Hellhounds on My Trail

Hellhounds on My Trail

The Afterlife of Robert Johnson

DVD - 1999
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Heartfelt tribute to the influential and legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. Includes commentary about the man and his music, along with musical performances which took place in Cleveland, Ohio during a week long group of events dedicated to the artist.
Publisher: New York, NY : WinStar Productions ; Fox Lorber Centre Stage, c1999
ISBN: 1572526553
Branch Call Number: DVDN 784.53 J636M
DVDN 784.53 J636M
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (95 min.) : sd., col., b&w ; 4 3/4 in

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DrFolklore
Feb 28, 2015

This hodgepodge of a film was produced by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. According to notes: "This film is centred around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's annual Music Masters series, a week-long group of events dedicated to an artist who has considerably impacted the evolution of popular music", in this case, the great Mississippi blues guitarist and singer, Robert Johnson. The result is a random assortment of performances, interview clips, so-called "expert" opinions, and film of visits to Mississippi. Hellhounds will appeal to those with strong enough interest in Robert Johnson and blues guitar to sit through what will be boring to others.

Hellhounds is low budget and poorly edited. Especially annoying are performances by blues guitarists -- usually those musicians who knew Johnson -- awkwardly chopped for clips of interviews. Highlights include interviews with Johnson's contemporaries, for instance, his stepson Robert Lockwood Jr. who learned to play from Johnson, and friend Willie Coffey who played both hooky and music with Robert Johnson in the days before Johnson took up guitar. The movie contains good performances by artists of different generations, but the editing is deplorable, with considerable repetition of the same songs. How many performers need to play their interpretations of "Walking Blues" in a 95-minute film?

Guitar players may enjoy seeing and hearing blues musicians using Johnson's style, sometimes accompanied by discussion and demonstration of technique. Surprisingly, Hellhounds does not contain any of Johnson's recordings which are readily available.

What else can I say about a film whose producers think one of its highlights is a thorough examination of some authentic vintage film that does NOT show Robert Johnson playing on a Mississippi sidewalk?

(For more on Robert Johnson, click on "Dr. Folklore" above this review, and see my reviews of "The Search for Robert Johnson" and Escaping The Delta.)

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