johnson

robertjohnson3_200

Come On In My Kitchen

Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs and some have two takes. All are blues based, 12 bar or 8 bar, except one that is more of a rag time thing. Some of them have 2 takes. Anyway, there are 28 songs to learn as blues etudes. I am going to try to learn 4 songs a day for 4 weeks. Now, they are both simple and complicated, because he does a lot of finger picking, bottleneck slides, alternate tunings. And the singing. Scholars have noted his use of microtonal pitches. Which is another way of saying blue notes. Not the ones on the piano, but the ones in the cracks between the keys. I am just going to learn the chord progressions, the basic format, for the first go-through, but then I will delve deeper into the little tricks and licks he learned when he met the devil at the crossroads. Or so the legend goes.

The first 8 songs I will learn are

  1. Sweet Home Chicago
  2. Come On in My Kitchen
  3. Love In Vain 
  4. Hell Hound On My Trail
  5. Cross Road Blues
  6. Terraplane Blues
  7. Stop Breakin’ Down
  8. I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom

Some of these songs have been recorded by other artists and are familiar blues standards. For instance, “Sweet Home Chicago.” What I want to know though is he going to Chicago or California? It is very confusing.

Baby don’t you want to go?
To the land of California
To my sweet home Chicago

Might have to change the words a bit when I sing it to make it my own. So it makes sense and I can emote, emote, emote.

I really want to do “Come On in My Kitchen.” It is an 8-bar blues. Also there are a lot of Youtube videos where tutors explain how to play the songs. One I saw said it was tuned to an open A chord tuning. All right, but then it sounds to me like the song is really in B. And he uses a bottleneck. The first verse is just mmmms. Then he states the chorus, the refrain:

You better come on in my kitchen
It’s goin’ to be rainin’ outdoors

Like I said, it’s an 8-bar blues. Other 8-bar blues songs are “Key to the Highway,” by Big Bill Broonzy, and that one is in A and it was recorded by Derek and the Dominoes, which is the group featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. “Sitting On Top of the World” is an 8-bar blues that sounds a lot like Kitchen.

She’s gone, but I don’t worry
I’m sitting on top of the world.

All right, now Spotify just played ‘Kitchen.’ I made a playlist but it played a bunch of songs I didn’t ask for. It seems like you have to shuffle to get it to play. Why? Spotify seems to say, you can play music for free, just not in the order of your choosing, and we’ll throw in a bunch of ads and songs you didn’t ask for. But getting back to ‘Kitchen,’ it seems like it is an 8-bar blues but there is a little tag where he plays a lick for like 2 bars? So it is a 10-bar blues?

This music sounds really primitive but it is so deep. If I get too hung up with questions like is it a 8-bar blues or a 10-bar blues, and maybe he just dropped an extra beat in there, like Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. Whatever. Not to get too analytical, but it is the source, so I am just going to tap into it and learn everything I can. Experience it, but don’t try to work it out with a slide rule like a constipated scientist.

I confess that I do analyze the blues and I can play the basic blues progression in all 12 keys, for each of the 12 keys, I can play 5 positions up the neck. Then I can also slip in licks from the blues scale in each position. Like, when you play the blues in E, you play a pentatonic scale of G over that. This scale is the 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of G. G, A, B, D, and E. You can add the Bb to those 5 notes. It is the flatted fifth of E. A blue note. The G is also a blue note, because the E chord has a G#, a major 3rd, but the melody over the chord has a G natural, the minor third. That is how the blues works.

I practice 6 days a week, 2 keys per day. On the Sabbath, I rest. Today is Friday, so that’s the day I practice C and F#. The basic chord progression, written as numbers is this:

1411
4411
5415

Let’s say it’s blues in A:

ADAA
DDAA
EDAE

Another weird thing about the blues is that you can play all the chords as 7th chords.

But there I go, getting all technical about it. Forgive me.

I’m goin’ get up in the mornin’, I believe I’ll dust my broom
I’m goin’ get up in the mornin’, I believe I’ll dust my broom
Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin’, girlfriend, can get my room

I was listening to my Spotify playlist while I wrote this, where I put all the Robert Johnson tunes so I could learn them. I did complain that Spotify added a bunch of other songs, which was kind of a drag, but they did play a bunch of other songs that I really liked. Blues songs, and some people I have never heard of, but they were really good. Lots of names I have heard, bluesmen, but wait! This song by Lightning Hopkins really blew my bluesman mind. Then he played these incredible licks, like lightning, it was. Just like lightning. Yeah.

I’m gon’ write a letter, telephone every town I know
I’m gon’ write a letter, telephone every town I know
If I can’t find her in West Helena, she must be in East Monroe, I know
I don’t want no woman, wants every downtown man she meet
I don’t want no woman, wants every downtown man she meet
She’s a no-good honey, they shouldn’t allow her on the street

You know there were only 2 pictures of Robert Johnson, but then they found a third. So, here is an article about the discovery. I don’t agree that most of his songs were 12 bar blues, because some were 8 bars, or whatnot. But other than that, it is a pretty good article. Here it is:

https://www.cranbrooktownsman.com/opinion/the-third-photograph-of-robert-johnson/

This is a major discovery, because the other two pictures are kind of stiff and brooding. This one shows a happy smiling Bob.

I’m gonna call up Chiney, see if my good girl over there
I’m gonna call up China, see if my good girl over there
If I can’t find her on Philippine’s island, she must be in Ethiopia somewhere

~ Robert Johnson

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