Sunday, July 12, 2009

#5 Stop Breaking Down

For any recording artist who advertises themselves as having a strong relationship with the blues it is inevitable that they will, at some stage in their career record a Robert Johnson song. In describing his influences Jack once said that while he feels a closer connection to Son House and Blind Willie McTell he cannot deny that Robert Johnson is unchallenged as the most influential bluesman. I feel the exact same way, personally Blind Lemon Jefferson holds the greatest resonance to me but I came to this great family of musicians via Johnson and when someone declares him king of the delta blues I don't object. So it seems right that with the blues being one of the core ingredients of The White Stripes they should reserve the second song of their debut for a cover song by the premiere bluesman. 

Blues covers have become a well known motif amongst the band's discography now and I've come to think that for a man who likes to challenge and restrict himself so much these covers are the closest thing to indulgence for Jack. You can tell that it's very relaxing and, dare I say therapeutic. It's even refreshing to write about, after discussing songs that have all been landmarks of some kind to finally discuss the beauty of the performance. For that is part of The White Stripes origins, when you strip down all the visuals and gimmicks you are left with a bunch of white people playing the blues. Jack tried to hide this but in the end it proved unnecessary because you only need to look at this song to see that he could perform the blues wonderfully. 

The debut now holds a place as 'the Detroit album' and while songs like The Big Three Killed My Baby are the heaviest indictors of this, the Detroit sound is found all throughout the songs. We all know and love Jack's smooth and seductive slide sound produced with his Kay hollow body, famously found on songs like Death Letter and Seven Nation Army but back in 1999 the slide tones coming out of his dingy old Crestwood occupied a completely different territory. As Jack recklessly slides all over the frets he produces a tinny sound that almost emulates the mechanical soundscape of a Detroit car factory. I hope this isn't taken too literally but what I mean is that in this song he invents his own form of Detroit blues. If to Jack the blues represents truth then he truly represents it well here. The reckless honesty with which  he plays this song elevate it beyond imitation or something as pre-meditated as interpretation. He just plays and lets the song carry him from there.

People sometimes don't understand how others can think of Jack as doing the blues justice but really he does it better justice than anyone since the bluesman themselves. Bands like The Rolling Stones and Cream interpreted Johnson well but they were still Rock n Roll bands playing blues for a modern audience. Jack doesn't alter the song to suit himself nor does he alter himself to suit the song he simply lets the music flows creating the definitive Detroit blues (well the definitive 1990s Detroit blues at least). He is simply playing the truth.

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