie Johnson a lot, and really liked him.

If you're interested, pick up a copy of "Escaping The Delta" by Elijah Wald. That will tell you a whole lot more.

07-07-2009, 03:27 PM
And don't forget Son House's huge effect on him...

ze monsta
07-07-2009, 03:45 PM
Yeah, and Son House. "Preaching Blues (up jumped the devil)" is taken from Preachin' Blues by Son House, and the riff is the same just sped up. I forget the finer details of it, but yeah, lots learnt from him also. "Walking Blues" as well.


32-20 Blues = 22-20 Blues by Skip James
Hellhound on my Trail = Devil Got My Woman Blues by Skip James
Sweet Home Chicago = Old Original Kokomo Blues by James Arnold, who came to be known as Kokomo Arnold.
Walking Blues = Walking Blues by Son House
Preaching Blues = Preaching Blues by Son House

They're the ones I know of off the top of my head right now. If I trolled back through "Escaping The Delta" I could probably find a few more.

Zoot Allures
07-07-2009, 03:53 PM
And don't forget Son House's huge effect on him...

Yeah. Son House taught him a lot. Preachin blues is a cover of a son house song too.

Love in vain is very similar to Skip James 'devil got my woman'

ze monsta
07-07-2009, 03:57 PM
Yes! Love In Vain is another one supposedly, I remember reading that in Escaping The Delta. :cheers:

07-07-2009, 04:48 PM
This is all very interesting, listening back I can hear it quite clearly. And 'Escaping the delta' looks very interesting too, i'm gonna have to try pick up a copy.

ze monsta
07-07-2009, 04:55 PM
It's a brilliant book, a very detailed biography, and helps clear alot of the stigma around Johnson. It's fairly controversial I guess, but really is excellent.

07-07-2009, 07:14 PM
A lot were stolen, some he borrowed and some were original. I think Crossroads was completely original could be wrong. I'm thinking I should check out that "Escaping the Delta"