Various History

Discussion in 'History' started by StrangerInAStrangeLand, Jun 17, 2014.

  1. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Delta: Blues Music
    2003 Piero Scaruffi

    Blues music was the antithesis of city life, but the early recording of blues music was a New York affair.

    Several blues stars (Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida "Cox" Prather) started out in minstrel shows, and then simply migrated from the itinerant shows of the South to the permanent vaudeville theaters of New York, where their songs were written specifically for a broader audience by professional black songwriters such as William Handy, based in Memphis, who "composed" (but maybe simply published) several of the early "classics": Memphis Blues (originally written in 1909 for a political campaign, but published only in 1912), St Louis Blues (1914), Beale Street Blues (1916), Loveless Love (1921), Harlem Blues (1923), Careless Love Blues (1925). Handy was fully aware that he had "invented" a new musical genre, as he wrote in 1916: "I have added another form to musical composition and to the world". He realized that the key feature of blues music that made it unique was that it was about sorrow, not about joy. Handy made his own recording of these compositions with his Memphis Blues Band between 1917 and 1923. The orchestra featured trombone, clarinet, alto sax, violins, piano, tuba, string bass, drums and xylophone. He had clearly introduced elements of western harmony in the original blues (for example, one can detect a sixteen-bar tango within St Louis Blues). Handy also recorded one of the first songs with "jazz" in the title: Jazz Dance (1917).

    The twelve-bar structure that eventually became the standard was an invention of these urban songwriters: the original blues music was largely free form.

    The blues singers bridged different realms of black music, bringing together the styles and practices of the minstrel shows, of the vaudeville theaters, of ragtime and of their native rural environments.

    The first blues songs to be published, in 1912, were Baby Seals Blues, written by ragtime artist Artie Matthews, and Dallas Blues, written by white songwriter Hart Wand.

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    Ohio-born Mamie Smith (not truly a blues singer, although black) sang two blues numbers written for her by black songwriter Perry Bradford: That Thing Called Love (february 1920), the first record by a black female artist, and Crazy Blues (august 1920), the first blues to become a nation-wide hit (with Willie Smith on piano). It sold 200,000 copies the first year. She was accompanied by the Jazz Hounds, that featured Memphis trumpeter Johnny Dunn, the first master of the plunger mute. Before Smith's hit, blues music only catered to the underworld of brothels and vaudeville theaters. Afterwards, blues music became as "respectable" as the black syncopated orchestras, despite the fact that it was a music about sorrow instead of joy. The idea of that record was largely due to its black producer, Alabama-born pianist Perry Bradford, a veteran of the minstrel-show circuit and now a songwriter, author of Lonesome Blues (1918), who had just composed the blues-based revue Made in Harlem (1918), that had starred Mamie Smith. He revised James Johnson's Mama's And Papa's Blues as Crazy Blues, architected the "respectable" sound of the record (different from the "wild" live sound of the Jazz Hounds) and convinced the label (Okeh) to release the first blues record by black musicians. In 1921 Okeh introduced a "Colored Catalog" targeting the black community, the first series of "race records".

    Alberta Hunter, from Memphis, followed suit in 1921 with How Long Sweet Daddy and had a hit with Gulf Coast Blues (1922) before joining the jazz orchestras.

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    Bessie Smith, from Tennessee, made her first record in february 1923 (Alberta Hunter's Down Hearted Blues accompanied by Clarence Williams on piano and Williams' own Gulf Coast Blues), which became an instant hit, and in january 1925 she cut her version of St Louis Blues with Louis Armstrong on cornet. She was instrumental in both sculpting a powerful, emotional vocal style and in bridging the worlds of blues, pop and jazz. The musicians who played with her had to develop new styles of playing. Ted Wallace's House Rent Blues (july 1924) contrasted her with Fletcher Henderson's piano and Charlie Green's trombone. Pam Carter's Weeping Willow Blues (september 1924) featured piano, trombone and Joe Smith imitating Smith's vocals on cornet. William Handy's Careless Love Blues (may 1925) relied on a dialogue with Louis Armstrong's cornet that seems to "sing" as much as the singer. Ragtime pianist James Johnson accompanied her in the 32-bar song Peachin' The Blues (february 1927) and especially in Backwater Blues (february 1927). Her interpretation of James Johnson's Empty Bed Blues (march 1928) lasted six minutes (two sides of a 78-RPM record) with accompaniment of piano and trombone. The filmed 17-minute version of St Louis Blues (1929), sung by Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong on cornet and James Johnson on piano, with an all-black cast and directed by Dudley Murphy, who had directed Le Ballet Mechanique (1924), may be considered the first music video.

    Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, from Georgia, debuted in 1923 and the following year delivered Blame It On The Blues and Night Time Blues, both written by pianist Thomas "Georgia Tom" Dorsey and accompanied by his Wildcats Jazz Band, and then See See Rider (recorded in october 1924 with Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Fletcher Henderson on piano). The first real star was perhaps Ethel Waters, from Los Angeles, who was first recorded in 1921 and featured in several musical comedies, and eventually obtained her own itinerant revue ("The Ethel Waters Vanities") and became a celebrity. All of them had moved to New York, and none of them was a real blues musician (an itinerant, street performer from the South). The "classic blues", as it came to be called, was not classic, and was not even blues. Alberta Hunter's most famous number, Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Mornin' (1924), was a ballad backed by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, two jazz musicians. The bluesmen were starving in the South while the "classic" blues singers were getting rich in New York. These "classic" singers were almost all women, in the tradition of the old vaudeville shows. Their style was more polished, structured (twelve bars, no less and no more) and arranged (they fronted a band instead of playing the guitar).

    The first records featuring a blues guitar were Sylvester Weaver's instrumentals Guitar Blues/ Guitar Rag (1923), although the B side was played on a guitar-banjo, recorded in Louisville (Kentucky), and Charlie Jackson's Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues (1924), recorded in Chicago. Charlie Jackson's Shake That Thing (1925) was the first hit by a self-accompanied bluesman. (Jackson actually played a six-string banjo).

    One of the few female composers, Texas blueswoman Victoria Spivey recorded in St Louis, accompanying herself at the piano, her own Blue Snake Blues (1926), Arkansas Road Blues (1927), with Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson on guitar, Dope Head Blues (1927), T.B. Blues (1927), Toothache Blues (1928), a duet with Johnson, and Moaning Blues (1929).

    The country blues was initially heard in an "arranged" version, performed by "string bands" such as Bo Carter's. String bands had been common in plantations at the turn of the century for entertaining the masters. The popularity of the original bluesmen dates from much later.

    In 1926 Blind Lemon Jefferson became the first real bluesman ("country" bluesman) to enter a major recording studio. It was the beginning of a trend: record labels would go and look for talents in the Mississippi Delta region, bring them to the city, dress them up and send them to stage backed by a jazz combo. The blues music that white audiences heard in those days bore little resemblance to the blues music that was heard by black audiences in the "barrelhouses" and "juke points" of the South. Their songs were curtailed to three minutes because the 78 RPM record could hold only that much music. Their lyrics were censored to avoid any reference to sex. Their performance was constrained to sound as close as possible to the style of white singers. The African elements (the polyrhythms, the antiphonal singing, the vocal range) were diluted or avoided altogether.

    Many bluesmen of the South were too poor to buy instruments. They learned how to make music out of washboards, kazoos and jugs. Hometown Skiffle (1929), one of the earliest "samplers", coined the word "skiffle" to refer to such music.

    The record labels found out that there existed a market for "race records" among the liberal white audiences and the small black middle-class of the big cities, particularly New York and Chicago.

    The term "rock'n'roll" might be as old as any of these historical events. Trixie Smith cut My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll (1922) four years before Chuck Berry was born. In 1934 John Lomax and his son Alan began recording black music of the southern states, and discovered the gospel genre of "rocking and reeling" that had been around for years, if not decades.

    Despite being much older, the country blues of the Mississippi Delta region, south of Memphis, was recorded after the classic blues had already become a sensation in the big cities of the north. The country-blues style had no jazz combo: only a guitar and a harmonica. The most influential in Mississippi were:

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    Charley Patton, a werewolf-like vocalist and sophisticated slide guitarist (two gifts that made his style the most fluid vocal-guitar duet of blues music) who wrote the classics High Water Everywhere (october 1929), Pony Blues (june 1929), Prayer of Death (june 1929), Moon Going Down (june 1930); Eddie "Son" House, another powerful vocalist who in 1930 recorded, as two-sided 78 RPM records, lengthy ballads such as Preachin' The Blues and My Black Mama, With guitarist Willie Brown and pianist Louise Johnson; Tommy "Snake" Johnson, an acrobatic vocalist who wrote Canned Heat Blues (1928), Big Road Blues, Cool Drink of Water Blues and Maggie Campbell (all recorded between 1928 and 1929, his only recording dates); Nehemiah "Skip" James, who introduced a less rhythmic, folkish style in Devil Got My Woman (1931), learned from his guitar teacher, I'm So Glad (1931) and Cypress Grove (1931); and "Mississippi" John Hurt, one of the first to enter a recording studio, with Avalon Blues (1928) as well as his adaptations of Candy Man Blues (1928) and Nobody's Dirty Business (1928), and one of the most archaic in style, but then forgotten for 34 years.

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    St Louis' multi-instrumentalist Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson, one of the first black instrumentalists to make a record, used the violin in Falling Rain Blues (1925), and occasionally played the piano, but made his name with the "singing" (vibrato-laden) guitar lines that accompanied most of his blues and gospel numbers, such as Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground (1925), Woman Changed My Life (1926), You Don't See Into the Blues Like Me (1926), I Have No Sweet Woman Now (1926), Lonesome Jail Blues (1926), Love Story Blues (1926), Blue Ghost Blues (1927), Life Saver Blues (1927), Away Down In The Alley Blues (1928), Steppin' On The Blues (1930), plus Blue Blood Blues (1929) and Jet Black Blues (1929) recorded with Eddie Lang. His style (and his collaborations with jazz guitarist Eddie Lang) was instrumental in bringing together blues, jazz and pop.

    Memphis (Tennessee) had Walter "Furry" Lewis, one of the first to play the slide guitar with a bottleneck, whose Mr Furry's Blues (1927) and Cannonball Blues (1928) predated even Patton; and "Sleepy" John Estes, one of the most popular bluesmen since he debuted in 1929, his biggest success probably Married Woman Blues (1935).

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    Texas boasted Blind Lemon Jefferson, the most versatile interpreter, a master of both dramatic recitation and guitar accompaniment who penned Bad Luck Blues (1926), Spivey's Black Snake Moan (1926), Matchbox Blues (1927), Booger Booger (1927), that transposed the left-hand piano boogie figures to the guitar, See That My Grave's Kept Clean (1927), and Penitentiary Blues (1928) but died in 1929 (the year that country blues became a brief fad); "Texas" Alger Alexander, a baritone who, unable to play the guitar, employed guitarist Lonnie Johnson and was the first to record the traditional House Of The Rising Sun (1928); "Blind" Willie Johnson, the greatest interpreter of religious music, who penned Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed (1927), Dark Was The Night (1927) for solo guitar and wordless humming, and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (1928); Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, discovered in 1933 in a prison by Alan Lomax, later a celebrity of New York's folk revival and thus the symbolic bridge between black and white folk music, who popularized Gussie Lord Davis' Goodnight Irene (1933), Midnight Special (1934), Rock Island Line (1936), Pick A Bale Of Cotton (1940) and Cottonfields (1941); and Mance Lipscomb (discovered only in 1959).

    Atlanta's "Blind" Willie McTell developed a dazzling technique at the 12-string guitar that sounded almost polyphonic, and composed songs influenced by white folk music such as Writin' Paper Blues (1927), Statesboro Blues (1928), Travellin Blues (1929) and Dying Crapshooter Blues (1940).

    Georgia's guitarist Arthur "Blind Blake" Phelps was fluent both in blues music, as in West Coast Blues (1926), that featured the line "we're gonna do that old country rock", and in ragtime music, as in Southern Rag (1927).

    Alabama's pianist Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport recorded Cow Cow Blues (1928), another precursor of boogie woogie, and, generally speaking, helped coin a blues style at the piano.

    Furry Lewis, John Hurt and Charley Patton were the guitarists who invented the "finger-picking" style of guitar playing (basically, imitating the structure of ragtime piano on the strings of the guitar, with the thumb strumming the strings to provide the rhythmic equivalent of ragtime's left hand, and the other fingers carrying the melody).

    North Carolina's guitarist Elizabeth Cotton/Cotten developed a left-handed style (plucking the melody with her thumb on the high strings) and demonstrated it in her Freight Train (1958), composed at the age of 11 (in 1906) but recorded only at the age of 63.

    Blues music was mainly vocal (it's whole reason to exist was in the lyrics), but the instrumental styles developed to accompany it would be no less influential on the future of popular music.

    Between 1926 and 1929, several of the legends of the Delta had been recorded. During the Depression, black music continued to spread. But the social setting was changing dramatically, thanks to the ghettoes that had grown exponentially after the first world war: Harlem in New York and South Side in Chicago.

    The most successful black singer of the 1930s was Tennessee's Leroy Carr, also a pianist who formed an influential duo with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell (the main guitar stylist of the era with Lonnie Johnson) for How Long How Long (1928), a song that broke the established rules of blues music (both vocal and instrumental), while his existential angst permeated the solo blues Six Cold Feet In The Ground (1935) and the tuneful When The Sun Goes Down (1935).

    Another piano-guitar duo became a staple of the clubs of St Louis: demonic vocalist and pianist Peetie Wheatstraw (William Bunch) and guitarist Charley Jordan. Between his debut in 1930 and his death in 1941, Wheatstraw was one of the most popular and prolific bluesmen.

    One of the great stylists of the blues was South Carolina's itinerant blind guitarist Gary Davis, who already in 1935 created a soulful fusion of blues and gospel, later perfected in I Cannot Bear My Burden By Myself (1949) and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (1956), but didn't achieve recognition as an innovative guitarist until he turned sixty, with Cocaine Blues (1957), Candy Man (1957) and the instrumentals Buck Dance and I Didn't Want To Join The Band (1957), all off his seminal album Pure Religion and Bad Company (1957), Death Don't Have No Mercy (1960) and Lovin' Spoonful (1965). He played the guitar like he played the piano, and was not afraid of complex tunings, minor keys and dissonance, of mixing ragtime, country and marches with blues chords.

    His fellow countryman Blind Boy Fuller (Fulton Allen) was influenced by Davis' guitar style, and his Rattlesnake Daddy (1935), Big Leg Woman Gets My Pay (1938) and Step It Up And Go (1940) harked back to the pre-blues era.

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    A watershed year is 1936, when Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson cut his first record. A legend who lived only 27 years and recorded only 29 songs, but enough to establish a new (chilly and fatalistic) standard of delivery and accompaniment, Johnson perfected the styles of Charley Patton and Son House (and the guitar style of Lonnie Johnson) in the harrowing Terraplane Blues, Cross Road Blues, the bleak Stones In My Passway, Come On In My Kitchen (with his best bottleneck workout), Love In Vain (modeled after Leroy Carr's When The Sun Goes Down), Dust My Broom, and the lyrical Hellhound On My Trail (all recorded in 1936-37),

    Booker "Bukka White" Washington was perhaps the last of the great Mississippi singer-guitarists, immortalized by Shake 'Em Down (1937) as well as Fixin' to Die (1940) and Parchman Farm Blues (1940), with Washboard Sam.

    In 1939 Leo Mintz opened a record store in Cleveland, the "Record Rendezvous", that specialized in black music and was serving a white audience: black music found an audience beyond the ghetto.
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  3. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Chicago: Urban Blues
    2003 Piero Scaruffi

    The year 1916 was the year of the mass emigration of blacks from the South to the North. By the time the Depression stopped the flood, thousands of musicians had moved north, and transplanted their music (whether blues, spiritual or jazz) into the northern cities.

    Urban blues was played in the "honky-tonks" (clubs that were serving alcohol illegally) and in the "gutbuckets" and other kinds of private parties. Urban blues was generally more aggressive, not so much because of the urban spirit but because of the noise that the bluesman had to compete with in those locales. The "Prohibition" probably helped replace classic blues with urban blues: classic blues relied on legal establishments, that had to close or change clientele, whereas urban blues was happy to serve the rough and wild clientele of the illegal establishments.

    All of the Chicago protagonists were born in the South, mostly in Mississippi.

    The star of Chicago, known also among white audiences as far as New York, was Big Bill Broonzy, who, arriving in 1928, chronicled the epics of city blacks in a long series of eclectic recordings, including: Big Bill Blues (1928), Starvation Blues (1928), Keep Your Hands Off Her (1934), Too Many Drivers (1939), Key to the Highway (1941).

    The city performers introduced significant innovation in the instrumentation of blues music. For example, the piano became as commonplace as the guitar.

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    The most famous (and the first virtuoso) of the bottleneck/slide guitarists was Houston "Tampa Red" Woodbridge, who arrived in Chicago (from Florida) in 1925 and was one of the first black instrumentalists to make a recording. Unlike other southern bluesmen, whose playing was modal and in minor keys, Tampa Red's shimmering, clean style was influenced by ragtime and jug bands. His prolific career include Through Train Blues (1928), with Frankie Jaxon on vocals, It's Tight Like That (1928), a duet with vocalist Thomas "Georgia Tom" Dorsey and a massive hit, Come On Mama Do That Dance (1929), with the Hokum Jug Band (Jaxon on vocals), Sugar Mama (1935), It Hurts Me Too (1940).

    Lonnie Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell and Tampa Red make up the triad of guitar stylists that determined the evolution of the instrument from little more than a rhythmic add-on to a full-fledged emotional tool. In fact, these three guitar wizards were responsible, more than anyone else, for making the guitar sound like a human voice. They cast a long shadow on all blues guitarists that came later.

    Another virtuoso of the bottleneck guitar was Kokomo Arnold (in Chicago since 1930), who popularized Milk Cow Blues and Sweet Home Chicago (1930).

    Big Joe Williams debuted with his Highway 49 Blues (1935) and the traditional Baby Please Don't Go (1935), arranged with fiddle and washboard, and then recorded Crawlin' King Snake (1941) with Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica.

    There was also a female guitarist, Lizzie "Memphis Minnie" Douglas, who arrived in Chicago in 1933, after recording When The Levee Breaks (1929) and Bumble Bee (1930) in Memphis, and converted to the urban style of Big Bill Broonzy with Nothing In Rambling (1940) and her signature song, Me and My Chaffeur Blues (1941).

    The first great barrehouse pianist was Roosevelt Sykes Bey, who moved to Chicago in 1929 and coined a rhythmic, pseudo-boogie style with 44 Blues (1929), The Night Time The Right Time (1936) and Driving Wheel (1949). The other great barrelhouse pianist was Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery, arrived in 1928 from New Orleans, who debuted with Vicksburg Blues (1930). In those days, barrehouse pianists were the equivalents of juke-boxes. Sykes and Montgomery were the first to introduce a personal style.

    Sykes' disciple Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman), who reached Chicago in 1939 and had a hit with Beer Drinking Woman (1940), went on to form (1944) his Houserockers, who recorded Rockin' The House (1947) and Nobody Loves Me (1948, also known as Everyday I Have The Blues).

    John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (who moved to Chicago from Tennessee in 1937) integrated the blues harmonica into the blues singing, so that the two became one continuous voice. His Skinny Woman (1937), Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (1937) and Hoodoo Hoodoo (1946) became standards of a more rhythmic kind.

    During the same period, Robert "Washboard Sam" Brown (who moved to Chicago in 1931) popularized one of the most humble of African-American instruments, the washboard.

    Arriving in 1941 from Memphis, tenor Johnny Shines, who wandered with Robert Johnson, had to wait many years before his compositions, such as Joliet Blues (1946), were recorded.

    Thundering vocalist and versatile pianist Albert "Sunnyland Slim" Luandrew, who moved from Mississippi to Memphis to Chicago (1942), was immortalized in Sunnyland Train (1929, but first recorded in 1951), Johnson Machine Gun (1947), with the young Muddy Waters on guitar, The Devil Is a Busy Man (1948), Brownskin Woman (1948), Shake It (1951).

    The main difference between the blues of the Delta and the blues of Chicago was that the former was mainly solo, while the latter was increasingly relying on a band format (guitar, harmonica, piano, drums, bass).

    Ironically, blues music did not become popular among black people until the 1930s. The paying audience of a bluesman was usually a white audience, not a black audience. This was partly due to the fact that only whites were admitted to the clubs that sponsored the phenomenon, but also to the fact that blacks probably did not perceive the blues as entertainment. If a black had to pay a ticket, he would probably rather pay for a more lively kind of entertainment. Blues music was born and continued to thrive because white people liked it. And it spread across the country thanks to an indirect flow of money from the white middle class to the black ghettos via the music industry. During the 1910s blacks did not dream of becoming bluesmen: some of them "were" bluesmen, some were not. By the end of the 1930s playing the blues had become a honorable profession and many blacks aimed at starting a blues career.

    Chicago: Gospel Music
    2003 Piero Scaruffi

    While religious music was definitely a strong part of the lives of black slaves, there was actually a difference between what blacks sang in churches and what they sang outside. Most plantations had "praise houses" for the slaves to gather, pray and sing. Blacks also met in "camp meetings", that were largely outside the control of white people. In these places, the blacks sang lyrics that had references to their conditions of slaves, and they danced as well (something that the churches did not quite tolerate), and they were free to indulge in their "savage" repertory of shouts, hand clapping, foot-stomping, etc. They also came to be centered on the call-and-response interaction between preacher and congregation.

    It was relatively easy for blacks to identify with the Jews of the Bible: blacks too had been deported, and they too aspired to a homeland, a promised land (in fact the country north of the Ohio River, where blacks where free, was nicknamed "Jordan"). Several spirituals referred to the journey to freedom via the "Underground Railroad" (a secret network of abolitionists who helped blacks escape to the North) as the equivalent of the Jewish journey from Egypt to Palestine. A black woman named Harriet Tubman who worked for the "Underground Railroad" was referred to as "the Moses of the blacks". Songs such as We Shall Overcome were explicit about their real subject: freedom on this Earth, not only in Paradise.

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    Black religious hymns ("spirituals") such as When The Saints Go Marching In were among the oldest inventions of African-American music. In the years following the Civil War, they were popularized by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, an "a cappella" group that in 1871 traveled throughout the USA and even abroad to collect funds for the university (one of the first black universities). Other universities followed suit (e.g., the Hampton Singers in 1873 at Virginia's Hampton Institute).

    The process of black urbanization had also an impact on sacred singing. In the Baptist churches, the archaic form of spirituals that accompanied collective prayers evolved into the "gospel song". The main differences were the piano (spirituals were sung "a cappella") and the lead vocals, that were now taken on by the preacher himself. The effect was to reduce the freedom of the "performers". Originally the piano was meant to simply provide the rhythm but soon became a creative factor in itself, used to fill the pauses in the singing with all sorts of embellishments (arpeggios, glissandoes, etc). The demand for gospel hymns created a market for hymn writers, who specialized in adapating all sorts of melodies to the purpose of worshiping God.

    Gospel music was popularized by Thomas Dorsey, the black Chicago pianist and songwriter, a former Atlanta vaudeville and barrelhouse pianist, as well as leader of the Wildcats Jazz Band that accompanied "Ma" Rainey in Blame It On The Blues (1924) and Night Time Blues (1924). Dorsey, who had already composed several "gospel" songs such as If I Don't Get There (1921) and If You See My Savior (1926), transported blues musicianship into the church. He also formed the first female gospel quartet and assembled the first large-scale gospel chorus (1931), struck gold when he composed Precious Lord (1932) and organized the first "National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses" (1932). After this song became a hit (in 1937), Dorsey spent his life traveling from church to church, peddling his repertory of gospel songs, that also included There'll Be Peace In The Valley (1937) and Search Me Lord. In 1928, Mahalia Jackson was one of the singers who started their careers performing Dorsey's songs. And James Cleveland was among the first to hear Dorsey's choirs.

    In the year 1930, the "Jubilee Meeting" of the National Baptist Convention included the first performance of gospel songs, and thus allowed the genre to come out of the ghettos.

    However, gospel music was still strictly for churches. It was only later, in the 1930s, that some performers began to "export" gospel music to the night clubs. Notable among them was the thundering "Sister" Rosetta Tharpe, who appeared at the "Cotton Club" and who recorded Thomas Dorsey's Rock Me (1938), considered the first gospel record, I Looked Down The Line (1939), This Train Is Bound For Glory (1939), Shout Sister Shout (1941).

    Throughout the 1930s, the preferred format remained the quartet, and the preferred style the "jubilee" (the standard set by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers): the Heavenly Gospel Singers (that recorded Thomas Dorsey's Precious Lord); the Dixie Hummingbirds, formed in 1928 in South Carolina (Joshua Journeyed to Jericho, 1939; Jesus Walked the Water, 1952); the Golden Gate Quartet, formed in 1934 in Virginia, a veritable orchestra simulated with vocals (Jonah, 1937; Rock My Soul, 1939); the Chuck Wagon Gang of Texas that debuted in 1936; the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, formed by blind students in 1944 and led by the delirious tenor of Archie Brownlee (Our Father, 1951).

    Male groups wore formal suits (such as tuxedoes) and beat the rhythm with finger snapping. Female groups wore church dresses and beat the rhythm with hand clapping. The latter were more likely to be accompanied by an organist.

    The sound of the gospel quartet had an influence on the parallel development of the pop vocal groups.

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    Starting in 1925 in Ohio the Mills Brothers became a local sensation by recreating instruments with the voices, while usually limiting the accompaniment to a guitar. They were among the first performers to rely on a studio device (the microphone) for the sound of their music. They relocated to New York in 1930, where they continued to "impersonate" jazz music. Their interpretations of Nick LaRocca's Tiger Rag (1931), Goodbye Blues (1932), Dinah (1932), with Bing Crosby, Elmer Schoebel's Bugle Call Rag (1932), Hoagy Carmichael's Lazy Bones (1934), Paper Doll (1943), that remained perhaps their signature song, Doris Fisher's You Always Hurt the One You Love (1944) and The Glow Worm (1952) were mellow sentimental ballads that redefined black music for the broader audience. They popularized the "barbershop harmonies", a sweet and romantic mutation of the jubilee quartets which would become the reference standard for all future vocal groups.

    The Spirits Of Rhythm were a jazzier version of the Mills Brothers (they were a string band, not just a vocal group) and featured (since 1929) the acrobatic scat singing of Leo Watson derailing conventional pop material such as Harry Revel's Underneath The Harlem Moon (1932) and Gus Kahn's Nobody's Sweetheart (1932).

    The Ink Spots, even more compromised with white pop music, crafted melodies such as If I Didn't Care (1939), Address Unknown (1939), We Three (1940), Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall (1944) and I'm Making Believe (1944) with Ella Fitzgerald, To Each His Own (1946) and Billy Reid's The Gypsy (1946), that were characterized by very high falsettos and by a "talking chorus" (a bass voice set against contro a choir of tenors and falsettos), de facto the precursors of "doo-wop" music.

    The Soul Stirrers, that relocated from Texas to Chicago in 1936, were one of the first gospel quartets to feature a solo vocalist, Rebert Harris, the author of Walk Around (1939) and the first gospel vocalist to sing in a falsetto register. After By And By (1950), Harris was replaced by the young Sam Cooke, who contributed Be With Me Jesus (1955) and Touch the Hem Of His Garment (1956). Cooke was then replaced by Johnnie Taylor.

    Chicago: Boogie-woogie
    2003 Piero Scaruffi

    The piano style that came to be called "boogie woogie" originated from the Piney Woods, in Louisiana, at the beginning of the 20th century. Here, black workers of the railway used to gather in a "barrelhouse" (basically, a tented saloon or a shack) to listen to their music. The entertainers of these rowdy crowds devised a dance version of rural blues music.

    Just like in the saloons of the towns, the dominant instrument was the piano. Unlike the saloons, that usually did not admit black pianists for their white audience, the barrelhouses needed black performers to entertain a mainly black crowd. The itinerant pianists of the barrelhouses were blacks, and were free to emphasize the polyrhythmic figures of their African roots. They also had to play loud (i.e., be rather indelicate on the keys) in order to be heard over the noise of the barrelhouse. Furthermore, barrelhouse pianos were constantly out of tune: the musician had to compensate for the piano's imperfections with his speed and dexterity on the keyboard. Given that the barrelhouse could not hire more than one musician, the piano players developed a style that imitated the interplay of three guitars: one playing the chords, one the melody, and one the bass. Last but not least, the most natural rhythm to imitate in a barrelhouse was the rhythm of the steam train.

    The barrelhouse style of piano playing spread with the railway, from the South to the North (1920s). The southern metropolis of Kansas City (that was replacing St Louis as the main center of the region, thanks to the railway junction and the highway interchange), the new magnet for black artists, was the natural place for the new style to become "permanent". Further north, Chicago was the second one.

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    It was in Chicago that a new craze appeared: the "boogie woogie". the ostinato bass of the left hand played the typical blues chords, while the right hand improvised the melodic elements in the treble. The genre had already existed for at least ten years (e.g., Cow Cow Davenport) before it became a sensation (1938), and it has at least three "inventors". Meade Lux Lewis, who was a cab driver for a same Chicago taxi company (so was his friend Albert Ammons) recorded Honky Tonk Train Blues in 1927, but the song was released only two years later (it imitates the sounds of a train in motion). Jimmy Yancey started recording only in 1939 but was recognized as an influence by the early boogie pianists: his style in Yancey Stomp (1939), The Fives (1939) and State Street Special (1939) was almost purely percussive, while Slow and Easy Blues (1939) was actually in sixteen bars, Yancey's Bugle Call (1940) was full of suspense, and Death Letter Blues (1940) was a heart-wrenching blues. Clarence "Pinetop" Smith lived only 25 years, but, the year before dying, moved to the same apartment with Ammons and Lewis and recorded the archetype: Pinetop's Boogie Woogie (1928), the first recorded song that referred to the "boogie woogie". Note that boogie woogie emerged during the years of the Prohibition (1920-1933). If the title of inventor is disputed, there is no doubt when boogie woogie became a craze. It was announced by Albert Ammons' Boogie Woogie Stomp (1936), a cover of Pinetop's Boogie Woogie recorded with his Rhythm Kings, and by Pete Johnson, who teamed up with Kansas City's vocalist "Big" Joe Turner, the ultimate "shouter", for Roll 'Em Pete (1938), and then exploded after John Hammond assembled the piano trio of Albert Hammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1938. Lewis penned some of the most sophisticated compositions of the boogie era: Yancey Special (1936), Whistlin' Blues (1937), Cafe Society Rag (1939), Solitude (1939), Bear Cat Crawl (1940), Six Wheel Chaser (1940). Pete Johnson, possibly the least gifted of the group, specialized in catchy numbers, such as Blues On The Downbeat (1939), Death Ray Boogie (1939), Piney Brown Blues (1940), the satori of his interaction with Turner, Cuttin' the Boogie (1941), one of many duets with Ammons of 1941. Albert Ammons was the most passionate of the trio, for example in the manic Boogie Woogie Stomp (february 1936) with his Rhythm Kings, Mecca Flat Blues (1939), Shout for Joy (1939) and Bass Going Crazy (1939). Ammons was also one of the first boogie woogie pianists to successful combine this piano style with a band. Clarence Lofton was a Chicago pianist who contributed to expand the horizons of boogie woogie with the haunting South End Boogie (1943), the intricate Streamline Train (1939) and the deviant blues of I Don't Know (1939). Swing bands appropriated the "new" style with Will Bradley's Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar and bandleader Tommy Dorsey's Boogie Woogie. In Kansas City, the band of pianist Jay McShann, with bluesman Walter Brown on vocals (and the young Charlie Parker on sax), had a huge hit, Confessin' The Blues (1941), by blending boogie woogie, blues and jazz.

    Despite the fast pace (that became even faster, louder and more percussive in the 1950s), boogie woogie remained faithful to the blues chord progression.

    Atlanta's pianist Piano Red (William Perryman) took boogie-woogie into the rock'n'roll era via Rockin' With Red (1950), The Wrong Yo Yo (1951) and Dr Feelgood (1962).

    Virginia's white pianist James "Roy" Hall acted as the transmission chain between this generation of black boogie pianists and the generation of white rockers. His Dirty Boogie (1949), Diggin' the Boogie (1956) and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (1956) boasted some of the most manic rhythms of the genre.
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  5. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Cow-punks 1984-86
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    Just like the creative outburst of 1966 was followed by the "realignment" of 1970 (with Bob Dylan, the Byrds and the Grateful Dead returning to their musical roots), so was the "new wave" of 1976 followed by a revival of roots-rock. In just a few years, rock'n'roll went from the blasphemous fever of punk-rock to the traditional rhythms of roots-rock.

    The difference between 1980 and 1970 was that in the 1980s the "realignment" took place a little bit at a time. It actually began in a disguised form, with the emergence of punk bands that disfigured the traditional styles, such as X, Dream Syndicate and Gun Club.

    The idea led to the phenomenon of "cow-punks", punks who played country music but set their stories into the milieu of the misfits, the way Gram Parsons had done a generation earlier. Milestone recordings of the genre included several albums made in the South: Native Sons (1984), by Kentucky's Long Ryders; Lost And Found (1985), by Tennessee's Jason & The Scorchers (1); Dash Rip Rock (1986), by Louisiana's Dash Rip Rock, Scarred But Smarter (1986), by Georgia's Drivin'n'Cryin'.

    North Carolina's Fetchin Bones (12) were, by far, the most spectacular "cow-punks" of the era. Cabin Flounder (1985) was raw roots-rock dynamited by the vibrant hysteria of vocalist Hope Nicholls (a cross between Patti Smith, X's Exene Cervenka and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde). The band played epileptic garage-rock that bordered on the nervous breakdown, blurring the line between rockabilly, slam-dance and hoe-downs. The rhythmic emphasis and the double guitar noise got even more crude and irreverent on Bad Pumpkin (1986), while Galaxy 500 (1987) was mostly a tour de force by the vocalist.

    Los Angeles became the headquarters of the first cowpunk wave, thanks to Tex & The Horseheads' Tex & The Horseheads (1984), Blood On The Saddle's Blood On The Saddle (1984), the Rave-ups' Town + Country (1985), Lone Justice's Lone Justice (1985), the album that introduced singer Maria McKee, Thelonious Monster's Next Saturday Afternoon (1987), and the Beat Farmers' Tales Of The New West (1985) in San Diego. Johnette Napolitano led her Concrete Blonde through the rustic and populist rock'n'roll of Concrete Blonde (1987).

    Ohio's Great Plains, led by nasal vocalist Ron House and featuring organist Mark Wyatt, entertained the colleges with a bouncy, witty and catchy mixture of cow-punk and folk-rock on Born in a Barn (1984).

    Populism 1984-86
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    The ultimate creature of Los Angeles' barrios, Los Lobos (2), recycled an exuberant combination of rhythm'n'blues and tex-mex, of Doug Sahm and Flaco Jimenez. How Will The Wolf Survive (1984) was possibly the first album to find the common denominator among accordion, bajo sexto, rock guitar and drums. And it did so with the spirit of punk music: Cesar Rosas' incendiary guitar fugues, David Hidalgo's thundering tenor and drummer Louie Perez's uncontrollable urge created an explosive blend. They repeated that orgy of rhythms only once, with the demonic shuffle Shakin' Shakin' Shakes (1987), because they were maturing as romantic bards of the barrio and as eclectic calligrahic scholars of musical styles. The touching The Neighborhood (1990) and Kiko (1992) were simultaneously pensive and encyclopedic. On one hand, the songs plunged the listener into the world of the chicanos. On the other hand, the arrangements mixed orchestral passages a` la Duke Ellington, cajun accordions, cumbia tempos, New Orleans' rhythm'n'blues, mandolin-driven polkas, boogie, funk and rock'n'roll. Los Lobos' caustic, fatalistic and nostalgic social melodrama had become the soundtrack of the USA's melting-pot and of the "American dream".

    With Johnson (1988), Los Angeles' Pontiac Brothers shifted the emphasis towards populistic rock in the vein of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.

    Boston's working-class heroes were Dan Zanes' Del Fuegos (1), whose Longest Day (1984) harked back to the 1970s, fusing "blue-collar rock" of the USA (Springsteen, Seger, Mellencamp) and British "pub-rock" (Costello, Parker, Lowe).

    In the same city, Treat Her Right, Mark Sandman's first band, told haunting stories on Tied To The Tracks (1989) using the blues as a vehicle but a blues that was almost too slick to still be blues.

    Among the great New York-based populist voices of the second half of the decade, the leaders were the Del-Lords (2), formed by ex-Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner. Kempner, one of the great storytellers of rock music, penned the suave epics of Frontier Days (1984) by finding an unlikely common ground between sounds of the Sixties (Mersey-beat hooks, surf choruses, garage distortions) and sounds of the grass-roots (cowboy ballads, folk melodies, Byrds-ian guitars, bluesy rhythms a` la Creedence Clearwater Revival). Refining that idea with a deeper sense of identification with its anti-heroes, Johnny Comes Marching Home (1986) sounded like a cycle of solemn odes to the town, in the spirit of Springsteen's Born In The USA and Petty's Southern Accents, while sonically continuing the quest for a compromise between the Blasters and the Fleshtones (and furthermore set in Nashville). If the hard-rock sound of Based On A True Story (1988) sounded out of context, Lovers Who Wander (1990) was a touching, almost philosophical swan-song that wrapped up the group's mission in a blaze of glory.

    Elizabeth Brown's Absolute Grey (1), also from New York, assembled carefully dramatized issues on What Remains (1986), as well as on its successor Sand Down The Moon (1987) that would not be released for three years.

    The Silos' second album, Cuba (1987), was a good example of how this generation could be derivative of the classics without sounding like the classics at all.

    Few roots-rock outfits managed to fuse the domestic tone and the epic tone the way Seattle's Walkabouts (2) did. Chris Eckman's melancholy elegies, Carla Torgeson's solemn and mournful harmonies, and a folk-rock sound that recalled a noisier Fairport Convention, led to the vibrant Cataract (1989) and to the prophetic and desolate Scavenger (1991). The vast fresco of New West Motel (1993) began a progression towards ever more eccentric arrangements.

    West Coast roots-rock 1985-86
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    The Bay Area was terrorized by the craziest of all roots-rockers, Santa Cruz-based Camper Van Beethoven (23), one of the most brilliant and influential bands of the decade, led by vocalist and guitarist David Lowery and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel. Other bands had tried a folk/punk fusion, but their version was positively demented. The hilarious Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985) offered a merry blend of ska, country, surf, rock'n'roll, and, last but not least, fake world-music, with a spirit that drew from (at least) punk, the novelty numbers of the 1950s, the music-hall, jug-bands of the 1940s, Ennio Morricone's soundtracks, and the psychedelic freaks of the 1960s. It sounded as the unlikely meeting point of Syd Barrett, Frank Zappa, the Third Ear Band and the Holy Modal Rounders. The instrumental skills increased (particularly Segel's keyboards and violin parts), on II & III (1986), allowing them greater freedom as far as counterpoint goes, but also prompting them to play slightly more regular roots-rock (i.e., to focus on the music and not on the gags). Their third album, Camper Van Beethoven (1986) was no longer a send-up of world-music but a new kind of world-music. By merging the psychotic verve of the first album and the erudite ultra-fusion of the second album, Camper Van Beethoven had produced the ultimate folk blasphemy. They finally adopted a more mainstream sound on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988), without sacrificing the idea of mixing untouchable genres but vastly reducing their musical negligence, and a serious, adult tone on Key Lime Pie (1989), a collection of (relatively) subdued ballads that evoke Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

    San Francisco's scene offered a wealth of folk-rock bands. Samuel Coomes' Donner Party (1) specialized in eclectic and mildly psychedelic roots-rock on their two self-titled albums, Donner Party (1987) and Donner Party (1988), particularly the latter, just a bit more elegiac and nostalgic.

    The Cat Heads (3), a supergroup of sorts, featuring vocalist Mark Zanandrea, former Ophelias' guitarist Sam Babbitt, former X-Tal's bassist Alan Korn and Donner Party's drummer Melanie Clarin, harked back to the angelic quirkiness of the hippies. Hubba (1987) was a gentle infusion of country, blues and folk, while Submarine (1988) experimented with neoclassical arrangements and hard-rock guitars. Zanandrea and Clarin's It Thing was the ideal continuation of the Catheads: The Ode (1992) relished in the juxtaposition of pop and rock, of tradition and new wave, of ethereal and aggressive.

    Thin White Rope (2), from nearby Davis, displayed the strongest psychedelic overtones, which their best albums, Exploring The Axis (1985) and Sack Full Of Silver (1990), wed to Guy Kyser's existential angst, releasing visions of a majestic wasteland amid gales of hypnotic quasi-raga country-rock.

    Other notable roots-rock albums of the second half of the 1980s from Bay Area bands include: Downy Mildew's Broomtree (1987), Wire Train's In A Chamber (1983), 28th Day's 28th Day (1985).

    American Music Club (13) stood apart as one of the groups that transformed roots-rock into an intimate, almost transcendental experience. Mark Eitzel's laconic pessimism, halfway between Gram Parsons's calm despair, Nick Drake's funereal lament, and Tim Buckley's dreamy agony, acted as the center of mass for the atmospheric psychodramas of Engine (1987). The dialectics between instruments (including hazy snippets of strings and keyboards) and vocals punctuated the otherwise evanescent melodies of Big Night, At My Mercy, Outside This Bar, in a manner that was also reminiscent of Van Morrison. Eitzel's stream of consciousness reached for a visceral tension on California (1988), a work that was both more austere and more introverted. Firefly, Bad Liquor, Blue And Grey Shirt and Highway 5 were not songs but swoons of communication breakdown. The band indulged in psychological impressionism, letting Eitzel's words fluctuate in a mist of emotions. It was also a vocal tour de force of Eitzel, who followed his stories modulating both anger and romance, impersonating both the crooner and the shouter. The bleak and lyrical United Kingdom (1989) seemed to complete Eitzel's spiritual self-flagellation, besides absorbing more of the jazz, soul and gospel eloquence for tracks as adventurous as The Hula Maiden and Heaven Of Your Hands. The nightmare relented on Everclear (1991), the album that marked a transition from the "closed" landscape of the first phase to the "open" landscape of the second phase. Less intense but more humane, only a couple of moments (The Confidential Agent and Miracle On 8th Street) recalled past agonies, but the playing was more accomplished and the arrangements more articulate. The more complex, dense and atmospheric sound Mercury (1993), which features The Hopes And Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores, and the sophisticated soul-pop of San Francisco (1994), capitalized on Eitzel's ability to merge elegant melancholy and roaring passion.

    Texas roots-rock 1986-88
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    Texas bands, on the other hand, were more on the "cow" side than the "punk" side of the equation. Centered on intellectual Austin, they were seriously trying to be part of a tradition, even when they still embodied the punk ethos. Timbuk 3 drew from the Dire Straits and Bob Dylan's country-rock phase for Greetings From (1986). Michael Hall's Wild Seeds (1) borrowed the intense empathy of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and wed it to a kaleidoscope of Sixties sounds on Brave Clean + Reverent (1986). Poi Dog Pondering, a seven-unit combo (including violinist Susan Voelz), harked back to the "jug bands" of the 1950s on their debut EP Poi Dog Pondering (1988), a creative stew of country & western, zydeco, skiffle, pop, jazz, folk-rock. Texas Instruments concocted one of the best synthesis of folk-rock and punk-rock with Sun Tunnels (1988).

    On albums such as Hello Young Lovers (1989), Glass Eye (1) concocted a unique jazz-country-rock fusion that was both brainy and detached, the antithesis of their era.

    Great Lakes roots-rock 1986-89
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    The Great Lakes had their share of the action. Wisconsin, where the Violent Femmes had changed forever the meaning of "roots-rock", was particularly fertile. Led by singer-songwriters Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann, the BoDeans (1) coined a catchy rootsy style with Love And Hope And Sex And Dreams (1986), a style that ran the gamut from the Everly Brothers to Fleetwood Mac (as their 1991 hit Good Things would prove). EIEIO (1) were even more varied, evoking Byrds, Little Feat, Band and other masters of roots-rock on Land Of Opportunity (1986).

    Minneapolis, the new Mecca of hardcore after the renaissance led by Husker Du and the Replacements, was equally fecund. Beat Rodeo's Home In The Heart Of The Beat (1986) was one of the albums that countered the monopoly of hardcore.

    However, Minneapolis' success story was that of Soul Asylum (2), originally disciples of Husker Du, whose Made To Be Broken (1986) retained the verve of pop-core while adopting the romantic cliches of power-pop and folk-rock. As guitarist Dan Murphy and vocalist Dave Pirner matured, the band's style veered towards a melodic hard-rock tinged with the Replacements' epos on Hang Time (1988). The mainstream sound of And The Horse They Rode In (1990) led to Runaway Train (1992), their best compromise between generational anthem and power-ballad.

    In Ohio, Greg Dulli's Afghan Whigs (1), who had begun as punks with Big Top Halloween (1988) and pseudo-grunge rockers with Up In It (1990), an abrasive blend of Replacements and Dinosaur Jr, rediscovered soul music and the rhythm'n'blues ballad on Congregation (1992), a calmer and catchier collection. Despite the sell-out, Gentlemen (1993) was not only meticulously well-crafted but also Dulli's most sinister and disturbing confession.

    One of the most original and radical revisions of the blues and country tradition was carried out by a Canadian group, the Cowboy Junkies (1), led by siblings Michael (guitar and songwriting) and Margo (vocals) Timmins. Trinity Session (1988) paraded melancholy spectral dirges whispered in noir-film atmospheres by a vocalist who sounded like the chanteuse of a cocktail lounge or a Marlene Dietrich of a Frontier brothel.

    Following the melancholy and nostalgic Jayhawks (1986) and Blue Earth (1989), the Jayhawks (1), formed in Minnesota by vocalist Mark Olson and guitarist Gary Louris, made an album inspired by Neil Young and Gram Parsons, Hollywood Town Hall (1992), that embodied the ethos of the urban population in search of rural candor. Tomorrow The Green Grass (1995) virtually began a new career, thanks to lush arrangements and harmonies that recalled Fleetwood Mac and Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

    Chicago's Souled American (2), formed by singer-songwriters Joe Adducci and Chris Grigoroff, featuring guitarist Scott Tuma, and inspired by Camper Van Beethoven, penned one of the most lunatic albums of the era, Fe (1988), an idiosyncratic stew of country, blues, jazz, reggae and zydeco, delivered at the lazy, lethargic tempos of the Cowboy Junkies. The whackiness was replaced by technical dexterity on Flubber (1989), but the lugubrious lethargy of Frozen (1994) and Notes Campfire (1997), both eroded by lengthy nightmarish tracks and stripped-down texture-oriented instrumental jamming, reinvented their sound around Tuma's guitar.

    Nashville, 1982-89
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    In the second half of the decade, Nashville underwent a generational renewal of its own. The "urban cowboys" of the 1970s (Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell), who had turned country music into a commodity, were increasingly out of touch with the younger generation. The gap was bridged by the "new-traditionalist" movement, that harked back to honky tonk and the outlaws, and sometimes borrowed the casual and angry aesthetic of punk-rock. The first neo-traditionalists were arguably Randy Owen's Alabama, a country-pop band that thrived on such upbeat tunes as Tennessee River (1980), Feel So Right (1981) and Love In The First Degree (1982). Ricky Skaggs shocked the world of country music with Waiting For The Sun to Shine (1981), on which he played high-speed bluegrass instrumentals and rigmaroles with the casual demeanor of a southern-rock band. George Strait, with Strait from the Heart (1982), set the pace for the rest of the pack, as did John Anderson's hits Wild and Blue (1982), Swingin' (1983) and She Sure Got Away With My Heart (1984). Randy Travis' Storms Of Life (1986) and Clint Black's Killin' Time (1989) also set new standards. Earl Thomas Conley, on the other hand, set new records of sales with Fire And Smoke (1981), Holding Her And Loving You (1983), etc. However, it was Garth Brooks who became the superstar of the neo-traditionalists with the numerous hits off No Fences (1990) and Ropin' the Wind (1991).

    Among female vocalists, Reba McEntire and Wynonna Judd were the new queens of Nashville. But Rosanne Cash affirmed a less passive view of women in country music with Leroy Preston's My Baby Thinks She's A Train (1981), Blue Moon With Heartache (1981), Seven Year Ache (1981), John Stewart's Runaway Train (1988), and the marital concept Rhythm and Romance (1985).

    These were the stars. Others never made the charts, but were no less fluent in the new idiom, for example, Jim Lauderdale, a prolific songwriter whose best album was probably Planet of Love (1991).

    The music of Lyle Lovett (1) was hardly country music at all. His debut, Lyle Lovett (1986), borrowed from country, rock, rhythm'n'blues, jazz, folk and pop. Pontiac (1988) achieved a formidable balance of atmosphere, tunesmith, rhythm and melody. Lovett even embraced big-band jazz with His Large Band (1989).

    Guitar Town (1986), by Steve Earle (2), shocked the scene with its loud and frantic sound that mixed rockabilly, honky-tonk and blues, borrowing the attitude from the Rolling Stones and the emphasis from Bruce Springsteen's populist rock; while the mature statement of Transcendental Blues (2000) emanated the ethereal and mystical quality of John Fahey's music.

    Dwight Yoakam (1), who had debuted in 1984 in an acoustic, unadorned style, matured with the eclectic and introverted If There Was a Way (1990) and This Time (1993), finally helped by adequate arrangements.

    Junior Brown (1) was a virtuoso whose guitar playing turned 12 Shades of Brown (1990) into one of the most inventive country albums of all times.

    Hailing from the honky-tonk school of Texas that spawned Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore incorporated psychedelic rock and rhythm'n'blues on After Awhile (1991) and especially Braver Newer World (1996).

    Vince Gill returned to a poppier sound with his hits Look At Us (1992) and I Still Believe In You (1992).

    Among female interpreters, Trisha Yearwood was probably the one who could claim to be heir to Linda Rondstadt, starting with She's In Love With The Boy (1991).

    At the turn of the decade, Patty "Loveless" Ramey was the female counterpart to Vince Gill, striking gold with Timber I'm Falling in Love (1989), the irresistible hook and riff of I'm That Kind of Girl (1990), Blame It on Your Heart (1993), You Can Feel Bad (1996), Lonely Too Long (1996).

    Washington-based Mary Chapin Carpenter emerged as the ultimate crossover singer-songwriter, blending country, folk, pop, rock and feminism on Hometown (1987) and contributing to the renewal of the Nashville sound with Come On Come On (1992) before turning philosophical on Time Sex Love (2001).

    Blues, 1980-81
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    The blues phenomenon of the 1980s was Georgia-born guitarist Robert Cray, who introduced a sensual soul-tinged vocal phrasing and a virtuoso jazzy style, influenced by Albert Collins. His progression from Bad Influence (1983), containing mostly original material, Strong Persuader (1986), his best-seller, corresponded with the maturation of his populist vision.

    The surgical guitar of Texas' Johnny Copeland, revealed on Copeland Special (1981), stood as a sinful compromise between Albert Collins and B.B. King.

    Wilson Pickett's guitarist Robert Ward, who was only discovered at 52 for Fear No Evil (1990), was the neo-traditionalist of this generation.

    Among white musicians, George Thorogood in Delaware, Roomful Of Blues in Rhode Island, the Fabulous Thunderbirds in Texas, continued to play the blues for the punk generation.

    Instrumental roots, 1985-88
    2005 Piero Scaruffi

    Surf music and instrumental music of the Sixties were best represented by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet (11), but it took a while for guitarist Brian Connelly and his cohorts to release a full-length album. A sequel of superb EPs, such as Love Without Words (1985), Wow Flutter Hiss (1986) and Schlagers (1987), refined their approach to the genre, which is a mixture of nostalgic and neurotic, of old-fashioned and post-modernist. Their instrumental vignettes drew from blues, pop, country, rockabilly, surf, Ennio Morricone, Duan Eddy, and many other sonic icons of the past without ever quoting them "literally". Those vignettes were like metaphors imprinted in a collective subconscious. Their masterpiece, Dim The Lights Chill The Ham (1992), was the first album since the Raybeats to revolutionize the idea of instrumental rock'n'roll, while retaining a humorous attitude a` la Leo Kottke. Sport Fishin' (1993) was slightly more serious and less effervescent.

    The resilience of the genre around the world was proven, for example, by Laika & The Cosmonauts's C'mon Do The Laika (1988) as far as in Finland.
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  7. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Roert Johnson And The Crossroads Curse

    I went to the crossroad
    Fell down on my knees
    I went to the crossroad
    Fell down on my knees
    Asked the Lord above "Have mercy now,
    Save poor Bob, if you please"

    "Crossroad Blues" - ROBERT JOHNSON

    This website will recount the often troubled history of one particular song. The composition in question is "Crossroads", written by Robert Johnson. This haunting piece is one of the best-known examples of the Delta Blues and it has subsequently been re-recorded by hundreds of artists. But in a strange twist of fate, some would say that the song is cursed.
    Although Johnson's recording career was very brief, his life story has taken on mythical proportions in the years since his death. In rural folklore, the intersection of two roads was often regarded as an evil place, the site of black magic. This notion dated back to early mythology in Africa and Europe. As these pagan cultures were forcibly assimilated by Christian society, some of their original beliefs were blended with the new religion. So according to the legend, Johnson went down to the crossroads and made a pact with Satan. The devil promised to fulfill his dreams, thus Johnson traded his eternal soul for his extraordinary talents. Of course, the devil wouldn't allow him to enjoy his success and the lord of the underworld soon claimed his prize. Even though Johnson's musical legacy would eventually earn worldwide acclaim, he never had a chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
    But while the legend of Robert Johnson is interesting enough on its own, there is much more to the story of "Crossroads". In addition to the bluesman's untimely death, there have been a string of tragedies associated with musicians who have performed the song over the years. Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers Band have all experienced the loss of group members or loved ones. My website will also delve into these other occurrences. Personally, I don't believe that this song is actually cursed. While there have certainly been some terrible misfortunes associated with a number of the artists who have recorded the composition, I think these are merely coincidences. Nonetheless, it's another fascinating aspect of the "Crossroads" legend. Even now, this tale from American folklore still endures.

    Robert Johnson was born on May 8th, 1911 in Hazelhurst, MS. He was the illegitimate son of Julia Dodd and Noah Johnson, a man whom he would never know.
    Steady work was scarce, so he and his mother were forced to move often, as she sought employment in Memphis and various parts of the Delta. While he was still just a young boy, he went to work in the cotton fields on a plantation near Robinsonville, MS. It was a bleak existence, so he turned to music for comfort. At the age of seventeen, he married his childhood sweetheart, Virginia Travis. He loved his young bride dearly, but their romance was short-lived. In April of 1930, little more than a year after they were wed, his wife died during childbirth. Johnson was absolutely grief-stricken and this incident marked a turning point in his life. From then on, he traveled constantly, devoting all his time and energy to his music.

    Over the next few years, Johnson worked tirelessly to hone his craft. He and his friend Willie Brown would often sit on tombstones, writing ominous melodies and drinking moonshine. Although he could not read music, he had a keen ear and often imitated the styles of other musicians. From watching fellow guitarist Son House, he was inspired to develop his own bottleneck slide technique. He also played with Charlie Patton and Sonny Boy Williamson, performing in juke joints throughout the Deep South. But Johnson was quite ambitious and he was not satisified with the moderate acclaim he had received. Since many of his contemporaries were envious of his musicianship, this may have led them to spread false rumors about him, whispering that he had gladly paid the Devil's price to satisfy his own ambition.

    Undisputed facts about Johnson's life are few and far between. More often than not, his legend has obscured the few grains of truth which can be discerned. According to the myth, the young bluesman desperately longed for fame and fortune. Johnson was not satisified with his own musical abilities and felt that he needed more talent to achieve success. He was already bitter toward his creator, blaming God for the death of his beloved wife and unborn child. Despondent and irrational, he made a momentous decision. At the stroke of midnight, he walked down to the windswept crossroads at the junction of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, MS. Reciting an ancient incantation, he called upon Satan himself to rise from the fires of Hell. In exchange for Johnson's immortal soul, the devil tuned his guitar, thereby giving him the abilities which he so desired. From then on, the young bluesman played his instrument with an unearthly style, his fingers dancing over the strings. His voice moaned and wailed, expressing the deepest sorrows of a condemned sinner.

    In 1936, Johnson was approached by Don Law, a producer who worked for the American Record Company. Law was eager to record the bluesman, offering to pay him between $10 and $15 for each song. The first sessions occurred later that year, at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX. Johnson played some of his own compositions and also modified the work of other artists, recording seventeen songs on November 23rd, 26th, and 27th. If he was not fully satisfied with his performance, he would record an alternate version. But Johnson was a confident musician and he had been playing these compositions for years. As a result, most of the songs were recorded on the first take.
    While in town, he was arrested for vagrancy and thrown in jail. At the station, the police beat him and smashed his guitar. Rather than risk further abuse at the hands of the officers, Johnson asked them to contact Law. The producer verified the bluesman's story and subsequently posted his bail. Although this incident might have seemed quite traumatic, it apparently had little effect on Johnson. After recording "Crossroad Blues" and several more songs in the days that followed, he left San Antonio and resumed his wandering lifestyle.
    The next sessions took place during the summer of 1937, at the Brunswick Records Building in Dallas, TX. On June 19th and 20th, Johnson performed twelve more songs for Don Law. Once again, a handful of alternate versions were also recorded. As before, Johnson received a modest cash payment and no royalties. Although the producer was already making plans to conduct some additional sessions in the future, he would never see Johnson again. The troubled bluesman had a date with destiny.


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    Just as the story of Johnson's life is filled with contradictions, the circumstances of his death also remain murky at best.
    The most likely explanation is that the bluesman was poisoned with strychnine by a jealous husband, after Johnson unsuccessfully attempted to rekindle an old romance with the man's wife. Following his spurned overture, he was drinking at a juke joint with Sonny Boy Williamson. His friend strongly cautioned him not to drink from an open whiskey bottle on the table, but Johnson paid him no mind. He suffered terrible convulsions and died several days later, on August 16, 1938. Even in death however, Johnson could not find any lasting peace. To this day, his final resting place is still the subject of considerable debate. In Mississippi, there are actually two different grave sites which bear his name.

    Without the solid foundation of the blues, rock and roll would probably not exist. During the decades since his death, Robert Johnson's music has influenced countless other artists. In the most immediate sense, his style was adopted and imitated by the blues musicians who followed in his footsteps. Then in turn, these artists had an effect on subsequent generations.

    His legacy can be heard in a broad spectrum of music, from jazz to R & B to rock. And in recent years, he has finally begun to receive the credit he so richly deserves. In 1986, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as one of the forefathers of rock music. Further recognition came when the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in his honor on September 17, 1994. It is impossible to calculate the full impact of Johnson's music, as the ripple effect continues to spread outwards. But clearly the lonely bluesman from Mississippi has achieved the fame which he craved during his short life.

    Early this mornin'
    When you knocked upon my door
    Early this mornin', ooh
    When you knocked upon my door
    And I said, "Hello Satan,
    I believe it's time to go."

    "Me And The Devil Blues" - ROBERT JOHNSON
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 13, 2014
  8. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues singer and musician. His landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians. Johnson's shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend, including the Faustian myth that he sold his soul at a crossroads to achieve success. As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime.

    It was only after the reissue of his recordings in 1961 on the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style. He is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived."[1][2] Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an "Early Influence" in their first induction ceremony in 1986.[3] In 2003, David Fricke ranked Johnson fifth in Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

    Life and career

    Early life

    Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi possibly on May 8, 1911,[5] to Julia Major Dodds (born October 1874) and Noah Johnson (born December 1884). Julia was married to Charles Dodds (born February 1865), a relatively prosperous landowner and furniture maker with whom she had ten children. Charles Dodds had been forced by a mob to leave Hazlehurst following a dispute with white landowners. Julia left Hazlehurst with baby Robert but after some two years sent him to live in Memphis with her husband, who had changed his name to Charles Spencer.

    Circa 1919, Robert rejoined his mother in the Mississippi Delta area around Tunica and Robinsonville. Julia's new husband was known as Dusty Willis; he was 24 years her junior. Robert was remembered by some residents as "Little Robert Dusty,"[7] but he was registered at Tunica's Indian Creek School as Robert Spencer. In the 1920 census he is listed as Robert Spencer, living in Lucas, Arkansas with Will and Julia Willis. Robert was at school in 1924 and 1927[8] and the quality of his signature on his marriage certificate[9] suggests that he was relatively well educated for a boy of his background. One school friend, Willie Coffee, has been discovered and filmed, recalling that Robert was already noted for playing the harmonica and jaw harp. He also remembers Robert was absent for long periods, which suggests that he may have been living and studying in Memphis.

    After school, Robert adopted the surname of his natural father, signing himself as Robert Johnson on the certificate of his marriage to sixteen-year-old Virginia Travis in February 1929. She died in childbirth shortly after.[12] Surviving relatives of Virginia told the blues researcher Robert "Mack" McCormick that this was a divine punishment for Robert's decision to sing secular songs, known as 'selling your soul to the Devil'. McCormick believes that Johnson himself accepted the phrase as a description of his resolve to abandon the settled life of a husband and farmer to become a full-time blues musician.

    Around this time, the noted blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville where his musical partner, Willie Brown, lived. Late in life, House remembered Johnson as a 'little boy' who was a competent harmonica player but an embarrassingly bad guitarist. Soon after, Johnson left Robinsonville for the area around Martinsville, close to his birthplace Hazlehurst, possibly searching for his natural father. Here he perfected the guitar style of Son House and learned other styles from Isaiah "Ike" Zinnerman.[14] Ike Zinnerman was rumored to have learned supernaturally to play guitar by visiting graveyards at midnight.[15] When Johnson next appeared in Robinsonville, he had seemed to have acquired a miraculous guitar technique.[16] House was interviewed at a time when the legend of Johnson's pact with the Devil was well known among blues researchers. He was asked whether he attributed Johnson's technique to this pact, and his equivocal answers have been taken as confirmation.

    While living in Martinsville, Johnson fathered a child with Vergie Mae Smith. He also married Caletta Craft in May 1931. In 1932, the couple moved to Clarksdale in the Delta. Here Caletta died of childbirth and Johnson left for a career as a 'walking' (itinerant) musician.

    Itinerant musician

    From 1932 until his death in 1938, Johnson moved frequently between large cities like Memphis, Tennessee and Helena, Arkansas and the smaller towns of the Mississippi Delta and neighboring regions of Mississippi and Arkansas.[18][19] On occasion, he traveled much farther. Fellow blues musician Johnny Shines accompanied him to Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky, and Indiana.[20] Henry Townsend shared a musical engagement with him in St. Louis.[21] In many places he stayed with members of his large extended family, or with women friends.[22] He did not marry again but formed some long term relationships with women to whom he would return periodically. One was Estella Coleman, the mother of the blues musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. In other places he stayed with a woman seduced at his first performance.[23][24] In each location, Johnson's hosts were largely ignorant of his life elsewhere. He used different names in different places, employing at least eight distinct surnames.

    Biographers have looked for consistency from musicians who knew Johnson in different contexts: Shines, who traveled extensively with him; Lockwood who knew him as his mother's partner; David "Honeyboy" Edwards whose cousin Willie Mae Powell had a relationship with Johnson.[26] From a mass of partial, conflicting, and inconsistent eye-witness accounts,[27] biographers have attempted to summarize Johnson's character. "He was well mannered, he was soft spoken, he was indecipherable".[28] "As for his character, everyone seems to agree that, while he was pleasant and outgoing in public, in private he was reserved and liked to go his own way".[29] "Musicians who knew Johnson testified that he was a nice guy and fairly average—except, of course, for his musical talent, his weakness for whiskey and women, and his commitment to the road."

    When Johnson arrived in a new town, he would play for tips on street corners or in front of the local barbershop or a restaurant. Musical associates have said that in live performances Johnson often did not focus on his dark and complex original compositions, but instead pleased audiences by performing more well-known pop standards of the day[31] – and not necessarily blues. With an ability to pick up tunes at first hearing, Johnson had no trouble giving his audiences what they wanted, and certain of his contemporaries later remarked on Johnson's interest in jazz and country music. Johnson also had an uncanny ability to establish a rapport with his audience; in every town in which he stopped, Johnson would establish ties to the local community that would serve him well when he passed through again a month or a year later.

    Fellow musician Shines was 17 when he met Johnson in 1933. He estimated Johnson was maybe a year older than himself. In Samuel Charters' Robert Johnson, the author quotes Shines as saying:

    "Robert was a very friendly person, even though he was sulky at times, you know. And I hung around Robert for quite a while. One evening he disappeared. He was kind of a peculiar fellow. Robert'd be standing up playing some place, playing like nobody's business. At about that time it was a hustle with him as well as a pleasure. And money'd be coming from all directions. But Robert'd just pick up and walk off and leave you standing there playing. And you wouldn't see Robert no more maybe in two or three weeks ... So Robert and I, we began journeying off. I was just, matter of fact, tagging along."

    During this time Johnson established what would be a relatively long-term relationship with Estella Coleman, a woman about fifteen years his senior and the mother of musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. Johnson reportedly cultivated a woman to look after him in each town he played in. Johnson supposedly asked homely young women living in the country with their families whether he could go home with them, and in most cases the answer was 'yes'...until a boyfriend arrived or Johnson was ready to move on.

    In 1941, Alan Lomax learned from Muddy Waters that Johnson had performed in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area.[32] By 1959, historian Samuel Charters could only add that Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band remembered Johnson had once briefly played with him in West Memphis, Arkansas.[33] In the last year of his life, Johnson is believed to have traveled to St. Louis and possibly Illinois, and then to some states in the East.

    In 1938, Columbia Records producer John H. Hammond, who owned some of Johnson's records, had record producer Don Law seek out Johnson to book him for the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. On learning of Johnson's death, Hammond replaced him with Big Bill Broonzy, but still played two of Johnson's records from the stage.

    Recording sessions

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    In Jackson, Mississippi, around 1936, Johnson sought out H. C. Speir, who ran a general store and doubled as a talent scout. Speir put Johnson in touch with Ernie Oertle, who, as a salesman for the ARC group of labels, introduced Johnson to Don Law to record his first sessions in San Antonio, Texas. The recording session was held on November 23, 1936 in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio,[35][36][37] which Brunswick Records had set up to be a temporary recording studio. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson played sixteen selections, and recorded alternate takes for most of these. Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall, which has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer. This conclusion was played up in the inaccurate liner notes of the 1961 album King of the Delta Blues Singers. Ry Cooder speculates that Johnson played facing a corner to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique he calls "corner loading".

    Among the songs Johnson recorded in San Antonio were "Come On In My Kitchen", "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" and "Cross Road Blues". The first songs to appear were "Terraplane Blues" and "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", probably the only recordings of his that he would live to hear. "Terraplane Blues" became a moderate regional hit, selling 5,000 copies.

    His first recorded song, "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", was part of a cycle of spin-offs and response songs that began with Leroy Carr's "Mean Mistreater Mama" (1934). According to Wald, it was "the most musically complex in the cycle"[39] and stood apart from most rural blues as a through-composed lyric, rather than an arbitrary collection of more-or-less unrelated verses.[40] In contrast to most Delta players, Johnson had absorbed the idea of fitting a composed song into the three minutes of a 78 rpm side.[41] Most of Johnson's "somber and introspective" songs and performances come from his second recording session.

    In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session with Don Law in a makeshift studio at the Vitagraph (Warner Brothers) Building, 508 Park Avenue,[43] where Brunswick Record Corporation was located on the third floor.[44] Eleven records from this session would be released within the following year. Johnson did two takes of most of these songs and recordings of those takes survived. Because of this, there is more opportunity to compare different performances of a single song by Johnson than for any other blues performer of his time and place.[45] Johnson recorded almost half of the 29 songs that make up his entire discography at the 508 Park Ave Building in Dallas, Texas.

    By the time he died, at least six of his records had been released in the South as race records.

    Playback issues in extant recordings

    The accuracy of the pitch and speed of the extant recordings has been questioned. In The Guardian's music blog from May 2010, Jon Wilde speculated that recordings may have been "accidentally speeded up when first committed to 78 [rpm records], or else were deliberately speeded up to make them sound more exciting."[46] He does not give a source for this statement. Sony/Legacy music executive Lawrence Cohn, who won a Grammy for the label's 1991 reissue of Johnson's works, "acknowledges there's a possibility Johnson's 1936–37 recordings were sped up, since the OKeh/Vocalion family of labels, which originally issued the material, was known to alter the speed of its releases. 'Sometimes it was 78 rpms, sometimes it was 81 rpms,' he says. It's impossible to check the original sources, since the metal stampers used to duplicate the original 78 discs disappeared years ago."


    Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, near Greenwood, Mississippi. Although the cause of death is still unknown, there have been a number of theories offered, based on several differing accounts about the events preceding his death.

    Johnson had been playing for a few weeks at a country dance in a town about 15 miles (24 km) from Greenwood. According to one theory, Johnson was murdered by the jealous husband of a woman with whom he had flirted. In an account by fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnson had been flirting with a married woman at a dance, where she gave him a bottle of whiskey poisoned by her husband. When Johnson took the bottle, Williamson knocked it out of his hand and advised him to never drink from a bottle that he had not personally seen opened. Johnson replied, "Don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand." Soon after, he was offered another (poisoned) bottle and accepted it. Johnson is reported to have begun feeling ill the evening after and had to be helped back to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain. Musicologist Robert "Mack" McCormick claims to have tracked down the man who murdered Johnson, and to have obtained a confession from him in a personal interview, but has declined to reveal the man's name.

    While strychnine has been suggested as the poison that killed Johnson,[citation needed] at least one scholar has disputed the notion. Tom Graves, in his book Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, relies on expert testimony from toxicologists to argue that strychnine has such a distinctive odor and taste that it cannot be disguised, even in strong liquor. Graves also claims that a significant amount of strychnine would have to be consumed in one sitting to be fatal, and that death from the poison would occur within hours, not days.[49] Contemporary David "Honeyboy" Edwards similarly noted that the poison couldn't have been strychnine, since Johnson would have died much more rapidly, instead of suffering for three days.

    In addition, LeFlore County Registrar Cornelia Jordan, after conducting an investigation into Johnson's death for the state director of Vital Statistics, R.N. Whitfield, wrote on Johnson's death certificate, "I talked with the white man on whose place this negro died and I also talked with a negro woman on the place. The plantation owner said the negro man, seemingly about 26 years old, came from Tunica two or three weeks before he died to play banjo at a negro dance given there on the plantation. He staid[sic] in the house with some of the negroes saying he wanted to pick cotton. The white man did not have a doctor for this negro as he had not worked for him. He was buried in a homemade coffin furnished by the county. The plantation owner said it was his opinion that the negro died of syphilis."[51] Mack McCormick made reference to Jordan's statement on Johnson's death certificate in an April 2012 episode of WNYC's Radiolab.


    The exact location of his grave is officially unknown; three different markers have been erected at possible church cemetery burial sites outside of Greenwood.[53]
    Research in the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggests Johnson was buried in the graveyard of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, not far from Greenwood, in an unmarked grave. A one-ton cenotaph in the shape of an obelisk, listing all of Johnson's song titles, with a central inscription by Peter Guralnick, was placed at this location in 1990, paid for by Columbia Records and numerous smaller contributions made through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.
    In 1990 a small marker with the epitaph "Resting in the Blues" was placed in the cemetery of Payne Chapel near Quito by an Atlanta rock group named the Tombstones, after they saw a photograph in Living Blues magazine of an unmarked spot alleged by one of Johnson's ex-girlfriends to be Johnson's burial site.[54]
    More recent research by Stephen LaVere (including statements from Rosie Eskridge, the wife of the supposed gravedigger) indicates that the actual grave site is under a big pecan tree in the cemetery of the Little Zion Church, north of Greenwood along Money Road. Sony Music has placed a marker at this site.

    An interviewee in the documentary The Search for Robert Johnson (1991) suggests that owing to poverty and lack of transportation Johnson is most likely to have been buried in a pauper's grave (or "potter's field") very near where he died.

    Devil legend

    According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was "instructed" to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The "Devil" played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.

    Various accounts

    This legend was developed over time, and has been chronicled by Gayle Dean Wardlow,[56] Edward Komara[57] and Elijah Wald, who sees the legend as largely dating from Johnson's rediscovery by white fans more than two decades after his death.[58] Son House once told the story to Pete Welding as an explanation of Johnson's astonishingly rapid mastery of the guitar. Welding reported it as a serious belief in a widely read article in Down Beat in 1966.[59] Other interviewers failed to elicit any confirmation from House and there were fully two years between House's observation of Johnson as first a novice and then a master.

    Further details were absorbed from the imaginative retellings by Greil Marcus[60] and Robert Palmer.[61] Most significantly, the detail was added that Johnson received his gift from a large black man at a crossroads. There is dispute as to how and when the crossroads detail was attached to the Robert Johnson story. All the published evidence, including a full chapter on the subject in the biography Crossroads by Tom Graves, suggests an origin in the story of Blues musician Tommy Johnson. This story was collected from his musical associate Ishman Bracey and his elder brother Ledell in the 1960s.[62] One version of Ledell Johnson's account was published in David Evans's 1971 biography of Tommy and was repeated in print in 1982 alongside Son House's story in the widely read Searching for Robert Johnson.

    In another version, Ledell placed the meeting not at a crossroads but in a graveyard. This resembles the story told to Steve LaVere that Ike Zinnerman of Hazlehurst, Mississippi learned to play the guitar at midnight while sitting on tombstones. Zinnerman is believed to have influenced the playing of the young Robert Johnson.[

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    Recent research by blues scholar Bruce Conforth, in Living Blues magazine, makes the story clearer. Johnson and Ike Zimmerman did practice in a graveyard at night, because it was quiet and no one would disturb them, but it was not the Hazlehurst cemetery as had been believed. Zimmerman (his actual name as it was reportedly spelled on census records for the family going back into the early 1800s, his social security card, social security death notice, funeral program, and by his daughters) was not from Hazlehurst but nearby Beauregard. And he didn't practice in one graveyard, but in several in the area.[66] Johnson spent about a year living with and learning from Zimmerman, who ultimately accompanied Johnson back to the Delta to look after him.

    While Dockery, Hazlehurst and Beauregard have each been claimed as the locations of the mythical crossroads, there are also tourist attractions claiming to be "The Crossroads" in both Clarksdale and Memphis. Locals in Rosedale, Mississippi claim Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at the intersection of highways 1 and 8 in their town, while the 1986 movie Crossroads was filmed in Beulah, Mississippi. Blues historian Steve Cheseborough writes that it may be impossible to tell which crossroads is the one in the myth, because "Robert Johnson was a rambling guy".


    Some scholars have argued that the devil in these songs may not refer only to the Christian story of Satan, but also to the African trickster god Legba, himself associated with crossroads.[69] Folklorist Harry M. Hyatt wrote that, during his research in the South from 1935–1939, when African-Americans born in the 19th or early-20th century said they or anyone else had "sold their soul to the devil at the crossroads," they had a different meaning in mind. Hyatt claimed there was evidence indicating African religious retentions surrounding Legba and the making of a "deal" (not selling the soul in the same sense as in the Faustian tradition cited by Graves) with this so-called "devil" at the crossroads.

    "The Blues and the Blues singer has really special powers over women, especially. It is said that the Blues singer could possess women and have any woman they wanted. And so when Robert Johnson came back, having left his community as an apparently mediocre musician, with a clear genius in his guitar style and lyrics, people said he must have sold his soul to the devil. And that fits in with this old African association with the crossroads where you find wisdom: you go down to the crossroads to learn, and in his case to learn in a Faustian pact, with the devil. You sell your soul to become the greatest musician in history."
    —Bill Ferris, American Public Media: The Story with Dick Gordon

    This view that the devil in Johnson's songs is derived from an African deity was strenuously challenged by blues scholar David Evans. In an essay published in 1999, Demythologizing the Blues, Evans wrote:

    "There are... several serious problems with this crossroads myth. The devil imagery found in the blues is thoroughly familiar from western folklore, and nowhere do blues singers ever mention Legba or any other African deity in their songs or other lore. The actual African music connected with cults of Legba and similar trickster deities sounds nothing like the blues, but rather features polyrhythmic percussion and choral call-and-response singing.

    Musicologist Alan Lomax considered that every African American secular musician was "in the opinion of both himself and his peers, a child of the Devil, a consequence of the black view of the European dance embrace as sinful in the extreme".

    Musical style

    Robert Johnson is today considered a master of the blues, particularly of the Delta blues style; Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said in 1990, "You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it."[74] But according to Elijah Wald, in his book Escaping the Delta, Johnson in his own time was most respected for his ability to play in such a wide variety of styles—from raw country slide guitar to jazz and pop licks—and to pick up guitar parts almost instantly upon hearing a song.[75] His first recorded song, "Kind Hearted Woman Blues," in contrast to the prevailing Delta style of the time, more resembled the style of Chicago or St. Louis, with "a full-fledged, abundantly varied musical arrangement."[76] Unusual for a Delta player of the time, a recording exhibits what Johnson could do entirely outside of a blues style. "They're Red Hot," from his first recording session, shows that he was also comfortable with an "uptown" swing or ragtime sound similar to the Harlem Hamfats but, as Wald remarks, "no record company was heading to Mississippi in search of a down-home Ink Spots ... [H]e could undoubtedly have come up with a lot more songs in this style if the producers had wanted them."

    "To the uninitiated, Johnson's recordings may sound like just another dusty Delta blues musician wailing away. But a careful listen reveals that Johnson was a revisionist in his time . . Johnson's tortured soul vocals and anxiety-ridden guitar playing aren't found in the cotton-field blues of his contemporaries."

    —Marc Myers, Wall Street Journal


    An important aspect of Johnson's singing was his use of microtonality. These subtle inflections of pitch help explain why his singing conveys such powerful emotion. Eric Clapton described Johnson's music as "the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice." In two takes of "Me and the Devil Blues" he shows a high degree of precision in the complex vocal delivery of the last verse: "The range of tone he can pack into a few lines is astonishing."[79] The song's "hip humor and sophistication" is often overlooked. "[G]enerations of blues writers in search of wild Delta primitivism," writes Wald, have been inclined to overlook or undervalue aspects that show Johnson as a polished professional performer.

    Johnson is also known for using the guitar as 'the other vocalist in the song', a technique later perfected by B. B. King and his personified guitar known as 'Lucille':

    ". . in Africa and in Afro-American tradition, there is the tradition of the talking instrument, beginning with the drums . . the one-strand and then the six-strings with bottleneck-style performance; it becomes a competing voice . . or a complementary voice . . in the performance . . "

    —Bill Ferris, American Public Media: The Story with Dick Gordon

    Bob Dylan wrote that "When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor. I immediately differentiated between him and anyone else I had ever heard. The songs weren't customary blues songs. They were so utterly fluid. At first they went by quick, too quick to even get. They jumped all over the place in range and subject matter, short punchy verses that resulted in some panoramic story-fires of mankind blasting off the surface of this spinning piece of plastic."


    Johnson mastered the guitar, being considered today one of the all-time greats on the instrument. His approach was highly complex and extremely advanced musically. When Keith Richards was first introduced to Johnson's music by his bandmate Brian Jones, he replied, "Who is the other guy playing with him?", not realizing it was Johnson playing on one guitar. "I was hearing two guitars, and it took a long time to actually realise he was doing it all by himself,"[83] said Richards, who would later add "Robert Johnson was like an orchestra all by himself."

    "As for his guitar technique, it's politely reedy but ambitiously eclectic—moving effortlessly from hen-picking and bottleneck slides to a full deck of chucka-chucka rhythm figures."
    —Marc Myers, Wall Street Journal


    In The Story with Dick Gordon,[84] Bill Ferris of American Public Media said:

    "Robert Johnson I think of in the same way I think of the British Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, who burned out early, who were geniuses at wordsmithing poetry."
    "The Blues, if anything, are deeply sexual. You know, 'my car doesn't run, I'm gonna check my oil' ... 'if you don't like my apples, don't shake my tree'. Every verse has sexuality associated with it."


    Johnson fused approaches specific to Delta blues to those from the broader music world. The slide guitar work on "Rambling on My Mind" is pure Delta and Johnson's vocal there has "a touch of ... Son House rawness," but the train imitation on the bridge is not at all typical of Delta blues, and is more like something out of minstrel show music or vaudeville.[85] Johnson did record versions of "Preaching the Blues" and "Walking Blues" in the older bluesman's vocal and guitar style (House's chronology is questioned by Guralnick). As with the first take of "Come On In My Kitchen," the influence of Skip James is evident in James's "Devil Got My Woman", but the lyrics rise to the level of first-rate poetry, and Johnson sings with a strained voice found nowhere else in his recorded output.

    The sad, romantic "Love in Vain" successfully blends several of Johnson's disparate influences. The form, including the wordless last verse, follows Leroy Carr's last hit "When the Sun Goes Down"; the words of the last sung verse come directly from a song Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded in 1926.[87] Johnson's last-ever recording, "Milkcow's Calf Blues" is his most direct tribute to Kokomo Arnold, who wrote "Milkcow Blues" and who influenced Johnson's vocal style.

    "From Four Until Late" shows Johnson's mastery of a blues style not usually associated with the Delta. He croons the lyrics in a manner reminiscent of Lonnie Johnson, and his guitar style is more that of a ragtime-influenced player like Blind Blake.[89] Lonnie Johnson's influence on Robert Johnson is even clearer in two other departures from the usual Delta style: "Malted Milk" and "Drunken Hearted Man". Both copy the arrangement of Lonnie Johnson's "Life Saver Blues".[90] The two takes of "Me and the Devil Blues" show the influence of Peetie Wheatstraw, calling into question the interpretation of this piece as "the spontaneous heart-cry of a demon-driven folk artist."[80]


    Robert Johnson has had enormous impact on music and musicians—but outside his own time, place, and even genre for which he was famous. His influence on contemporaries was much smaller, due in part to the fact that he was an itinerant performer—playing mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances—who worked in a then undervalued style of music. He also died young after recording only a handful of songs. Johnson, though well-traveled and admired in his performances, was little noted in his lifetime, his records even less so. "Terraplane Blues", sometimes described as Johnson's only hit record, outsold his others, but was still only a minor success.

    If one had asked black blues fans about Robert Johnson in the first twenty years after his death, writes Elijah Wald, "the response in the vast majority of cases would have been a puzzled 'Robert who?'" This lack of recognition extended to black musicians:

    "As far as the evolution of black music goes, Robert Johnson was an extremely minor figure, and very little that happened in the decades following his death would have been affected if he had never played a note."

    With the album King of the Delta Blues Singers, a compilation of Johnson's recordings released in 1961, Columbia Records introduced his work to a much wider audience—fame and recognition he only received long after his death.

    Rock and roll

    Johnson's major influence has been on genres of music that weren’t recognized as such until long after his death: rock and roll and rock. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included four of his songs in a set of 500[92] they deemed to have shaped the genre:
    “Sweet Home Chicago” (1936)
    “Cross Road Blues” (1936)
    “Hellhound on My Trail” (1937)
    “Love in Vain” (1937)

    Johnson recorded these songs a decade and a half before the recognized advent of rock and roll,[93] dying a year or two later. The Museum inducted him as an “Early Influence” in their first induction ceremony in 1986, almost a half century after his death. Marc Meyers of the Wall Street Journal wrote that, "His 'Stop Breakin' Down Blues' from 1937 is so far ahead of its time that the song could easily have been a rock demo cut in 1954."

    Rock music and related genres

    Many of the artists who claim to have been influenced by Johnson the most, injecting his revolutionary stylings into their work and recording tribute songs and collections, are prominent rock musicians from the United Kingdom. His impact and influence on these future star musicians from England—who would then come to develop and define both the rock and roll and rock music eras—resulted not from personal appearances or direct fraternization. Instead, the artistic power of his exceptional talents and original compositions would be relayed across the Atlantic many years after his death through the compilation of his works released in 1961 by Columbia Records (King of the Delta Blues Singers).

    Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones introduced bandmate Keith Richards to his first Robert Johnson album. The blues master's recordings would have as much impact on him as on Mick Jagger. The group would perform his "Walkin' Blues" at the Rock and Roll Circus in 1968. They arranged their own version of "Love in Vain" for their album Let It Bleed; recording "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" for Exile on Main Street. In addition, Mick Jagger, in his role as Turner in the 1970 film Performance, performs solo excerpts from "Come On In My Kitchen" and "Me and the Devil Blues."

    Alexis Korner, referred to as "the Founding Father of British Blues", co-wrote and recorded a song entitled "Robert Johnson" on his The Party Album released in 1978. Other examples of the influence he had on English blues and blues-rock musicians and musical groups include:
    Eric Clapton, founder and member of many legendary groups, considered Johnson "the most important blues musician who ever lived."[83] He recorded enough of his songs to make Me and Mr. Johnson, a blues-rock album released in 2004 as a tribute to the legendary bluesman (also made into the film Sessions for Robert J). He'd earlier recorded "Crossroads", an arrangement of "Cross Road Blues", with Cream in 1968, leading some to consider him "the man largely responsible for making Robert Johnson a household name."
    Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin referred to him on NPR's Fresh Air (recorded in 2004) as “Robert Johnson, to whom we all owed our existence, in some way.” His group recorded "Traveling Riverside Blues", a song that drew from Johnson's original and quoted a number of Johnson's songs in the lyrics. Not only the lyrics, but the music video was influenced as well - taking images of the 'Delta' that Johnson often wrote about in his own music.
    Fleetwood Mac were strongly influenced by Johnson in the group's early years as a British blues band. Guitarist Jeremy Spencer contributed two covers of Johnson-derived songs to the group's early albums, and lead guitarist Peter Green would later go on to record Johnson's entire catalog over the course of two albums, The Robert Johnson Songbook and Hot Foot Powder.

    Sam Dunn's documentary Metal Evolution cites that Robert Johnson was the "great grandfather to all things heavy metal" with members of Rush and Slipknot agreeing that he played a major role in the future of rock music.

    Bob Dylan wrote of Johnson in his 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, "If I hadn't heard the Robert Johnson record when I did, there probably would have been hundreds of lines of mine that would have been shut down—that I wouldn't have felt free enough or upraised enough to write."[95]

    Guitar technique

    His revolutionary guitar playing has led contemporary experts, assessing his talents through the handful of old recordings available, to rate him among the greatest guitar players of all time:
    In 1990 Spin magazine rated him 1st in its 35 Guitar Gods listing—on the 52nd anniversary of his death.
    In 2008 Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 5th on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time—70 years after he died.
    In 2010 ranked him 9th in its list of’s Top 50 Guitarists of All Time—72 years after he died.

    Musicians who proclaim his profound impact on them, i.e., Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton, all rated in the top ten with him on each of these lists. The boogie bass line he fashioned for "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" has now passed into the standard guitar repertoire. At the time it was completely new, a guitarist's version of something people would only ever have heard on a piano.

    Lifetime achievement

    The Complete Recordings, a double-disc box set released by Sony/Columbia Legacy on August 28, 1990, containing almost everything Robert Johnson ever recorded, with all 29 recordings (and 12 alternate takes) won a Grammy Award for “Best Historical Album” that year. In 2006 he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (accepted by his son Claud).

    Problems of biography

    "The thing about Robert Johnson was that he only existed on his records. He was pure legend."
    —Martin Scorsese, Love In Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson

    Very little is known of Johnson's early life with any certainty. Two marriage licenses for Johnson have been located in county records offices. The ages given in these certificates point to different birth dates, as do the entries showing his attendance at Indian Creek School, Tunica, Mississippi. That he was not listed among his mother's children in the 1910 census[8] casts further doubt on these dates. Carrie Thompson claimed that her mother, who was also Robert's mother, remembered his birth date as May 8, 1911. The 1920 census gives his age as 7, suggesting he was born in 1912/13.[100] Five significant dates from his career are documented: Monday, Thursday and Friday, November 23, 26, and 27, 1936, at a recording session in San Antonio, Texas. Seven months later, on Saturday and Sunday, June 19–20, 1937, he was in Dallas at another session. His death certificate was discovered in 1968, and lists the date and location of his death.

    The two confirmed images of Johnson were located in 1973, in the possession of the musician's half-sister Carrie Thompson, and were not widely published until the late 1980s. A third photo, purporting to show Johnson posing with fellow blues performer Johnny Shines, was published in the November 2008 edition of Vanity Fair magazine[102] and was authenticated in 2013. The same article claims that other photographs of Johnson, so far unpublished, may exist.

    "We don't know much, really . . there's so little known about this musician, other than these recordings that were made, and the fact that he died early, poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he was hanging out with."
    —Bill Ferris, American Public Media: The Story with Dick Gordon

    Johnson's records were greatly admired by record collectors from the time of their first release and efforts were made to discover his biography, with virtually no success. Noted blues researcher Mack McCormick began researching his family background, but was never ready to publish. McCormick's research eventually became as much a legend as Johnson himself. In 1982, McCormick permitted Peter Guralnick to publish a summary in Living Blues (1982), later reprinted in book form as Searching for Robert Johnson.[104] Later research has sought to confirm this account or to add minor details. A revised summary acknowledging major informants was written by Stephen LaVere for the booklet accompanying the compilation album Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings (1990), and is maintained with updates at the Delta Haze website.[105] The documentary film The Search for Robert Johnson contains accounts by Mack McCormick and Gayle Dean Wardlow of what informants have told them: long interviews of David Honeyboy Edwards and Johnny Shines, and short interviews of surviving friends and family. These published biographical sketches achieve coherent narratives, partly by ignoring reminiscences and hearsay accounts which contradict or conflict with other accounts.

    A relatively full account of Johnson's brief musical career emerged in the 1960s, largely from accounts by Son House, Johnny Shines, David Honeyboy Edwards and Robert Lockwood. In 1961, the sleeve notes to the album King of the Delta Blues Singers included reminiscences of Don Law who had recorded Johnson in 1936. Law added to the mystique surrounding Johnson, representing him as very young and extraordinarily shy.


    Eleven Johnson 78s were released on the Vocalion label during his lifetime, with a twelfth issued posthumously. All songs are copyrighted to Robert Johnson, and his estate.

    The Complete Recordings: A double-disc box set was released on August 28, 1990, containing almost everything Robert Johnson ever recorded, with all 29 recordings, and 12 alternate takes. (There is one further alternate, of "Traveling Riverside Blues," which was released on Sony's King of the Delta Blues Singers CD and also as an extra in early printings of the paperback edition of Elijah Wald's "Escaping the Delta.")

    To celebrate Johnson's 100th birthday, May 8, 2011, Sony Legacy released a re-mastered 2-CD set of all 42 Robert Johnson recordings extant, entitled Robert Johnson: The Centennial Collection.[108] In addition, there were two brief fragments: one where Johnson can be heard practicing a guitar figure; the second when Johnson can be heard saying, presumably to engineer Don Law, "I wanna go on with our next one myself."[108] Reviewers commented that the sound quality of the 2011 release was a substantial improvement on the 1990 release.[

    National Recording Registry

    The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson (1936–1937) was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2003.[111] The board selects songs in an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included four songs by Robert Johnson in the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll,[112] as well as a memorial for Johnson which reads:

    "Robert Johnson stands at the crossroads of American music, much as a popular folk legend has it he once stood at Mississippi crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess."

    Films and other media

    The film Crossroads (1986) is about a young white blues guitarist's search for Johnson's "missing" 30th song and the theme of blues artists selling their souls to the devil.
    Stones in My Passway: The Robert Johnson Story (1990), a biographical film by Martin Spottl.
    The Search for Robert Johnson (1991), UK documentary hosted by Blues musician John P. Hammond, son of John H. Hammond.
    Sherman Alexie's novel Reservation Blues (1995) includes Johnson visiting the crossroads on the Spokane Indian Reservation and leaving his enchanted guitar behind.
    Can't You Hear the Wind Howl? The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (1997)
    Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson (2000, directed by Robert Mugge)
    The song "The Wasteland" by Elton John from his 2001 studio album Songs from the West Coast contains the chorus: "Come on Robert Johnson though we're worlds apart, You and I know what it's like with the devil in our heart, You sold your soul at the Crossroads kept a little of mine on hand I'm wading out this muddy water, been stranded in the wasteland"
    Eric Clapton – Sessions for Robert Johnson (2004, documentary)
    Author Robert Rankin has referenced Johnson in his works The Brightonomicon (2005) and The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code (2007).
    In the show Supernatural, Robert Johnson appears in a flashback in the episode "Crossroad Blues" (season 2, episode 8; 2006) in which he is shown to have sold his soul for his musical talent.
    Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (2008) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akira Hiramoto. It is a phantasmagoric reimagining of Johnson's life.
    Celebration of the music and legend of Robert Johnson: Show 502[dead link] WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Rory Block and Scott Ainslie discuss Johnson and play his music. Taped 2008-09-29; 60 minutes audio (WMA, MP3), 88 minutes video (WMV).
    To commemorate Johnson's 100th birthday in 2011, Dogfish Head Brewery released "Hellhound on My Ale", a limited edition beer, in collaboration with Sony's Legacy Recordings division.
    Crossroads by Radio Lab (2012) recounts the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
    The character Tommy Johnson played by Chris Thomas King in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? reveals that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for the ability to play the guitar. While the character name and story suggest a direct reference to the real-life Tommy Johnson, the faustian story and the character’s Mississippi Delta Blues style revealed later in the movie as he plays as part of the The Soggy Bottom Boys is more reminiscent of the Robert Johnson mythos. The Coen brothers admit in the movie’s director comments that the character is a mashup of Tommy and Robert Johnson myth.
    "The Estate of Robert Johnson" in the series Inheriting Trouble (season 2, episode 6; 2012) talks about his life, death and the controversy of his estate after his recordings are rereleased and turn him into an icon.
    The song "The Devil at the Crossroads", on Magenta's The Twenty Seven Club (2013) is inspired by Johnson.
  9. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    "Cross Road Blues" (more commonly known as Crossroads) is a blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. It is a solo performance in the Delta blues-style with Johnson's vocal accompanied by his acoustic slide guitar. Although its lyrics do not contain any specific references, the song has become part of the Robert Johnson mythology as referring to the place where he supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talents.

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    Original song

    Lyrics and interpretation

    The song opens with the narrator at an intersection kneeling in despair to beg forgiveness. Abruptly and without explanation, the narrative shifts to his failed attempts to hitch a ride as night approaches:
    Standin' at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride (2×)Didn't nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me byStandin' at the crossroad, risin' sun goin' down (2×)I believe to my soul now, po' Bob is sinkin' down
    We are not told why this is so distressing, merely that there no woman there to support him. Finally we are told to report the singer's condition to a named friend, Wllie Brown. The actions and emotions are not explicitly linked; the listener's imagination supplies the connections.

    According to historian Leon Litwack, in the 1936 rural South, blacks had good reason to be afraid of being caught alone at night in an unfamiliar place — trumped up vagrancy charges and even lynchings still took place.[1] Others suggest that the song is also about a deeper and more personal loneliness with the imagery of the singer falling to his knees and the absence of a "sweet woman".[2] Johnson's original audience would have known the same fear and the same moments of intense loneliness. Many would also have felt the same guilt at not following a church-going, blues-renouncing lifestyle. Modern audiences are more familiar with the legend of Johnson the musician. The song has been used to perpetuate the myth of Johnson selling his soul to the devil for his musical ability, although nothing in the actual lyrics deals with a Faustian bargain.[3] How much Johnson himself contributed to this myth is debated, although many agree "the 'devil angle' made for good marketing".


    As with many Johnson songs, "Cross Road Blues" was inspired by earlier blues songs. Author Edward Komara has identified "Straight Alky Blues" (1929 Vocalion 1290) by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell as a "melodic precedent".[5] Another sees it as an extension of Johnson's arrangement for his first single "Terraplane Blues", but with more slide guitar and "the first piece to showcase his [Johnson's] command of the rootsy, Son House-derived Delta style".

    As with many early blues songs, "Cross Road Blues" differs from a well-defined twelve-bar blues structure. The verses have a "varying number of bars and even beats", generally from fourteen to fifteen bars in length, and the harmonic progression is often implied rather than stated (full IV and V chords are not used).[7] Johnson uses a Spanish or open G tuning with the guitar tuned up to the key of B. This facilitates Johnson's use of a slide, while maintaining the rhythm on the lower strings. "The slide permits a greater variety of melodic nuance [thus] allowing the guitar to imitate the voice more closely".


    "Cross Road Blues" was recorded during Robert Johnson's last recording session in San Antonio, Texas on November 27, 1936. Two similar takes of the song were recorded — the first was released in May 1937 on the then standard 10-inch 78 rpm record.[8][9] As with most Johnson records, the single (with its flip side "Ramblin' on My Mind") "sold disappointingly"[10] and remained out of print after its initial release until the appearance of The Complete Recordings in 1990. The second take was released in 1961, when producer Frank Driggs substituted it for the original on Johnson's long-playing record album King of the Delta Blues Singers.[9] This take was also included on the 1990 Complete Recordings (at 2:29, it is :10 shorter than the original 2:39 single version).

    Elmore James versions

    American blues singer and guitarist Elmore James, who popularized Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom", recorded two variations on "Cross Road Blues". Both titled "Standing at the Crossroads", they feature James' trademark "Dust My Broom" amplified slide-guitar figure and a backing ensemble. James' lyrics focus more on the lost-love aspect of the song:
    Well I was standin' at the crossroad, and my baby not around (2×)Well I begin to wonder, 'Is poor Elmore sinkin' down'...
    James first recorded "Standing at the Crossroads" in September 1954 in Los Angeles for the Bihari brothers' Flair Records.[11] His second version was recorded in New York City in 1960 or 1961 during one of his last sessions for Bobby Robinson's Fury/Fire/Enjoy group of labels. Both versions appear on numerous James' compilations.

    Homesick James, Elmore's cousin, with whom he had recorded and toured, also recorded a rendition titled "Crossroads". The session for Chicago-based USA Records took place on July 23, 1963. Homesick used an instrumental arrangement similar to Elmore's; however, all of his lyrics were derived from Robert Johnson's second take, and, given the recording date, suggest that he benefitted from the 1961 release.

    Eric Clapton/Cream interpretation

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    In February 1966, prior to joining Cream, Eric Clapton recorded the song as "Crossroads" with a short-lived studio project, dubbed Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse. Their loose, R&B-influenced interpretation of the song, with Steve Winwood (vocals), Clapton (guitar), Jack Bruce (bass guitar), Paul Jones (harmonica), Ben Palmer (piano), and Pete York (drums), was released on the Elektra Records compilation album What's Shakin' in June 1966. It features the guitar figure that Clapton later used with Cream and a harmonica solo by Jones.

    On March 10, 1968, Cream recorded a live version of "Crossroads" during a performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It features an up-beat hard-rock arrangement by Clapton and an eight-note guitar riff and has both major and minor scale centers. According to Clapton, the riff is an embellishment of Robert Johnson's guitar lines and "was the easiest for me to see as a rock and roll vehicle". Unlike Johnson's or James' versions, Cream's song has "a straight eighth-note [rock] rhythm", with Bruce's bass line "combin[ing] with [Baker's] drums to create and continually emphasize continuity in the regular metric drive". In addition to Johnson's opening and closing lyrics, Clapton twice adds a section from Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues".

    Cream's Winterland recording of "Crossroads" was released on the group's Wheels of Fire album in August 1968. A single was also released, reaching number 28 in the Billboard Hot 100. Although extensively reworked by Clapton and Cream, both the original album and single credit the songwriter as Robert Johnson or R. Johnson. According to the liner notes to Clapton's 1988 four-CD retrospective Crossroads, "'Crossroads' is a Cream classic—edited, as it was, by engineer Tom Dowd for the Wheels of Fire album—compared to the much longer renditions the band typically fired up".[15] An Allmusic review of Wheels of Fire attributes the editing to producer Felix Pappalardi, who "cut together the best bits of a winding improvisation to a tight four minutes, giving this track a relentless momentum that's exceptionally exciting".

    After Cream's breakup in 1968, Clapton has continued to perform "Crossroads" in a variety of settings. Live recordings appear on Live at the Fillmore (with Derek and the Dominos), Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, and other albums. Clapton has also used the name for the Crossroads Centre, a drug rehabilitation center he founded, and for the Crossroads Guitar Festivals to benefit the center.

    Recognition and influence

    In 1986, Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, noting that "regardless of mythology and rock 'n' roll renditions, Johnson's record was indeed a powerful one, a song that would stand the test of time on its own".[9] In 1998, it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, which "honor recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance".[17] In 1995, Cream's "Crossroads" was included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[18] Rolling Stone magazine placed it at number three on its "Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time".

    Numerous musicians have recorded renditions of "Cross Road Blues", usually following Cream's arrangement. Some of these include:[20]The Allman Joys, The Doors (on their Live In Pittsburgh 1970 album), Free, Jeff Healey, Cyndi Lauper, Lynyrd Skynyrd (on their One More from the Road live album), John Mayer, Phish, Paul Rodgers, Rush, Robin Trower, Leslie West, and Johnny Winter.

    Linsey Alexander's song "Saving Robert Johnson" brings the myth around "Crossroads" into the present day with the lyrics, "I want you to e-mail the devil, I want you to poke him on Facebook." Alexander's critically acclaimed "Saving Robert Johnson"[22] was included in the Mississippi Blues Project, an extensive review of Mississippi blues produced by WXPN in Philadelphia.


    The Faustian tale of the troubled man making a pact with the devil is a recurring motif in Christian mythology. It often seeped into music – two centuries ago, people believed the Italian violinist Paganini's powers were satanic. But none of these myths have proved quite as enduring as that of Robert Johnson. The bluesman Son House, a contemporary of Johnson, insisted he was a decent harmonica player but a terrible guitarist until he disappeared for a few weeks. Legend has it that Johnson took his guitar to the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 in Clarksdale, Mississippi where the devil retuned his instrument in exchange for his soul. He returned with a formidable technique and a mastery of the blues.

    The story was initially told of an older bluesman, Tommy Johnson (no relation), but he died in 1956, aged 60. It was more hauntingly apposite for Robert Johnson, who died in 1938, aged only 27, after a troubled life and an itinerant career. His only recordings, made a year before his death, still have a spooky quality even 80 years on.
  10. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Story of Robert Johnson

    Ranked number five on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural ballot in 1986. Named one of the Top 50 Guitarists of All Time by A major influence to some of the music industry’s biggest names such as Eric Clapton, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, just to name a few.

    For most great musicians, the above accomplishments might say enough about the legacy they left behind. But for the legendary Robert Johnson, his posthumous awards and honors only tell half the story of his mysterious and enigmatic life.

    From the famous Crossroads where Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil, to the purported poisoning that ended his life, to his multiple tombstone locations, maybe no other Mississippi Delta musician offers as much intrigue as Robert Leroy Johnson.

    The Bluesman & the Devil

    The story of Robert Johnson doesn’t start or stop with his instrumental talents. The lore behind this Delta musician runs much deeper than that -- down a road of mystery, lore, mythology, and some say, reality.

    As the story goes, in the 1930’s Robert Johnson ventured to a Mississippi cross roads at midnight to make a deal with the devil. The pact? Offer his eternal soul for Lucifer’s hellacious guitar tuning skills. With guitar in-hand, Johnson and the devil stuck an accord.

    According to the legend, Johnson’s new talents were immediate. In fact, Son House -- a boyhood idol of Robert Johnson and one of the most highly regarded blues guitarists of all time -- said Johnson’s seemingly overnight metamorphosis from a poor guitar player to an elite guitarist must have meant he sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroads. “He sold his soul to play like that,” House once said.

    Tall tale? Maybe. Maybe not.

    It is popular belief that the story is an adaptation of the African Hoodoo folktale brought over by West African slaves. It states that if you wait on a moonless night at a country cross roads, the guardian spirit of the cross roads will offer fame, money and success in exchange for the soul. The insertion of the devil in place of the crossroad’s deity in Johnson’s account almost certainly developed from the Christian influences that existed in North America at the time slaves arrived.

    The fable was a hopeful and inspiring story among the poor, struggling, and very spiritual blacks of the Delta during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Because of this belief, most of Johnson’s contemporaries saw nothing implausible about his mystical account.

    However, the exact location of the crossroads where Robert Johnson made his pact with Lucifer is an age-old and hotly contested debate.

    Devil Takes His Due

    As his career continued to blossom, the crossroads legend continued to grow and morph largely in part to Johnson’s haunting, spiritual lyrics, songs such as “Cross Road Blues” and “Me and the Devil Blues”, and eventually, his unforeseen death at age 27.

    On the night of Saturday, August 13, 1938, Robert Johnson was playing in a juke joint on the outskirts of Greenwood, Mississippi.

    According to friends of Johnson, this was the time and place where he was poisoned with either strychnine or lye. Some say it was by the juke joint owner who was jealous of the flirtation between his wife and Johnson. Another version says Johnson was offered an open bottle of whiskey by a woman unrelated to the joint owner, of which his friend Sonny Boy Williamson advised him not to drink, but Johnson replied "Don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand."

    In the early morning hours, he was taken to a house in Greenwood where his sickness grew. Three days later he died. Some say of the poisoned whiskey bottle, other stories range from pneumonia to syphilis. As legend has it, Johnson’s death was a violent array of howling and convulsions.

    The mystery of Johnson’s death doesn’t end with how he died, however. The biggest question might be his final resting place.

    Three graveyards claim the musical legend’s tombstone. Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City; Payne Chapel near Quito Mississippi; and the Little Zion M.B. Church north of Greenwood.

    Which one is the real Robert Johnson resting place? That all depends on who you ask. Each site has been researched and each offers an intriguing argument.

    Visit the sites today, and you’ll see all kinds of memorabilia, liquor bottles and music-related trinkets left atop the headstones by adoring fans from across the globe.

    Robert Johnson Still Sings in the Delta

    Robert Johnson only recorded twice in his short lifetime, first in San Antonio in November 1936 and again in Dallas in June 1937.

    Though Robert Johnson has been gone for decades, the intrigue of his life and death lives on through several Delta landmarks. Thousands of infatuated travelers from around the world visit each year to explore the sites that have helped spawn this unique legend.

    Gravesites - After talking to locals at all three gravesite locations, you’ll leave thinking each one is the real resting place of Robert Johnson. Every gravesite -- Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City; Payne Chapel near Quito, Mississippi; Little Zion M.B. Church north of Greenwood -- offers its own believable story.

    Crossroads - The intersection of US 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale (today the intersection closer into to Clarksdale right next to the railroad tracks). The junction of Dockery Road and Old Hwy 8 near the famous blues Mecca of Dockery Farms outside of Cleveland. The crossroads of Hwy 1 and Hwy 8 in Rosedale. Crosstown Road in Tunica. Old unnamed cotton fields in Greenwood.

    From Memphis to Tunica to Clarksdale to Rosedale, claims of the “real” Crossroads persist in convincing fashion throughout the Delta. Exploring all of them offers one fascinating road trip through the Delta.

    House where Robert Johnson Died - According to Honeyboy Edwards in the documentary “Looking for Robert Johnson”, 109 YOUNG STREET in Greenwood is the supposed location of the house Johnson took his last breath; a quaint, yellow home in the city’s Baptist Town District.

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  11. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member


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    Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny. - Steve Maraboli

    People have an annoying habit of remembering things they shouldn't. - Christopher Paolini

    The most preposterous notion that Homo sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history. - Robert A. Heinlein

    Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries. - Carl Sagan

    The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion! - Harvey Milk

    If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.
    [Letter to the London Packet, 3 June 1772] - Benjamin Franklin

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    History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. That's why events are always reinterpreted when values change. We need new versions of history to allow for our current prejudices. - Bill Watterson

    One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we�ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We�re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It�s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we�ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. - Carl Sagan

    Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. - Sarah Vowell

    Time after time, history demonstrates that when people don't want to believe something, they have enormous skills of ignoring it altogether. - Jim Butcher

    We learn from experience that men never learn anything from experience. - George Bernard Shaw

    No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words. - Roger Zelazny

    There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages. - Richard Lederer

    Reality denied comes back to haunt. - Philip K. Dick

    Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. - Adam Smith

    We have it in our power to begin the world over again. - Thomas Paine

    History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
    {Letter to celebrated scientist Alexander von Humboldt, 6 December, 1813} - Thomas Jefferson

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  12. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

  13. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Alien and Sedition Acts

    No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?

    No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    The strong steps that Adams took in response to the French foreign threat also included severe repression of domestic protest. A series of laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalist Congress in 1798 and signed into law by President Adams. These laws included new powers to deport foreigners as well as making it harder for new immigrants to vote. Previously a new immigrant would have to reside in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to vote, but a new law raised this to 14 years.

    Clearly, the Federalists saw foreigners as a deep threat to American security. As one Federalist in Congress declared, there was no need to "invite hordes of Wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all the world, to come here with a basic view to distract our tranquillity." Not coincidentally, non-English ethnic groups had been among the core supporters of the Democratic-Republicans in 1796.

    The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the Sedition Act. In essence, this Act prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who "write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against the government.

    Under the terms of this law over 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. The most dramatic victim of the law was Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont. His letter that criticized President Adams' "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice" caused him to be imprisoned. While Federalists sent Lyon to prison for his opinions, his constituents reelected him to Congress even from his jail cell.

    The Sedition Act clearly violated individual protections under the first amendment of the Constitution; however, the practice of "judicial review," whereby the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of laws was not yet well developed. Furthermore, the justices were all strong Federalists. As a result, Madison and Jefferson directed their opposition to the new laws to state legislatures. The Virginia and Kentucky legislatures passed resolutions declaring the federal laws invalid within their states. The bold challenge to the federal government offered by this strong states' rights position seemed to point toward imminent armed conflict within the United States.

    Enormous changes had occurred in the explosive decade of the 1790s. Federalists in government now viewed the persistence of their party as the equivalent of the survival of the republic. This led them to enact and enforce harsh laws. Madison, who had been the chief architect of a strong central government in the Constitution, now was wary of national authority. He actually helped the Kentucky legislature to reject federal law. By placing states rights above those of the federal government, Kentucky and Virginia had established a precedent that would be used to justify the secession of southern states in the Civil War.

    2008-2014 Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia

    The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
    from Folwell's "Laws of the U.S."

    Under the threat of war with France, Congress in 1798 passed four laws in an effort to strengthen the Federal government. Known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts, the legislation sponsored by the Federalists was also intended to quell any political opposition from the Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson.

    The first of the laws was the Naturalization Act, passed by Congress on June 18. This act required that aliens be residents for 14 years instead of 5 years before they became eligible for U.S. citizenship.

    Congress then passed the Alien Act on June 25, authorizing the President to deport aliens "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" during peacetime.

    The third law, the Alien Enemies Act, was enacted by Congress on July 6. This act allowed the wartime arrest, imprisonment and deportation of any alien subject to an enemy power.

    The last of the laws, the Sedition Act, passed on July 14 declared that any treasonable activity, including the publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writing," was a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment. By virtue of this legislation twenty-five men, most of them editors of Republican newspapers, were arrested and their newspapers forced to shut down.

    One of the men arrested was Benjamin Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the Philadelphia Democrat-Republican Aurora. Charged with libeling President Adams, Bache's arrest erupted in a public outcry against all of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    Many Americans questioned the constitutionality of these laws. Indeed, public opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts was so great that they were in part responsible for the election of Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, to the presidency in 1800. Once in office, Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Sedition Act, while Congress restored all fines paid with interest.

    The Alien Enemies Act

    An Act respecting alien enemies.

    SECTION 1.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government, and the President of the United States shall make public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies. And the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized, in any event, as aforesaid, by his proclamation thereof, or other public act, to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, towards the aliens who shall become liable, as aforesaid; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject, and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those, who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, shall refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which shall be found necessary in the premises and for the public safety: Provided, that aliens resident within the United States, who shall become liable as enemies, in the manner aforesaid, and who shall not be chargeable with actual hostility, or other crime against the public safety, shall be allowed, for the recovery, disposal, and removal of their goods and effects, and for their departure, the full time which is, or shall be stipulated by any treaty, where any shall have been between the United States, and the hostile nation or government, of which they shall be natives, citizens, denizens or subjects: and where no such treaty shall have existed, the President of the United States may ascertain and declare such reasonable time as may be consistent with the public safety, and according to the dictates of humanity and national hospitality.

    SEC. 2.
    And be it further enacted, That after any proclamation shall be made as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the several courts of the United States, and of each state, having criminal jurisdiction, and of the several judges and justices of the courts of the United States, and they shall be, and are hereby respectively, authorized upon complaint, against any alien or alien enemies, as aforesaid, who shall be resident and at large within such jurisdiction or district, to the danger of the public peace or safety, and contrary to the tenor or intent of such proclamation, or other regulations which the President of the United States shall and may establish in the premises, to cause such alien or aliens to be duly apprehended and convened before such court, judge or justice; and after a full examination and hearing on such complaint, and sufficient cause therefor appearing, shall and may order such alien or aliens to be removed out of the territory of the United States, or to give sureties of their good behaviour, or to be otherwise restrained, conformably to the proclamation or regulations which shall and may be established as aforesaid, and may imprison, or otherwise secure such alien or aliens, until the order which shall and may be made, as aforesaid, shall be performed.

    SEC. 3.
    And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the marshal of the district in which any alien enemy shall be apprehended, who by the President of the United States, or by order of any court, judge or justice, as aforesaid, shall be required to depart, and to be removed, as aforesaid, to provide therefor, and to execute such order, by himself or his deputy, or other discreet person or persons to be employed by him, by causing a removal of such alien out of the territory of the United States; and for such removal the marshal shall have the warrant of the President of the United States, or of the court, judge or justice ordering the same, as the case may be.

    JONATHAN DAYTON, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    THEODORE SEDGWICK, President of the Senate, pro tempore.

    APPROVED, July 6, 1798:

    JOHN ADAMS, President of the United States.

    Source: Laws of the United States, printed by Richard Folwell, Philadelphia, 1798

    The Alien and Sedition Acts of July 14, 1798

    An Act in addition to the act, entitled
    "An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States."

    SEC. I
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty; and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot. unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be holden to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.

    SEC. 2.
    And be it further enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or publishing, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

    SEC. 3.
    And be it further enacted, and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.

    SEC. 4.
    And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided. That the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.

    JONATHAN DAYTON, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    THEODORE SEDGWICK, President of the Senate, pro tempore.

    APPROVED, July 14, 1798:

    JOHN ADAMS, President of the United States.

    Source: The Laws of the United States of America, printed by Richard Folwell, Philadelphia, 1796-1798.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 13, 2014
  14. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Sedition Act of 1798

    a brief history of arrests, indictments, mistreatment & abuse
    By Gordon T. Belt First Amendment Center library manager

    In 1798 the Alien and Sedition Acts were signed into law by President John Adams in response to fears of an impending war with France. These acts, consisting of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress, increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to 14 years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and restricted speech critical of the government. While the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and Adams, argued that these laws were passed to protect the United States from foreign invaders and propagandists, Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, saw the Alien and Sedition Acts as a direct threat to individual liberty and the First Amendment by a tyrannical government.

    The Alien and Sedition Acts were fiercely debated in the press, which was overtly partisan at the time. Many editors of Democratic-Republican-sponsored newspapers vehemently opposed the new laws, in particular the Sedition Act, which made speaking openly against the government a crime of libel punishable by fine and even prison time. Federalists sought to quell dissent by prosecuting those who violated the Sedition Act to the fullest extent of the law. Accounts vary about the number of arrests and indictments that occurred as a result of the passage of the Sedition Act of 1798. Most scholars cite 25 arrests and at least 17 verifiable indictments – 14 under the Sedition Act and three under common law. Ten indictments went to trial, all resulting in convictions.1 Because these laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party, most of the victims of the sedition prosecutions were Democratic-Republican journalists who openly criticized Adams’ presidency and the Federalists.2 All but one of the indicted individuals – James Callender, from Thomas Jefferson’s home state of Virginia – were from the Federalist-dominated New England and Middle Atlantic states.3 Symbolically enough, Callender’s sentence ended on March 3, 1801, the day the Sedition Act expired.4 The following list provides a brief look into the challenges that each of these citizens faced during this contentious era in American history. It is important to note that this list includes cases of sedition that were tried both in federal court and under common law. In cases tried under common law, acts of sedition were far easier to prove because truth could not be used as a defense. The prosecution simply had to prove that the offending action was libelous.
  15. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Alien and Sedition Acts: Defining American Freedom

    The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 challenged the Bill of Rights, but ultimately led to a new American definition of freedom of speech and the press.

    When John Adams succeeded George Washington as president in 1797, the Federalist Party had controlled Congress and the rest of the national government from the beginning of the new nation. Adams and the other Federalists believed that their political party was the government. The Federalists believed that once the people had elected their political leaders, no one should publicly criticize them.

    The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, aimed to create a stable and secure country, safe for business and wealthy men of property. The opposition Democratic-Republican Party was bitterly opposed to the Federalists. Led by Thomas Jefferson, it tended to represent poor farmers, craftsmen, and recent immigrants. (The party was commonly referred as the Republicans or Jeffersonians. It was the forerunner of today's Democratic Party.)

    In foreign affairs, the Federalists detested the French Revolution of 1789 because it led to mob rule and confiscation of property. The Republicans supported the French Revolution for its democratic ideals.

    In 1794, President Washington negotiated a treaty with England to settle outstanding differences between the two countries. The resulting improvement in American-English relations angered the revolutionary French leaders, who were enemies of the English.

    In the election of 1796, Federalist John Adams won the most electoral votes to become president. Republican Thomas Jefferson came in second, which made him vice-president. (The 12th Amendment later changed this election method, requiring separate electoral ballots for president and vice-president.)

    Shortly after becoming president, Adams sent diplomats to France to smooth over the bad feelings. But three French representatives--dubbed X, Y, and Z--met secretly withthe U.S. diplomats and demanded $10 million in bribes to the French government to begi

    n negotiations. When the Americans refused, Mr. X threatened the United States with the "power and violence of France."

    News of the "XYZ Affair" enraged most Americans. Many Federalists immediately called for war against France. President Adams, however, only proposed war preparations and a land tax to pay for them. On the defensive, Republicans spoke out against the "war fever."

    Neither the United States nor France ever declared war. But the Federalists increasingly accused Jefferson and the Republicans of being a traitorous "French Party." A leading Federalist newspaper proclaimed to the nation, "He that is not for us, is against us."

    The Alien Acts

    Rumors of a French invasion and enemy spies frightened many Americans. President Adams warned that foreign influence within the United States was dangerous and must be "exterminated."

    The Federalist majority in Congress quickly passed four laws in 1798 to make the United States more secure from alien (foreign) spies and domestic traitors. Most of these laws, however, were also intended to weaken Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party.

    The first law, the Naturalization Act, extended the time immigrants had to live in the United States to become citizens from five to 14 years. Since most immigrants favored the Republicans, delaying their citizenship would slow the growth of Jefferson's party.

    The Alien Enemies Act provided that once war had been declared, all male citizens of an enemy nation could be arrested, detained, and deported. If war had broken out, this act could have expelled many of the estimated 25,000 French citizens then living in the United States. But the country did not go to war, and the law was never used.

    The Alien Friends Act authorized the president to deport any non-citizen suspected of plotting against the government during either wartime or peacetime. This law could have resulted in the mass expulsion of new immigrants. The act was limited to two years, but no alien was ever deported under it.

    The fourth law was the Sedition Act. Its provisions seemed directly aimed at those who spoke out against the Federalists.

    The Sedition Act

    In general, sedition means inciting others to resist or rebel against lawful authority. In England, "seditious libel" prohibited virtually any criticism of the king or his officials. English common law held that any spoken or written words that found fault with the king's government undermined the respect of the people for his authority.

    The U.S. Sedition Act first outlawed conspiracies "to oppose any measure or measures of the government." Going further, the act made it illegal for anyone to express "any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against Congress or the president. Significantly, the act did not specifically protect the vice-president who, of course, was Jefferson. Additional language punished any spoken or published words that had "bad intent" to "defame" the government or to cause the "hatred" of the people toward it.

    These definitions of sedition were more specific than those found in English common law. Even so, they were still broad enough to punish anyone who criticized the federal government, its laws, or its elected leaders.

    Unlike English common law, the Sedition Act allowed "the truth of the matter" to be a defense. The act also left it to the jury to decide if a defendant had "bad intent." Penalties for different provisions of the law ranged from six months to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 (more than $100,000 in today's dollars).

    The Republican minority in Congress argued that sedition laws violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and the press. The Federalists countered by defining these freedoms in the narrow English manner. According to English law, freedom of speech and the press only applied before the expression of ideas. The government could not censor or stop someone from expressing ideas. But after the words had been spoken or printed, the government could punish people if they had maliciously defamed the king or his government.

    The Federalist majority in Congress passed the Sedition Act and President Adams signed it into law on July 14, 1798. It was set to expire on March 3, 1801, the last day of the first and--as it turned out--only presidential term of John Adams.

    The Attack on the Republicans

    Secretary of State Timothy Pickering was in charge of enforcing the Alien and Sedition Acts. He immediately began to read as many Republican newspapers as he could, looking for evidence of sedition against President Adams and Congress.

    In October 1798, a Vermont Republican congressman, Matthew Lyon, became the first person to be put on trial under the Sedition Act. Like most Republicans, Lyon opposed going to war against France and objected to the land tax to pay for war preparations.

    Lyon wrote a letter published in a Republican newspaper, criticizing President Adams for "a continued grasp for power." At several public meetings, he also read aloud a letter written by poet Joel Barlow, who jokingly wondered why Congress had not ordered Adams to a madhouse.

    A federal grand jury indicted Lyon for intentionally stirring up hatred against President Adams. Unable to find a defense attorney for his trial, Lyon defended himself. The U.S. marshal, a Federalist appointee, assembled a jury from Vermont towns that were Federalist strongholds.

    Lyon attempted to prove the truth of the words he wrote and spoke, as permitted by the Sedition Act. This meant that the burden of proof was on him. Lyon had to prove the words in question were true rather than the prosecutor having to prove them false. Lyon also argued that he was only expressing his political opinions, which should not be subject to the truth test.

    The jury found Lyon guilty of expressing seditious words with "bad intent." The judge, also a Federalist, sentenced him to four months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and court costs.

    Lyon ran for re-election to Congress from his jail cell and won. Vermont supporters petitioned President Adams to release and pardon him, but Adams refused.

    When Lyon was released from jail, he was welcomed as a hero in his Vermont hometown. He was cheered along the route he took when he journeyed to Congress. Once Lyon returned to Congress, the Federalists tried to expel him as a convicted criminal, but this effort failed.

    Thirteen more indictments were brought under the Sedition Act, mostly against editors and publishers of Republican newspapers. Some Republican newspapers were forced to close down, and many others were too intimidated to criticize the government.

    One Republican was convicted of sedition for publishing a pro-Jefferson campaign pamphlet that accused President Adams of appointing corrupt judges and ambassadors. Two men were found guilty of raising a "liberty pole" and putting a sign on it that said, "downfall to the Tyrants of America." Another was arrested, but never tried, for circulating a petition to repeal the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves. A drunk was fined $150 for insulting President Adams.

    In the most bizarre case, the Federalists in the U.S. Senate formed a special committee to investigate a Republican editor, William Duane. Republicans had leaked to him a Federalist proposal to change how presidential electoral votes were counted. Duane had printed the law and written editorials denouncing it. When summoned to the Senate to face charges of writing "false, scandalous, defamatory, and malicious assertions," he went into hiding and secretly continued writing for his newspaper.

    A New Definition of Free Speech and Press

    The Alien and Sedition Acts provoked a debate between Republican and Federalist state legislatures over freedom of speech and the press. In a resolution he wrote for the Virginia legislature, James Madison argued that the Sedition Act attacked the "right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people." In heavily Federalist Massachusetts, state legislators responded that a sedition law was "wise and necessary" to defend against secret attacks by foreign or domestic enemies.

    The Federalists in Congress issued a report accepting the old English common law definition of free speech and press. It argued that the First Amendment only stopped the government from censoring beforehand any speeches or writings. The government, argued the Federalists, should be able to protect itself from false and malicious words.

    Congressman John Nichols, a Republican from Virginia, challenged this Federalist view. He asserted that Americans must have a free flow of information to elect leaders and to judge them once they were in office. Nichols asked why government, which should be critically examined for its policies and decisions, should have the power to punish speakers and the press for informing the voters.

    In the end, the people settled this debate in 1800 by electing Thomas Jefferson president and a Republican majority to Congress. In his inaugural address, Jefferson confirmed the new definition of free speech and press as the right of Americans "to think freely and to speak and write what they think."
  16. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills that were passed by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798 in the aftermath of the French Revolution and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from 5 to 14 years. The Alien Friends Act allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" at any time, while the Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to do the same to any male citizen of a hostile nation, above the age of 14, during times of war. Lastly, the controversial Sedition Act restricted speech which was critical of the federal government. Authored by the Federalists, the laws were purported to strengthen national security, but most historians have concluded they were primarily an attempt to suppress voters who disagreed with the Federalist party.[1] At the time, most immigrants (namely Irish and French) supported Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, the political opponents of the Federalists. This act was repealed in 1802 by the Naturalization Law of 1802.

    The acts were denounced by Democratic-Republicans and ultimately helped them to victory in the 1800 election, when Thomas Jefferson became President. The Sedition Act and the Alien Friends Act were allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801, respectively. During World War II, the Alien Enemies Act was used to detain, deport and confiscate the property of Japanese, German, Italian, and other Axis nation citizens residing in the U.S.[2] The Alien Enemies Act remains in effect as 50 USC Sections 21–24

    Opposition to Federalists, spurred on by Democratic-Republicans, reached new heights at this time with the Democratic-Republicans supporting France still in the midst of the French Revolution. Some appeared to desire an event similar to the French Revolution to come to the United States to overthrow the government.[4] When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, such as the 1791 whiskey tax, the first tax levied by the national government, and threatened to rebel, Federalists threatened to send in the army to force them to capitulate.[5] As the unrest sweeping Europe was bleeding over into the United States, calls for secession reached unparalleled heights, and the fledgling nation seemed ready to rip itself apart.[5] Some of this was seen by Federalists as having been caused by French and French-sympathizing immigrants.[5] The Alien Act and the Sedition Act were meant to guard against this perceived threat of anarchy.

    Democratic-Republicans denounced them, though they did use them after the 1800 election against Federalists.[6] They were a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800. They were very controversial in their own day, as they remain to the present day. Opposition to them resulted in the highly controversial Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Prominent prosecutions under the Sedition Act include:

    James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen, had been expelled from Great Britain for his political writings. Living first in Philadelphia, then seeking refuge close in Virginia, he wrote a book entitled The Prospect Before Us (read and approved by Vice President Jefferson before publication) in which he called the Adams administration a "continual tempest of malignant passions" and the President a "repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor". Callender, already residing in Virginia and writing for the Richmond Examiner, was indicted in mid-1800 under the Sedition Act and convicted, fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail.[7]
    Matthew Lyon was a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont. He was indicted in 1800 under the Sedition Act for an essay he had written in the Vermont Journal accusing the administration of "ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice". While awaiting trial, Lyon commenced publication of Lyon's Republican Magazine, subtitled "The Scourge of Aristocracy". At trial, he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in jail. After his release, he returned to Congress.
    Benjamin Franklin Bache was editor of the Aurora, a Democratic-Republican newspaper. Bache had accused George Washington of incompetence and financial irregularities, and "the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous Adams" of nepotism and monarchical ambition. He was arrested in 1798 under the Sedition Act, but he died of yellow fever before trial.
    Anthony Haswell was an English immigrant and a printer in Vermont.[11] Among other activities, Haswell reprinted parts of the Aurora, including Bache's claim that the federal government had employed Tories.[12] Haswell was found guilty of seditious libel by judge William Paterson, and sentenced to a two-month imprisonment and a $200 fine.
    Luther Baldwin was indicted, convicted, and fined $100 for an incident that occurred during a visit by President Adams to Newark, New Jersey.
    In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts in setting up a liberty pole with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President".[16][17][18] Brown was arrested in Andover, Massachusetts, but because he could not afford the $4,000 bail, he was taken to Salem for trial.[19] Brown was tried in June 1799.[16] Brown pled guilty but Justice Samuel Chase asked him to name others who had assisted him.[16] Brown refused, was fined $480,[19][20] and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, the most severe sentence ever imposed under the Sedition Act.

    Effect of the acts

    The Democratic-Republicans made the Alien and Sedition Acts an important issue in the 1800 election. Thomas Jefferson, upon assuming the Presidency, pardoned those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act,[21] though he also used the acts to prosecute several of his own critics before the acts expired.[6][22] It has been said that the Alien Acts were aimed at Albert Gallatin; and the Sedition Act aimed at Benjamin Bache's Aurora.[23][24] While government authorities prepared lists of aliens for deportation, many aliens fled the country during the debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams never signed a deportation order.

    The Alien and Sedition Acts were never appealed to the Supreme Court, whose right of judicial review was not established until Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Subsequent mentions in Supreme Court opinions beginning in the mid-20th century have assumed that the Sedition Act would today be found unconstitutional.

    Jefferson and James Madison also secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions denouncing the federal legislation, though many other state legislatures strongly opposed these resolutions.[28][29][30] Though the resolutions followed Madison's "interposition" approach, Jefferson advocated nullification and at one point drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede.[31] Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone argued that this might have gotten Jefferson impeached for treason, had his actions become known at the time.[32] In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold," the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood." Historian Ron Chernow says of this "he wasn't calling for peaceful protests or civil disobedience: he was calling for outright rebellion, if needed, against the federal government of which he was vice president." Jefferson "thus set forth a radical doctrine of states' rights that effectively undermined the constitution."[33] Chernow argues that neither Jefferson nor Madison sensed that they had sponsored measures as inimical as the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves.[33] Historian Garry Wills argued "Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat to freedom than the misguided [alien and sedition] laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure"[34] The theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions was "deep and lasting, and was a recipe for disunion". George Washington was so appalled by them that he told Patrick Henry that if "systematically and pertinaciously pursued", they would "dissolve the union or produce coercion". The influence of Jefferson's doctrine of states' rights reverberated right up to the Civil War and beyond.[5] Future president James Garfield, at the close of the Civil War, said that Jefferson's Kentucky Resolution "contained the germ of nullification and secession, and we are today reaping the fruits".
  17. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Sedition Act of 1918
    From The United States Statutes at Large, V. 40. (April 1917-March 1919).


    The Sedition Act of 1918, enacted during World War I, made it a crime to "willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States" or to "willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production" of the things "necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war." The act, along with other similar federal laws, was used to convict at least 877 people in 1919 and 1920, according to a report by the attorney general. In 1919, the Court heard several important free speech cases -- including Debs v. United States and Abrams v. United States -- involving the constitutionality of the law. In both cases, the Court upheld the convictions as well as the law.


    Sec. 3. Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or say or do anything except by way of bona fide and not disloyal advice to an investor or investors, with intent to obstruct the sale by the United States of bonds or other securities of the United States or the making of loans by or to the United States, and whoever when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause, or incite or attempt to incite, insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct or attempt to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any language intended to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States, or to promote the cause of its enemies, or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully by utterance, writing, printing, publication, or language spoken, urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any thing or things, product or products, necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war in which the United States may be engaged, with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of war, and whoever shall willfully advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated, and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both: Provided, That any employee or official of the United States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall be at once dismissed from the service. . . .

    Sec. 4. When the United States is at war, the Postmaster General may, upon evidence satisfactory to him that any person or concern is using the mails in violation of any of the provisions of this Act, instruct the postmaster at any post office at which mail is received addressed to such person or concern to return to the postmaster at the office at which they were originally mailed all letters or other matter so addressed, with the words 'Mail to this address undeliverable under Espionage Act' plainly written or stamped upon the outside thereof, and all such letters or other matter so returned to such postmasters shall be by them returned to the senders thereof under such regulations as the Postmaster General may prescribe.
  18. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    On May 16, 1918, the United States Congress passes the Sedition Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect America's participation in World War I.

    Along with the Espionage Act of the previous year, the Sedition Act was orchestrated largely by A. Mitchell Palmer, the United States attorney general under President Woodrow Wilson. The Espionage Act, passed shortly after the U.S. entrance into the war in early April 1917, made it a crime for any person to convey information intended to interfere with the U.S. armed forces' prosecution of the war effort or to promote the success of the country's enemies.

    Aimed at socialists, pacifists and other anti-war activists, the Sedition Act imposed harsh penalties on anyone found guilty of making false statements that interfered with the prosecution of the war; insulting or abusing the U.S. government, the flag, the Constitution or the military; agitating against the production of necessary war materials; or advocating, teaching or defending any of these acts. Those who were found guilty of such actions, the act stated, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both. This was the same penalty that had been imposed for acts of espionage in the earlier legislation.

    Though Wilson and Congress regarded the Sedition Act as crucial in order to stifle the spread of dissent within the country in that time of war, modern legal scholars consider the act as contrary to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution, namely to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. One of the most famous prosecutions under the Sedition Act during World War I was that of Eugene V. Debs, a pacifist labor organizer and founder of the International Workers of the World (IWW) who had run for president in 1900 as a Social Democrat and in 1904, 1908 and 1912 on the Socialist Party of America ticket.

    After delivering an anti-war speech in June 1918 in Canton, Ohio, Debs was arrested, tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Sedition Act. Debs appealed the decision, and the case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court ruled Debs had acted with the intention of obstructing the war effort and upheld his conviction. In the decision, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to the earlier landmark case of Schenck v. United States (1919), when Charles Schenck, also a Socialist, had been found guilty under the Espionage Act after distributing a flyer urging recently drafted men to oppose the U.S. conscription policy. In this decision, Holmes maintained that freedom of speech and press could be constrained in certain instances, and that The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

    Debs' sentence was commuted in 1921 when the Sedition Act was repealed by Congress. Major portions of the Espionage Act remain part of United States law to the present day, although the crime of sedition was largely eliminated by the famous libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), which determined that the press's criticism of public officials—unless a plaintiff could prove that the statements were made maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth—was protected speech under the First Amendment.
  19. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

  20. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Published: 18-10-2011, 09:09

    Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918

    The Law: Federal legislation that made it illegal to speak out against the government during World War I

    Dates: Espionage Act enacted on June 15, 1917; Sedition Act enacted on May 16, 1918

    Significance: Enacted soon after the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Espionage Act prohibited individuals from expressing or publishing opinions that would interfere with the U.S. military’s efforts to defeat Germany and its allies. A year later, the U.S. Congress amended the law with the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it illegal to write or speak anything critical of American involvement in the war.

    While the Espionage Act dealt with many uncontroversial issues such as punishing acts of spying and sabotage and protecting shipping, the act, as amended by the Sedition Act, was extremely controversial for many immigrants who were opposed to war, the military draft, and violations of their free speech rights. Specifically, the Espionage Act made it a crime willfully to interfere with U.S. war efforts by conveying false information about the war, obstructing U.S. recruitment or enlistment efforts, or inciting insubordination, disloyalty, ormutiny.

    The Sedition Act made the language of the Espionage Act more specific by making it illegal to use disloyal, profane, or abusive language to criticize the U.S. Constitution, the government, the military, the flag, or the uniform. The government had the authority to punish a wide range of speech and activities such as obstructing the sale of U.S. bonds, displaying a German flag, or giving a speech that supported the enemy’s cause. Persons convicted of violating these laws could be fined amounts of up to ten thousand dollars and also be sentenced to prison for as long as twenty years.

    Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the U.S. postmaster general had the authority to ban the mailing of all letters, circulars, newspapers,pamphlets, packages, and other materials that opposed the war. As a result, about seventy-five newspapers either lost their mailing privileges or were pressured to print nothing more about the war. These publications included German American or German- language newspapers, pacifist publications, and publications owned by the American Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World.

    No one was convicted of spying or sabotage under the Espionage Act during World War I. However, more than two thousand people were arrested for sedition. One thousand of them— including many immigrants—were convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, ruling that the government had the authority to punish speech that would create a “clear and present danger.”

    The Espionage Act was intended to be in effect only during wartime, but the law continued to be invoked following the end of World War I during the Red Scare of 1919-1920 and again after World War II during the Cold War. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921, but major portions of the Espionage Act remained in effect as part of U.S. law.

    Eddith A. Dashiell

    Further Reading
    Kohn, Stephen M. American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts.Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994.
    Manz, William H., ed. Civil Liberties in Wartime: Legislative Histories of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Buffalo, N.Y: W. S. Hein, 2007.
    Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

    See also: Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798; Constitution, U.S.; History of immigration after 1891; Immigration Act of 1903; Immigration Act of 1917; Loyalty oaths; Red Scare; World War I.
  21. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    The Sedition Act of 1918 (Pub.L. 65–150, 40 Stat. 553, enacted May 16, 1918) was an Act of the United States Congress that extended the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds.

    It forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. Those convicted under the act generally received sentences of imprisonment for 5 to 20 years.[2] The act also allowed the Postmaster General to refuse to deliver mail that met those same standards for punishable speech or opinion. It applied only to times "when the United States is in war."[3] It was repealed on December 13, 1920.

    Though the legislation enacted in 1918 is commonly called the Sedition Act, it was actually a set of amendments to the Espionage Act.[5] Therefore many studies of the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act find it difficult to report on the two "acts" separately. For example, one historian reports that "some fifteen hundred prosecutions were carried out under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, resulting in more than a thousand convictions."[6] Court decisions do not use the shorthand term Sedition Act, but the correct legal term for the law, the Espionage Act, whether as originally enacted or as amended in 1918.

    Earlier legislation

    The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to interfere with the war effort or with military recruitment or to attempt to aid a nation at war with the U.S. Wartime violence on the part of local groups of citizens, sometimes mobs or vigilantes, persuaded some lawmakers that the law was inadequate. In their view the country was witnessing instances of public disorder that represented the public's own attempt to punish unpopular speech in light of the government's inability to do so. Amendments to enhance the government's authority under the Espionage Act would prevent mobs from doing what the government could not.


    While much of the debate focused on the law's precise language, there was considerable opposition in the Senate, almost entirely from Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge and Hiram Johnson, the former speaking in defense of free speech and the latter assailing the administration for failing to use the laws already in place.[8] Former president Theodore Roosevelt voiced opposition as well.[9] President Wilson and his Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory viewed the bill as a political compromise. They hoped to avoid hearings that would embarrass the administration for its failure to prosecute offensive speech. They also feared other proposals that would have withdrawn prosecutorial authority from the Justice Department and placed it in the War Department, creating a sort of civilian court-martial process of questionable constitutionality. The final vote for passage was 48 to 26 in the Senate[8] and 293 to 1 in the House of Representatives, with the sole dissenting vote in the House cast by Meyer London of New York.

    Officials in the Justice Department who had little enthusiasm for the law nevertheless hoped that even without generating many prosecutions it would help quiet public calls for more government action against those thought to be insufficiently patriotic.


    Most U.S. newspapers "showed no antipathy toward the act" and "far from opposing the measure, the leading papers seemed actually to lead the movement in behalf of its speedy enactment."

    The legislation came so late in the war, just a few months before Armistice Day, that prosecutions under the provisions of the Sedition Act were few.[13] One notable case was that of Mollie Steimer, convicted under the Espionage Act as amended by the Sedition Act.[15] U.S. Attorneys at first had considerable discretion in using these laws, until Gregory, a few weeks before the end of the war, instructed them not to act without his approval. Enforcement varied greatly from one jurisdiction to the next, with most activity in the Western states where the Industrial Workers of the World labor union was prevalent.[16] For example, Marie Equi was arrested for giving a speech at the IWW hall in Portland, Oregon, and was convicted after the war was over.

    In April 1918, the government arrested industrialist William Edenborn, a naturalized citizen from Germany, at his railroad business in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was accused of speaking "disloyally" when he allegedly belittled the threat of Germany to the security of the United States.

    In June 1918, the Socialist Party figure Eugene V. Debs of Indiana was arrested for violating the Sedition Act by undermining the government's conscription efforts. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. He served his sentence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary from April 13, 1919, until December 1921, when President Harding commuted Debs' sentence to time served, effective on December 25, Christmas Day.[19] In March 1919, President Wilson, at the suggestion of Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory, released or reduced the sentences of some two hundred prisoners convicted under the Espionage Act or the Sedition Act.

    With the act rendered inoperative by the end of hostilities, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer waged a public campaign, not unrelated to his own campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, in favor of a peacetime version of the Sedition Act.[21] He sent a circular outlining his rationale to newspaper editors in January 1919, citing the dangerous foreign-language press and radical attempts to create unrest in African American communities.[22] He testified in favor of such a law in early June 1920. At one point Congress had more than 70 versions of proposed language and amendments for such a bill,[23] but it took no action on the controversial proposal during the campaign year of 1920.[24] After a court decision later in June cited Palmer's anti-radical campaign for its abuse of power, the conservative Christian Science Monitor found itself unable to support him any more, writing on June 25, 1920: "What appeared to be an excess of radicalism...was certainly met excess of suppression."[25] The Alien Registration Act of 1940 was the first American peacetime sedition act.

    The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Sedition Act in Abrams v. United States (1919),[27] although Oliver Wendell Holmes used his dissenting opinion to make a commentary on what has come to be known as "the marketplace of ideas". Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, such as Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), make it unlikely that similar legislation would be considered constitutional today.

    Congress repealed the Sedition Act on December 13, 1920.

    Further reading

    Kohn, Stephen M., American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994)
    Murphy, Paul L., World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (NY: W. W. Norton, 1979)
    Peterson, H.C., and Gilbert C. Fite, Opponents of War, 1917–1918 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957)
    Preston, William, Jr. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994)
    Rabban, David M., Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
    Scheiber, Harry N., The Wilson Administration and Civil Liberties 1917–1921 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1960)
    Thomas, William H., Jr. Unsafe for Democracy: World War I and the U.S. Justice Department's Covert Campaign to Suppress Dissent. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008)
  22. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Nashville now and then: You watch your mouth

    The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has not always had a whole lot of meaning in these parts.

    Published August 5, 2007 by E. Thomas Wood

    This week in the Nashville of 1918, and also of 1835, saying things that most people disagreed with could get you into big trouble.

    On August 8, 1918, Vincent H. Huck was convicted in Davidson County Criminal Court of "seditious utterances." He was sentenced to a fine of $500, as well as six months in the workhouse. Huck had been arrested in May by federal agents for violating the Sedition Act of 1918, signed earlier that month by President Woodrow Wilson.

    As assistant district manager of a local threshing machine company — and the Wisconsin-born son of German immigrants — Huck was reported to have insulted a woman who came to the office soliciting funds for the American Red Cross. Employees told investigators that they considered Huck pro-German and that he had not allowed Liberty Loan and War Savings Stamp brochures to be posted in the workplace.

    Huck was reportedly overheard saying that the U.S. was in the war just to save the British government and telling a businessman that his company's letterhead was "yellow just like your friend Wilson."

    The president had urged the passage of the Sedition Act, prohibiting the utterance of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the U.S. government, flag, or armed forces during the war. Wilson argued that open dissent constituted an internal threat against the country. He pushed for the legislation after popular discontent over the war played a major role in the fall of the czarist empire in Russia and that country's withdrawal, in 1918, from the military alliance against Germany.

    Was that threat so pressing that the obnoxious Mr. Huck needed to be removed from society? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Sedition Act in 1919. The words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in that decision yielded a new phrase in American parlance: "clear and present danger." Holmes wrote:

    "The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right."

    The last trace of Vincent Huck found in the public record is his registration for the military draft, submitted a month after he was sentenced. It gives a mailing address care of an attorney's office.

    Congress repealed the Sedition Act in 1921.

    Enforcing the code

    Just as a conspicuous shortage of patriotism was dangerous during the First World War in Nashville, vocal opposition to slavery was a source of peril here in the decades preceding the War Between the States. Here's an item from the Essex Register (Salem, Mass.), published August 27, 1835:


    We have been favored with the following extract of a letter, received by a gentleman in this town, from his brother, a resident in Nashville. — The writer is a native of Salem — and we publish it as another proof of the high degree of excitement in the South and West, on the subject of Slavery: —

    "NASHVILLE, Sunday, Aug. 9, 1833.

    "By this you will become acquainted with the state of feeling in the West and South. You have already been apprized of the disturbances in Missis*sippi, the hanging of negroes, gamblers, &c. Since then, large committees have been appointed in eve*ry town, to protect and guard the country. There has also been a company formed, who go by the name of "Capt. Slick," or "Lynch" — these take the law in their own hands, go in disguise, and whip and hang all they think deserving, such as gam*blers, Emancipators, Abolitionists, free blacks, and all such men as you Yankees send to meddle with our concerns. You may rest assured, unless a dif*ferent course is pursued, there will be a civil war, or a division of the Union — and I shall go for the South, and fight against friends, if I knew I should meet you in the battle-field."

    The focus of the correspondent's angry-white-male rage was one Amos Dresser. A Massachusetts native, Dresser attended Cincinnati's Lane Theological Seminary but left with a group of other students when the college banned their anti-slavery society. He was planning to join his fellow students in enrolling at the interracial Oberlin College, but he decided first to make a tour of the South selling abolitionist literature.

    Dresser left behind an account of his Nashville visit in The Liberator, an abolitionist journal (September 26, 1835). In it, he professed to have had no worries at all about what he was doing. His troubles began when he took his carriage to a local shop for repairs. A workman rummaging inside the vehicle found a cache of anti-slavery books, and the "excitement" began. According to Dresser, a rumor soon swept the town that he was not only selling subversive material but had also been "posting up handbills about the city, inviting an insurrection of the slaves."

    Constable John Braughton took Dresser into custody on the evening of August 8th, and a "Committee of Vigilance" convened at the courthouse to try him for the non-existent legal offense of possessing anti-slavery materials.

    Noting that the committee included "a great portion of the respectability of Nashville," Dresser said he felt confident at first that it would act within the law. Among its 50 members were future Watkins Institute benefactor Samuel Watkins, Mayor John P. Erwin (who was the son-in-law of Whig party founder Henry Clay), former Mayor John M. Bass, future New Orleans shipping magnate Harry R. W. Hill, former Congressman Thomas Claiborne, prominent merchant Samuel Seay, banker John Sommerville, and businessmen Foster G. Crutcher and Robert Farquharson (the latter both serving as local directors of the Bank of the United States).

    Before a large and rowdy crowd, these worthies presented evidence and interrogated Dresser until late in the evening. Then they retired to reach a verdict. The letter-writer from Salem narrated the outcome:

    "One of your Emancipators caught it last night; and all you send may expect the same, and worse if Capt. Slick should have a hand with the cook at the time of serving out the dessert. This Emanci*pator (or Abolitionist as you may call him) was ta*ken last evening before a committee of about fifty. He had been vending, or intended to vend, a large quantity of Bibles, Abolition tracts, and the Eman*cipator — they were found in his possession. He was tried by the committee, found guilty, taken into the public square, and received 20 lashes, and was allowed 24 hours to leave the town. He ought to be thankful that he can escape with that punishment, for had Capt. Slick, whose company was in readi*ness at the Court House, have laid hands upon him, they would have hung him — yes, hung him without judge or jury — and served him right."

    According to Dresser, a group of committee members stripped him naked, and as he knelt, Constable Braughton administered the whipping. "When the infliction ceased, an involuntary feeling of thanksgiving to God for the fortitude with which I had been able to endure it, arose in my soul, to which I began aloud to give utterance," Dresser recalled. "The death-like silence that prevailed for a moment, was suddenly broken with loud exclamations, 'G-d d--n him, stop his praying.'"

    The episode gained attention in newspapers across the country. The Cincinnati Journal editorialized: "Seldom has the infatuation of lawless violence been more strikingly manifested." The paper opposed abolitionism as unconstitutional, but it warned that the attack on Dresser was "just what abolitionism wants to make it grow and prosper."

    Dresser went on to have a long career as a pastor, missionary and anti-slavery activist.
  23. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Imagine meeting some friends at your local brewpub or coffee shop. The talk turns to the war. You criticize the President and his wealthy supporters. Next thing you know, a couple of husky fellows at the next table grab you, hustle you out the door and down to the local police station. You are arrested on a charge of sedition. Within months you are indicted, tried and convicted. The judge sentences you to 5-10 years in prison -- and off you go!

    Think this could never happen? Well, it did, and not that long ago --during World War I -- to scores of ordinary people in Montana. They discovered very painfully that their free speech rights had been stripped away by the state legislature.

    This site is about the 76 men and three women convicted of sedition in Montana in 1918 and 1919. The law they ran afoul of was possibly the harshest anti-speech law passed by any state in the history of the United States. Forty of those men -- and one woman -- were locked up in the state penitentiary in Deer Lodge, sentenced to up to 20 years. They were sent there for simply expressing their opinions about President Wilson, about America's entry into World War I, about the armed forces, or about the flag. One man was sentenced to 7 - 20 years for saying the wartime food regulations were a "big joke."

    The language these people were convicted for was often harsh and crude. Some were contemptuous or disrespectful of the government or scornful of its war effort. Many spoke without thinking or under the influence of alcohol. But their words posed no danger to the government or its war effort. Yet they received swift justice. Collectively, they served 65 years in a prison whose warden had a particular hatred for them.

    They should not have served a day. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer agreed. On May 3, 2006, he signed a Proclamation of Pardon for 78 persons convicted of sedition in 1918-1919 (one man had been pardoned in 1921).

    Here you can read their stories and learn about the conditions that led to this dark period in Montana's history. Their loss of liberty was a loss for us all. In our country, the free exchange of ideas, which necessarily includes unpopular opinions, is at the heart of our democracy, and must be protected.

    Who were these people?

    Most of the 79 persons convicted of sedition under Montana law worked at menial, blue-collar or rural jobs. Half were farmers, ranchers or laborers. Others worked as butchers, carpenters, cooks, teamsters, bartenders and saloon swampers. More than half of the men sent to prison were born in Europe, many in Germany or Austria. Only three trials involved the printed word--those of Butte Daily Bulletin editor Will Dunn and publisher Bruce Smith, and one involving charges in Beaverhead County against a pamphleteer for the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor organization.

    Probably the most dangerous place to open one's mouth was Custer County in southeast Montana. A total of 13 persons were tried for sedition in Miles City, the county seat; ten were convicted. Neighboring Rosebud County was four for four. In Helena, seat of Lewis and Clark County (and the state capital), 11 men were tried for sedition and 10 were convicted.

    The average age of those sent to prison for sedition was 45. The oldest was 74 and the youngest was 29. Collectively, the prisoners ended up serving more than 65 years in prison, an average of 19 months apiece. Nineteen men received fines of up to $20,000, about $275,000 in 2006 dollars.Eleven convictions were appealed; seven were reversed by the state supreme court, but not on free speech grounds. No one in Montana was convicted under a similar federal sedition law based on the state's law, although more than 30 persons were arrested.In all, close to 200 persons in Montana were arrested during the World War I period on state or federal sedition or related charges, such as criminal syndicalism and flag desecration. There is probably no way to count the numbers of Montanans questioned, harassed or scrutinized by local defense committees probing for "disloyal" thought in the community, but they doubtless numbered in the hundreds.

    What they (allegedly) said

    Virtually all sedition convictions in Montana were based on witness accounts of casual statements, often in saloons, that were perceived as pro-German or anti-American. Strong or vulgar language figured in many cases and may well have contributed to convictions and sentences.

    Statements that questioned the chastity of women or the morality of the nation's soldiers were similarly shocking in World War I Montana. A Rosebud County farmer got 8 to 16 years for making the curious remark that, "These free taxi rides given to the soldiers at Miles City were just for the purpose of getting them into private houses, so that they may have intercourse with women (meaning the wives, sisters and daughters of the citizens of Miles City) and get war babies."

    Those who criticized or cast doubt on the soundness of Liberty bonds and other means of supporting the war effort such as savings stamps and food rationing risked prison terms. A wine and brandy salesman visiting Red Lodge received a 7 1/2 to 20-year sentence for saying that the wartime food regulations were a "joke." Even a statement such as "we have no business being there," repeated countless times in a nation only reluctantly drawn into a war on another continent, led to a number of convictions.

    What is sedition?

    Sedition is the illegal promotion of resistance against the government, usually in speech or writing. What is illegal depends on the government and its regard for freedom of speech. The crime of sedition is alive and actively prosecuted in many countries today. In the United States, sedition as a crime has been enforced at several points in its history, notably during the presidency of John Adams under the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, during and after World War I, and under a 1940 federal law, the Smith Act, criminalizing membership in the Communist Party. When the U.S. Supreme Court first addressed the question of the constitutionality of sedition laws after World War I, the majority used what was then the traditional standard for judging "seditious" speech--whether it had a tendency, even a remote tendency--to stir people to resistance or rebellion against the government. Later, however, justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis began to develop a more expansive notion that would give more breathing room to political dissent. One of the most stirring writings in American law in defense of free speech is the opinion by Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927. Holmes' and Brandeis' theory did not prevail in their lifetimes. In 1964, in New York Times v. Sullivan, a majority of the the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that punishment for sedition was contrary to the First Amendment, And in 1969, in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the high court set forth the current standard for punishing seditious speech. A person cannot be criminally punished for urging the use of force or for urging that laws be broken "except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite...such actions." In other words, mere words, unless intended to immediately provoke lawless action, and likely to do so, cannot be punished by the state. Had such a standard been in effect in 1918, no sedition law would have been enacted.

    What was the Montana sedition law?

    The law, enacted in a special session of the state legislature in February 1918, criminalized just about anything negative said or written about the government or its conduct of the war. Stiff criminal penalties--a maximum of 10 to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine--conveyed the seriousness of the crime. The pertinent language read:
    "Whenever the United States shall be engaged in war, any person or persons who shall utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous, slurring or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the constitution of the United States, or the soldiers or sailors of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the army or navy of the United States or shall utter, print, write or publish any language calculated to incite or inflame resistance to any duly constituted Federal or State authority in connection with the prosecution of the War shall be guilty of sedition."

    Was Montana's law unique?

    Other states also enacted sedition laws in the same period. In 1917, just after the United States entered the war against Germany, Congress passed the Espionage Act. This law, despite its name, was enforced as a sedition law, punishing hundreds of people for voicing their opinions about the government and the war. In 1918, Congress passed a more specific sedition law, which was almost a word-for-word copy of the Montana law.

    What conditions led to Montana's sedition law?

    The political and economic establishment, led by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, saw a mounting threat by political dissidents, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, and sought laws to destroy them. The IWW had been active in promoting strikes against leading industries, such as copper mining, logging and agriculture to increase wages being eaten away by inflation and to improve execrable working conditions. At the same time, wartime frenzy overtook the state. Even in a state as remote as Montana, most people believed American democracy to be threatened by German threats of world domination. Fear and hatred overcame common sense. Extreme laws were passed. German residents, in particular, bore the brunt of such passions. German books were banned and burned. Even preaching in German from the pulpit was banned, a law that was cruelly enforced even after the armistice was declared.

    Could we ever see such laws again?

    Yes--if we cave in to fear and hysteria. The terrorist murders of nearly 3,000 persons in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, provoked fear, hatred, anxiety and another round of laws designed to enhance our security. Unfortunately, some of those laws, such as certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, have been enacted at the expense of our civil liberties. We do have a much more robust history of First Amendment protection to fall back on than did Americans just after World War I. We have many fine court opinions in both federal and state courts upholding our constitutional rights of free speech, laws that back up some of those decisions, and we have decision-makers and government leaders who, for the most part, have a healthy respect for our Bill of Rights. However, more violent, terrorist acts against Americans, especially if they occur on American soil, will put more pressure on our civil liberties and give fear and hysteria a bigger grip on our national psyche. Politicians often do what is expedient. Citizens often accede to unwise laws, and it is not until much later, after many innocent persons have been punished, that there is a reaction that the pendulum has swung too far. The story of Montana's sedition prisoners is a cautionary tale about the terrible injustices that happened within the memory of our oldest living generation--and about what we might yet endure.

    Herman Bausch was born in Heilbrun,Bavaria, on Dec. 11, 1882. After learning some carpentry and cabinet-making skills as an apprentice, Herman immigrated to the United States, arriving at Ellis Island on April 13, 1899. He first lived with his mother's cousins in Pennsylvania. After the Homestead Act was passed he acquired a small piece of ranching property in Limon, South Dakota, and also became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

    In about 1915, Herman purchased a tract of land west of downtown Billings and began farming there. He designed and built a brick house above a spring creek. In 1916, he married "the girl next door," Helen Louise Burg, and in August 1917, their first son, Walter, was born.

    A bright, self-educated man who read philosophy and politics, Herman despised war and refused to contribute to its financing. Finally a local "third degree committee" came to his farm west of town on April 13, 1918, as he was dragging a field with a team of horses. His wife watched while holding their infant in her arms as the men strung a rope over the limb of an apple tree. When Herman continued to refuse to buy Liberty Bonds, the committee ran him into town and grilled him until early morning in the hall of the Elks Lodge. A local lawyer sat on the arm of his chair and threatened to punch him in the face unless he agreed to buy bonds. What Herman said in defense of his actions was used to prosecute him for sedition.

    Herman allegedly said "I do not care anything about the Red, White and Blue; I won't do anything voluntarily to aid this war; I don't care who wins this war; I would rather see Germany win than England or France; I am not prepared to say whether or not Germany is in the right; We should never have entered this war and this war should be stopped immediately and peace declared; We should stop sending ships with supplies and ammunition to our soldiers; As far as I am concerned, I do not care if the Third Liberty Loan is a success or a failure."

    The Billings Gazette editorialized that "he should be prosecuted to the extreme limit of the law." Unversed in the law, Herman pled guilty, but was later persuaded to change his plea. Nonetheless, he was convicted on May 14, 1918, in a 1 1⁄2-day jury trial and sent to hard labor at Deer Lodge for 4-8 years. He served 28 months. While he was incarcerated, baby Walter died of infant dysentery, but Warden Conley would not let him attend the funeral.

    In a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2006, Herman's daughter wrote: "The humiliating tactics and imprisonment of my father who lived a life of integrity, honesty and compassion fractured his American dream and negatively affected his entire life and that of his family."

    Herman was paroled on Sep. 12, 1920, and went back to farming in Billings. Tragedy struck again in 1934 when his other son, Norman, was struck and killed by a speeding car in front of the family's church while Herman and Helen were out of town.

    In the 1930s, Herman wrote extensively about his experiences with Montana's sedition law, in letters and in memoirs. Helen typed his handwritten manuscript and it remains in his family's possession, as do letters written by Herman and Helen to each other while he was in prison.

    In one passage reflecting on his imprisonment, Herman wrote, "We mourn the loss of our beautiful child, that wound is too grievous to ever completely heal. I regret the tears and anguish of my wife, her rude awakening from idyllic regions of beauty and innocence. I also regret the loss of years, the loss of comparative large sums of money, the ruination of our garden and plantation. But I do not regret the refusal to voluntarily aid in the starvation of millions of children, in the rape of nations, in the up building of a plutocracy that rivals that of Nero, no I do not regret what I have done, or rather what I have refused to do. I have lost much, but I am more than ever in possession of my soul, my self-respect and the love and affection of my beautiful wife. Perhaps after all I have been the gainer."

    In 1946, after World War II, Herman and his sister traveled back to Germany. His impressions of his childhood home and the political turmoil in Germany were very disappointing & saddened him even more as his health began to fail. In 1949, he moved to Long Beach, Calif., to be with his sister, and died there of complications from Parkinson's Disease on March 24, 1958. Helen received her PhD at age 78 and died in 1998 at age 99. His youngest daughter lives in California. Other relatives live in Oregon and Montana.

    Fay Rumsey was born in Michigan in 1868. Not long after marrying in 1901, Fay and Sarah Lowder Rumsey struck out for Montana. Fay operated a dray business and tried other business ventures in Forsyth before the couple decided to homestead on 160 acres on Sarpy Creek, southwest of Forsyth.

    Fay built a small house (which is still standing). The couple had 12 children, Two of them, a newborn infant and a toddler, died on the same day in August 1908. The Rumsey ranch apparently was a target for rustlers, who would cut the fences and run cattle through the crops.

    In 1918, at age 49, Fay was arrested for sedition. He allegedly had wished aloud that "the Germans would come in and clean up the U.S. and especially Sarpy Creek." He was also charged with having said that President Wilson was “in cahoots with the money power of this country, and that if he was drafted he would not fight for the U.S. but would fight for the Kaiser."

    His three oldest daughters testified on his behalf but a jury found Fay guilty of sedition. His conviction was based in part on testimony given in September 1917, before passage of the state sedition law.

    Fay was sent to prison for 2-4 years in September 1918. When he was paroled after a year, he was a very sick man. He traveled home to Cheshire, Mich., and died there on May 11, 1922, of heart disease . Sarah had remained behind to keep up the homestead, but with Fay gone, the work proved impossible and eventually the property was foreclosed on and sold for a few hundred dollars. The county stepped in to put her children with relatives and at the state home in Twin Bridges. Louise, 14, the oldest of the girls sent to the home, died of an overdose of chloroform administered by a doctor operating on an infected ingrown toenail.

    Fay's children and grandchildren searched for each other, and for the truth about Fay's imprisonment, for decades. Finally, in the late 1990s, they found his court record in Forsyth. Three grandsons and their wives came to the pardon ceremony in 2006, as did one of Fay's daughters, from Oregon. Another daughter lives in Wyoming, and a son in Oregon. Other relatives live in Montana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and California.

    Janet Smith, 42, born in Iowa in 1876, lived in Deadwood, S.D. for a year and also in Lead City, S.D. before coming to Montana in about 1906 and to the Powder River country in about 1910.She was the second wife of William K. Smith and was the postmistress in Sayle, Montana, a name that was assigned by the Post Office, near the Wyoming border in what was then part of Custer County. She and her husband together owned close to 1,000 acres, on part of which Smith ran 2,000 head of sheep with R.R. Selway. He also owned 300 head of cattle, 35 horses and had “accumulated a competency” of $30,000 to $50,000.

    According to a Powder River County history, Echoing Footsteps, "Many of the cowboys made [the Smith ranch] their stopping point as they rode between Tongue River and Powder River. On occasions there would be as many as 24 people there for a meal." W.K. was also known as "Glass Arm Smith" after a fight in which he rammed his arm through a window.

    The couple were arrested for sedition and tried in Miles City. The statements and actions attributed to them sound hard-bitten and distrustful, the kind made by tough, taciturn loners—in other words, the kind of people that might be expected to survive in the desolate buttes and gulches of southeast Montana.

    Witnesses testified that Janet Smith "advocated turning the stock into the crops to prevent helping the government." They said she declared the Red Cross to be a “fake,” and that "while she didn’t mind helping the Belgians with the relief work, the trouble was that the damned soldiers would get it." She allegedly sent back War Savings Stamps supplied by the Post Office Department.

    Although she denied all the allegations and was hospitalized at the end of the trial, Janet Smith received a 5-10 year prison sentence. Her husband got the max: 10-20 years as well as a $20,000 fine (satisfied with a sheriff’s sale of 80 acres of his land).

    William Smith's sentencing the next day, Oct. 19, 1918, prompted a wrathful 15- or 20-minute sermon from Judge Spencer. Gushed Miles City Star editor Joseph Scanlon, It was "an address the like of which has rarely been heard in Custer County and will live long in the minds of the fortunate ones who heard it."

    "If I could follow the dictates of my own judgement," thundered the judge, "I would either sentence you to a term in the state prison for your natural life, or I would order you banished entirely from the country…I would send you straight to Germany, where you would flourish and glory among the savages and barbarous people the Germans have shown themselves to be."

    The Smiths ended up staying about two years as Warden Conley’s guests—he slightly less, working at the penitentiary as a weaver, she slightly more, one of only two women incarcerated at Deer Lodge at the time. Both were released after their convictions were reversed by the State Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 1920, because the charging language in the information was not specific enough. Powder River County, which had come into existence in the meantime, prepared to try the Smiths again on the same charge, but gave up in 1923.

    Janet later married a man with the surname Thomas in Iowa. It is not known what became of W.K. Janet died in Hawthorne, Calif.on Oct. 27, 1966, at age 90.

    Ben Kahn, born in New York on Dec. 25, 1879, and raised in St. Joseph., Mo., was a traveling salesman for the Sierra Campo Wine and Brandy Co. in San Francisco. His territory was Montana and Wyoming. He had been representing the company in the area for about a year, based in Billings. He helped support his father, Aaron, who was in the Old People’s Home in St. Paul.

    In Red Lodge, he stayed at the Pollard Hotel, the social and business center of the coal-mining town. Early guests had included such legends as Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody and William Jennings Bryan. The proprietor, T.F. Pollard, was an influential man in town and, unbeknownst to Kahn, was the chairman of the county council of defense.

    At about 8:30 a.m. on the morning of March 6, 1918, Kahn sauntered downstairs from his room to the lobby to await breakfast. He struck up a conversation with Pollard. Kahn griped that Prohibition, set to come soon to the state and nation, would put a lot of salesmen like him out of business. Pollard seemed to agree.

    "Mr. Pollard, this is a rich man’s war," Kahn ventured.

    Pollard warned him he could get in trouble for saying things like that.

    Kahn turned to the food regulations enacted by the U.S. Food Administration under Herbert Hoover, popularly known as Hooverism.

    "There’s nothing to that, it’s all a big joke," he said.

    Pollard got up and walked over toward his office. Kahn followed.

    "Well, if you feel that way about it, you must justify the sinking of the Lusitania," Pollard exclaimed.

    "[The Americans] had no business in that boat," Kahn replied. "They were hauling over munitions and wheat."

    “Anyone who says that is either a pro-German or an I.W.W. or a damn fool,” Pollard growled.

    Kahn walked out of the hotel and visited several saloonkeepers on business. By lunchtime, he had been arrested for sedition.

    The jury promptly found Kahn guilty on the "big joke" statement.

    Judge A.C. Spencer sentenced him to 7 1/2 to 20 years in Deer Lodge. Kahn served 34 months, one of the longest terms of the state’s sedition prisoners. In Deer Lodge, he played in the band. His appeal, the first heard by the Montana Supreme Court, was turned down on May 20, 1919.

    Martin Wehinger was born in Dorbein, Austria, in 1860. His older brother Michael emigrated to the United States and landed in Miles City in 1883. Martin followed and became a freighter, a man who handled wagon trains pulled by long strings of horses. He was a tough cuss. He once related to photographer L.A. Huffman, who made a studio portrait of him around 1889, how he had killed a bear with his ax as it was pawing through his wagon. In time, as the teamster business gave way to the railroads, Martin became a farmer and homesteaded land in Pine Hills near his brother. He never married. In World War I, he was a ripe target for the anti-German hysteria.

    In the spring of 1918, while on his ranch, Wehinger allegedly told some passing teamsters that: "[W]e had no business sticking our nose in there and we should get licked for doing so. In the first place we don't have any soldiers to amount to anything and those that did amount to something didn't have any guns and those behind them would have to wait until the first ones dropped so the other fellows could pick up the guns and fire; that one German soldier could kill 5 or 6 American soldiers without any trouble, because we didn't have any experience and were not trained and didn't know anything about war..; that if people here could read the German papers they would get the right news and that U.S. papers were not getting the facts...”

    Custer County was an exceptionally bad place to say such things. It had an ambitious D.A., a reactionary newspaper editor who was constantly sounding the alarm and a hanging judge. Thirteen men were charged with sedition (more than in any other county); ten men were convicted, Wehinger and a neighbor among them. He received a 3-6 year sentence, and served 18 months in Deer Lodge State Penitentiary. He was released just before Christmas in 1919. His teeth were all gone. He died four months later, before reaching the age of 60, on April 12, 1920.

    The man who once killed a bear with an ax died a toothless felon for having spoken his mind.

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