Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and Lonnie Johnson’s “Crowing Rooster”
Blues is one of the main forms of African-American music that had had the most significant influence on rock music and had become its foundation. Being invented in the late XIX century as working class music, blues reached its peak in the Roaring Twenties. Its origin is believed to be the Southeast of the United States – “The Cotton Belt”, where most of the African-American workers were concentrated.
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Great examples of two different types of blues were Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and Lonnie Johnson’s “Crowing Rooster”. At that time, it was thought that only African-Americans could perform blues properly since historically that kind of music had been invented by them. Both observed performers are African-Americans.
The similarities between these two songs are quite noticeable. Both songs were recorded in approximately the same time period: “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Blind Willie Johnson was received by the American audience in 1927 and a year later the tempted audience was glad to hear Lonie Johnson’s “Crowing Rooster”.
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Blues was formed in two different forms: ‘working songs’ that followed work in fields and religious songs – spirituals. “Crowing Rooster” is a great example of the first group – “working songs”, it describes the everyday life of working class - waking up with the rooster’s crow. The song also described personal relationships between men and women, their difficulties. ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, on the other hand, tells about people’s relationships with God, being an example of spiritual songs. “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Min”" talks about a spiritual struggle, with reading the Bible as the path to salvation, or rather the failure to read it as the way to damnation.
Both of these songs were accompanied with guitar – typical musical instrument for blues performances. At the same time, there’s an observable distinction in the way of performing. Lonie Johnson is a representative of “shout blues” (based on the declamatory, ”screaming” manner), whereas Blind Willie Johnson is much closer to melodic blues (featured with cantilena).
In both songs a typical for blues form of harmony was used – the harmony with twelve cycles where the first four cycles were often played in the tonic harmony, two - in the subdominant and tonic, and another two - in the dominant and tonic. This alternation is also known as the “blues mesh”. In “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” a characteristic feature can also be heard– use of blues frets, which includes dropped III, V and VII string (m. N. “Blues music”). The overall emotional effect of the “Crowing Rooster” in its turn is based on lyrics more than on using musical methods. Aboriginal blues theme is based on the social component of the sensual life of the African-American population, its difficulties and obstacles in the way of every black person.
The guitar solo can be heard only in one of the songs – “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine”; the solo in this song represents tense relationships with religion. Not begging God for something, not complaining, just pure acceptance of fate. As it is known from biography, Blind Willie received this name not by an accident. He has not seen a thing since his very childhood. In his songs he is not crying, he is showing complete humility.
Blues and blues-rock became the basis for a variety of styles of rock music. And although it cannot reach former popularity, nevertheless, blues continues to have a lot of loyal fans nowadays.