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Legendary Blues Collaboration to Celebrate 100 Years of Robert Johnson

How do you throw a 100th birthday bash for the most influential bluesman that ever lived? If you’re Big Head Todd and The Monsters, you gather some of the greatest living blues musicians and record 100 Years of Robert Johnson (February 1, 2011 - Ryko/Big Records), a stirring new tribute album featuring 10 potent interpretations of some of the most vital and durable music of the past century.

Big Head Blues Club, as the ad hoc ensemble is calling itself, features, in addition to the Colorado-based quartet—guitarist and vocalist Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, drummer Brian Nevins and keyboardist Jeremy Lawton—special guests, blues legends B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards and Charlie Musselwhite, as well as keepers of the blues flame Ruthie Foster, Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm.

Recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, and produced by Grammy award winning blues producer Chris Goldsmith (Blind Boys of Alabama), 100 Years of Robert Johnson will be released in early 2011, and supported by a national tour (“Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts”) featuring many of the participants in the sessions. A complete list of the tour dates is included below.

For Todd Park Mohr, who founded Big Head Todd and The Monsters with Squires and Nevins nearly a quarter-century ago, the project has served to re-introduce him to the iconic music of Johnson, whose songs provided many of the pioneering blues-rock bands—Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Cream, Canned Heat, etc.—with some of their most popular material.

100 Years of Robert Johnson features several inspired takes on Johnson’s best known compositions. For Mohr and Goldsmith, the challenge in recording the tribute was to give new voice to Johnson’s music, to avoid copying the countless cover versions already extant. “In so many of the takes on Robert’s stuff, you don’t get the depth of emotion that’s in the lyrics and in Robert’s voice. That’s one thing that Chris and the band and my voice were able to bring to it. Chris had great ideas about how to represent the stuff, and all the musicians were just so good at what they did, the unique arrangements just came naturally.”

Robert Johnson’s story is the stuff of myth and legend alike, and his music has fascinated blues fans and musicians for more than seven decades. Born in Mississippi in 1911, Johnson recorded only 29 songs, all during the years 1936 and ’37. His unique guitar style and haunting vocal phrasing, and the evocative, often mysterious nature of his lyrics, made him a popular artist during his short time in the spotlight and has continued to intrigue since. A persistent tale that, as a young man, Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in order to become a more proficient musician has been attached to his biography since his untimely death at age 27—the alleged victim of a poisoning incident at the hands of the jealous husband of a woman with whom Johnson had been flirting.

A hundred years after the birth of its greatest artist, it looks like the blues itself is about to be reborn.

100 Years of Robert Johnson Track List:

1. Come On In My Kitchen (w. Charlie Musselwhite)
2. Ramblin' On My Mind
3. When You Got A Good Friend (w. Hubert Sumlin on guitar and Ruthie Foster)
4. Cross Road Blues (w. B.B. King)
5. Preachin' Blues
6. Kind Hearted Woman (w. Ruthie Foster)
7. If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
8. Last Fair Deal Gone Done (w. Charlie Musselwhite)
9. All My Love Is Love In Vain (Todd solo vocal and acoustic guitar)
10. Sweet Home Chicago (just Honeyboy and Musselwhite)

Cedric Burnside plays drums on “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” and “Preachin Blues,” and acoustic guitar on “Ramblin On My Mind”

Lightin’ Malcolm plays electric guitar on “Ramblin on my Mind,” “Gotta Good Friend,” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” and plays acoustic guitar on “Preachin Blues” and “Kind Hearted Woman”

BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS: THE ROBERT JOHNSON CENTENNIAL CONCERTS tour featuring Big Head Todd and The Monsters and special guests David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm is as follows:

Jan. 28 San Francisco, CA Regency Ballroom

Jan. 29 Costa Mesa, CA Orange County Performing Arts Center

Jan. 30 San Diego, CA (2 shows) Anthology

Jan. 31 Santa Barbara, CA Campbell Hall / UCSB

Feb. 04 Austin, TX Paramount Theatre

Feb. 05 Dallas, TX Lakewood Theatre

Feb. 10 Ann Arbor, MI Hill Auditorium / U of M

Feb. 11 Chicago, IL Orchestra Hall

Feb. 12 Kansas City, MO Uptown Theatre

Feb. 13 Meridian, MS Riley Center / MSU

Feb. 16 Chapel Hill, NC Memorial Hall / UNC Chapel Hill

Feb. 17 New Bethesda, MD The Music Center at Strathmore

Feb. 18 Boston, MA Berklee School of Music

Feb. 24 Ridgefield, CT Ridgefield Playhouse

Feb. 25 Princeton, NJ McCarter Theatre

Feb. 26 Blue Bell, PA Montgomery County Community College

Feb. 27 New Bedford, MA Zeiterion Theater

March 4 Milwaukee, WI Potowatomi Casino

March 5 Omaha, NE Holland Performing Arts Center

March 6 Minneapolis, MN Orchestra Hall

March 8 Urbana, IL Krannert Center – Tyrone Festival Theatre

Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts

There’s no denying anyone who digs the Blues will really dig the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS: THE ROBERT JOHNSON CENTENNIAL CONCERTS. The very special tour (set to launch in San Francisco on Jan. 28, 2011) and accompanying studio recording (to be released early 2011) commemorates the 100th Anniversary of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson’s birth with exhilarating collaborations between Big Head Todd & The Monsters, living Bluesman legend David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm. With Edwards on board, BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS has a direct connection back to the legend, as Edwards was in attendance for Johnson’s last live performance the night Johnson passed away.

“We both wanted to create a blues show that was not just another blues show, but a show that was truly unique,” said Blues at the Crossroads co-producer Ron Hausfeld, who is producing the tour with Ted Kurland Associates’ Jack Randall. “We want people to walk away saying, ‘Wow…that was cool…I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

Before the tour hits the road, BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS musicians meet this fall at Ardent Recording Studios in Memphis to put this epic collaboration to tape. The studio recordings will be released in early 2011 in conjunction with the tour.

BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS picks up the thread of Johnson’s legacy in Mississippi, at the junction of US Highways 61 & 49; the very crossroads where, as legend has it, Robert Johnson’s burning desire pushed him to make his deal with the devil – giving up his soul to write the baddest-ass blues the world had ever heard. One of the most famous Delta blues musicians, Johnson has influenced a broad range of musicians for generations with his songs, vocal phrasing and guitar style – in particular his landmark recordings from 1936-1937 that display a remarkable combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent. Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived” and described Johnson's emotive vocal delivery as "the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice." Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an "Early Influence" in their first induction ceremony in 1986. Johnson's shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 in 1938 have given rise to much legend.

Tour Dates (additional dates to be announced soon)

Date City, State Venue

Jan. 28 San Francisco, CA Regency Ballroom
Jan. 29 Costa Mesa, CA Orange County Performing Arts Center
Jan. 30 San Diego, CA (2 shows) Anthology
Jan. 31 Santa Barbara, CA Campbell Hall / UCSB
Feb. 01 TBA
Feb. 10 Ann Arbor, MI Hill Auditorium / U of M
Feb. 11 Chicago, IL Orchestra Hall
Feb. 12 Kansas City, MO Uptown Theatre
Feb. 13 Meridian, MS Riley Center / MSU
Feb. 16 Chapel Hill, NC Memorial Hall / UNC Chapel Hill
Feb. 17 Washington, DC Strathmore Performing Arts Center
Feb. 18 Boston, MA Berklee School of Music
Feb. 24 Ridgefield, CT The Playhouse
Feb. 25 Princeton, NJ McCarter Theatre
Feb. 26 Blue Bell, PA Montgomery County Community College
Feb. 27 New Bedford, MA Zeiterion Theater
March 4 Milwaukee, WI Potowatomi Casino
March 5 Omaha, NE Holland Performing Arts Center
March 6 Minneapolis, MN Orchestra Hall
March 7 TBA TBA
March 8 Urbana, IL Krannert Center – Tyrone Festival Theatre

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Performers:

Big Head Todd & The Monsters

Colorado rock band Big Head Todd & the Monsters (“Bittersweet,” “Broken Hearted Savior,” “Resignation Superman”) are known for their timeless songwriting, powerful live performances, and unique sound – all reasons the band has garnered a sizable loyal following during their two decades making music. Their landmark album, Sister Sweetly, produced numerous hit songs and went platinum in the United States following its release in 1993. Big Head Todd’s latest release is Rocksteady. The band name is a tribute to legendary blues/jazz "heads" (eg. Eddy Clean-head Vincent, etc). It was actually just a fluke, as they were scheduled to perform their first gig, but had no name. Frontman Todd Park Mohr came up with the name at the spur of the moment and it stuck. For more information: www.bigheadtodd.com

David “Honeyboy” Edwards

At age 95, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, the one-and-only Delta blues guitarist and singer (“Wind Howlin’ Blues,” “The Army Blues”) and his close friend, Pinetop Perkins (age 96), are the oldest Delta blues players still touring the United States. Edwards was born in Shaw, Mississippi, and was a friend to Robert Johnson. He was present on the fateful night when Johnson died. Edwards was named the Acoustic Blues Artist of the Year at the 26th W.C. Handy Blues Awards in 2005 and earned Acoustic Artist of the Year honors in 2007 at The Blues Music Awards. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on January 31, 2010.For more information: www.davidhoneyboyedwards.com

Hubert Sumlin

Popular American blues guitarist and singer Hubert Sumlin is widely known for his celebrated work from 1955 as guitarist in Howlin' Wolf's band. His singular playing is characterized by "wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions.” Listed as number sixty-five in the Rolling Stone100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Sumlin, who continues to tour, is cited as a major influence by many artists, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Hubert has cited Robert Johnson as one of his early influences, along with Muddy Waters, Charley Patton and Robert Lockwood. It has been stated that Sumlin's playing was a vital catalyst for the British blues boom by providing a link from the acoustic blues of the Mississippi delta that was more accessible to electric guitarists such as Clapton, Page, Richards and Beck. For more information: www.HubertSumlinBlues.com

Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm

“Together, they combine the punch of old delta blues with funk, hip-hop and rock influences; one can hardly believe that this was actually recorded live in the studio with just two musicians.” – Houston Press on Burnside & Malcolm’s album, 2 Man Wrecking Crew

Drumming great Cedric Burnside, grandson of the legendary R.L. Burnside, son of drummer great Calvin Jackson, grew up at his grandfather's side and began touring at age 13, playing drums for "Big Daddy" on stages around the globe. Cedric has also brought his relentless, highly rhythmic charged style of drumming to performances with Junior Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, North Mississippi Allstars, and Bobby Rush. Bluesman Lightnin’ Malcolm is one of the leading, younger generation artists on the scene today. A reckless live performer, he has lived and breathed music his whole life, traveling and playing in a slashing, rhythmic style, with deep soulful vocals. Malcolm has played over the years with many of the best Mississippi blues artists, such as Cedell Davis, R.L. Burnside, Hubert Sumlin, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Jr. Kimbrough, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr and Otha Turner. Skilled on guitar, bass, and drums, Malcolm is an in demand session player with a telepathic sense of how to follow the older archaic styles, and is especially noted for his old-fashioned, church "shout" style on drums. For more information: www.cedricburnsideandlightninmalcolm.com