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What did Robert Johnson really sound like?

Jeff Michael

Member
Messages
774
Anybody ever checked out the theory that Robert Johnson's recordings are at about 120% of what the actual performances were? I converted some of the Complete Recordings m4a files to mp3 format and used GoldWave to reduce them to 90% speed. Sounds--different. Less unconventional, if you will.

Anybody really dig into this?

JAM
 

bluesjuke

Disrespected Elder
Messages
24,150
I've listened to this about a year ago.
It was interesting and still sounded good too nut yes, quite different.
 

EricPeterson

Senior Member
Messages
48,875
I like them slowed down and I think they sound much better. I am of the opinion that they were sped up once you hear them slowed down they sound more authentic. Still amazing stuff either way.
 

Tuco

Member
Messages
454
I've also done this and was impressed by the sound. However, and you'll have to forgive me cuz I can't remember the bluesman's name, but a guy who was still around until a few years ago and actually hung out with Johnson, never mentioned that the recordings sounded sped up. I know that's not proof, but that's something to consider.

Also, is there any evidence that other artists' recordings of that era "suffered" the same thing.
 

airwarrior

Member
Messages
1,615
I don't know, but "Cross Road Blues" sounded kinda sluggish. Almost too slow. And he doesn't sound enough like a chipmunk in the original cuts.
 

rhinocaster

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
23,908
Robert Johnson was from another world. The original recordings at the original speeds were correct.

Slowing them down is a rather weak attempt to make him a mere mortal.

It's not going to work.
 

bluesjunior

Member
Messages
5,987
Whether it is right or wrong is immaterial in my book. I have always found RJ a hard listen. The samples on the linked site above are on the other hand very listenable. Looking at it from a musicians perspective though it might be easier to figure out some of his licks at that slower speed. My verdict: I like it a lot.:RoCkIn
 

stuagu

Member
Messages
359
i do think that the recordings sound good & more normal if you like slowed down but it doesnt mean thats how they sounded originally.
we know so little about him & this will just be another chapter to the mystery i suppose.
the legendary picture of him with "his" guitar was rumoured to be somebody elses guitar & someone elses sunday best suit at one point.
last years sale of his original guitar (or somebody elses) added another little ingredient to this never ending story & i love hearing these things.
& now i am interested to see wether this story has any credence.
 

ReddRanger

Member
Messages
3,083
I don't know, but "Cross Road Blues" sounded kinda sluggish. Almost too slow....
I agree. On their own, the other slowed down clips might sounds like they could have been possible. But I'm willing to wager that Crossroads was never that slow originally. Next to the original, it sounds odd.

While it may be theoretically possible that the recordings were accidentally sped up a little during some process in the 30's:

1. I don't think it was intentional as the article proposes

2. I don't think it was as extreme as three semi tones, or 80%.

3. Robert is seen in pictures with a capo on the 2nd fret of his guitar. So having one on the 3rd fret (which you would need to approximate the recordings) is not out of the question.
 

ocripes

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,320
I've also done this and was impressed by the sound. However, and you'll have to forgive me cuz I can't remember the bluesman's name, but a guy who was still around until a few years ago and actually hung out with Johnson, never mentioned that the recordings sounded sped up. I know that's not proof, but that's something to consider.

It was probably Johnny Shines
 

mac

Member
Messages
141
I've heard those recordings and I think they're a little too slow. I do think the originals might be a little sped up but nothing that drastic. A lot of recordings from that time run a bit fast! Also if you listen to Johnny Shines (maybe who Tuco was referring too) his voice sounds quite a bit like Johnson's and he was his running buddy for a while. So I don't think he sounded like Son House which he sounds like to me slowed down, even though House was a big influence. Either way it's brilliant stuff. I actually like them both ways and does nothing in my mind to alter his legacy or brilliance!
 
Messages
2,763
I think Come On In My Kitchen sounds very slowed down in the slow version.

Original:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oxDhDX3cKw

Slowed down:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xby3Ofn56Zg

On the other hand, I always thought his vocal vibrato sounded very fast, to fast. And the tempo changes in Maleted Milk might make more sense slower.

Maybe the truth is halfway.

It could probably be figured out by analyzing the timbre of one of the same kind of guitars that he played and comparing that sonic footprint against that in the recordings.
 

lhallam

Member
Messages
17,447
I think Come On In My Kitchen sounds very slowed down in the slow version.

Original:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oxDhDX3cKw

Slowed down:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xby3Ofn56Zg

On the other hand, I always thought his vocal vibrato sounded very fast, to fast. And the tempo changes in Maleted Milk might make more sense slower.

Maybe the truth is halfway.

It could probably be figured out by analyzing the timbre of one of the same kind of guitars that he played and comparing that sonic footprint against that in the recordings.

The voice in the slowed down version has way too many artifacts of a slowed down recording. Could be 1/2 way but that version doesn't sound right to me.
 

Victor R

Native American
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
9,837
I have Robert Johnson's Complete Collection within arms reach of my desk. I always felt, intuitively, that the recordings were sped up. I like 'em slowed down.
 

vhollund

Member
Messages
3,546
What ever they find out Its still Robert Johnson in both tempos and its definitly true greatness. Real to the bone
 

rcargs96

Member
Messages
246
The voice in the slowed down version has way too many artifacts of a slowed down recording. Could be 1/2 way but that version doesn't sound right to me.
+1

The slowed down version sounds unnatural to me, like the Frank the Tank tranquilizer scene in Old School.
 

EDS

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
390
I teach a gen ed Humanities college class about Jazz, Blues and Rock. When we discuss Robert Johnson, I play for the class two different versions of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound..."

One is the normal recording, the other a slowed down version from this CD:
http://www.touched.co.uk/press/rjnote.html

Everyone seems to prefer the slowed-down version better. I also have them write a paper comparing two version of RJ songs - one original version by the man himself, the other a more "modern" cover of the same song. They almost always prefer the modern cover version better as well. They have trouble getting past the recording quality and high-pitched sound of his voice...
 




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