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The Roots Of Robert Johnson

The playing of the legendary Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson was firmly rooted in the blues of the 1920s.
Level: 0, pages
RefNr: MB95074BCD
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Written by: Stefan Grossman

The playing of: Robert Johnson

Written by: Woody Mann

Format: Method Medium: Book/CD
Series: Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop - AudioPublisher: Grossman's Guitar Workshop
Genre: * | Blues - Delta | * | Fingerstyle - Blues | * | Open/Alternate Tuning - General |

The playing of the legendary Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson was firmly rooted in the blues of the 1920s. In this study, Stefan Grossman have transcribed those arrangements that we feel had a great influence on the guitar approach, technique and style of Robert Johnson.

Beware: Many of the songs are included in the "Early Roots ..." set. But the "Early .." is more of an instruction series, with detailed breakdown of the songs.

Songs - Compositions - Recordings
Sort by: Recording artist * Title * Composer

Scrapper Blackwell Blue Day Blues -
Scrapper Blackwell Kokomo Blues -
Blind Blake Georgia Bound -
Big Bill Broonzy Saturday Night Rub -
Big Bill Broonzy Stove Pipe Stomp -
Big Bill Broonzy Worryin' You Off My Mind -
Willie Brown Future Blues -
Willie Brown M&O Blues -
Son House Dry Spell Blues -
Son House My Black Mama -
Skip James Devil Got My Woman -
Skip James Hard Time Killin' Floor -
Skip James Special Rider Blues -
Lonnie Johnson Go Back To Your No Good Man -
Lonnie Johnson Life Saver Blues -
Hambone Willie Newbern Roll and Tumble Blues -
Charley Patton 34 Blues -
Charley Patton Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues -
Charley Patton Stone Pony Blues -

Book of the Month 2002-08

Guitar Book of the Month - August 2002

Stefan Grossman and Woody Mann: The Roots Of Robert Johnson and Early Roots Of Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson has rightly been called The King of Delta Blues Guitar. Everyone who is interested in blues guitar should study the playing of Robert Johnson. But he did not invent the musical style. Robert Johnson had one major advantage over his peers: He could listen to their records. The pioneers of recording learned from other players in their region. The players who followed - among them Robert Johnson - could learn from all the recorded music that had become available. He learned from a variety of styles, and it came out as a very personal style - just as The Beatles did some 25 years later.

For August 2002 I have picked two books that traces some of the musicians who had huge influence on Robert Johnson. One is a co-written by Stefan Grossman and Woody Mann, and the other is by Woody Mann alone. Both are among the pioneers and most experienced teachers and writers on country blues guitar.

The two books are overlapping - one could say that they are two version of the same basic book.

The Roots Of Robert Johnson is a compilation of recordings and transcriptions by Stefan Grossman and Woody Mann. All the songs on the CD are transcribed in the book, or all the transcribed songs are included on the CD, if you want to have it that way. It is the original recordings with the original artists.

In Early Roots Of Robert Johnson, Woody Mann goes deeper into the playing of selected songs. The original recordings are still there, but here Woody talks and play you through the songs on the three CDs in the set. It is an analysis of the playing styles, and not only transcriptions. The down side is that there are fewer songs included.

I cannot give a clear answer on which one to choose. If you are familiar with country blues playing and want to go beyond Robert Johnson, then The Roots ... might be a good choice. But if you need to - or want to learn the playing techniques, then Early Roots ... might be better. The Roots ... is a book with a CD, while Early Roots ... is more like an audio course with printed material added. I have made it a non-decision, and have both.

Both books starts with the two Scrapper Blackwell tunes Blue Day Blues and Kokomo Blues. When you hear Kokomo Blues, you immediately understand where Robert Johnson got the inspiration for Sweet Home Chicago. Both have Blind Blake's Georgia Bound. The Roots ... goes on with three Big Bill Broonzy songs: Saturday Night Rub, Stove Pipe Stomp and Worrying You Off My Mind, and then to the Willie Brown tunes Future Blues and M&O Blues. The latter one is the "Pony" themes, discussed in my Blues Guitar Series. None of these songs are included in Early Roots .... Son House is represented with My Black Mama in both books, while Dry Spell Blues is added in The Roots ....

Skip James is represented with three songs in The Roots ...: Devil Got My Woman, Hard Time Killin' Floor and Special Rider. Only the first one is included in Early Roots .... Lonnie Johnson is represented by Life Saver Blues in booth books. The Roots ... has Go Back to Your No Good Man added.

Hambone Willie Newburn's Roll and Tumble Blues is probably the most influential bottleneck/slide tune ever, and it is of course included in both books. Charley Patton was Robert Johnson's rival as "The King" (it is probably more correct to say that it was the opposite, as Charley Patton died before Robert Johnson started to record). But no one could challenge Charley Patton as "The Father of Delta Blues Guitar". He is represented by three songs in The Roots .... These are Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, Stone Poney Blues (the "Pony" theme once more) and 34 Blues. Again only the first of the three is included in Early Roots ....

Early Roots ... is 8 songs on 3 CDs, as opposed to 19 songs on one CD in The Roots .... The music is well laid out and printed in both books. But Woody Mann's breakdown and analysis of the tunes gives a very good help in learning the material. The 8 tunes in Early Roots ... will give many of us a lot to work with.

Other books on the same topic

There are a few other books that we could have chosen for the same purpose: Going to the roots of Robert Johnson and deeper into Delta Blues Guitar. Stefan Grossman's classic Delta Blues Guitar will give the songs by Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Son House and Skip James that you will miss if you choose Early Roots ..., in addition to other Delta tunes. The drawback with this book is that it does not come with a CD. You can get a cassette, but you have to order it separately, and CDs are much better to work with compared to cassettes. Who wants to do all the rewinding of cassettes when there are alternatives? (I have transferred all my old cassettes - including this one - to MP3 files on my computer, which makes life a little easier.)

There is also a book/CD combination from another of my favorite blues instructors: Dave Rubin. His Acoustic Country Blues Guitar also covers pre-Robert Johnson Delta Blues. It cover 12 songs, and only three of them are overlapping with the other books mentioned. As always, Dave Rubin digs a bit deeper into traditions and development than the others. That might be one of the reasons that makes me, as an academic, like his books so well.

If you think that it should be more, not less coverage of Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and Blind Blake, then Woody Mann has an excellent book of the same type as Early Roots ... on each of them. It is starting to get costly if you go in this direction. On the other hand: You will have material to work with for a long time to come, so you will not be in a hurry to buy more guitar books.

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