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Author: Subject: Johnny Shines Interview: How Robert Johnson and I Played the Blues

Peach Head





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  posted on 4/2/2011 at 08:55 PM
In 1989, I did an extended interview with Johnny Shines, who travelled with Robert Johnson in the 1930s and went on to record Chicago blues in the 1950s. After a period of retirement, he returned to performing in the mid 1960s and went on to record stellar albums with Robert Jr. Lockwood and others.

Johnny and I went deep into the subject of his friend Robert Johnson, with whom he journeyed through the South and all the way up to Detroit and Canada. He revealed that he and Robert both preferred Kalamazoo acoustic guitars, and he speculated that the one in the Johnson “dime-store photo” was the flat-top they bought in Steele, Missouri, but that Robert really preferred a Kalamazoo archtop. He also revealed what they both used for slide: “A bottleneck. You’d find or buy a long-neck bottle and just break it off – get some pliers on there and break it off down where you could use it.” To make a capo, he said, “You could take a pencil and string. Put the pencil on the neck, wrap the string around it on the back side, pull it up tight. Just as good as any capo.” (B.B. King also told me that he made pencil capos when he was growing up in Mississippi.)

Johnny provides a lot of other details about how they’d travel, find places to play, and occasionally engage in head-cutting contests. Overall, he remembered, Johnson was a peace-loving man who “wouldn’t carry a gun huntin’ – until he started drinking. He started drinking, he’d do any goddanged thing. Wasn’t nothin’ too good for him to do.”

Shines’ admiration for Johnson ran very deep: “To me, he was just as great as Charlie Parker. The man did everything they did – whatsoever you did on a horn or on a piano, he figured he could do on a guitar, and he did it. And he didn’t look for it, either. I never seen him practice. I never seen him look for nothin’. He’d just sit down, tune a guitar, and play it. Whatever you wanted him to play, he’d play it. I never seen him look for a chord. I know many chords he never heard of, because he couldn’t read music, but he could make them.”

Parts of this interview were published in Living Blues in 1990, but the new version here is the complete, unedited 8000-word transcript, and it offers a wealth of insight into how bluesmen lived: http://jasobrecht.com/johnny-shines-complete-living-blues-interview/

 
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Universal Peach



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  posted on 4/4/2011 at 11:28 AM
There are 2 video documentaries out on the life of Robert Johnson....one hosted by Danny Glover, the other hosted by John Hammond Jr. On one of them, Johnny Shines is interviewed extensively. I think it's the John Hammond one.
I read an article once that alluded to the character Willie Brown in the movie Crossroads being loosely based on Johnny Shines and Robert Jr. Lockwood.
Thanks again, Jaso.

 
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Peach Head



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  posted on 4/4/2011 at 02:13 PM


[Edited on 4/4/2011 by 44bluesgck]

 

Zen Peach



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  posted on 4/4/2011 at 02:42 PM
Jaso, you are the bomb!!! Hope you know how much, and by how many, your posts are enjoyed!

 

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