52 “John The Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson


March 18, 2011 by gadaya

Maybe the greatest “guitar evangelist” of all time, Blind Willie Johnson remains quite a mysterious figure, with only a few biographical hints to help us understand his life and his music.Like many blind african-american in the 1920’s and 1930’s, music was one way to scratch a living, singing on street corners and maybe, if you had a special talent and a little luck, on a recording studio for a phonograph company. In fact, we can find many examples of Blues guitar players from this era who were blind, played on the streets and had many religious songs in their repertoire: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and Reverend Gary Davis being the most well known. We don’t know if Blind Willie Johnson played secular songs as well, as all of his 30 recordings are religious pieces and even if his records sold well during his time, he had to rely on busking throughout all of his life to make a living. As a performer, he remains one of the most intense singer and guitar player ever recorded, influencing many others during his lifetime and ever since. His superb slide guitar playing and his powerful harsh voice are the most distinctive elements of his musicianship but he could also play some intricate guitar bass runs and sing with a warm tenor on some sides.

-For elements of his biography, there are already many pages on the web you can look out. Here are a few interesting links:

Wikipedia article, a cartoon illustrating his life, articles from Austin TX music and No Depression.

An illustrated discography

-Blind Willie Johnson’s complete recordings were issued on a double-cd by Columbia-Sony and there is an excellent compilation of his best sides on Yazoo Records.

-I choosed to share with you his last session, 10 sides (which includes the Anthology selection “John The Revelator”), recorded on April 20, 1930 in Atlanta. He is accompanied by his first wife, Willie B. Harris who takes the lead on some tracks. During this session, Johnson uses mostly his guitar in regular tuning, played with a heavy thumb, returning only for the last track to his more celebrated slide playing. One song here seems to come from the white tradition (“If it had not been for Jesus”) and some are among his best performances (“The rain don’t fall on me”, “The Soul of a man” “John The Revelator”).

Track list:

1.Can’t Nobody hide from God

2.If It had not been for Jesus

3.Go to me with that land

4.The rain don’t fall on me

5.Trouble will soon be over

6.The soul of a man

7.Everybody ought to treat a stranger right

8.Church I’m fully saved today

9.John The Revelator

10.You’re gonna need somebody on your bond

Listen here

John The Revelator (The Variations)

“John The Revelator” is a classic “call and response” african-american song about John of Patmos, the author of the “Book of Revelation”, the final book in the “New Testament” corpus. Blind Willie Johnson’s version seems to be the most influential and have been “covered” many times by Blues and Rock artists. I have compiled some of my  favorite versions, which includes The Golden Gate Quartet, Son House, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, some contemporary bands like Frankenpine and Sacred Shakers,The Holy Modal Rounders (singing the “New John The Revelator”!) and a gospel a-capella choir recorded by Alan Lomax… Enjoy!

Track list:

1.Golden Gate Quartet (From “Negro Spirituals)

2.Belleville A-Capella Choir (From “Southern Journey vol.8:Velvet Voices”)

3.New Tradition (From “Daddy on his knees”)

4.Ron Campbell (From “A skinny old white man sings the Blues”)

5.The Sacred Shakers (From “The Sacred Shakers”)

6.Kirk Withrow (From “Hogtie the devil”)

7.Son House (From “The Delta Blues of Son House”)

8.Ethel Caffie-Austin (From “The Harry Smith Connection: A live tribute to the Anthology”)

9.Holy Modal Rounders (From “Too much fun”)

10.Frankenpine (From “The Crooked Mountain”)

11.The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (From “Funeral for a friend”)

12.The Spiritual Four Quartet (From “Field Recordings vol.14”)

Listen here

(Click on Harry Smith to download all the mp3 tracks from this post)


15 thoughts on “52 “John The Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson

  1. JD says:

    Your blog continues to be one of the jewels of the music blogosphere and I know I speak for many who thank you for your hard work on it. It really is something quite special, whether you’re a fan of the anthology or new to it. This latest is, however, not in a format recognized as either zip or rar and so can’t at present be uncompressed. Thanks again for all your hard work.

  2. Josh says:

    I second JD’s comments. Your blog is fantastic and I love to get new entries. However I am having the same problem with the file being in the wrong format.

  3. harperstone says:

    who’s that writing?
    Gadaya the Revelator.
    Can I get an Amen?

  4. […] The latest post is on Blind Willie Johnson, whose Dark Was The Night was included on the Voyager Spacecraft Interstellar Mission, which has now left our Solar System https://oldweirdamerica.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/52-john-the-revelator-by-blind-willie-johnson […]

  5. Steve Mullen says:

    I echo JD’s feelings! Your blog is unlike any other I’ve run across.

    The guitar evangelists are one of America’s national treasures – with all the intensity of the revival tent, the tension between Christ’s gospel & Satan’s blues, the pious melodies of the Anglo church-goers mixed with the fire of the African saut . . . .

    And Blind Willie Johnson is my personal favorite, if only for the intensity of his voice.
    I had the nerve to ‘mashup’ his recording of “The Soul of a Man.” I did it with all the respect I could show for this amazing talent. If anyone is interested, you can find it here:


    It’s the second cut on the record. You can read about the song and source recording within the site.

    Thanks again for the great blog!

  6. John says:

    I am finding that the files are corrupted and am unable to open them. Any chance of fixing please? Thanks and Kudos for a great blog.

  7. samonymous says:

    I’ve been following your quest, enjoying immensely the effort you put in to the music, so it’s frustrating that the last 2 posts have been un-available due to corrupt files. Thanks for all the music, and I hope you keep it up.
    I may have mentioned this before. Lou Curtiss at folkartsrarerecords seems like a natural ally, and he’s an all around great guy worth checking out.

    • gadaya says:

      I don’t know why some people have problems downloading some files while others don’t. I checked the link on my computer and it worked fine…

      • samonymous says:

        No offense intended, but I’ve downloaded a number of file extractors and am still unable to unzip. In fact the file comes as an unidentified file type, and I’ve made it into a zip and a rar. Any info on the systems that you use might be helpful. I’ve used 7zip to unzip an earlier defective file, but it won’t work on this file. Almost all of your files unzip successfully, just not this one, or 51. Dude, I seriously love what you’re doing. Thanks, and hopefully the next one will be open-able

      • gadaya says:

        I’ve updated the link so I hope it will work now….

  8. Josh says:

    I just got it to work! Thanks Gadaya!

  9. Donovan says:

    Hey all. I’m DESPERATELY searching for the Lyrics to John The Revelator by Blind Willie Johnson, can anyone PLEASE help? my email is donovanwillis@ymail.com thanks in advance. God Bless.

  10. Linda says:

    The Blind Willie Johnson tracks are no longer downloading. Any chance this can be repaired? Thank you very much. This blog is wonderful.

  11. Blind Lee Johnson says:

    I can’t seem to figure out this format, I would love playing this at my barbecue.

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