Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Blind Willie Johnson cared about 'The Soul of a Man,' others dug the music

Blind Willie Johnson was a bluesman and a preacher. His lyrics were spiritual, and his music was blues.

Though he only made 30 recordings, his work is a lasting part of the blues legacy. Early players like Son House and Fred McDowell played his tunes, and his influence reached people like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. In 1930 he recorded “The Soul of a Man” accompanied by his wife, Willie B. Harris.

Interesting note: Blind Willie Johnson’s song “Dark Was The Night” is one of 31 musical pieces on a golden record onboard the spacecraft Voyager 1. Launched in 1977, it is the farthest man-made object from Earth.

David Jacobs-Strain is a younger blues player who has done his homework on early blues. His 2004 recording of “The Soul of a Man” honors the integrity of the tune while adding atmospheric touches that take it into the new century.

Two years later in 2006 , Irma Thomas recorded “The Soul of A Man” with minimal accompaniment. Appearing on her CD "After the Rain," which came out following Hurricane Katrina. In Thomas' version, the song took on further poignancy.

That same year Eric Burdon, who led the Animals in the 60s, came out with a blues oriented album that included a version of “The Soul of a Man." He performs it live in this clip:

Here are the complete versions of “The Soul of a Man”:

Blind Willie Johnson “The Soul of a Man” 1930

David Jacobs-Strain “The Soul of a Man”  2004

Irma Thomas  “The Soul of a Man” 2006

Eric Burdon  “The Soul of a Man” 2006

The Blues Time Machine” is a weekly feature tracking one great blues song through time. The series is hosted by John Kessler, from KPLU’s  “All Blues,” and is published here every Friday and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Fridays at 12:10 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.