The Boatman

3 Jan

I will never forget the first time I really listened to Robert Johnson.

I rustled up some old stuff on YouTube, hit play and sat there with my jaw hanging down for about 17 straight minutes.

Hellhound on My Trail hit me hard. So did Crossroads. So did Malted Milk. So did just about every other tune I listened to.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest you carve out some “alone time” to spend with Mr. Johnson.

(That wasn’t intended to sound dirty.)

I remember listening, and wondering how the hell one man could do that with one guitar. Johnson could maintain a walking baseline and what sounded like a completely different lead guitar part, ten frets away, with completely natural virtuosity. Organic genius, untaught, unteachable.

Of course, they say the Devil taught him to play the guitar, down at the crossroads, and all that spooky Southern stuff that I love so much.

I suspect it had more to do with hard work — and a steely determination to be the best. He also had fingers the length of breadsticks from the Olive Garden, as you can see here.

The man with the magic fingers...

The man with the magic fingers…

What I love, too, about Johnson’s rare recordings: It’s a man and his guitar. Nothing more, nothing less. No place to hide. Let’s see your soul, friend. And let’s see what you can do with that machine.

One day, I will take the time to teach myself a pale version of one of Johnson’s classics.

Until then, I will be content to write songs like The Boatman.

I hope you enjoy it.

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