Long before Elvis Presley burst onto the music scene, a Mississippi bluesman named Robert Johnson was providing a blueprint for rock ‘n’ roll.
Neighborhood filmmaker Peter Meyer, in his search to find the roots of rock music, stumbled across Johnson and realized there was a story to be told.
“I wanted to go back to where rock ‘n’ roll got its feeling,” Meyer says.
“I realized he (Johnson) was like ‘the guy.’ He was the person I isolated.”
With that, Meyer began what would become a decade-long project to try to tell the story of Johnson and his impact on popular music. The final product, which debuted earlier this year at the 1997 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, is entitled “Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? – The Life and Music of Robert Johnson,” a documentary featuring Danny Glover as narrator and contemporary blues artist Kevin Moore (a.k.a. Keb’ Mo’) as Johnson.
“The more I got involved, the less I knew (about Johnson),” says Meyer, whose wife, Connie, co-produced the film.
“I knew the guy was magical, and it became a quest for Connie and I.”
The Meyer’s research took them to the Mississippi Delta, where Johnson lived and cultivated his music, compiling interviews with those who claimed to have known Johnson or heard him play.
Aside from interviews and testimonials, the Meyers did not have too many other resources at their disposal. Johnson only recorded 29 songs in a brief career that ended with his mysterious death in 1938. Only two pictures of him are known to exist.
Meyer tirelessly pursued legendary artists such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, who cite Johnson’s work as a major inspiration to their music, in search of testimonials to use in the film.
“There are certain people who really transcend,” Meyer says. “He was so influential in the 29 songs he recorded.”
“People like Muddy Waters used to peek over the fence to see him play.”
Once Meyer compiled the information, interviews and testimonials, he sought the assistance of neighborhood resident Jean Compton, an accomplished screenwriter, to write the narration.
Compton, who worked with Meyer on several past projects, was thrilled to receive his call.
“This was so different from what Peter and I had done together,” Compton says.
“I wanted to try to write something more than a biography.”
“I wanted to try to capture in the narration the same kind of magic that’s in the music.”
Since its Los Angeles debut, “Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?” has received favorable reviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, the USA Film Festival in Dallas and the Seattle Film Festival.
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