Mississippi Blues Legends Celebrate Robert Johnson
How do you throw a 100th birthday bash for the most influential bluesman that ever lived? If you're Big Head Todd and the Monsters, you gather some of the greatest living blues musicians and record a tribute album, 100 Years of Robert Johnson, and then tour the U.S. with legendary players from Johnson's home state of Mississippi to showcase some of the most influential American music ever made.
Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concert Tour, presented by Subaru of New England, stops at the Berklee Performance Center on Friday, February 18, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50, $35, and $25, and are available at the Performance Center box office, or through Ticketmaster.com. For more information, call 617 747-2261 or visit berkleebpc.com. The Berklee Performance Center is located at 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. The venue is wheelchair-accessible.
Joining Big Head Todd and the Monsters will be David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, and Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm. These artists embody more than 75 years of Mississippi blues and have either played with Johnson or picked up the roots he left behind. Just added to the already stellar lineup is special guest Steven Johnson, grandson of Robert Johnson. The vocalist and educator will perform some of his grandfather's classics and talk about his family. Johnson is the vice-president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation and Museum in Crystal Springs, Mississippi.
David "Honeyboy" Edwards was born in 1915 in Shaw, Mississippi. He is one of the last living links to Robert Johnson and one of the last original acoustic Delta blues players. Honeyboy's life has been intertwined with almost every major blues legend, including Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sunnyland Slim, Lightnin' Hopkins, Little Walter, Magic Sam, and Muddy Waters. Honeyboy made his first recordings in 1942 for Alan Lomax. He accepted his first Grammy Award in 2008 when his album Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas won for Best Traditional Blues Album, and in 2010 he took home a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
Hubert Sumlin was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1931. He was the guitar player in Howlin' Wolf's band for more than 20 years. It was with Wolf, whom Sumlin first saw as a 10-year-old boy in the Delta, that he defined a primitive, raw, emotive electric blues sound that struck awe in a generation of classic rock guitarists. Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all name him as a prime inspiration. Rolling Stone and Mojo magazines list him among the most influential guitarists of all time. Sumlin is an inductee in the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. He most recent release is About Them Shoes on Tone-Cool Records.
Formed in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 2006, the minimalist duo of Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm hit hard with a powerful fusion of Delta and North Mississippi Hill County blues and funk, rock, and Americana music. Burnside is the grandson of legendary R.L. Burnside and son of drummer Calvin Jackson. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation's 2010 Blues Music Award for best drummer. Malcolm, skilled on guitar, bass, and drums and possessed with a deep soulful voice, is a first-call session player, especially to recreate older blues sounds that recall backwoods churches, rural dance halls, or fife and drum bands. He has played with many of Mississippi's best blues artists, such as T Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough, Big Jack Johnson, among others. The duo's CD, 2 Man Wrecking Crew, won the 2009 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut.
The tour and tribute album are the brainstorm of Todd Park Mohr, who along with Rob Squires, Brian Nevin, and Jeremy Lawton make-up Big Head Todd and the Monsters, whose hits "Bittersweet" and "Broken Hearted Stranger" were modern rock staples during the early '90s. 100 Years of Robert Johnson was recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis and produced by Grammy Award–winning blues producer Chris Goldsmith. The album is Big Head Todd's inspired take on Johnson's best-known tunes with help from Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, and Ruthie Foster, as well as Edwards, Sumlin, Burnside, and Malcolm.
Robert Johnson's story is the stuff of myth and legend. Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911, Johnson recorded only 29 songs, all during the years 1936 and 1937. His unique guitar style and haunting vocal phrasing, and the evocative, often mysterious nature of his lyrics, made him a popular artist during his short time in the spotlight, but an even greater legend since his mysterious death at 27 in 1938, after a gig with Honeyboy Edwards.