View Full Version : Robert Johnson's Rhythm Work

01-04-2005, 03:45 PM
Does anyone know of any work gone into analysing the rhythm work on the original recordings? There's quite a few things I've notice he's doing that kind of jig the standard blues rhythm for a small amount of time, like on the changes and the like, before he falls back in line.

Kind of like dragging behind the beat a bit and bringing it back to a straight 4/4 after a shuffle feel, that kind of thing.

I think I remember Clapton talking about it but not seeing anything tab'd or analysed in writing.

An example is on the version of "Sweet Home Chicago" when he actually sings that line he starts singing on a different beat to all the classic covers of the same song, it works but I can't seem to define it. Most of the other areas I've noticed are actually on the guitar rather than his singing

01-04-2005, 03:49 PM
Kind of like dragging behind the beat a bit and bringing it back to a straight 4/4 after a shuffle feel, that kind of thing.

i really think he was just drunk. honestly. there is so much weird stuff on his recordings that he must have been drunk. just my opinion though.

01-04-2005, 04:12 PM
You might be totally right on that one you know.

Kind of like skillfully (or luckily) recovering from the mistakes he was making, but it somehow works and it would be great to try to work some of it in to my playing.

01-04-2005, 04:31 PM
There is a definitive (supposedly) tab book out there, wonder how you'd go about notating the rhythms accurately ... me thinks difficult...

Sir Speedy
01-04-2005, 11:09 PM
i really think he was just drunk. honestly. . :D :D :cool:
I don't thing R.J. had a drummer, did he ?? Mabey a guy banging on a Book , or something ?

I'm a big Johnny Winter fan , and the first time i heard Robert Johnson , i thought it was a bootleg of Johnny Winter , Jamming with some Old Black guy.

If you like Robert Johnson , Check out Johnny Winters Self titled , first Album .
"Leland Mississippi Blues" is so great , it should be a Zepplin Song .

It's B7 E7 F#

Winter has a Kick Ax version of" Rock me baby" , too. on "Still Alive ..."

Hendrix got that from Johnny . What a cool bass line , Texas Style , all the way .
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01-05-2005, 08:59 AM
You know I have some Johnny Winter stuff arouns somwehere from about 15 years back, I shall have to dig it out.

The RJ rhythm stuff I was talking about was from his guitar work really, as you rightly say there was no drummer.

01-07-2005, 04:44 PM
He just played whatever he felt like at the time, for more info see if you can find anything on a guy named John Hammond, who is the son of John Hammond the promoter who originally found RJ. Somewhere I have a video (yes, I'm still back-dated YEAH!!!) called 'The Search for Robert Johnson' introduced by John Hammond (jr) who is recognised as being the greatest living authority on RJ, boy, you should hear him beat on a Dobro!!!!!

01-10-2005, 01:50 PM
I'm not aware of any books specifically dealing with RJ's odd sense of rhythm, but personally I think it is what sets him apart from the pack. Due to the quality of the recordings it's often hard to understand what he was doing. However, there are a couple of outstanding players who seem to have an excellent grasp of RJ rhythmic quirks: Chris Whitley and Roy Rogers. I saw them both perform for an RJ tribute gig - both went on solo, just guitar, vocals, & a tapping foot.

The ket is the tapping foot, which holds staright 8s while the guitar seems at times to spin off into different times. Seems ol' RJ digs metric modulations and such. I'll see if I can locate links to clips or CD/DVD purchase and, if successful, post again.

01-10-2005, 02:52 PM
Also worth checking out is Skip James, another blueser from the 30's. Also a very odd sense of timing/ rythym.

01-10-2005, 03:25 PM
Great stuff.

All these names coming out here just reinforces his influence across the spectrum.

Q: How many blues guitarists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Seven. One to change the light bulb and six to sit around discussing how Robert Johnson would have done it.

Q: How many country guitarists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Seven, one to change the lightbuilb and six to write songs about how much they miss the old one.

Enough of that.:D

01-10-2005, 04:09 PM
UK folks with freeview/sky/NTL - watch out for the Blues series films on BBC4. There was one all about Skip James and a couple of other early guys (but not RJ for some reason) I think it was directed by Wim Wenders.

Last week there was one (dir. Mike Figgis) about the Brit Blues Explosion which had some studio footage of re-recording tracks with Jeff Beck on guitar - the most marked thing was how much he _didn't_ play, but when he did, so good....

There was another with Chuck D hooking up with Chess Jr. to re-do some Electric Mud stuff.

The series of films is sponsored by Martin (are you looking at me?) Scorcese and I think there is a DVD collection out. BBC4 is repeating them at intervals though.

01-10-2005, 04:23 PM
Yeah, I saw that they were running that series of films, the day after it was on!!!! DOH!!!!

Was it any good?? If so I might check out the DVD's.

For a more modern take on his stuff it's also worth checking out a guy called Micheal Messer, very authentic old style slide blues, he rocks!!!

01-10-2005, 04:27 PM
They were good, I think they are being repeated though so it might be worth watching out for them. The DVD is going to be expensive as it's at least 8 films (unless its best bits), so it needs to be really good. Since it's more documentary than concert it demands attention, so you have to ask yourself if you'd watch it more than once..