Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?: The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (1997) is the film directed by Peter W. Meyer in which the unique story of the legendary bluesman is discussed. In his film, Meyer tries to resolve the mystery of Robert Johnson’s life and work while referring to many famous interviewees whose words are presented in the film. Robert Johnson (1911-1938) is discussed by critics and followers as the ‘king of the Delta blues,’ as it is stated in the film.
However, the life of the ‘king’ was not long, and Johnson’s death in the age of 27 years provoked a lot of discussions. In this film, Danny Glover as the speaker and such interviewees as Honeyboy Edwards, Johnny Shines, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards are invited to discuss the music of Robert Johnson, his prominent style, and the mystery of his talent (Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? 2013).
While discussing the aspects of Johnson’s music, it is also necessary to focus on the features of such Johnson’s songs mentioned in the film as “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Walkin’ Blues,” and “Cross Road Blues.”
The film is organized as the collection of the interviewees’ memories and considerations related to Robert Johnson’s music and lifestyle which are supported with the presentation of many unique photographs and dramatic re-creations. Focusing on Robert Johnson’s music and contribution to the modern blues, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards discuss themselves as the followers of the talented singer and guitarist who attracted the audience with his powerful ‘crying’ manner of singing and his eclectic guitar technique.
Robert Johnson became well-known not because of the success of his records, but because of his unique lifestyle. Johnson traveled a lot and performed his songs widely while attracting many ordinary listeners and specialists (Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? 2013).
While concentrating on Robert Johnson’s music style referred to as the Delta blues style, it is important to note that the singer used the acoustic guitar as one the main actors in his specific performance where the sound of the guitar also played an important role in comparison with the sound of the singer’s voice.
Johnson’s technique in playing the guitar was so striking that many musicians concluded that two guitars were used in Johnson’s records. Thus, the guitar in Johnson’s songs was the ‘talking instrument’ that drew the audience’s attention because of Johnson’s manipulations with pitches and tones.
The main feature of Johnson’s singing was his unique use of microtonality. This technique added to the author’s blues songs significantly because Johnson could accentuate the necessary phrases and changes in the melodic pattern. Furthermore, Johnson paid much attention to changing the intensity of the vocal in order to produce the necessary effect on the audience and to emphasize the ideas presented in the lyrics. The guitar usually supported the changes in the manner of singing which were often observed throughout Johnson’s songs.
While focusing on Robert Johnson’s songs, it is important to discuss “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.” The song is mentioned in the film and presented as one of the singer’s famous records. “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” was performed and recorded in 1936 (Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? 2013).
The song is performed according to the standards of the Delta blues style, and it is characterized by the effective use of the triplet figure which is repeated in the song. Johnson wrote the lyrics for “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” basing on the previous variants of verses used in the early American songs.
“Walkin’ Blues” was recorded in 1936. The song develops the theme of the morning. Johnson pays much attention to the clear rhythmic pattern of the song and uses the vocal to focus on the changing pitch. The most remarkable feature of the song is the use of the strum with a thumb performed on the guitar’s lower strings. Johnson also performs fingerpicking on the strings while accentuating the sound with the help of his vocal (Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? 2013).
The song is also characterized by the focus on the beat, which is important to create the rhythmic pattern in this song. The song includes the most remarkable features typical for the blues pieces, and it is discussed as the blues standard.
“Cross Road Blues” recorded in 1936 differs from Johnson’s blues songs which are often discussed as the blues standards because the singer and guitarist chooses to change the traditional rhythmic pattern and pays more attention to the even beats to accentuate the whole scheme of the musical piece (Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? 2013). Moreover, the song is interesting because of being referred to the myth about Johnson’s selling his soul for the musical talent of a bluesman.
The film presents a lot of patterns of Robert Johnson’s songs in order to provide the viewer with the opportunity to understand the depth of the bluesman’s talent. Furthermore, the role of Robert Johnson in the development of the Delta blues style is also noted.
Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?: The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (1997). (2013). Web.