Just looking at this cover brings forth memories of a Northern Winter I’ve never experienced. It’s not that I haven’t experienced Winter in Minnesota or Wisconsin (I have, I live in MN), but the Winter pictured on this LP is clearly before my time.
The needle drops and resonator guitar sounds start bouncing through the speakers followed soon by a high-hat and some weird type of bass sounding thing. After turning the cover over, I start to unravel what it is I’m listening to.
I knew this would be a Midwestern artist just from the LP cover, which also features a Wisconsin license plate, but turning it over confirmed that suspicion. There isn’t a concrete description of where this was recorded, but two towns are listed after production credits; Chippewa Falls, WI and Cushing, MN. I’ll assume it was recorded at one of those towns and as the cover states it was recorded live with no overdubs.
That bass sounding thing is a 13 string acoustic foot piano; whatever the hell that is. I’m guessing Robert made it himself in order to give his one man band act depth. He simultaneously plays guitar, harmonica, kazoo, a high-hat cymbal, and the foot piano. Not bad, Bob!
The actual music is great. Resonator slide guitar blues, ragtime jingles, songs about pot, what’s there not to like? While the album is packed with catchy blues tunes, I have to imagine this act was more fun to watch live than listen to on record.
I don’t want to discredit any of the work put into this album, though. As simple as the recording may have been, that is what makes most recordings stand out. Overproduction ruins so many otherwise great songs, there’s just no need for it. A couple of mics and a mixer and we’ve got ourselves gold!
After scouring the internet for more information, I’ve learned that Robert recorded at least 10 albums over his career as a solo one man band. He was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2014, and below is a performance celebrating that in 2015.
One-Man Johnson is still active and plays live music, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to catch a post-pandemic blues party at some point. Here’s a video of him performing in 2019 in Sutliff, Iowa. You can learn more about him at House Dog Music, his own record label used to release his albums.
Spotify has Robert One-Man Johnson’ ’54 Chevrolet Panel Truck Blues album available for streaming, check it out below.
Thanks for reading!