Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Oliver!: Robert Johnson - 32-20 Blues (13 March 1992)
I'm slightly altering the order within the selections for 13/3/92, but it seemed appropriate after writing about how the blues led Peel into his career. Also, given Chuck Berry's death this last weekend and all the talk of pioneers, it seems a logical choice to put forward a Robert Johnson track, as he is also seen, quite rightly, as one of the keystones of his musical genre. I have no idea whether Peel played this track on Kat's Karavan 31 years previously, though given that its theme is shooting people, he may very well have decided to give the people of Dallas just what they wanted.
32-20 Blues is impeccably performed and sung, catchy as hell and showcases in its 2 minutes and 49 seconds exactly what makes Johnson so influential. It is also a deeply troubling song, belonging to the sub-genre of songs in which infidelity or the suspicion of it leads to the death of the woman. I'm sensitive to this lately. The other week, I listened to a recording of Kenny Everett's Radio 1 show from 13 September 1969. He played the sublime Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town) in which the crippled war veteran determines to kill his wife if she doesn't stop throwing herself at other men instead of tending to him. If only Coming Home had come out earlier, it could all have been avoided.
Johnson's problem is that after initially failing to get hold of his lover, he becomes convinced that she's cheating on him when he finds her and she appears to be in a slatternly state. What's a fella to do but reach for his 32-20 Winchester to teach her a lesson. So he not only inspired blues musicians the world over, but you could even link it to gangsta rap. Johnson teases this out with the drawn out phrasing in "Gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatling gun". This would all be beyond the pale were it not for the curveball that gets thrown in about Johnson's lover having a gun of her own, even though it may be light enough for a lady's handbag. I'm grateful to the concession to equality, though I have my doubts that it will be a fair fight.
32-20 Blues turned up in this show because of the American group, Vertigo, covering it on their single, Burnin' Inside. Peel played it after Johnson's version. Their take is suitably punked up, but lacks the subtle effortlessness of Johnson's version.
Keith Richards uses 32-20 Blues to take us on a journey round the blues, one tuning at a time.
Videos courtesy of mrsjackwhite (Johnson) and ladyricard (Richards).