Tag: blind boy fuller

Bad songs vs. Good songs vs. Great songs

I remember telling my friend in high school that the reason I loved the Beatles was because all of their recordings were good, there were none that I didn’t like.

Now I would change this statement to:

Some of their recordings weren’t good–

some of their recordings were great–

and some are bad. 

Later, when I started listening seriously to the Grateful Dead and Leonard Cohen, I realized there were quite a few tracks I didn’t like at all. A couple examples is this copy of Stagger Lee by the Dead or this song from Leonard Cohen.

Despite these examples’ clear badness as songs, I thought they were good because I was unable to divorce the artist from their work.

There are a lot of arguments you can make about how art is a representation of the artist.  To critique art is to critique the artist.

However, to truly understand the art you love, you have to realize that an artist can create a lot of duds. These artists we love are just mortals like you and I, no matter how much we deify them. 

Let’s take Robert Johnson as a prime example of this effect.

Johnson had a short career. He died at age 27 in 1938 from being poisoned. If dying from poison isn’t enough proof that Johnson wasn’t a god, I don’t know what is (sorry Clapton fans).

Later rock-and-roll and blues fans claimed Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads and was given incredible musical skills. If you listen to his tunes like Me and the Devil Blues or Crossroads Blues you can see how this myth perpetuated:

In truth, Robert Johnson was just a great musician who played a lot of other styles besides blues. We even have a recording of his hokum tune They’re Red Hot. He lived a hard life, traveled around the south to play music, and then died violently. In his life he recorded 29 different songs, with 13 surviving alternate takes of these songs.

I don’t like the song They’re Red Hot, but I still think Robert Johnson was a great musician. A lot of people, who deify Robert Johnson do not accept that any of his work could possibly be bad.

To really appreciate music, we have to be able to discriminate against certain recordings and understand that they are not good. This outlook is especially important for old recordings because there wasn’t really any post processing, we got an honest view of an artist’s performance at the time. 

At the same time, we can always be grateful we have these recordings to formulate these opinions. 

Blind Boy Fuller is another example of a prolific artist who made some poor recordings. There a lot sociological reasons why these recordings were bad, but the point is that we can separate artists from their work. 

We shouldn’t assume that because we love an artist, everything they produce is gold. Realizing this improved my own musicianship, as I became able to understand that some sounds will appeal to people for a longtime, and some sounds are relics of a time, or simply bad. 

As a final comparison, check out these three songs by 12-string wizard Blind Willie Mctell. I think the first song is bad, the second song is good, and the last is great. 

What songs do you think are bad, good, or great? 

Featured Musician: Paul Geremia

I used to frequent the forums of Weenie Campbell to expand my oeuvre of music beyond traditional country blues.

In my earlier days, I used to judge contemporary country blues artist by how they played songs I was familiar with.

My mindset used to limit me!

As I matured as a musician and as a listener, I became much more interested in artists that would play in the style, not just play slavish copies of source material. After all, all the country blues greats played regional and popular songs in their own style which led them to producing great music.

Paul Geremia is a player that really stands out to me as a living country blues artist. Using 12 strings, 6 strings, harmonica, and his voice, Paul always paints a picture through his work.

From crosses between Blind Boy Fuller’s Walking My Blues Away (part 2) and Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, to a cover of Robert Johnson’s Come In My Kitchen with Skip James-esque falsetto, Geremia was never afraid to experiment to push the genre.

Also, it’s important to note that Paul is one of the greatest exponents of playing the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson. A video of his version of Shuckin’ Sugar Blues is shown below.

In some ways, I think Geremia’s voice prepped me for later country music I listened to. He definitely had a great twang to his voice when he wanted.

Paul also hung out with Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin in his apartment! Check out the story here!

Unfortunately, Paul had a stroke in 2014, and his career is on hold. You can support him and his family at through this Paypal link.