The haunting falsetto of Tommy Johnson’s vocals wafts out across the airways like a sonic siren and if I could visually compare its effect, I would liken it to that old Bisto advert where the trail of its aroma would draw people in from miles. Johnson’s vocal range was quite dynamic, ranging from a low throaty snarl to a high falsetto.
Born in Mississippi in 1896, Tommy Johnson was a Delta blues musician known for his striking voice and intricate guitar playing. His distinct style influenced an array of blues artists such as Robert Nighthawk, Howlin’ wolf and Hank Williams and his recording career commenced in the early 1920’s and stretched over many moons. In 1928 he laid down his first recordings for Victor Records and these included the song, Canned Heat Blues, in which he sang of drinking methanol from the cooking fuel Sterno. The song features troubled lyrics which declares, “canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me,” ….. and it was from this song that the wonderful Canned Heat took their name!
Today’s unearthly delight, Cool Drink Of Water Blues was released on 10″ shellac in 1928 and when I first heard this I was bewitched! Johnson’s vocals literally sing to you! They cry to you and they dance into your soul like a warbling dream. Check it out above.