I was visiting The Pointman at his blog recently, when I picked up on an older post which I had previously passed over entitled, “William Johnson; echoes of an unimportant life”, not recognizing at the time the eponymous William Johnson as Blind Willie Johnson, the legendary Texas blues man, and one of the very rare human artists honored by having a recording of his music sent to the stars aboard the Voyager spacecraft in the 1970’s. Time to correct that.
The Pointman in his own inimitable way gives a pithy précis of William Johnson’s life, some of the significance of his musical legacy, with an added discourse on the history of the Voyager program, and how Gary Flandro invented the orbital mechanics that made ‘The Grand Tour’ of the solar system of the Voyager program possible. I highly recommend this post, you won’t get much of what follows if you don’t, and The Pointman in general.
What made this particular article stand out in my mind, and which opened a door to my particular [peculiar?] mind was this paragraph here.
But there’s a piece on it by another musician of interest though. It’s called “Dark was the night, cold was the ground” and it’s by William Johnson. It’s a curious piece of music. I first heard it when I was in a bad situation and was hurting. There was something eerie about it. It was as if I was listening in stillness to someone else who was there with me, but we were both somehow listening together. It isn’t quite blues or gospel but something else altogether; Ry Cooder called it the basis of all slide guitar and “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music”, which is a lot of responsibility for any one song to bear. The technical merits of the song I’ll leave to Ry, because he’s a knowledgeable and gifted guitarist, but I do know that it is important in terms of its impact on me and others I’ve spoken to.
It has been a long, long time since I have listened to ol’ Blind Willie, so I had to go have a relisten. You can have a listen here.
Naturally I have some thoughts on the subject.