Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. I & II
First off, don’t listen to any box sets, or reissues, or alternate takes, or versions purporting to be the correct speed, or anything else. Instead, just listen to the issued takes, as they were issued by Columbia in 1961 and 1970 respectively, in the order they were issued in. Preferably on vinyl, if possible.
I have original mono vinyl of both these albums. I got them in 1984-1985, somewhere in there. Full disclosure, yes, I have every bloody reissue ever released as well. But, the mono vinyl is where it’s at. Mono. As issued.
Robert Johnson was a synthesist operating at an almost unbearable level of proficiency and intensity. Virtually every composition and performance has an obvious antecedent, yet the songs are somehow entirely his own as well. Come On In My Kitchen draws straight off the well of Leroy Car and The Mississippi Sheiks. Sweet Home Chicago bleeds Kokomo Arnold’s blood. Hellhound on my Trail is Robert’s uncanny channeling of Skip James. And so forth.
For me, it’s Johnson’s lethal combination of meticulousness and venom that makes this music so awe-inspiring, so compelling, so hypnotizing. His precision is otherworldly, even as he’s howling, snapping, and cracking his way through the frenzied deliverance of a song.
Recommended track to start with: Preachin’ Blues
Why this track? Because he pulls out literally every stop to push this maniacal 2 minutes and 52 seconds of country blues perfection over the top. It’s a complete tour de force. It’s his master stroke, his Guernica.
After Robert, only God.