Blind Willie Johnson (January 25, 1897 – September 18, 1945) was an American gospel blues singer and guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings completed between 1927 and 1930—thirty songs in total—display a combination of powerful "chest voice" singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced later generations of musicians. Even though Johnson's records sold well, as a street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime. His life was poorly documented, but over time music historians such as Samuel Charters have uncovered more about Johnson and his five recording sessions.
A revival of interest in Johnson's music began in the 1960s, following his inclusion on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, and by the efforts of the blues guitarist Reverend Gary Davis. Johnson's work has become more accessible through compilation albums such as Blind Willie Johnson 1927–1930 and The Complete Willie Johnson, both spearheaded by Charters. As a result, Johnson is credited as one of the most influential practitioners of the blues, and his slide guitar playing, particularly on his hymn "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", is highly acclaimed. Other recordings by Johnson include "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed", "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine", and "John the Revelator"....(Read more)
AllMusic adds, "Seminal gospel-blues artist Blind Willie Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest bottleneck slide guitarists. Yet the Texas street-corner evangelist is known as much for the his powerful and fervent gruff voice as he is for his ability as a guitarist."
Links to Peel
Although Peel played Blind Willie Johnson's music only sporadically over the years, he averred that he knew all the songs in the Peelenium 1927 so obviously had more than a passing familiarity with his work. Certainly Johnson was one of the better-known figures from the early era of recorded blues; reissue albums of his work began to appear in the 1960s and he was highly rated by blues authorities Peel respected, like DJ Mike Raven and author Paul Oliver. Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground has been seen as the forerunner of Ry Cooder's style, which would explain JP's liking for it.  Another artist featured by JP, Bukka White, performed music in Johnson's style.
The White Stripes covered Johnson's Motherless Children Have A Hard Time during a concert broadcast on 27 August 2002, but this does not appear to have been broadcast on JP's show; earlier, the song had also been covered by Eric Clapton. Among the many other cover versions of Johnson's material are a number by artists Peel liked, including not just blues and rock performers but some from the folk field, like Andy Roberts ("John The Revelator") and the Incredible String Band ("Take Your Burden To The Lord And Leave It There"). The DJ played Martin Simpson's version of Johnson's: "Nobody's Fault But Mine" on the show of 14 April 1986.
Festive Fifty Entries
- Peelenium 1927: 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground'
Other Shows Played
- 31 July 1993 / Peel July 1993 Lee Tape 184: 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground (Compilation LP-The Slide Guitar: Bottles, Knives & Steel)'
- 27 May 1999 (Radio Eins: Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground
- 15 July 1999: 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground' Peelenium 1927
- 18 August 1999: 'You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond' followed by Captain Beefheart's version
- 28 July 1999: 'You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond'
- 27 September 2001 (Radio Eins): 'Nobody's Fault But Mine (EP-Treasures Of North American Negro Music, Volume 2: Blind Willie Johnson)' (Fontana)
- 09 November 2004 (Rob Da Bank): 'Keep Your Lamp Trimmed (LP- The Soul of Man)' (Snapper Blues Music)
- ↑ In fact, Cooder said of this track that it was "the most transcendent piece in all American music."