CHICAGO—Area bluesman Willie "Skipbone" Johnson announced plans late Saturday to extend his rendition of the Robert Johnson standard "Dust My Broom" by an additional 12 bars before recapitulating the chorus and bringing it on home.
"We going to keep this thing going," said the Mississippi-born Johnson, 63, officially announcing the delay to an estimated crowd of 250 at Buddy Guy's Legends blues club. Johnson's mojo is widely believed to have been working at the time.
Johnson's backup players, bassist Luther Stubbs and drummer Sonny "Mudcat" Vinson, were the first to be informed of the delay. According to Stubbs, upon the completion of the song's third verse, Johnson gave each of them a sly grin and slight head nod, indicating his desire to keep it going all night long.
The stinging 12-bar guitar solo that comprised the delay was the last in a series of extensions to "Dust My Broom," leaving some in attendance wondering how long Johnson, Stubbs and Vinson would be able to sustain the improvisational intensity of the prolonged instrumental before being forced to take the whole thing on down.
"Man," said Charles "Fathead" Lockwood, a session drummer with Elmore James in the late '50s, sitting in a smoky recess near the back. "Every time he do another D-C-G progression, I think there ain't no way Skipbone can burn it up any hotter, no sir. But ever' time, somehow he do."
While a majority of the blues enthusiasts in attendance were pleased by Johnson's unexpected continuation, relishing the 12 surplus bars of searing, Chicago-style blues guitar, a few voiced concern that Johnson's protracted guitar work might ultimately serve to detract from the song's finish, anticipated by many to be apocalyptic in its mojo.
"No question, Johnson is a great blues guitarist and he did a good job with 'Dust My Broom,'" said David Yablonsky, a Highland Park, IL, blues lover and stock broker. "But in any performance, you reach a point of diminishing returns, and I feel he reached such a point following the verse about his woman leaving him. Had he skipped the extended bridge and brought it on home after verse number two, I think it would have been far more effective."
Yablonsky denied that his opinion was in any way affected by his having to get up early for work the next day.
While the extra effort Johnson put into "Dust My Broom" pleased a majority of the crowd, it also served to fuel speculation that the song would be the last he would play before beginning a self-imposed, half-hour silence.
Peter White, a bartender at Legends, estimated that the band had been playing for "an hour or so" at the time of the delay, and deemed a post-"Dust My Broom" respite likely. "Yeah, he'll probably take a break and then come back," White said at the time. "He's booked to play another set."