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Did we hear Robert Johnson all wrong?

frickengruvin

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Powderfinger

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Fascinating article, with some sound bites on Robert Johnson (and fellow blues contemporaries) on how we may be hearing his/their music all wrong...
Not sure if this topic has been discussed, but I am interested in reading what our TGP blues masters and recordibg engineers have to write!
Here's the link. Have a read and please offer up your insight!

http://www.npr.org/sections/talk/2010/06/03/127404458/robert-johnson-we-heard-you-all-wrong
Article from 7 years ago has been discussed here. Will try and find thread for you.
 

frickengruvin

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Thanks bjjp2.
The link I posted, if any of the links are checked out, also includes a You Tube video from Dave Van Ronk, from 2014, playing Mississippi John Hurt's "Spike Driver Blues", and, a reminiscence of his meeting with Mississippi John, with John indicating that when Spike Driver Blues was recorded, it was sped up when recorded to fit on one side of a
78, because the song was too long to fit on one side....
That's from the horse's mouth...
Not arguing, just saying, it is plausible....
 

BadHat

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When this story first broke years back I decided that for me, the slowed down version sounds more realistic. I never could get into him the old way, it just sounded strange.
 

S1Player

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So, did the so-called sped up versions actually land in key? Are the slow ones actually in key?

I realize it is possible that he performed out of tune - but assuming he didn't, I would think a deciding factor would be which one was actually in - or closest to being in - a key.
 

frickengruvin

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I think it is interesting that this far out, we still are interested enough to want to know.
I haven't looked deeply into this, but if it is somehow money driven, which I advocate that it is based on what Mississippi John implies, then RJ's music was probably manipulated as well...
 

A-Bone

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Coldacre

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I thought that the "sped up" theory was debunked not that long ago?

I dunno. it is odd for a blues musician to play songs in the key of B flat. but if he had no reference point to tune his guitar, it's not outside the realms of possibility. guess we'll probably never know.
 

seiko

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The tunings would be even more unusual if the versions were sped up from the original records. Open D and open G would be what instead, like open C# or something?
 

walterw

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The tunings would be even more unusual if the versions were sped up from the original records. Open D and open G would be what instead, like open C# or something?
well, they would likely have been "open 'whatever sounds good'", it's not like RJ would have had a Snark clipped to his headstock.

i'm inclined to believe it; when slowed down, those records go from sounding like a hair-raising, otherworldly ghost to sounding like a normal dude playing and singing excellent country blues.
 

Sean French

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I remember when this stuff came up many years ago. I have the complete recordings on cassette and can slow them down on my deck.
Found the whole thing interesting.
 

seiko

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well, they would likely have been "open 'whatever sounds good'", it's not like RJ would have had a Snark clipped to his headstock.

i'm inclined to believe it; when slowed down, those records go from sounding like a hair-raising, otherworldly ghost to sounding like a normal dude playing and singing excellent country blues.
True, but most of his musical career is unrecorded, him playing dances and stuff with other musicians. Tuning so weird would have made it harder to play with other people.

Plus, none of his contempories ever mentioned his records being sped up. Wouldn't they have mentioned it?
 

walterw

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True, but most of his musical career is unrecorded, him playing dances and stuff with other musicians. Tuning so weird would have made it harder to play with other people.
you've never jammed with people who don't use tuners?

they tune to you, you tune to them, we all tune to whatever random piano is onstage, who knows?
 

seiko

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you've never jammed with people who don't use tuners?

they tune to you, you tune to them, we all tune to whatever random piano is onstage, who knows?
Of course, you tune to the piano, if there's one around.

The point I was making is that Johnson is working within broadly guitaristic keys and tunings on the original records, even if they are broader than most others worked with.

People have said that the slowed recordings make him sound more normal, human or whatever. But that in turn would mean that his guitar tunings were even weirder.
 






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