Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings

03 February, 2014

By Aristomenis Tsigaras 

In this age of information and up-to-the minute tweeting, there is often a danger of knowing too much about an artist. This apparently was not the case in the 1930's, when Robert Johnson, 'King of the Delta Blues', was travelling and performing at street corners and juke joints during the Great Depression.


Factual information on his short life has yet to be fully distilled from the more pervasive mythology that surrounds the man. Tales like that of a faustian pact, where Johnson allegedly traded his soul in exchange for mastery over the guitar and of his death being at the hands of a jealous husband over his womanising ways still abound. So much so, that it is almost impossible to ever fully separate the man from the legend. 


What we do know, though, is that Robert Leroy Johnson was a blues guitarist born in Mississippi in 1911. He lived for 27 years and despite being massively underappreciated in his lifetime, he has had a lasting influence on many of rock'n roll's most celebrated musicians, a list which includes such darlings as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and many more.


"Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings" released by Sony Legacy in 1990 is a box set made from two sessions, recorded in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas in 1936-37, and boasts Robert Johnson's entire music catalogue. The release won a Grammy award for best historical album in 1991 and is indeed considered a valuable piece of musical history. 


Johnson's guitar playing has been much emulated over the past seventy-plus years but listening to his original recordings makes it plain that his passion is arguably yet to be matched. His hypnotic voice, made of syrup and gravel takes to the music like a trumpet and appears to have been forged amid great pain and hardship.


He has spooky and controvesial themes like those in Me And The Devil Blues, Crossroad Blues and Hellhound On My Trail, each alluding to an encounter with either the lord of darkness, or being chased by one of his demonic hounds. Mister Johnson apperantly wants to blow his missus away for not treating him right. These have likely added much fuel to the legends involing the aforementioned mystical pact and many of the other embellishments to his elusive lifestory. 


Then there are the gentler songs like Kind Hearted Woman and  When You Got A Good Friend that show a kinder side to the man and the phenomenal From Four To Late that showscases his poetic and humourous sensibilities. "A woman is like a dresser," he sings, "some man always ramblin' through its drawers.
It cause so many men, wear an apron overall." The entire double record seems almost to tell a tale of what has now become the apochryphal biography for Robert Johnson. 


Sadly the release does fall a little short, since it has been compiled with several alternate takes introduced straight after its master recording. This might force some listeners to feel the need to skip past certain tracks but since they seldom show up, it's only a minor quibble. We are of course lucky to have them included at all.


This album is a must for anybody interested in finding out where rock 'n roll inherited it's teeth.




Primary Genre: Blues


Secondary Genre:   Delta blues, Country Blues


Release Date:  28 August 1990


Label: Columbia


Like This And You'll Probably Also Like:  Robert Wilkins, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson


Album Highlights:  Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), From Four Till LateMe And The Devil Blues





From Four till Late




Me and the Devil Blues