Forget What John’s Writing, What’s Willie Singing?

We should have a contest and whoever can come up with the most plausible interpretation of what Blind Willie Johnson is singing when he’s singing “John the Revelator” would win some fabulous prize.  Because his version is almost totally different than the song Son House sings.

House’s version is easy enough to hear.

The chorus goes:

Who’s that writing? John the Revelator.  (3x)

Wrote the Book of the Seven Seals.

And the first verse is:  You know, God walked down in the cool of the day.  And He called Adam by his name.  He refused to answer.  ‘Cause he was naked and ashamed.

Second: You know, Christ had 12 apostles.  And three he led away.  “Watch with me one hour ’til I go yonder and pray.”

Three: Christ came on Easter morn.  Mary & Martha was down to see.  “Go tell my disciples to meet me in Galilee.”

See, it goes a certain way.  There’s sense to be made from it.  That might not be exactly right, but I’m pretty sure I’m hearing it all.

Turn to Willie Johnson’s though and discerning the lyrics is a bit like interpreting some ancient prophecy.  (You may ask yourself why it’s so important to know what Johnson is saying when House’s version is so clear.  I would point out that, aside from the nearly indecipherable lyrics, Johnson’s version is more fun to sing.  For starters, it’s got the most awesome chorus.  If you sing it with another person, one of you gets to be all “Who’s that writing?” and the other can answer “John the Revelator.”  If you sing it with yourself, you get to use your gravelly voice on the question and your best falsetto on the answer.  Good fun.  And second, there’s something about the way that Johnson’s backup singer sings “John the Revelator” that makes it nearly impossible for a girl to not move her hips in tiny figure-eights, which makes me believe that Johnson, more than House, in this case, is toying with something a bit more powerful.)

Johnson’s chorus goes (I think):

Who’s that writing?  John the Revelator. (3x)

The book of the seven seals.

What’s John writing?  [Bout? ] the Revelator. (3x)

The book of the seven seals.

Okay, let’s try the verses.

1.  [Well, I hope my wifey? Well, that who I be] thousands cried holy. Fountain of [Sultan? Zoltar?] Son of Our God.  Daughter of Zion.  Judah the Lion.  He redeemed us and he bought us with his blood.

2.   Now, the Revelator, Great [aggregator?] [Dancing on the battlement’s sign?]  Telling the story.  [Writing the glory? or Rising in Glory?].  Crying, Lord, [too loving some I?]

3.  Well, Moses, Sir Moses, watching the flock, saw the bush, well, he had to stop.  God told Moses, ‘Pull off your shoes.  Out of the flock, well, you I choose.”

I found a website that claims to have the lyrics:

Who’s that a-writin’? John the Revelator!
Who’s that a-writin’? John the Revelator!
Who’s that a-writin’? John the Revelator!
Hey, the book of the seven seals
What’s John a-writin’? About the revelation?
Hey, book of the seven seals
Well, I who or who would I be, thousands cried of holy
Found the fountain, son of our bible God
Daughter of Zion, Judah the lion
He redeemeth and he bought us with blood
John the Revelator, great advocator
Gets’em on the battle of Zion
Lord, tellin’ the story, risin’ in glory
Cried, “Lord, don’t you love”
Well, Moses to Moses, watchin’ the flock
Saw the bush, well, he had to stop
God told Moses, “Pull off your shoes”
I let the flock go, well, you I choose

I’ll admit, some of that seems plausible, but I’m not wholly convinced.

2 thoughts on “Forget What John’s Writing, What’s Willie Singing?

  1. B, I don’t have that here. Have you got a link to an MP3?

    Also WRT seven seals, I think it’s fitting to note that Ingmar Bergman died over the weekend.

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