Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Robert One Man Johnson

I consider myself blessed to call Robert "One Man" Johnson a friend. If I remember it right, way back in about 1985, I ended up volunteering to provide the music for an official gathering evening - but I was nowhere near competent/experienced enough on a stage to provide an evening's entertainment to an audience. However I managed it, I had the fortuitous sense and chance to have invited RJ to join me. The man ended up saving the day (night) by playing the whole gig by himself more or less.

We worked sort of side by side as English teachers for several years starting soon after. Both of us used our guitars and our singing as educational "tools" in the classroom. Over the years, we drifted our own ways: him to Dubai or some other Arab lands, and from there to China and environs; me, always the same: right here, going on 30+ years now.

The "One Man" appelation comes from the fact that he plays the guitar, sings, blows a mean harp hung around his neck, stomps a high hat with one foot and a "foot piano" he built and invented with the other foot - all at the same time. He also writes a lot of his own songs, some of them picked up by some big names. You can check him out and learn more at his website Housedogmusic.

A couple of years back, as part of my advisory duties, I found the need to come up with a "known" musician for a festival my students were putting on, and Robert both came to mind and to my rescue, flying in all the way from farthest Asia for a one hour show. He was gracious enough to invite me to join him on stage during his show.

Robert comes to mind at this point in time because he has a version of Catfish Blues, and I used a different version of that song over at SMM this week, and while I love his song Sen ve Ben (the video link where we play together above), I best like Thin on Top.

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Sen ve Ben

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Thin on Top

Robert "One Man" Johnson: Catfish Blues

To pick up more of his music for yourself, try CDBaby

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


FMA, the FreeMusicArchive is a project of WFMU. One of the top rated radio stations in the US, WFMU has recieved recognition from Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Billboard, the Village Voice and more. As part of their philosophy that "radio has always offered public free access" to music, the FMA project provides free legal audio files and is inspired by the Creative Commons and open source movements.

Using grant money from the New York State Music Fund, FMA went online in 2009. The current archive of music includes close to 50,000 "podsafe" songs in a variety of genres covering more than a century's worth of culture. For example, if you browse the "Blues" section, you'll find songs originally recorded more than 100 years ago on cylinders that have been cleaned and archived by the University of California, Santa Barbara as well as contributions from current artists as recently as 2012.

Although not everything they present is Creative Commons, you can rest assured that it is all legal for your personal use. Because the collection is curated and any new additions are by invitation only, what you get is screened for quality. You'll also find informative text such as bios and links to relevant other resources as well as occasional links to "tip" the artists via PayPal.

Selection 1 this time around is a song by Big Bill Broonzy, most likely the 1941 recording. Credited as one of the authors of Key to the Highway, his musical career spanned about 40 years, from the 1920s until his death in 1958. Baby Please Don't Go, credited to Big Joe Williams, has - according to Allmusic - been released more than 1,000 times.
Big Bill Broonzy: Baby Please Don't Go

Selection 2 is a ~1909 recording of Gondolier and Temptation Rag played by Albert Benzler and Fred van Eps. Benzler was a studio musician for the Edison Company. Van Eps likewise worked (playing banjo) for the Edison Company.
Albert Benzler & Fred van Eps: Gondolier & Temptation Rag