Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings (1990)

BoxFrontCover1One hundred years ago, a boy-child was born in Mississippi – a dirt-poor, African-American who would grow up, learn to sing and play the blues, and eventually achieve worldwide renown. In the decades after his death, he has become known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers, his music expanding in influence to the point that rock stars of the greatest magnitude – the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers – all sing his praise and have recorded his songs.

That boy-child was Robert Johnson, an itinerant blues singer and guitarist who lived from 1911 to 1938. He recorded 29 songs between 1936 and ‘37 for the American Record Corporation, which released eleven 78rpm records on their Vocalion label during Johnson¹s lifetime, and one after his death.

Most of these tunes have attained canonical status, and are now considered enduring anthems of the genre: “Cross Road Blues,” “Love In Vain,” “Hellhound On My Trail,” “I Believe I¹ll Dust My Broom,” “Walking Blues,” “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Like many bluesmen of his day, Johnson plied his craft on street corners and in jook joints, ever rambling and ever lonely – and writing songs that romanticized that existence. But Johnson accomplished this with such an unprecedented intensity, marrying his starkly expressive vocals with a guitar mastery, that his music has endured long after the heyday of country blues and his own short life.

RobertJohnson01ANever had the hardships of the world been transformed into such a poetic height; never had the blues plumbed such an emotional depth. Johnson took the intense loneliness, terrors and tortuous lifestyle that came with being an African-American in the South during the Great Depression, and transformed that specific and very personal experience into music of universal relevance and global reach. “You want to know how good the blues can get?” Keith Richards once asked, answering his own question: “Well, this is it.” Eric Clapton put it more plainly: “I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson.”

The power of Johnson’s music has been amplified over the years by the fact that so little about him is known and what little biographical information we now have only revealed itself at an almost glacial pace. Myths surrounding his life took over: that he was a country boy turned ladies’ man; that he only achieved his uncanny musical mastery after selling his soul to the devil. Even the tragedy of his death seemed to grow SingleSleeveto mythic proportion: being poisoned by a jealous boyfriend then taking three days to expire, even as the legendary talent scout John Hammond was searching him out to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In 1990, Sony Legacy produced and released the 2-CD box set Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings to widespread critical acclaim and, for a country blues reissue, unprecedented sales. The Complete Recordings proved the existence of a potential market for music from the deepest reaches of Sony¹s catalog, especially if buoyed by a strong story with mainstream appeal. Johnson¹s legend continues to attract an ever-widening audience, with no sign of abating. If, in today¹s world of hip-hop and heavy metal, a person knows of only one country blues artist, odds are it is Robert Johnson. (

BoxBackCover1The Complete Recordings is a compilation album by American blues musician Robert Johnson, released August 28, 1990 on Columbia Records. The album’s recordings were recorded in two sessions in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas for the American Record Company (ARC) during 1936 and 1937. Most of the songs were first released on 78rpm records in 1937. The Complete Recordings contains every recording Johnson is known to have made, with the exception of an alternate take of “Travelling Riverside Blues”.

The Complete Recordings peaked at number 80 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album has sold more than a million copies, and won a Grammy Award in 1991 for “Best Historical Album.” In 1992, the Blues Foundation inducted the album into the Blues Hall of Fame. It also was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2003. The board selects recordings in an annual basis that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Prior to his death in 1938, through the help of H. C. Speir Johnson recorded 29 songs for the American Record Company (ARC). His complete canon of recordings includes these 29 masters, plus 13 surviving alternate takes, all recorded at two ARC sessions held in San Antonio and Dallas, Texas. The Mississippi Delta—two hundred miles of fertile lowlands stretching from Memphis, Tennessee in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi in the south—was one of the primary locales in which the blues originated and developed. He is said to have been heavily influenced by early blues artists like Skip James, who was recorded in 1931, around the same time that Johnson amazed his elders with his mastery of the guitar. James’s eerie, distinctive style is reflected throughout Johnson’s recordings, most notably in “32-20 Blues,” which he adapted from James’s “22-20 Blues.”

BookletExample01Johnson’s first session in San Antonio, Texas lasted three days, on the 23rd, 26th, and 27th of November 1936, sixteen songs were recorded in the Gunter Hotel, where ARC had set up equipment to record a number of musical acts. “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” was the first song recorded. Also captured in San Antonio were “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” both of which became post-war blues standards. “Terraplane Blues,” known for its metaphoric lyrics, became a regional hit and Johnson’s signature song. Most of the selections were released on Vocalion 78s, but three songs and several interesting alternate takes remained unissued until they appeared on the Columbia albums. Six months later, on the 19th and 20th of June 1937, other recording sessions took place in a Dallas, Texas warehouse where, once again, ARC had set up its recording equipment to capture many different acts. This time 13 songs were recorded and 10 were released during the following year.

SinglesThe song “Cross Road Blues” is one of his most popular, thanks to Eric Clapton and Cream (Wheels of Fire), whose interpretation popularized the song in the late 1960s. Johnson’s recordings became popular in the early ’60s when Columbia Records released a collection of called King of the Delta Blues Singers. Bluesmen like Clapton and Keith Richards viewed the release as something of a blues bible, considered by some to be the “King of the Delta Blues Singers” The Rolling Stones recorded “Love in Vain” on their 1969 album, Let It Bleed, and “Stop Breakin’ Down” on their Exile on Main St. (1972) album.

CrossroadsLyricsWhile Robert Johnson’s professional recording career can be measured in months, his musical legacy has survived more than 70 years. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, two prominent Chicago bluesmen, have their roots in the Delta: both knew Robert Johnson, and were heavily influenced by him. Johnson’s emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. In 2004, Eric Clapton recorded Me and Mr. Johnson as a tribute to legendary bluesman; the album reached number 6 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 563,000 copies in the United States. The Chicago Tribune‍ ’​s Greg Kot wrote that The Complete Recordings, along with Clapton’s The Layla Sessions (1990), survive as “monuments of 20th Century music that will rarely, if ever, be equaled”. (by wikipedia)

IntroductionA double-disc box set containing everything Robert Johnson ever recorded, The Complete Recordings is essential listening, but it is also slightly problematic. The problems aren’t in the music itself, of course, which is stunning and the fidelity of the recordings is the best it ever has been or ever will be. Instead, it’s in the track sequencing. As the title implies, The Complete Recordings contains all of Johnson’s recorded material, including a generous selection of alternate takes. All of the alternates are sequenced directly after the master, which can make listening to the album a little intimidating and tedious for novices. Certainly, the alternates can be programmed out with a CD player or mp3 player, but the set would have been more palatable if the alternate takes were presented on a separate disc. Nevertheless, this is a minor complaint — Johnson’s music retains its power no matter what context it is presented in. He, without question, deserves this kind of deluxe box set treatment. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)

Robert Johnson (guitar, vocals)


CD 1:
01. Kind Hearted Woman Blues 2.49
02. Kind Hearted Woman Blues (alternate take) 2.31
03. I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom 2.56
04. Sweet Home Chicago 2.59
05. Ramblin’ On My Mind (alternate take) 2.51
06. Ramblin’ On My Mind 2.20
07. When You Got A Good Friend 2.37
08. When You Got A Good Friend (alternate take) 2.50
09. Come On In My Kitchen (alternate take) 2.47
10. Come On In My Kitchen  2.35
11. Terraplane Blues 3.00
12. Phonograph Blues 2.37
13. Phonograph Blues (alternate take) 2.35
14. 32-20 Blues 2.51
15. They’re Red Hot 2.56
16. Dead Shrimp Blues 2.30
17. Cross Road Blues 2.39
18. Cross Road Blues (alternate take) 2.29
19. Walkin’ Blues 2.28
20. Last Fair Deal Gone Down 2.39

CD 2:
01. Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) 2.50
02. If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day 2.34
03. Stones In My Passway 2.27
04. I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man 2.35
05. From Four Till Late 2.23
06. Hellhound On My Trail 2.35
07. Little Queen Of Spades 2.11
08. Little Queen Of Spades (alternate take) 2.15
09. Malted Milk 2.17
10. Drunken Hearted Man 2.24
11. Drunken Hearted Man (alternate take) 2.19
12. Me And The Devil Blues 2.37
13. Me And The Devil Blues (alternate take) 2.29
14. Stop Breakin’ Down Blues (alternate take) 2.16
15. Stop Breakin’ Down Blues 2.21
16. Traveling Riverside Blues 2.47
17. Honeymoon Blues 2.16
18, Love In Vain (alternate take) 2.28
19. Love In Vain 2.19
20. Milkcow’s Calf Blues (alternate take) 2.14
21. Milkcow’s Calf Blues 2.20

All songs written by Robert Johnson


RecordOfDeathRecord of death

Nat Gonella & His New Georgians – Swing All Night (CD 1) (2003)

FrontCover1Nathaniel Charles (Nat) Gonella (7 March 1908 – 6 August 1998) was an English jazz trumpeter, bandleader, vocalist and mellophonist born in London, perhaps most notable for his work with the big band he founded, The Georgians, during the British dance band era.

His vocal style was reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, though the voice was often eclipsed by his achievements as a band leader and trumpeter. Gonella has been a major influence on other British jazz trumpeters, including Humphrey Lyttelton and Digby Fairweather.

NatGonellaGonella was born in a deprived area of east London, and took up cornet while attending an institution for underprivileged children, St Mary’s Guardian School in Islington.

His first professional job arrived when, after a short spell as a furrier’s apprentice, he joined Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band in 1924, a small junior pit orchestra and touring review band. He remained with the band until 1928, and it was during this period that he became acquainted with the early recordings of Louis Armstrong, and the New Orleans jazz style in general. He transcribed Armstrong’s solos and learned them by heart.

He worked with Bob Bryden’s Louisville Band for a time in 1928-9, and with pianist Archie Alexander in Brighton, then joined the Billy Cotton band at the end of 1929, a move which provided him with a more prominent platform, both on the concert stage and also on radio, and allowed him to record his first jazz solos and vocal features (which included scat singing).
The 1930s

He played briefly with Roy Fox in 1931, and then stayed in that band when Lew Stone, Fox’s former pianist, took over leadership the following year. It was with Stone’s band that he firmly established his reputation.

When Louis Armstrong visited London in 1932, Gonella met his idol by begging the staff at Boosey and Hawkes’s music shop to allow him to deliver Armstrong’s trumpet, left at the shop for cleaning, to his hotel room. Armstrong was apparently initially amused to find such an ardent devotee, but appreciated his willingness to help, and the two men became good friends.

NatGonella2In 1933 Gonella published a book called Modern Style Trumpet Playing – A Comprehensive Course. In the same year he made uncredited appearances (alongside Lew Stone and Al Bowlly) in the films Bitter Sweet and The King’s Cup.

Gonella’s standing grew even more quickly after the formation of his own band, The Georgians, in 1935. The band took its name from a highly-popular version of the song “Georgia On My Mind” that he recorded for Lew Stone in 1932, and which became the trumpeter’s signature tune. The Georgians began as a featured band within Stone’s shows, before setting up as an independent unit.

Gonella formed his own big band, and quickly became a headline artist on the still-thriving variety circuit, and they continued to top bills around the country until the outbreak of World War II.

He joined the army in 1941, and was recruited into the Stars in Battledress campaign, touring allied camps in Europe and North Africa. Whilst in Europe and North Africa Gonella served as the personal servant or “batman” to Major Alexander Karet and once the war had ended was offered the position as personal Butler to the Major, but he politely refused in order to pursue his music career.

He reformed his band after the war, but the economic and musical climate was changing rapidly at that time. He flirted briefly with bebop, acknowledged that it was not for him, and returned to the variety stage during the 1950s, touring with the likes of the comedian Max Miller.

NatGonella23The revival in traditional jazz in the late Fifties allowed him to reform his Georgians in 1960. In February 1960 he featured on the UK television show This Is Your Life, an appearance which later inspired an album The Nat Gonella Story, modelled on Louis Armstrong’s A Musical Autobiography. He also appeared on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs in August 1966.

All of this attention re-established Gonella, at least until the advent of The Beatles brought the trad jazz boom to a halt. He moved to Lancashire in 1962, and toured regularly on the Northern club circuit until his alleged retirement on his 65th birthday, on 7 March 1973.

That retirement did not last long. Drummer Ted Easton persuaded him to come to play to his (Easton’s) club in Holland during the mid-1970s, and a new recording of a song he had first cut with Roy Fox in 1931, “Oh, Monah”, became a big hit in Holland.

It was to be his final flourish on trumpet, but he continued to sing after moving to Gosport, Hampshire, in 1977 – where a square was renamed in his honour in 1994, and was always happy to stand up and do so in a local pubs or at the Gosport Jazz Club.

Digby Fairweather’s New Georgians paid tribute to Gonella’s musical heritage in 1984, and Fairweather and fellow trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton co-hosted a television tribute, Fifty Years of Nat Gonella, the following year, in which Gonella himself was an enthusiastic participant.

He continued to sing occasionally with various bands, and made the headlines again in 1997 when a sampled excerpt of his trumpet playing from a recording he made in 1932 was used in White Town’s number one pop hit, “Your Woman”.

Nat Gonella died at his home in Gosport on 6 August 1998, aged 90.

Gonella was a down-to-earth and unassuming character, and remained so throughout his life. On BBC Radio 4, Barry Humphries said that “Oh Mona” was one of two tracks that had most appealed to him in his life. Humphrey Lyttelton is among those who have testified to the fact that fame and success sat easily on his shoulders, and reports that he would show genuinely astonishment when Lyttelton would confess, as well as other prominent musicians, to Gonella having been his first jazz hero. (by wikipedia)

This is part 1 of a sampler of his very fine recordings during the 30´s … I will present the 2nd part of this sampler in a few days ! Enjoy this music from the golden days of swing !


Nat Gonella (trumpet, vocals)
Jimmy Messene (vocals)
Pat Smuts (saxophone)
The New Georgians

01. The Music Goes Round And Round (Hodgson/Farley/Reilly) 2.56
02. Blue Turning Grey Over You (Razaf/Waller) 3.06
03. Wabash Blues (Kaingle/Meinken) 3.05
04. You Rascal You (Theard) 2.59
05. Jealous (Maile/Finch/Little) 2.56
06. Down At Uncle Bill´s (Mercer/Carmichael) 3.05
07. Nagasaki (Dixon/Warren) 2.53
08. Tiger Rag (La Rocca) 2.59
09. Stardust (Carmichael) 3.05
10. Mam Don´t Allow (Davenport) 3.11
11. Woe Is Me (Cavanaugh/Emmerich/Stanford) 2.32
12. The Sheik Of Araby (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder) 3.11
13. Capri Caprice (Kennedy/Grosz/Gonella) 2.47
14. Georgia Rockin´ Chair (Fisher) 3.12
15. I Want To Be Happy (Caesar/Yoomans) 3.11
16. Farewell Blues (Rappolo/Mares/Schoebel) 3.10
17. E Flat Blues (Marks/Williams) 2.17
18. Fan It (Jaxon) 3.05
19. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans (Creamer/Layton) 2.59
20. Lazy River (Carmichael) 2.57