God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
Johnson's music was charred with purgatorial fire — more than sixty years later, you can still smell the smoke on it.—Francis Davis, The History of the Blues
More than 60 years after his death, Blind Willie Johnson continues to capture listeners in a way that few singers or musicians have equaled. The list of artists he has influenced goes back to Robert Johnson and forward to the White Stripes. The most obviously indebted would include several generations of hard country gospel singers, from the Blind Boys of Alabama to the Staple Singers, and the most soulful and virtuosic slide guitarists, from Mississippi Delta bluesmen to Ry Cooder.
Raising $125,000 in 30 days for an album of new recordings celebrating the music of Blind Willie Johnson is a risk that music producer Jeffrey Gaskill finds completely worthwhile. “I think when Blind Willie Johnson sat down in the recording studio in the late ’20s he understood the importance of posterity, that he was recording something to be heard by future generations. Today, his music is on a spaceship representing mankind in outer space and yet many of his recordings are virtually unknown.” But Gaskill realizes, “It’s a labor of love that will not be supported by a record label; God Don’t Never Change will only happen if it’s going to be funded by appreciators of good music.”
According to the Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, “It would be impossible to list every musician influenced by Blind Willie Johnson, because it would require mentioning almost everyone who ever listened to one of his records.” In his time, Johnson was considered a singing gospel preacher. Today, he is called a “holy bluesman,” reflecting all of the blues and rock fans and musicians who have been inspired by his work. Either way, there is no more compelling voice in early American music. His music lives on, both in the gospel world and in genres he never could have imagined, and it is a fitting honor that his legacy be saluted and carried forward into the 21st century.
In order to raise enough money to fund the project, a group of rare and collectible items are available for sale. The fundraiser’s crown jewels include The Blind Pilgrim Collection, a set of five, unique handcrafted cigar-box guitars made from the wood of Johnson’s 1930s Marlin, Texas home. For sale individually, the guitars are a limited, numbered set exclusively for this effort.
The Kickstarter fund raising effort begins on October 16 and ends on November 16, 2013.