Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concert is the brainchild of Todd Park Mohr, the founder of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It’s a combination national tour and album release, designed to celebrate the music of the legendary bluesman, who would have been 100 this year, and to highlight the playing of some artists who knew and played with Johnson and are still alive and kicking, such as David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Cedric Burnside, and Lightnin’ Malcolm. The Santa Barbara show will take place at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Monday, January 31, at 8 p.m., presented by Arts & Lectures.
Robert Johnson, who recorded only 29 songs in his tragically short life of just 27 years, is the most influential Delta blues artist. His music has been covered by Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Cream, and the Grateful Dead, among many others. In terms of content, style, and tone, Johnson’s work stands alongside the very finest songs ever written in any genre of music. A classic like his “Love in Vain” can convey an entire world of heartache in just a few spare lines, and, once you’ve heard his keening voice and soulful guitar playing, his personal sound is as unforgettable as his songwriting art.
For the forthcoming album 100 Years of Robert Johnson, which is due to be released on March 1, Mohr took his band to Ardent Studios in Memphis and brought in veteran blues producer Chris Goldsmith, whose credits include the Blind Boys of Alabama. Then he began rounding up a dream cast of guest artists—Charlie Musselwhite, B. B. King, and Ruthie Foster. The vision for the project came from Mohr’s perception that, while many artists have reveled in the great melodies and lyrics of Johnson, few have successfully explored the depth of the emotionality in his voice. Having heard only one track from the unreleased recordings thus far—the fabulous “Come On in My Kitchen”—I can nevertheless attest to the fact that these are really new and really interesting arrangements that emphasize Johnson’s connection to vintage soul, as well as the blues. Mohr’s vocals grip and don’t let go. Give the devil his due, and don’t miss this opportunity to experience the music that earned Johnson his title of “King of the Delta Blues.”
For tickets and information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.