Archive for San Antonio

Repost: On the Trail of the Hellhound

Posted in Rock Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2010 by 30daysout

(Editor’s Note: Recently John Mellencamp has been in the news, promoting his new album No Better Than This, which comes out in August.  He recorded a couple of songs for the new album in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly recorded some of his greatest songs.  We’ve been told repeatedly that nobody knows where the recordings really took place, and there is no explanation in the press material for the album how they identified this particular room.  But who cares, really – here’s our original post from 2008.)

Perhaps no musician is as influential as the bluesman Robert Johnson.  Supposedly he sold his soul to the Devil so he could play his guitar like no one else.  And maybe he did – his songs “Cross Road Blues,” “Love In Vain,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Dust My Broom” are part of the bedrock of American music.  Johnson’s songs have been covered by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin, among many others.

His music comes from the heart of the Mississippi Delta where Johnson lived and played until he died in 1938 under mysterious circumstances.  However, his entire catalog was recorded in Texas, during two short sessions in San Antonio and Dallas.  The San Antonio sessions produced some of the songs listed above.  Writer Dave Marsh once said, “Has there been any other single recording session that produced music so beautiful, so tortured, … so historically resonant?  No.”

Johnson first recorded in November 1936 at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel, located just a few blocks from Alamo Plaza.  Now called the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, it has a few more floors than it did in Johnson’s day but it is still a nice place.

Some years back, I decided to stay a few nights in the Gunter close to where Johnson cut some of his most famous songs.  I had long since replaced the hellhound on my trail with two rugrats on the back seat – so I took my family.

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