The Blindboys of Alabama and Mavis Staples
“It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine” or “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” is a traditional song first recorded by gospel blues artist Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The song is a solo performance with Johnson singing and playing slide guitar. It tells of a spiritual struggle, with reading the Bible as the path to salvation, or, rather, the failure to read it leading to damnation.
I have a Bible in my home, I have a Bible in my home
If I don’t read my soul will be lost … nobody’s fault but mine
Blind Willie Johnson recorded “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine” in a time when illiteracy was common in the rural South. Blinded as a young child, Johnson was singing this song as a warning to those who had learned to read, but concerned themselves too much with earthly matters, but Johnson tries to point the way to salvation. He admits to having fault, and he blames himself for not taking advantage of the skill he has, reading, and saving himself. The context of this song is strictly religious. It is a melancholy expression of his spirit, as the blues style echoes the depths of his guilt and his struggle. An early review called the song “violent, tortured and abysmal shouts and groans and his inspired guitar playing in a primitive and frightening Negro religious song”.
In performing this song, Johnson alternated between vocal and solo slide-guitar melody lines, using a bottleneck (or sometimes a jackknife) on the first and second or sometimes third and fourth strings. He also provided an alternating bass figure with his thumb.
“It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine” has been interpreted and recorded by numerous blues and other musicians, usually using the title “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and often with variations in the lyrics or music. English rock band Led Zeppelin recorded “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, which is credited to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, for their Presence album.
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