Tommy Johnson, Tommy Johnson 1928 – 1929

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Johnson was one of the seminal Delta bluesmen. Though he was a dramatic performer who laid down trancey rhythms on guitar, he's especially important as a singer and writer. His voice soared dramatically from a gruesome growl to a hair-raising falsetto, providing a template for, among others, Howlin 'Wolf, who later transformed Johnson's "Cool Drink of Water Blues" into "I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)." Johnson's "Big Road Blues" and "Maggie Campbell Blues" also became postwar, band-blues standards. Meanwhile "Canned Heat Blues" provided the name for the popular Sixties boogie band; though Johnson lived into the mid-'50s, "Canned Heat" eventually also provided the obituary for a bluesman who drank Sterno or shoe polish when he couldn't get his hands on booze.