Robert Johnson: King Of The Delta Blues Singers

Vinyl reissue of the 1961 Columbia album adds three tracks to the original's 16, making 19 of the guitarist's total 29-track output


Robert Johnson was a pioneer master of Mississippi Delta country blues. His tragic early death was a great loss to blues music. Dead at 27, his drink poisoned by an unknown woman, he recorded a total of just 29 songs over five sessions in 1936 and 1937 at makeshift recording studios in a San Antonio hotel and an office building in Dallas, Texas.

Despite limited distribution (southern states only) these recordings attracted considerable attention, including a failed search by famous entrepreneur John Hammond for Johnson, recently deceased. Little was known about him, and his legacy has become shrouded in myth. The legend, probably self perpetuated, of a Faustian deal with the Devil at a lonely crossroads was later used in a major film.

His recordings influenced numerous blues and rock musicians in the expanding scene of the 60s – notably Eric Clapton, who went on to record an entire disc of Johnson’s songs, Me And Mr. Johnson, in 2004.

Despite the primitive set up, Johnson’s recordings capture his remarkable ability to project in both singing and playing. His vocals convey uninhibited feeling with varying techniques of expression, throwing in the occasional spoken aside, as if to a bystander, as in Me And The Devil Blues. His singing is swept along by the momentum of the strong rhythmic drive of the guitar backing. This interacts prominently with the vocal, like a dialogue, the plangent ringing riffs almost piano-like in fullness and in phrasing. Tempo and rhythm are varied, with surefooted innate artistry, shuffle rhythm often deployed to good effect in a rhythmic tour de force.

The original tribute LP album in 1961 (Columbia CL-1654) contained a selection of 16 tracks; this reissue LP version adds three bonus tracks. All the songs were composed by Johnson. For anyone intending to start a blues collection, this commendable tribute to a major pioneer blues icon would make an excellent foundation.

(1) Cross Road Blues (aka Crossroads); Terraplane Blues; Come On In My Kitchen; Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil); (2) Travelin’ Riverside Blues; (1) 32-20 Blues; Kind Hearted Woman Blues; Rambling On My Mind; I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom (aka Dust My Broom) (25.52) – Walkin’ Blues; When You Got A Good Friend; If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day; (2) Stones In My Passway; (1) Last Fair Deal Gone Down; (2) Milkcow’s Calf Blues; Me And The Devil Blues; Hellhound On My Trail; (1) Sweet Home Chicago; (2) Love In Vain Blues (aka Love In Vain) (25.54)
Johnson (v, g). (1) San Antonio, Texas, 23, 26 & 27 November 1936. (2) Dallas, Texas, 19 & 20 June 1937.
Blues Joint 8013