Diggin' in the devil's boneyard
Sure like a cool drink of water
Soft rag to soothe my face
Sure like a woman to talk to in this place
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Music has always been an end in itself for John Fogerty. While he has expressed gratitude for his life of fame and fortune, he has just as often asserted that his primary goal was simply to make great songs for the sake of making great songs. He's a true musician's musician and, as such, reveres the artists who came before him, including one Robert Johnson.
Born on May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurt, Mississippi, Johnson was a real person and part of the historical record. There are pictures of him and recordings of his music. Still, an air of mystery has surrounded him seemingly from day one, and today he is about as close to a mythological figure as a person can be.
Johnson's primary legend concerns the day he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in order to be a great musician. The man's life does little to dispel the idea that he made a pact with Satan, as he lived a short, hard life that ended in painful death, yet he did indeed achieve musical immortality. This is a remarkable feat for any person, but for someone who died at only 27, it's almost inconceivable.
Reports commonly have it that Johnson was poisoned to death by the husband of a woman he'd been screwing around with, though others have said it was syphilis.
Even the man's burial place is shrouded in mystery. There are at least three plausible locations for Johnson's grave, though some say perhaps he was buried in a pauper's grave, location lost forever to history. Regardless, all of the locations are located near Greenwood, Mississippi, where he died.
In his memoir Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music
, Fogerty stated that he has probably visited all the possible graves out there. It was during one of these trips to that area of Greenwood, nicknamed the "Cotton Capital of the World," that he first conceived of his song "Hundred And Ten In The Shade," though the tune would be finished later in Southern California.
His trip to Mississippi left a powerful impression on Fogerty, as he paid homage to the blues musicians who pioneered American music and inspired Fogerty in his youth. He also met the highly respected Pops Staples. The whole experience stuck in his mind and grew into "Hundred And Ten In The Shade."
In trying to get the sound he envisioned, Fogerty spent a whole year mastering bottleneck guitar. After he achieved a level of proficiency he was happy with, he realized he was mistaken, and the sound in his head was actually different. Rather than bottleneck, it was the sound of his old Dobro guitar. He then spent even more time getting the right sound of the instrument.
For a small town, Greenwood has a few claims to fame beyond Robert Johnson. It was the location of the famous Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Board of Education
, which ruled for the unconstitutionality of segregation in education. The area was a hotbed of civil rights activism in the early to mid-1960s. The important March Against Fear
led by James Meredith in 1966 brought civil rights leaders to Greenwood, and on June 17th Stokely Carmichael delivered his Black Power speech, which transformed the civil rights movement by encouraging the use of violence.
Greenwood's radio station, WGRM, hosted the first live B.B. King broadcast in 1940.
The city's Grand Boulevard is a beloved scenic stretch that's been called one of the 10 most beautiful streets in America by the Garden Clubs of America.
"Hundred And Ten In The Shade" did not have anything close to the cultural impact of John Fogerty's earlier Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, but it's a solid song that showcases Fogerty's sheer musicianship. It's a fitting nod to the musical tradition that preceded and informed Fogerty's own artistic path. ~Jeff Suwak
Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He writes for The Prague Revue, and has a blog about Pacific Northwest travel (Northwest Nomad.com). He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at beyondthetempestgate.com
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