Canned Heat Blues
Canned Heat Blues
Canned Heat: Slang term for Sterno, a commercial jellied alcohol used to heat food, typically placed beneath metal pans on a banquet or buffet line. "Canned Heat" referred to any one of a number of concoctions based on alcohol found in shoe polish, cooking fuel, etc. Early Mississippi Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson is said to have drank "canned heat," and wrote his song "Canned Heat Blues" about the nasty stuff.
Canned Heat Blues
Johnson wails his sorrow of alcohol addiction, taken to the extreme of drinking Sterno, strained through bread, in the mistaken belief that somehow made it safe to drink. Sadly, of course, he was wrong, and his later work rapidly deteriorated as his health predictably declined from his excesses.
Tommy Johnson was born in 1896 in Hinds County, MS, on the George Miller plantation. He learned to play the guitar and, by 1914, was supplementing his income by playing at local parties with his brothers Major and LeDell. In 1916 he married and moved to Webb Jennings' Plantation near Drew, close to famous Dockery Plantation. There he met other musicians including Charlie Patton and Willie Brown.
By 1920 he had become an alcoholic and itinerant musician traveling widely around the South, sometimes accompanied by Papa Charlie McCoy. In 1928 he made his first recordings with McCoy for Victor Records. "Canned Heat Blues" was recorded on August 31, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sterno (Canned Heat)
Johnson's first releases hit the area hard, inspiring a raft of up-and-comers that reads like the proverbial who's who list. He cut one more stack of great records for the Paramount label in 1930, largely through the maneuvering of fellow drinking buddy Charley Patton.
Tommy Johnson - Canned Heat Blues, singel
He did not record again, mistakenly believing that he had signed away his right to record. This resulted in a legal settlement with The Mississippi Sheiks who had used Johnson's "Big Road Blues" melody in their successful "Stop and Listen". Johnson was party to the copyright settlement, but was too drunk at the time to understand what he had signed to.
Johnson remained a popular performer in the Jackson area through the 1930s and 1940s. The one-too-many-nights of Sterno and shoe polish buzzes reducing his once prodigious talents to small, sporadic flickerings of former genius. He worked on a medicine show with Ishmon Bracey in the '30s, but mostly seemed to be a mainstay of the juke and small-party dance circuit for the rest of his days. He died of a heart attack after playing at a party in 1956.
Johnson's music established him as the premier Delta blues vocalist of his day. He played an eerie and intriguing style of sound that ranged from a low growl to a distinct moaning. He was also an accomplished guitarist. No doubt, his legacy influenced scores of Blues musicians after him, and he was one of the greatest, most well-respected original Blues men ever.
Many people would describe "Canned Heat Blues" as Tommy Johnson's masterpiece, and for good reason. This song stands out as a superlative blues wail, full of dread at what he clearly knows he is doing to himself, yet unable to force himself to stop.
The song features the refrain "canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me." The blues-rock group Canned Heat took their name from this song.
The "selling his soul to the devil" story originated, quite secretly at first, with Tommy before Robert Johnson (no relation) ever picked it up. The story was first told by Tommy's brother, LaDell Johnson, and reported by David Evans in his 1971 biography of Johnson.
Tommy Johnson - Canned Heat Blues Lyrics
Cryin', canned, canned heat, mama Cryin', Dear Lord, killin' me Cryin', canned heat, mama Sho', Lord, killin' me Take alcorub to Take these canned heat blues Cryin' mama, mama mama Know canned heat killin' me Cryin' mama, mama, mama Cryin' canned heat is killin' me Canned heat don't kill me Cryin', babe I never would die I woked up a-this mo'nin With canned heat on my mind Woke just this mo'nin' Canned heat was on my mind Woke up this mo'nin With the canned heat, Lord On my mind Cried, Lord Lord, I wonder Canned heat, Lord, killing me Think alcorub is Tearing apart my soul Because brown-skin woman Don't do the easy roll I woke up, a-this mo'nin' Cryin', canned heat 'round my bed Run in here, somebody Take these canned heat blues Run here, somebody An take these canned heat blue-ooos. Cryin', mama, mama, mama Cryin', canned heat killin' me Plead to my soul, Lord They gon' kill me dead.
Last Updated (Sunday, 28 July 2013 22:02)