Elijah Wald plays Robert Johnson's From Four Till Late





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Published on Feb 27, 2010

In "Escaping the Delta," I explored the roots and influence of Robert Johnson's music, and tried to place him in the broader perspective of his time and place. This song brings together a lot of the threads that inspired me to write that book.

Johnson plays it in a style that suggests that he had been listening to Blind Blake, and my version takes it several steps further into that territory. But it is also a link to the kinds of urban musicians who are usually filed as jazz artists: the same melody was recorded in 1922 by Johnny Dunn's Original Jazz Hounds, as "Four O'Clock Blues" (you can hear it at http://www.redhotjazz.com/jazzhounds....), so clearly the song was around long before Johnson recorded it.

Whether the words were Johnson's addition, or learned from some forgotten singer in Memphis, or a mix of both, we probably will never know. (When I say in the video that no one sang them before Johnson did, what I meant is that he was the first to record them.) But the goofy pun in the third verse is a perfect example of the sort of humor in a lot of vaudeville and minstrel show blues numbers, and yet another reminder of the way folk and pop styles overlapped--urban pros like W.C Handy learned from rural players, and rural pros like Johnson were paying attention to urban blues, jazz and pop artists.


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