Blind Willie Johnson
Much more than just a finalist in the "Greatest Musician Named 'Blind Willie'" sweepstakes, Johnson is a Gospel pioneer whose name is spoken in hushed tones by slide guitarists and early blues fans alike. Technically speaking he wasn't a blues man -- his lyrics spoke of salvation and the Bible, not booze and women, and his music avoided typical blues forms. Alternating between radiantly joyful major pentatonic melodies and equally haunting minor-key ones, he sang in a coarse, bass-dwelling croak that sometimes gave way to a more soothing mid-range tone. His performances sometimes featured a female vocalist, but were otherwise solo, and he backed himself with a mix of steady low-string fingerpicking and precise slide maneuvering. His recorded output clocks in at a mere ninety minutes or so, with all of it being waxed in the late 1920s, but what's there contains a sense of purity and humility capable of softening the most hardened cynic.