Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sweet Home Chicago

This 12-bar blues standard, which is credited to the legendary Mississippi Delta musician Robert Leroy Johnson by some, is an unofficial Chicago anthem. The Democrats also played it a lot during their 1996 national convention. It has been covered by at least 500 artists including Johnny Otis, Muddy Waters, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Roosevelt "Honeydripper" Sykes and Earl Hooker.

Mr. Johnson never visited Chicago, it is believed. His lyrics differed from the better-known version. The Honeydripper was the first one to record Sweet Home Chicago using the lyrics used in the Blues Brothers cover.

Others claim Johnson borrowed the song from a part-Cherokee blues guitarist, Scrapper Blackwell. Scrapper, who grew up and spent most of his life in Indianapolis, did travel to Chicago and the "level light city", Kokomo, Ind. He recorded Kokomo Blues in the 1928 for Vocation Records. Johnson's version that changed the city to Chicago was also recorded for Vocation nine years later.

Now, Johnson was the guy who was rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil at a Mississippi crossroad. He gets the credit for writing Sweet Home Chicago. The legend died at another Mississippi crossroad in August 1938, possibly from drinking strychnine-laced whiskey.

Blackwell lived on until October 1962 when he was shot and killed during an Indianapolis alley mugging.

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