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Re: [ARSCLIST] Robert Johnson RPM debate

While this ground seems to have been covered by blues researchers already, certainly a sensible first step would be to find out more about the relevant equipment and locations (e.g. did someone forget to pack the strobe?), and check sides cut at other Gunter Hotel sessions on the same 1936 San Antonio field trip —say, those by the Don Albert band. Blues guitar tuning may be a bit random, but if a big band starts swinging in B-natural, you can be pretty sure something's wrong.

And if there is an apparent pitch error on RJ's 1936 San Antonio sides, is it consistent with what happens on the 1937 Dallas ones? If so, the whole-pitch error theory would seem to be pretty baseless.

Tony B.

On 26 May 2009, at 12:45, Doug Pomeroy wrote:

Vocalion probably used a spring driven cutter, and they were less reliable than the weight driven ones (according to Ralph Peer). If we knew Johnson tuned his guitar perfectly (re: 'A' 440), it would be a piece of cake. He probably didn't, but still it was probably not too far off, especially if he played with other musicians (e.g., harmonicas).


Date:    Mon, 25 May 2009 11:18:13 -1000
From:    Malcolm Rockwell <malcolm@xxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: Robert Johnson RPM debate

James -
I've read the arguments and heard the pitch shifted samples and say it's
possible the recordings are pitched high. This would mean one of three
things: 1) Robert really sang that way; 2) the material was recorded too
slow; and/or 3) the final pitch was modified by dubbing prior to

I tend to go with #1, mostly because I've always heard him the way he
has been presented on LPs and CDs and my ear is used to that. The
samples are interesting food for thought, though!

#2 is possible mostly because machines do run slow (there's very little
homogenity of 78rpm recording speeds company to company, and session to
session within the same company. Add that to playback speed variations
and, well...). What was the power source in Dallas? 110 VAC? 120 VAC? Or
was it DC voltage? If AC, was the frequency (usually 60 Hz) solid, or
did it wander? What kind of motor did the portable recording lathe
use... AC, DC or counter-weighted (mechanical)? There are just too many
variables here.

#3 requires forethought and since there was seemingly so little of it in
#2, I doubt this scenario. Producers are not going to agonize about this
kind of thing; to them Robert was just another blues picker. But who
knew what he'd become 60 years later or that any of this would matter?

Good luck with your research!
Mal Rockwell


james mendenhall wrote:

Hi, Arsclist
I am doing research about the rpm debate of the Robert Johnson
Does anyone have any information for me?
And, is this all speculation or has there been proof found that they
are indeed too fast?



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