SONG OF THE DAY Tommy Johnson – Canned Heat Blues

PrimaryIn a previous post that I wrote about Tommy Johnson, I described the haunting falsetto of his voice by comparing how: “...his vocals waft 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…”  I still listen and always think of this!

Such is the draw of his unique vocal style, it’s hard not to recognise it and pretty tough not to be captured and bewitched by the sonic spell that it crafts!

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, including the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Howlin’ wolf and Hank Williams. His recording career commenced in the early 1920’s and stretched over many moons and it was in 1928 he laid down his first recordings for Victor Records.

Amongst the songs he recorded in this session was the mighty Canned Heat Blues, in which he sings of drinking methanol from the cooking fuel Sterno. Johnson was known to down denatured alcohol (nutter) when the real thing wasn’t available (denatured alcohol being ethanol that has additives to make it bad-tasting, foul-smelling, or nauseating to discourage its recreational consumption). This crazy habit of his was documented in today’s song, Canned Heat Blues, and if you hadn’t already guessed, this is where Canned Heat took their name!  The song features troubled lyrics declaring how, “canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me….”  Despite these crazy antics, however, Johnson reached 60 before he passed, so I guess he was made of proper strong stuff. Though he only recorded for two years (from 1928 to 1930) the small collections of recordings he left behind were outstanding and for these he will forever be remembered! Enjoy!

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