Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?

DigiTrad:
IF I HAD POSSESSION OVER JUDGMENT DAY
LOVE IN VAIN


Related threads:
Folklore: Robert Johnson at the Crossroads (13)
Robert Johnson - comments and biography (22)
Folklore: Robert Johnson/'devil' in picture? (54)
Robert Johnson's family tree (19)
Lyr Add: songs by Robert Johnson (18)
Robert Johnson - A Christian??????? Wah? (50)
Help: robert johnson biography (14)
Vanity Fair piece on Robert Johnson (5)
Third Robert Johnson photo? (13)
location of Robert Johnson's crossroads (28)
Robert Johnson (animation) films at youtube (61) (closed)
Lyr Req: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (Robert Johnson) (6)
Robert Johnson (third thread) (4)
Sold my soul like Robert Johnson (11)
Robert Johnson's Heir - Article (10)
Hellhounds on my trail - Robt Johnson story & docu (23)
Folklore: Robert Johnson (3)
HELP! Robert Johnson (the session man) (2)
Robert Johnson Special (25)
Robert Johnsons Grave (10)
New Robert Johnson Gravesite Found (5)
Lyr Req: Malted Milk (Robert Johnson) (7)
Robert Johnson's Birthday (5)
Robert Johnson (4)
tonight Oz-tv: Robert Johnson (1)
bashing Robert Johnson (44)
Robert Johnson's Music (30)
Lyrics of Robert Johnson (11)
Robert Johnson (14)
Lyr/Chords Req: Hot Tamales (Robert Johnson) (2)
Lyr Req: songs by Robert Johnson (7)
(origins) Origin: Sweet Home Chicago / Kokomo Blues (10)
Lyr Req: Crossroads / Crossroads Blues (R Johnson) (4)
Send Robert Johnson Wave file Please.? (3)


GUEST,Neil D 02 Jun 10 - 04:51 PM
bobad 02 Jun 10 - 04:59 PM
Richard Bridge 02 Jun 10 - 05:22 PM
GUEST,old bluesman 02 Jun 10 - 05:27 PM
Ross Campbell 02 Jun 10 - 05:29 PM
Ross Campbell 02 Jun 10 - 05:41 PM
Dave MacKenzie 02 Jun 10 - 06:13 PM
Lonesome EJ 02 Jun 10 - 10:54 PM
GUEST,Gerry 02 Jun 10 - 11:11 PM
katlaughing 02 Jun 10 - 11:16 PM
mousethief 03 Jun 10 - 12:22 AM
GUEST,BanjoRay 03 Jun 10 - 03:43 AM
nickp 03 Jun 10 - 06:19 AM
GUEST,Scott Ainslie 03 Jun 10 - 06:35 AM
Bernard 03 Jun 10 - 06:50 AM
Bobert 03 Jun 10 - 09:09 AM
Lonesome EJ 03 Jun 10 - 09:37 AM
Richie 03 Jun 10 - 10:46 AM
mousethief 03 Jun 10 - 10:54 AM
Green Man 03 Jun 10 - 11:49 AM
Roger the Skiffler 03 Jun 10 - 12:22 PM
Little Hawk 03 Jun 10 - 12:53 PM
Mark Ross 03 Jun 10 - 01:47 PM
PoppaGator 03 Jun 10 - 03:39 PM
GUEST,pattyClink 03 Jun 10 - 04:23 PM
gnu 03 Jun 10 - 04:38 PM
Steve Parkes 03 Jun 10 - 05:00 PM
Bobert 03 Jun 10 - 09:50 PM
GUEST,Scott Ainslie 03 Jun 10 - 10:22 PM
Bobert 03 Jun 10 - 10:42 PM
GUEST,leeneia 03 Jun 10 - 11:17 PM
Neil D 04 Jun 10 - 12:28 AM
Bobert 04 Jun 10 - 08:30 AM
Stower 04 Jun 10 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,schlimmerkerl 04 Jun 10 - 05:35 PM
Dave MacKenzie 04 Jun 10 - 06:29 PM
GUEST,Gerry 04 Jun 10 - 08:18 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 05 Jun 10 - 10:26 AM
Bobert 05 Jun 10 - 07:09 PM
GUEST,Mike 05 Jun 10 - 07:50 PM
GUEST,leeneia 06 Jun 10 - 02:08 PM
GUEST,Eric 11 Jun 10 - 08:44 PM
mousethief 12 Jun 10 - 12:58 PM
Dave MacKenzie 12 Jun 10 - 01:44 PM
Neil D 12 Jun 10 - 11:40 PM
Will Fly 13 Jun 10 - 02:09 AM
GUEST,Woodsie 13 Jun 10 - 02:12 AM
Will Fly 13 Jun 10 - 02:59 AM
GUEST,Mr. Echo 18 Jul 10 - 10:22 AM
GUEST,LAcat 11 Dec 10 - 08:36 PM
mayomick 12 Dec 10 - 03:13 PM
GUEST,GUEST,sgs 12 Dec 10 - 04:17 PM
GUEST,sgs 12 Dec 10 - 04:37 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Dec 10 - 06:28 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:









Subject: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: GUEST,Neil D
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 04:51 PM

Guardian article


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: bobad
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 04:59 PM

Some samples HERE


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 05:22 PM

That's very interesting. Is there not a more scientific way of doing it? On the earliest verions of "Iko Iko" I ever owned, it was very easy to hear the cutter hum start. Surely at the time Johnson was recorded, he would not have been recorded to tape, and also surely US mains voltages and frequencies had been standardised - on, I think, 110V 60Hz. So, if there is a constant hum or buzz on the earliest issues at a frequency above 60Hz (there may also be one at 60Hz from re-recording), that gives the game away and one should slow the recording down so that that higher hum comes down to 60Hz.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: GUEST,old bluesman
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 05:27 PM

This has been an old story but more researchers are leaning to this assumption. The problem is-a lot of us experts would never never admit we were wrong.

It has been said many of his contemporaries never commented on it. One writer specifically admitted-I never asked them. Why? Well-what would they have said? Many top musicians do not listen to many of their contemporaries-many many later generations listened to Johnson as a cult hero-to try to duplicate his riffs. Most failed-the list is long-and maybe we now have a reason?

Another accusation is that the producers speeded it up to really hit a larger perceived audience. The above kind of falls into the on purpose also-while he was definitely our icon-and I have heard this leveled against some classical musicians-they speed up the work to make their interpretation unreacheable.

As the pros said-the original metal stamping molds are gone. Just more mystery about a mysterious man.

A Sony engineer familiar with this recording history points out both recording locations were the same group and notorious for speeding recordings. Wish there was more info in the Guardian article.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: Ross Campbell
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 05:29 PM

Direct link to the Guardian article:-
http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/may/27/robert-johnson-blues
(The other link took ages to load and only gives a precis).
Ross


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: Ross Campbell
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 05:41 PM

It used to be routine for old black and white films to be shown at the wrong speed on television simply because they were shot at fewer frames per second than the broadcast standard 24fps - resulting in the jerky presentation we used to get. Digital processing allows "extra" frames (duplicate or interpolated transitory frames) to be inserted, allowing these films to be seen as they would have been on older, matching equipment.

Could it just be that no-one registered the recording speed of the original equipment? Was there even a standard speed then?

Ross


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 06:13 PM

I always assumed that discrepancies in pitch were due to not tuning to fixed pitch instruments. Back in 60s, some of us always tuned our guitars to F rather than E becuse Bb harmonicas seemed more common than As. Nowadays I normally tune D open (Vestapol) in E because it gives a brighter tone.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 10:54 PM

The slowed down clips sound right to me. Very interesting to hear the difference.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 11:11 PM

There was a story - I think it was in Dave Van Ronk's autobiographical book - about an old record Van Ronk and his buddies used to listen to with amazement. The guitar work was so intricate, none of them could reproduce it, or figure out how anyone could play guitar that well. After some months of working on it, one of their number finally managed to reporoduce the sound. With great pride in his accomplishment, he was able to demonstrate it for the guy who had made the original recording 30 years earlier. "Son, you're playing it much too fast." "But that's how you played it on the record." "No, I could never have played it that fast - they just speeded it up in the studio before they released it."

Back in the day, there was a limit - about three minutes - to how long a record could be, and if the music went on longer, I guess one remedy was for the company to speed it up.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: katlaughing
Date: 02 Jun 10 - 11:16 PM

Art Thieme sent me an email about this the other day. I'll be interested in reading more of what he has to say and also am enjoying what the rest of you have posted. It's fascinating.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong
From: mousethief
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 12:22 AM

I hope they re-release the CD set. I can't abide downloading MP3's.

Apparently Billy Joel's first album ("Cold Spring Harbor") was mastered at the wrong speed -- if you get one of the originals he sounds a little like a chipmunk. This not to fit more songs on the LP, but because somebody screwed up, apparently.

Now I don't feel so bad about not being able to work out 32-20 Blues. Even slowed down, though, Johnson sure knew his way up and down a guitar neck.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,BanjoRay
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 03:43 AM

I've always thought Robert Johnson was great - now it turns out he's even better than I thought he was....wow. What a great sound.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: nickp
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 06:19 AM

Fascinating.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,Scott Ainslie
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 06:35 AM

I actually find this notion, which is back in circulation, to be based more on contemporary ideas about 'how a blues man should sound' than on any historical facts.

As a student of Johnson's music and life and author of "Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads" as well as a teaching DVD on Johnson's music, I find nothing out of the ordinary in Johnson's tempos or pitches. And neither Johnny Shines, nor David 'Honeyboy' Edwards, nor Robert Lockwood, Jr. nor anyone else who we know heard Robert or played with Robert, has ever mentioned that the recordings were too fast. On the contrary, everyone of those folks have said, in so many words, 'Yup. That's little Robert.'

I believe that well-meaning amateur musicologists and blues lovers are simply trying to shape Johnson's sound to their own liking, rather than taking the recordings at face value. Perhaps they are measuring his recordings against recordings of some of the elder statesmen of the tradition who survived later in the century and who we have had a chance to hear, like Honeyboy Edwards, or Johnny Shines, or Son House.

Johnson wasn't in his seventies, eighties or nineties. He was 25 when he cut his first recordings, including his Crossroads Blues.

Here are my questions:

Is anyone suggesting that the record producers sped up Louis Armstrong's recordings a decade earlier? Or Blind Willie McTell?

Are people repeating this idea suggesting that Johnson's masters were all sped up, including the pieces that were never released?

It seems to me that any objective – rather than subjective – evaluation of Johnson's sound and recordings has to take them at face value.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bernard
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 06:50 AM

On Stefan Grossman's 'Yazoo Basin Boogie' album (vinyl, Transatlantic label here in the UK) there is a track which is greatly speeded up to sound as if he's playing it quickly with a capo on an impossibly high fret. His sleeve notes commented that it was nearly impossible to play it without making at least one mistake. Perhaps not his exact wording, but the album is a few miles away as I write! ;o)

The track was 'Red Pepper Rag', which has (amongst others) been omitted on the CD - which, as seems to be the norm these days, isn't really a CD version of the vinyl! Instead, it's a compilation CD with some tracks from the album whose name it shares, but with almost as many from other albums - and invariably the tracks you wanted are missing!!

At least I still have the vinyl - which dates back to the early 1970s, I think.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bobert
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 09:09 AM

Hard to top what SWcott has posted but I think we give too much credit to folks technical skills of the times... Folks forget that early recordings weren't done in high tech recoding studios... Might of fact many make shift studios were in furniture manufacturing factories as these folks had the tools and know how to build primnitive recording devices... And the techology of the day was to record onto wax and then the records were made from the wax...

As for other folks not figuring out what Robert was doing??? Yeah, lore has it that after Robert kinda disappeared and then came back and had all these licks that he would not face the audience when he played because he didn't want other folks to figure out what he was doing... Well, I wasn't there so I can't comment on that but other folks, especially those he was close with, figured the stuff out quite well... Johnny Shines, IMHO, was every bit as good as Robert and on some songs, again IMHO, even better that Robert...

BTW, when I read "Escaping the Delta", by Elijha Wald (sp???) I found it interesting that many of the traveling bluesmen weren't just playing the blues at their gigs but played contempory music as well... It was only when they were recorded that they were expected to just play the blues... I mean, I would liked to have heard Robert doing a contemporary song for those days... I think that would have been interesting...

Gotta go... Good thread...

B~ (bluesman, a.k.a. "Sidewalk Bob")


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 09:37 AM

Scott's points are well taken, and by the way I want to personally welcome him to the Mudcat forum and say how much I enjoy his music. He certainly carries some weight as one of the foremost students of the life and music of Robert Johnson. You would indeed think that Johnson's contemporaries might have commented on a discrepancy as marked as what we hear in those recordings. Subjectively speaking, the altered recordings do seem to have a natural sound, though.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Richie
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 10:46 AM

I have Scott Ainslie's book and know him from my NC days. I invited him to play at a Doc Watson show in Greensboro that Hootie and the Blowfish attended- odd I know. I'd recommend it Scott's book.

Since blues guitarist used capos and could tune above or below pitch, it makes it difficult to positively ascertain recording speed.
I'm sure recording speeds were slightly differeent for different sessions.

The main thing is being able to tune to play with the recording.

Richie


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: mousethief
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 10:54 AM

I'd say the main thing is to enjoy them.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Green Man
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 11:49 AM

He was wearing a borrowed suit and it was a bit tight?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 12:22 PM

Even though Herself thinks I'm a compulsive music buyer (and I know I've got the Complete Robert Johnson on vinyl, LP and CD!)I don't think I'll buy the "improved" version as well, after reading Scott's comments. (Though I DID consider it!)

RtS


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 12:53 PM

There have been rumours like this for years about Alvin and the Chimpmunks too, but I don't put any credence in them.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed
From: Mark Ross
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 01:47 PM

The incident with Dave Van Ronk was concerning Mississippi John Hurt and his recording of STAGOLEE, I believe.


Mark Ross


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 03:39 PM

Also in regard to MJH: I've often read that he had a reputation for keeping his guitar strings in tune relative to each other, but NOT tuned to concert pitch.

I have to wonder if this opinion was based solely on his old recordings. If they were speeded (sp? or "sped," maybe?) up, the pitch would have risen. And we know from the Van Ronk story that at least one of John Hurt's early recordings was indeed altered in such a manner.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,pattyClink
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 04:23 PM

People trying to figure this out ought to get in touch with David "Honeyboy" Edwards or somebody else who was in that world at the time and let them give their view.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: gnu
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 04:38 PM

Yes, pattyClink. At least that would provide an "answer" of some sort.

In any case, fascinating stuff.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 05:00 PM

If memory serves (not that I was around then!) wasn't RJ recorded in a hotel room on a "portable" machine?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bobert
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 09:50 PM

(Another blues thread headin' to the archieves...)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Mr. Hurt and Van Ronk
From: GUEST,Scott Ainslie
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 10:22 PM

Would be interesting if Van Ronk was listening to the 1928 recordings, when Hurt was a young man and playing for the senior Mr. Hurt. I remember playing things as loud and as fast as I could manage. Don't do that anymore. I've learned.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bobert
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 10:42 PM

Man, ain't that good thing, Scott??? Ahhhh, slowin' down and learnin' that it ain't about balls to the wall...

But yeah... Interestin'... What's more interestin' that eats me up is what other stuff these folks were playin' back then that when they got into a recording session "the man" said, "We ain't here to record that stuff... Just do them blues songs..." I mean, I'd have loved to hear what wasn't gettin' recorded... Eats me up... Ya' know they was playin' everything that was out there...

BTW, didja know about John's daughter living in the DC area and actaully livin', as story goes, with Archie Edwards and then John movin' to Dc and he and Archie touring together??? That's the way I heard it... I donno... My stuff is 2nd and 3rd hand... I do know that there was a picture of John at the barber shop...

B~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 03 Jun 10 - 11:17 PM

I went to YouTube to hear Robert Johnson's recordings for myself. His music sounds perfectly all right to me. I think the guys at the Guardian just aren't used to hearing men sing falsetto.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Neil D
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 12:28 AM

I'm certainly no expert but I lean toward thinking the original recordings were true. If your ideal of an authentic Delta vocal is the deep primal growl of Son House you might find Roberts singing unnatural, but I've always preferred the high plaintive wail of Skip James, even higher pitched than Robert. Think "Hardtime Killing Floor Blues".
Also, some of the guitar on the slowed down versions seemed a little clunky to me, but that could just be because I'm so used to the hearing the originals.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bobert
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 08:30 AM

Yeah, Neil, Skip James was all falsetto... "Hard Time Killing Floor" way up there... I've done the song a few times over the years (Double Dropped D) but it's hard to stay in falsetto (for me) for the entire song so it's a shortened version...

BTW, lotta more contempoary blues players have worked that falsetto at the ned of verses like Robert did... Kinda pinchin out the ehs of the verse... Takes a little work but it's worth it...

B~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Stower
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 10:55 AM

Wow, how very interesting. I don't know who's right, but having just listened to the linked page with the 'slowed down' / 'corrected' speeds, I much prefer it to the RJ we usually hear (who was already great). At the slower speed there seems more of a groove, and more soul in the playing, to me at least on first hearing.

Don't think speeding up is a thing of the past either. 'The Complete Brass Monkey' (which was complete at the time but isn't now, of course), their first two albums, was speeded up to get two albums on one CD. How do I know this? A certain member of the band said so on stage. He said he hadn't told us this, so I haven't told you this, either.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,schlimmerkerl
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 05:35 PM

Old wind instruments (c. late 16th- early 17th century and earlier) were tuned to "old pitch" (A= 430). You can still get these kinds of instruments if you want that mellow ring of authenticity in, say, a group that plays Early Music.

Standard pitch gradually went to A=440 because, among other things, it sounded "brighter". It's thought that "flat sets" of uilleann pipes were tuned lower so other musicians couldn't play along. It's more likely that they were just made to the common pitch c. 100 years ago. Things just moved slower then…


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 06:29 PM

When I played with Paddy Marchant, his usual concertina was slightly sharp (A=443), then he decided that his other concertina (A=449) was better for pub sessions as it carried better! He also told me that an Aly Anderson recording had been speeded up as Aly didn't play an Eb concertina.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 04 Jun 10 - 08:18 PM

I found the Dave Van Ronk story, page 189 of Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. In this excerpt, "John" refers to Mississippi John Hurt (as Mark Ross wrote several posts upthread).

"Spike Driver's Blues" was one of two songs by John that had been included on the Anthology. The other was this gorgeous piece of fingerpicking called "Frankie's Blues." It was a beautiful arrangement, and when those albums came out in the early 1950s, we all immediately set ourselves to learn that thing. It was incredibly fast, though, and after a week or two I dropped by the wayside. A few persisted, and my friend Barry Kornfeld, for one, disappeared into his chambers and emerged six weeks later, blinking like a mole, and he had it. Note for note, just as clean and fast as on the record.

When I saw John at the Cafe Yana, there he was playing "Frankie's Blues." However, I noticed that it was a lot slower than on the record. Of course, he was a good deal older, but it also struck me that it sounded better at that tempo. I wanted to ask him about it, but I wanted to be as diplomatic as possible --- I didn't want to just say, "So, Pops, can't cut it any more, eh?" Very tentatively, I said, "You know that 'Frankie' thing you played..."

Apparently I was not the first person to have asked, because John intervened and saved me any further embarrassment. He just smiled and said, "Oh, you want to know why it's so much slower than on the record."

I said, "Yeah..."

He said, "Well, you know, that song was so long that they had to speed it up to get it all on one side of a 78."

All I could think of was Barry, sidelined with acute carpal tunnel syndrome.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 05 Jun 10 - 10:26 AM

There seems to have been a good deal of variation among recording speeds in the earliest days of the gramophone, which would (in addition to the points already made) result in some distortion to singers' voices if these were then played back at a standard 78 rpm, or, indeed, if early cylinders and/or records were re-recorded at speeds which ensured that the pitch was as scored; Fernando de Lucia, in particular, would often record arias a semitone below the given pitch (according to one of his pupils - ?Tom Burke), meaning that his voice sounds rather thinner, and tempi slightly faster, than the reality. Lily McCormack tells how John McCormack was in Japan, and heard one of his own recordings being played far too fast, and went into the record shop to point this out. The shopkeeper said something like, "no, no, this is John Comic, very famous Irish singer..."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Bobert
Date: 05 Jun 10 - 07:09 PM

The late John Jackson played "Franky's Blues" and did it at a nice laid back country pace... Of course, these two John's certainly knew each other and I'm sure influenced one another...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,Mike
Date: 05 Jun 10 - 07:50 PM

Scholar Ainslie asks if anyone is suggesting the great Louis Armstrong has been also scrutinized for speeding up his recordings. Well-not just maybe-but the engineers absolutely say those recordings were speeded up-as they were recorded from one methodology to another. I know nothing of the actual events and everyone on here knows more blues than I ever have-but research is fun-and this is not a prank or amateur musicologist link. Sure-maybe a claim to sell a new set-but they could have easily recorded and released as originally recorded.


http://www.louis-armstrong.net/press.html

A rather long press release but this issues is discussed-on pitch, etc


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 06 Jun 10 - 02:08 PM

I once read a book by James Galway, the world-famous flautist. He said the idea that a standard A is 440 is a myth. He has travelled the world for a long time, and pitch varies all the time. He found it to be highest in Germany and lowest in the United States.

Not particularly pertinent to a discussion of blues, but a good thing for a musician to know.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,Eric
Date: 11 Jun 10 - 08:44 PM

I just listened to some of Robert Johnson's songs played by Robert Lockwood, Jr. He considered Johnson his stepfather and surely wanted to emulate him. His versions are almost the same speed as the slowed-down Johnson recordings, just slightly faster. The slowed-down versions sound much closer to both Son House and Robert Lockwood, Jr.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: mousethief
Date: 12 Jun 10 - 12:58 PM

But we all use an even-tempered scale now, which would have sounded horribly cacauphanous (sp?) to a renaissance musician


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 12 Jun 10 - 01:44 PM

"But we all use an even-tempered scale now"

No we don't.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Neil D
Date: 12 Jun 10 - 11:40 PM

Not only did Robert Lockwood Jr. learn the blue from Johnson it was said that on one occasion Robert Johnson played on one side of the Sunflower River, while Lockwood played on the other, with the people of Clarksdale, Mississippi milling about the bridge, supposedly unable to tell which guitarist was the real Robert Johnson. This would have been when Lockwood was a teenager. He cut his teeth playing fish fries and jukejoints throughout the delta in the thirties, emerged as a groundbreaking radio star in the 40's and became a much sought after sideman on the Chicago blues scene in the 50's.
   In 1961 Lockwood relocated to his wife's hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where he continued to perform and record until shortly before his death in 2006. I had the great good fortune to see him many times over the years, including the last time when I, a friend and my long-suffering wife stood in the rain for 3 hours to see Robert, still brilliant at the age 89. He did cover some of Johnson's blues but when I saw him he was playing in a much jazzier style with the smoothest feathery touch on his 12-string.
   Sorry for the tangent but I never miss a chance to give Robert Lockwood Jr. props on Mudcat. He's definitely a superb artist worth getting to know, but I wouldn't recommend the stuff on Youtube. They named a street after him in Cleveland.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Will Fly
Date: 13 Jun 10 - 02:09 AM

I've always thought that RJ's recording of "Hell Hound on My Trail" was speeded up. I've just been listening to it again and the vibrato on the upper regions of the voice - to me - still has hints of that "Chipmunk" effect and sounds somehow unnatural. The speeding-up theory, in this instance and on listening evidence alone, seems to have some credence.

Checking through the timings on my collection of his songs, the longest track is "I Believe I"ll Dust My Broom" at exactly 3 minutes. The next longest is "They're Red Hot" at 2:59. No track is longer than these two.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,Woodsie
Date: 13 Jun 10 - 02:12 AM

It was not unusual for mainstream music to recorded at varying speeds, A good example of this is "Kind Of Blue" by Miles Davis. This was not released at the correct speed until the 1990s. You can usually tell when you try to play a tuned instrument along with the recording and you notice that there is a slight pitch variance of up to a quarter tone or so usually due to minor speed variations on primary recording equipment and secondary transfer equipment and mastering. In the case of Miles there were three tape recorders in use. Here are a couple of discussions of other examples Billy Joel and even a classical record! Symphony No. 8 in C minor, opus 65


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: Will Fly
Date: 13 Jun 10 - 02:59 AM

If you've got mp3 or WAV files of Johnson's songs on your computer, and a copy of Audacity, you can try the experiment for yourself.

Open up an RJ file with Audacity, select the whole waveform and then apply the 'Speed' effect - say, down by 10% - and have a listen. Come to your own conclusions. My guess is that, if there were variations in speed, the variance was not a standard one.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,Mr. Echo
Date: 18 Jul 10 - 10:22 AM

The situation with the speed of old "78 rpm" shellac discs is much simpler than most people today think it is.
When shellac discs were first introduced in the late 19th century different speeds were used by different record companies ranging from 60–130 rpm. Sizes of the disc also varied. Around the turn of the century most companies used a speed of about 76–80 rpm. Grammophones back then came with speed regulators that allowed you to manually adjust the speed to the rpm used by any given record company. In 1925 the speed became standardised at 78 rpm and the most popular size was the 10" disc (which holds about 3 mins of music at 78 rpm). So people who grew up in the shellac disc era were used to records having been recorded/mastered at different speeds. It was no big deal, they simply adjusted the playback speed of their grammophones based on experience or information provided by the record companies or until it sounded right to their ears.

So speeds on old shellac discs differ for a variety of reasons:

a) company practice/policy
b) non-standardized, sometimes unreliable early recording technology
c) songs that ran over 3 mins sometimes were sped up to fit on 10" discs
d) songs were sped up to make them more exciting

But again, this was no big deal back then. People simply adjusted the playback speed of their grammophones. It was a standard practice in those days. Rpm was a flexible thing in the pre-HiFi-world. The concept of truly and mechanically fixed speeds of 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm was unknown in the shellac disc era.

Playback speed of old shellac discs only became a problem when people no longer played the original discs on the original equipment e.g. when shellac discs were re-released on LPs and later CDs. In most cases these re-releases were made by playing and then transferring the old discs to tape (and later digital tape or hard drives). So what you hear on CDs today depends on how the old discs were played back by the people who transferred them to tape or digital media. MOST old shellac discs were played back and transferred at the wrong speed simply because "78 rpm" today is considered a fixed and true playback speed, when in actual fact – as pointed out above – each disc has to be adjusted individually.

Not only do Robert Johnson's discs play at the wrong speed on today's CDs, the speed also varies from track to track. Some seem to be correct, some are obviously too fast, some are somewhere in between. It is not as simple as "20% too fast" as some have argued. And 20% is too much anyway. I'd say speeds on the MOST RECENT and OFFICIAL Johnson CDs ("King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol. 1 & 2", Sony, 1998/2004) are everywhere from correct to 5 maybe 10% too fast.
It's not as if Sony are not aware of the problem: the 1990 "Complete Robert Johnson" (2 CDs) was mastered from a 1974 compilation tape of inferior quality and was quietly replaced by Sony in 1996 by a remastered/corrected "Complete Robert Johnson" (the 1990 and 1996 sets look identical, you have to check the production date). The problem was further adressed by Sony (again without much fanfare) on the 1998 and 2004 single disc sets which apparantly were taken directly off the original discs. Still playback speeds vary.

Robert Johnson grew up in the shellac disc era. He was one of the first generation of blues players who were influenced by listening to records AND by listening to live music. Many melodies, riffs and lyrics on Johnson's records can be traced back to specific discs that Johnson must have owned/known. So as a record collector/listener Johnson was familiar with the standard practice of his time namely to manually adjust the playback speed of any given disc. This answers the question "Why didn't Johnson notice that his records were playing too fast?" They did not play too fast back then, because playback speed was adjusted. It's just that in today's world of rigidly fixed playback speeds this once common practice is no longer known. Johnson did not listen to the sound of his voice on the CDs we have today. He listened to original records. On original playback equipment, which makes world of difference.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed
From: GUEST,LAcat
Date: 11 Dec 10 - 08:36 PM

I guess the best evidence that the records are at the correct speed is that People like Johnny Shines and Robert Lockwood who both heard him live and on record don't hear any difference. Hey, you don't have to like RJ to love blues or rocknroll,he seems to have become the castor oil of music - here kid, listen to this it's good for you!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: mayomick
Date: 12 Dec 10 - 03:13 PM

Guest Eric wrote in June that Lockwood played RJ's songs at a slower speed to the recordings .Maybe he did hear the difference but didn't mention it .


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,GUEST,sgs
Date: 12 Dec 10 - 04:17 PM

recently, a restoration engineer in france (ex-bbc) claims to have found a ca. 60Hz hum on RJ recordings, calibrated to 60Hz, and produced some nice remastering using izotope, waves, aa, and harbal sw.

no appreciable differences.

http://www.pristineclassical.com


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: GUEST,sgs
Date: 12 Dec 10 - 04:37 PM

the story about frankie's blues is "folk processed" and has mjh having fun at dvr's expense. mjh's "frankie and albert" from the anthology mystified the nyc folkie guitar mafia until stefan grossman (or rory block?) figured out it was in open G tuning, and fairly straightforward.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Was Robert Johnson recorded at the wrong speed?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Dec 10 - 06:28 PM

Back in the old days of windup gramophones, and electric turntables too, the machines had a little speed control so people could adjust the speed to what sounded right to them. I imagine that would have been what Robert Lockwood, Jr might have been doing.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 22 June 4:03 AM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.