Hellhound On My Ale commemorates Robert Johnson’s birth.

Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen"
Robert Johnson's "Hellhound On My Trail"
By Bruce Sylvester
It’s not totally clear when legendary bluesman Robert Johnson was born (he also used various last names over his lifetime), but May 8, 1911, is widely accepted as the date, so a brew has been created in the honor of the man who brought us “Hellhound On My Trail,” “Crossroads,” and “Love In Vain.”   It’s called Hellhound On My Ale.   I wouldn’t ordinarily use this blog to write about a brew, but some of this press release (from Randy Haecker of Legacy Recordings – thanks, Randy) is so funny, that I can’t resist.
 Maybe people will six packs of Hellhound On My Ale at Robert’s grave like people
leave wine and other goodies at Jim Morrison’s.   But apparently they’ll have to bring
 it in from another state, judging by the mildly edited-down press release below.  
(One of my earlier blogs at American Back Roads covered Robert’s home region’s
 celebration of his centennial.)   And the commemorative box set spoken of here
 is phenomenal.
 So here’s the Hellhound On My Ale announcement:
     May 8, 2011 marks the 100th birthday of singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Johnson
-- the archetypal Mississippi Delta bluesman who purportedly sold his soul to the Devil
at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in exchange for uncanny musical prowess.
In honor of the Robert Johnson centennial, Delaware's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has
created "Hellhound On My Ale," a super-hoppy brew inspired by the otherworldly
soul and complexity of Johnson's music.
      Produced in a small-quantity-limited run, "Hellhound On My Ale," is 100%
dry-hopped with Centennial Hops with sublime citrus notes courtesy of dried organic lemon
peel and flesh added pre-fermentation (a taste-bud tribute to Johnson's musical mentor,
Blind Lemon Jefferson).  "Just as Johnson's unique style was a hybrid of Delta
blues, country and even vaudeville," said Dogfish founder and president Sam
Calagione, "Centennial Hops are a recently developed variety that is a hybrid of
Brewer's Gold, Golding, and Fuggles hop varieties.  Centennial Hops grow in the Northwest
United States and have wonderful floral and citrus notes."  Rounding off the
centennial spirit of the ale, Hellhound is brewed at 10.0 abv.
     Coming in early May, Dogfish Head's "Hellhound" will be available in Delaware,
Maryland, District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia,
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada,
Oregon and Washington.
     The newly crafted Robert Johnson ale was created, according to Calagione, as a way to
"celebrate his artistry and his centennial simultaneously.  Johnson's playing was so
complex and full that his one guitar sounded like two.  His voice and lyrics were as
distinct as his guitar playing, and stood out as distinct beyond the other blues
musicians of the day.  Beyond that you have the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the
devil in return for mastery of the guitar.  We wanted to make an ale that paid tribute to
all that."
     Dogfish Head and its "off-centered ales for off-centered people" were the
subject of "A Better Brew," an article in The New Yorker (Nov. 24, 2008)
examining the rise of extreme beer.  "Beer has lagged well behind wine and organic
produce in the ongoing reinvention of American cuisine. Yet the change over the past
twenty years has been startling," wrote Burkhard Bilger. "Dogfish is something
of a mascot for this unruly movement. In the thirteen years since Calagione founded the
brewery, it has gone from being the smallest in the country to the thirty-eighth largest.
Calagione makes more beer with at least ten per cent alcohol than any other brewer, and
his odd ingredients are often drawn from ancient or obscure beer traditions. It is to
Budweiser what a bouillabaisse is to fish stock."  Now sixteen years old, Dogfish Head has
 grown to become the country's 24th biggest brewery.  Dogfish Head first partnered with
 Legacy Recordings in 2010 in the creation of a limited
edition "Bitch's Brew" celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Miles Davis's
fusion-jazz masterpiece.
* * * * *
      Robert Johnson's alleged contract with Satan brought forth an incandescent guitar
technique and a run of 10-inch 78 rpm singles for the Vocalion, Oriole, Conqueror and
Perfect labels recorded in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937.  Those songs have
become a cornerstone of  20th century music, and Columbia Records’ identity, and will be
celebrated on two  CENTENNIAL releases from Columbia/Legacy, a division of Sony Music
Entertainment.
     Over the years, Johnson’s influence has resounded in the music of Muddy Waters (“32-20
Blues”), Elmore James (“I Believe I'll Dust My Broom”), Junior Parker (“Sweet Home
Chicago”), John Hammond Jr. (“Milk Cow's Calf Blues”), the Rolling Stones (“Love In
Vain,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues”), John Mayall (“Ramblin’ On My Mind”), Cream (“From
Four Until Late”), Eric Clapton (“Cross Road Blues”), Johnny Winter (“When You Got a Good
Friend”), Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt (“Walkin’ Blues”), Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top
(“Hellhound On My Trail”), Led Zeppelin (“Traveling Riverside Blues”), Keb’ Mo’
(“Preachin’ Blues”), Cassandra Wilson (“Come On In My Kitchen”), and countless others.
It is by far the most empowering body of work in American history to emerge from one
solitary blues figure.
     On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s birth, Columbia/Legacy pays
homage to his spirit with ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS - CENTENNIAL EDITION
 (catalog # 88697859071) a multi-faceted “box set” encompassing stand-alone vinyl, CD and DVD
 components.  Its components include:
 (1)  A hardbound vintage book, with sleeves housing the dozen 78rpm vinyl-disc replicas
(now at 45 rpm) originally released by Johnson, including a lavish 10-inch-square
booklet;
(2)  ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION (catalog #88697860661) a new double-CD
which includes all 29 songs he recorded in 1936 and ’37, for a combined total of 42
masters and alternate takes;
3) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS, a double-CD comprising:
o       CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault, a dozen rarely-collected 78s (i.e. 24
A-sides and B-sides) from the Victor archive by Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Sleepy John
Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell, and others, recorded between
1928 and 1932; and
o       CD Two: Also Playing…, 10 tracks featuring artists recorded during the same San
Antonio and Dallas sessions as Robert Johnson, a musical hotpot ranging from folk and
hillbilly, cowboy and Mexican to Texas Swing;
4) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN’T YOU HEAR THE WIND HOWL?,  a DVD of
 of the critically-acclaimed 1997 documentary film, directed by Peter Meyer, hosted by Danny
Glover, and featuring Keb’ Mo’ as Robert Johnson.  The 76-minute film also includes
interviews with Robert Cray, Johnny Shines, John Hammond, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert
Lockwood Jr., Henry Townsend, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
The four components will ship together and are available exclusively at
www.thecompleterobertjohnson.com in advance of their April 26th release.  This package
will not be available in stores.
     THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION double-disc set shares the same genealogy as 1990’s "Robert
Johnson - The Complete Recordings," but that package has now been updated for a new
generation.  The set includes a new essay by Ted Gioia alongside a new biography of
Robert Johnson written by Stephen C. LaVere (completely different from his essay in the
1990 version).  Also included are new illustrations, photo images, and a family tree of
music originating from Robert Johnson.  THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION will ship as part of
the ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE MASTERS – CENTENNIAL EDITION package, but it will also
be available as a stand-alone item at retail.
     The Robert Johnson Blues Foundation (located in Crystal Springs, Mississippi) announced a
series of national and international centennial events for “Robert Johnson - The King of
Delta Blues.” Steven Johnson, the Vice President of the Foundation and grandson to Robert
Johnson, explains: “ My grandfather is revered globally.  This centennial celebration
involves combining a unique blend of theatre, live musical performances, artistic
exhibits and dialogue that highlight the complexity of his life while celebrating his
genius. Our events will be following the Robert Johnson Blues Trail, which will allow us
to travel to many of the cities where he shared his talents and where his music is most
loved.  This is important because his voice, style and musical gifts were the foundation
for American popular music.” For more information about the centennial events visit
www.RobertJohnsonBluesFoundation.org.

About Bruce Sylvester

Bruce Sylvester is a regular contributor to Goldmine magazine.

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