[Table of Contents]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [ARSCLIST] Robert Johnson RPM debate

It's hard to tell given the limited fidelity of the RJ recordings, but his voice and guitar sound like they are in their natural register. Compare how Johnson sounds to something like mid-era Led Zep recordings, where they'd slow down the tape for Robert Plant to lay down vocals. When played at normal speed, Plant's vocals on these tracks don't sound natural. Meanwhile, RJ's range and pitch seem like something a human male voice can naturally do, and the guitar sounds like the wood is resonating correctly.

I don't think you have anything like train whistles on the RJ recordings, but Lomax's Son House recordings include a train going by the general store in the background. That's relatively easy to pitch-match with modern software.

All that said, Doug is correct that spring-driven mechanisms were not anything near quartz-reference reliable about speed.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Doug Pomeroy" <pomeroyaudio@xxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 6:45 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Robert Johnson RPM debate

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?



[Subject index] [Index for current month] [Table of Contents]