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Issue 40 - Music's dark heart

Whisky Magazine Issue 40
June 2004


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Music's dark heart

Blues – from its roots in black rural poverty through 60s psychedelia and on to the college rock scene of today has always been about attitude. Here Jefferson Chase takes a walk on the wild side, while on page 24, Dave Broommeets the masters of psychedelic blues, Love.

Everyone knows the legend of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson going down to the crossroads and selling his soul in return for being taught how to play the guitar, but the story of Johnson's death is equally devilish and probably closer to the truth.

On August 13th, 1938, the 27 year old Johnson was playing at a club where he'd been carrying on with the owner's wife. He died three days later after drinking whiskey poisoned with either strychnine or lye.

Harmonic player Sonny Boy Williams claimed that he'd slapped a first bottle of moonshine from Johnson's hand, warning him that the stuff was laced, but that Johnson guzzled a second one anyway.

The tale of Johnson's demise is just one episode in the long-running love story between the blues and the water of life, or, in many cases, death. Moonshine whiskey was a source of inspiration, a killer of both time and pain, and one of the main forms of currency in which itinerant blues musicians of the 1920s an ‘30s were paid. But more importantly, whiskey was an essential ingredient of what really makes the blues the blues: attitude.

Countless people have tried and failed to define the blues. Even the snappy axiom ‘three chords and the truth' doesn't fit the bill since many Delta blues songs are built around a single riff. Nonetheless, we all know what the blues are. The blues is a tough guy or gal, both bemoaning and revelling in life's hard knocks. A bad ass who knows he or she is going to hell and doesn't really care as long t...

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