Robert Johnson

What do Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) and Scott Petersen have in common?   We have all been inspired by Robert Johnson — the godfather of the Blues. 

In my post of April 20, 2012 (“Martin O-18”), I talked about how I enjoy playing the guitar; how I played years ago in a group; and how I still play nearly every day.  And I love to play the Blues.  The  grand master of the Blues and inspiration to so many of the greats was Robert LeRoy Johnson.  Robert Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, MS in 1911.  At an early age, Robert began playing the harmonica, the “jaw harp” and the guitar.  Soon, he settled into life as an itinerant musician — playing in bars, juke joints and dance halls in the Mississippi Delta.   He would often arrive in a new town and stand in front of a barber shop or restaurant where he would serenade the town folk with Blues, pop standards, jazz or country music.  He was versatile and proficient. 

There are only two known recording sessions of the works of Robert Johnson:  in 1936 in the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX; and in 1937 at the Vitagraph Building in Dallas.  The songs are grainy and yet iconic.   At the 3 day San Antonio session, Johnson recorded 16 selections, a few with alternate “takes.”  In Dallas, 11 recordings were made.  It is believed he did the sessions playing a Gibson L-1.  The complete collection of Johnson’s “discography” can be had for a few dollars (see ).    

Robert Johnson enjoyed the company of ladies and he is known to have fathered several children.  And his dalliance got him into trouble.  On August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, Robert Johnson while playing in a dance hall in Greenwood, MS was poisoned by a jealous husband.  Johnson died and was buried in an unmarked grave nearby.

Robert Johnson is known for a series of wonderful songs but his most famous are Cross Road Blues, Hellhound on my Trail and – Sweet Home Chicago.  I would still like to get my old group back together but Donna has clearly advised “Don’t quit the day job, Elvis.”         


The right side of my brain (the creative side) is full of spinning wheels, sparkles, audio and video stimulation and fast-moving light shifts. The left side of my brain (the analytical side) is a vast wasteland. It is like stepping into an empty auditorium at midnight. Without seats.  Drafty.  Full of cobwebs.  When it comes to math, I have the IQ of a pretzel (my apologies for insulting the pretzel community).  In high school, Miss Delp generously gave me a “D” in algebra because I constantly showed up for help after school (“duhhh how much is two and three again?”).     My brain today remains pretty much the same as it did when I was in high school though on most days counting to 20 doesn’t require removal of my socks and shoes.  I see that as a “major improvement.”   

I was introduced to Sudoku by my brother-in-law who can whiz through the highest level, 30 row mind-benders in minutes.  With his eyes closed.  I tried a Sudoku puzzle with all the numbers filled in except one.  And got it wrong. I’ve been continually challenged by level one Sudoku.  That is – until about a year ago when I was determined to “get it right.”  And I did.  Probably took me a week to correctly finish a level 1 puzzle.   These days, I will work the level 1 Sudoku in the Chicago Tribune while I ride the train in the morning.  And if I get it right — I do a silent fist pump (“Yeahhhhhhh”).   Every once in awhile, I will succeed on a level 2 (cue the “Hallelujah” chorus).  And once – a miraculous level 3. . . .      

I like to think that doing Sudoku is keeping the grey matter from shriveling.  And it’s starting to fill that empty auditorium with folding chairs.  And the vague hum of activity.   

Pardon My Blooper. . . .

When I was (very) young, I would listen to and howl at a series of records my parents had — the “Pardon My Blooper” series — which was compiled by Kermit Schafer (1914-1979). “Pardon My Blooper” was a collection of “unintended indiscretions before michrophone and camera.” Schafer was a radio/television producer and writer who began collecting on air “bloopers” early on.  He then began cataloging them — and then synchronizing them into a series of records.   Bloopers came into major prominence in 1931 when veteran radio announcer Harry Von Zell introduced the President of the United States as “Hoobert Heever.”   Schafer offered this wonderful collection of bloopers in seven record albums.  Schafer was criticized for recreating a few famous bloopers but for the most part, what listeners heard is what they hear today on those albums.   Sit back and enjoy a few minutes of real bloopers . . . .

My Workbench

I have a workbench in the basement.   I rarely use it but I’ve got one – complete with a vice, two drawers full of tools and two toolboxes sitting on top.  Then there’s a little drawer thingee full of nails and screws.  If I am called on to change a light bulb or hang a picture, I even have a toolbelt and a hardhat that I wear (you can never be too careful).   We handymen are semper paratis (see post of June 1, 2012).

However the tools don’t do much good sitting in the basement gathering cobwebs on my toolbench. Soooooo, I keep selective tools in the trunk of my car.  My car is a rolling workbench.  Never know when they might come in handy.  I mean I have a fire axe, an E.T. (“entrenching tool”), a crowbar, an air pump (I mean what good does that do sitting in the garage?) and a Heinz 57 assortment of hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches. And I have the obligatory jumper cables and a couple of road flares.  I could probably build a 4 story building with the stuff in my trunk.  Over the years, these things have been selectively (and once urgently) useful (“gosh Scott, I’m sure glad you have that quarter inch hex wrench with the double bend . . .” ) but for the most part, they gather cobwebs in the trunk of my car.    But I’ve got them if I ever need them. . . .

Centipede Jokes

A centipede went to college and made the football team.   As a running back, nothing could stop him.  In practice, he would plow through the line, knocking defenders here and there.  And he would score.  Every time.  When the day of the big first game arrived, the team took the field but the centipede was nowhere to be found.   At halfime, the coach walked into the locker room and there was the centipede sitting on the bench.   “Where the (bleep) have you been?” the coach yelled. 

Sorry coach,” said the centipede.  “I’ve just been putting on my shoes.”   “Good thing you don’t have athlete’s foot,” snarled the coach. . . .

After the game, the centipede went out with his girlfriend.  Smooth talker that he was he said to her “you’ve got a nice pair of legs” “you’ve got a nice pair of legs” “you’ve got a nice pair of legs. . . .”

Breakfast Tips

I’m not talking Cheerios, strawberry pop tarts or cold pizza (a breakfast staple of mine long ago).  I’m talking “tips” (gratuities) in restaurants — for those who serve you breakfast.   Lemme ask this — you go into a restaurant and order a cup of coffee for $1.50.  What would you leave as a tip for your server?  15% is 22-1/2 cents (rounded up to a quarter). Yes? Maybe 30 cents if you leave 20%?  Your server would probably give you the “big spender” look, shake her head and walk away.  Me?  I’d probably leave a buck.  Or two.  Especially if I’m nursing the java while reading the newspaper. 

I remember reading an article a few years ago – that has guided me – on tipping.  Especially for breakfast.  “Breakfast servers” the article said, “are always deservant of a higher percentage tip than  those who serve you dinner.” Why? Because bacon and eggs with toast, hash browns, coffee and orange juice may cost you nine bucks. And you walk out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills and smiling for the day.  Dinner may cost you two sawbucks and a fin.   Who gets more tip for the same work?  Yep. . . . .

I don’t want to seem frivolous but on those occasions when I’ve gone out for breakfast and the bill for Donna and me is $20, I may leave a $5.00 tip.  Maybe $6.00.   Why?  Because the server works just as hard (probably more so) filling the coffee cups, water glasses and balancing multiple plates.   Of course if service is bad, I’m quick to adjust downward too.  

In restaurants where I am known (“uh oh – it’s Petersen“), I will also be generous.  Maybe 25%.  After all, why not?   Again, I’m not being frivolous but I do believe I am being smart.  A generous tip makes for a happy server.  And it seems to make me welcome when I come back.