Tuesday, October 26, 2004:

Blind Willie Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson -- Mother's Children Have a Hard Time
Tune today from Blind Willie Johnson, blues guitarist who was blinded at the age of seven when his father and his stepmother got into an argument. Accounts about how or why differ, except they all involve the argument and a bit of thrown lye (even allmusic can't decide among the stories--the 2nd edition of their blues guide says "George Johnson caught her with another man and beat her up; she retaliated by throwing lye into the face of seven-year-old Willie to deliberately blind him." Their website says "When Johnson was about seven years old, his father and stepmother fought and the stepmother threw lye water, apparently at the father, but the lye got in Willie Johnson's eyes, blinding him.") So.

After he was blinded, Johnson continued to learn the guitar, and his father began taking him to town to play for change. He was religious and considered himself a gospel singer, though most people today would probably classify him as blues. This track's about how no one can take the place of a mother, even if they try: fathers do the best they can; sisters will get married and leave you; wives and husbands love you but it's not the same. His voice is fierce, rough; the guitar is spot-on, controlled and sweet. I can't help wondering if he wrote this one when he was very, very young.

Allmusic.com says the title is "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time" and that it is "often understood as 'motherless children'" but, I don't know, that doesn't sound like what he's singing. I don't doubt that the shellac had "Mother's Children" written on it; I do doubt that that's what Johnson meant.
Brief bio and discography of Blind Willie Johnson;
Allmusic.com writeup on him;
archive.org for more downloads;
[Amazon.com] The complete recordings: two discs, 30 tracks.


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