By MARC McDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
Texas blues great Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) may be even more mysterious than that blues enigma, Robert Johnson. For a start, only one known photo exists of Blind Willie (versus two known photos of Robert Johnson).
And, like Robert Johnson, much about Blind Willie's life is shrouded in mystery. It's not even known for certain how Blind Willie lost his sight, although theories and stories abound. What is known for sure is that Blind Willie died in obscurity and poverty in Beaumont, Texas in 1945. It seems that his house burned down and, having nowhere else to go, he lived in the burned-out ruins in the open air until he contracted malaria and died. His wife later said she tried to take him to the hospital, but they refused him because he was black. Such was everyday life for African-Americans in the brutal Jim Crow racist society of the South.
This song, "John the Revelator," recorded by Blind Willie in 1930, has been covered by many artists over the years, ranging from R.E.M. to John Mellencamp. Every single cover version has been inferior and unnecessary. Blind Willie's haunting version reigns supreme.