Sunday, March 4, 2012

Robert Johnson Got the Blues 100 Years Ago and Reaped a Fortune: Forbes Article

Robert Johnson Got the Blues 100 Years Ago and Reaped a Fortune
English: American blues singer and guitarist R...
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You may or may not know this: someone actually invented the music we call the Blues. It was Robert Johnson, born in 1911 and died in 1938. He left 29 recorded original songs that comprise the foundation of all the music we know as the Blues. On Tuesday night, a bunch of stars will celebrate his 100th birthday at the Apollo Theater– Elvis Costello, “Soul Man” Sam Moore, Todd Rundgren, Macy Gray, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo and Bettye Lavette, among others. More on the show in a minute. (Read about it at
John Titta is the visionary music publisher who saw the gold in Robert Johnson. An industry vet at Warner Chappell, Titta started his own company–MPCA–in 2006. The first catalog he went after had over 25,000 titles. But 29 of them were the songs by Robert Johnson. They’d already been covered over and over by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin. Clapton and Rundgren had done whole tribute albums. Titta told me on Sunday that the Johnson songs are “the gem” of his business. “Just in the last year, Cyndi Lauper, Big Head Todd, John Mayer, Bob Dylan have all covered him, Laurence Fishburne‘s character on “CSI” was obsessed with him.”
It was only February 23rd when President Obama sang “Sweet Home Chicago” at a political fundraiser. This is the strongest evidence that Obama was born in America, by the way. (I consider that his birth certificate.) . On Tuesday night, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sam Moore will really take on “Sweet Home Chicago,” which promises to be a show stopping mind blower.
Tonight- Monday, that is–you can catch a dress rehearsal of this show at the City Winery down on Varick Street. The producers of the whole thing are actor Joe Morton, Michael Dorf, Steve Berkowitz, and Patricia Watt. Steve Jordan is the musical director. Actor Geoffrey Wright is participating. So is Robert Johnson’s grandson, the Rev. Steven Johnson. The reverend’s 80 year old father, Claude, the only child of Robert Johnson, may be there as well.
It’s hard to think of Robert Johnson as a human being. He lived a short time, wrote the canon of blues, and lived mostly in mythology. His death was a result of being poisoned by a jealous husband. For years while he was alive he was not considered a great musician. The myth is that he met the Devil in a graveyard, and learned to play guitar from him. The 29 songs came fast and furious.
If you go to John Titta’s website, you can hear the songs and see some cool videos they’ve put together– And royalties? Titta can’t even give a ballpark figure, but suffice to say the Johnson heirs are quite happy. And the legacy has been preserved beautifully.

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