This album is included in the following sets:
This set contains the following albums:
"The most important blues musician who ever lived"
Eric Clapton on Robert Johnson
Newly restored using XR remastering technology
This experimental release came as a result of a late-night conversation with the head of another classical record company, following discussion of the wider possibilities of Pristine Audio's XR remastering system. As XR relies on modern reference recordings to precisely re-equalise older recordings in order to correct the inadequacies of vintage recording systems, it's often hard to use outside of the classical sphere. However, the music of Robert Johnson has been widely recorded, and it was possible to find modern equivalents of many of these recordings, from which I was able to derive further equalisations for the remaining tracks.
What emerges from this process is quite remarkable - for perhaps the first time one is able to hear the full range, power and versatility of both Johnson's singing and playing in a sound quality that is more 1950's or 1960's than the 1930's hotel room, where these immensely influential recordings were made.
The sample chosen here, Ramblin' On My Mind, gives a very good indication of what to expect from the rest of the tracks, sound-wise. One or two of them have emerged even better from the remastering process than this. The overall effect of this collection is stunning to hear, especially for anyone used the thin sound of all previous Johnson reissues. Once you've heard this remastered collection you will not wish to return to anything else.
N.B. Due to a compilation error, track 8 "When you've got a good friend" appears twice on this issue, and another song, prepared for this release, was omitted. This missing song appears on Volume Two of our Robert Johnson Legendary Blues releases (PABL002), which will complete the entire set of his recordings.
"You want to know how good the blues can get? Well this is it."
Keith Richards on Robert Johnson
Newly restored using XR remastering technology
After the success of our experimental release of Robert Johnson 'Legendary Blues' the requests for the rest of his recordings came in thick and fast. I also took note of the comments - and criticisms - of that issue whilst preparing this release.
In preparing a "new" Robert Johnson release, one should be clear that there is little point in duplicating that which has already been issued. Each has its flaws - some of them glaring, others more subtle - and each has its adherents. My aim with Volume Two has been to both keep with those who've written to say that the first volume was by far the best remastering Johnson they'd ever heard, whilst hopefully addressing some of the concerns of others and bringing them 'on board' as well.
One example of this, heard on Volume One (PABL001), was a reasonably subtle use of reverberation, which was present in the source material used for that release (though not on the originals), and not added by me. Volume Two has been sourced from a variety of origins and no reverb has been added. My aim has been both to bring you a cleaner sound wherever possible, and - using XR remastering - one that is more authentic to the overall tonal quality of Johnson's voice and guitar, despite the limitations of the recording equipment of the day.
I have also, in preparing this release, been able to make minor speed corrections to some of the tracks, basing my conclusions on analysis of electrical mains hum harmonics found buried in many of the tracks, and repitching to between 0.2 and 2.5% (where a semitone is approximately 6%).
This release brings together all of the remaining known releases of Robert Johnson's recordings. It has been programmed in order of recording, omitting those already issued on Volume One. Where this issue contains two takes of a particular song, I have relocated the second take to later on the recording. This is a personal preference and a departure from releases which group takes together.
Tampa Red - "The Man With The Gold Guitar"
Newly restored using XR remastering technology
Tampa Red is the second blues artist to receive the 'XR' treatment, following our issue of the complete Robert Johnson recordings a month ago. Once again, great care was taken to find suitable recordings with which to construct tonal references and reshape the sound profiles of these mainly late-1930's recordings, the process at the heart of the XR remastering system.
Clearly some sides have survived the intervening years better than others, and it's interesting to find better overall sound quality lurking in the earliest of these recordings, 1934's Grievin' and Worryin' Blues than in some of the records from later in that same decade. It's easy to speculate on why this might be the case - I've noted similar declines in surface quality in UK pressed discs during the 1930's - but one should perhaps avoid jumping to conclusions.
I've avoided running these tracks in order of recording dates, and have instead compiled them to create a perhaps more musical flow for the listener. I am aware in doing this that each listener would probably make a different choice.
The two recordings from 1942 include one of Tampa Red's biggest hits, the innuendo-laden I Want To Play With Your Poodle, and what seemed to me its natural partner in crime, She Wants To Sell My Monkey. I will leave it to the listener to decide how best to interpret the lyrics here - what I find most musically interesting is how the addition of drums to the piano, guitar and kazoo instrumentation already common in earlier recordings, coupled with the ongoing development of his musical style, looks forward with astonishing foresight to the major revolution in popular music which was to arrive a decade or more later. Indeed, one can even hear in the off-beat kazoo playing, coupled with the jaunty rhythms, the origins of 1960's Jamaican ska music, which grew out of the copying and adapting of blues-based music to be heard on American radio stations picked up in Jamaica at the time, and would of course later slow down and evolve into reggae - by which time Tampa Red was destitute and largely forgotten...
Mississippi John Hurt - "The Man From Avalon "
"MJH would have been mighty pleased...
I see you as having helped to create a whole new dimension."
Fred Bolden, Mississippi John Hurt's nephew
Because of his musical renaissance in the 1960's I was lucky to be able to use much more recent recordings of Mississippi John Hurt performing some of the same songs as he'd cut back in 1928 as sonic references in the XR remastering process for this release. The results have been especially pleasing and should serve to bring the listener even closer to the unique music and spirit of John Hurt.
Two of the tracks provided a particular challenge, including our full-lenth sample Frankie, which despite myriad reissues over the years appears not to have been addressed. By analysing pitch variations in the opening two songs, recorded in Memphis using mobile equipment, I discovered a pitch variation across the length of the recording, indicating that the speed of the motor driving the cutting lathe varied more or less as shown in the following graph:
Because the disc was replayed and transferred at a constant speed, the effect on the pitch is the exact opposite, thus the curve shown above represents the actual sliding repitch required to even out the song 'Frankie'.
This pitch problem can be seen in the following graphic - the horizontal lines indicate harmonics of the guitar part. Because there are no modulations in key during the song we'd expect to see pretty much straight lines running across the screen, but as you can see, set against a ruler line, the opening of the song is far from straight - we're looking therefore at the incorrect pitching caused by the cutting lathe's motor:
Once the variable repitch settings (above) have been applied, and after a further fine-tuning, you can see the effect on these harmonics quite clearly:
Analysis of the other Memphis song, 'Nobody's Dirty Business' showed an almost identical pitch problem consistent with the theory of an inconsistent motor driving the cutter's turntable. After some discussion with a number of experts as to the most likely cause of this, various hypotheses were put forward. The most authoritative response I'm quoting directly:
"Recording companies had portable
recording outfits that toured the "Territories" and places such as New
Orleans, especially after the introduction of electrical recording in
1925. Such outfits were invariably (lead-acid secondary) battery
operated due to the variability (or even lack of) mains electricity
supplies. Speed regulation was often manual, and not very precise.
(Even the major studios used dc for this function to isolate themselves
from eccentricities in the mains supply; some even used gravity feed to
drive the lathe - notably EMI even into the '50s, until the arrival of
the LP). I am not aware of recording outfits that used spring drive
for the lathe at this time. (The BBC of course developed its miniature
disc cutter during the war, which used spring drive for the turntable,
and batteries only for the cutting amplifier - and there was that
portable EMI tape recorder in the early '50s that used the same
I would suggest that the pitch behaviour observed suggests a partially discharged battery, where polarisation of the plates can occur during discharge, leading to increased voltage drop and hence lower speed. During the break between takes, the cells recover. I can't propose a scenario relating to increased cutter drag, because this should decrease as the surface speed under the cutter (and hence drag) decrease as the cutter moves from outer to inner diameter."
Further discussion of the discovery and resolution of this issue can be found at the Mississippi John Hurt Musuem website's online forum
20 Classic Recordings newly remastered
As selected by members of The Blindman's Blues Forum
This collection has to be one of the most challenging restoration and remastering tasks I've ever undertaken. Paramount Records was notorious for its poor recordings and especially poor pressings, which were cheaply made, in-house, for perhaps the poorest mass audience in America, for whom the term 'disposable income' would probably have been unknown.
To compound this problem, Paramount melted down all of their metal masters during the Great Depression in order to try and raise funds, though even this was was not enough to save them from closure in 1935.
Since then their recordings of some of the greatest early Blues artists have challenged both restorers and listeners - even at their very best, some are virtually unlistenable. The selection presented here is based upon an informal poll of contributors to an excellent (bu now alas defunct) online Blues forum, The Blindman's Blues Forum, and includes a number of sides which were recorded more than once. In most cases I've chosen the least bad (I hesitate to use the word 'best' in this context) pressing to work from - with the sole exception of the title track, which stems from the original 1926 Paramount release and not the later 1927 OKeh re-recording.
My chief aim here has been to address often dreadful tonal imbalances, bringing both greater warmth and clarity to the singing and playing, using the latest technologies to make a marked improvement upon previous attempts to remaster these sides. I think I can claim at least a partial victory here - but the listener should be aware that, with any recordings of the kind of original quality to be found here, there will perhaps always remain severe constraints as to what is possible. As such the track order here is designed to be as easy as possible on the listener's ears, rather than following any chronological order.
20 Classic Recordings newly remastered
All tracks selected by members of The Blindman's Blues Forum
When I first started issuing remastered Blues recordings, almost immediately requests started coming in for a remastering of Charley Patton, more than any other performer. I knew I had an old Patton CD on the shelf somewhere but didn't recall much about the sound quality or the music, to be frank.
When I put the disc on (and I don't intend to tell you which one it was!) I remembered why I was so ignorant of Patton's music - the sound was absolutely dreadful. A few days later, requests on Blues forums for Patton were being met with comments along the lines of "there's no point" and "it can't be done". I felt I knew what they were talking about!
So he went on the back-burner - I started to acquire suitable source material but for neary six months avoided making a real start, beyond a few preliminary tests. Meanwhile I found myself working on other, almost equally difficult material, building up a new repertoire of remastering tricks and techniques, until finally I felt ready to see whether I could do Patton justice.
The original material is rough - some worse than others. Where I've had a choice of takes I've generally gone for the better quality sound, hence the inclusion of the inussued out-take of "Elder Green Blues" rather than the version Paramount decided to release on 78rpm disc.
As with our Blind Lemon Jefferson release, I turned to the experts to democratically choose the 20 tracks which appear here. They vary both musically and in terms of sound quality quite widely, and certainly provide an excellent introduction to Patton's music. In many cases the start of the discs are noisiest, settling down after perhaps 30 seconds or so as the music often starts to pick up speed and energy.
Musically many of these tracks are incredible. Patton seems capable of supplying two voices in call/answer mode, whilst playing what sounds like three separate guitar lines and supplying a percussion section - all at the same time. His singing style, often slurring the words beyond recognition (though most can be found online if you search for his lyrics) contrasts with the clearly comprehensible speaking voice heard on a number of tracks, and displays a wide and varied range of style and technique.
My aims in carrying out this particular remastering were two-fold: to clear away as much of the 'crud' of noise and distortion as possible, and to re-equalise the sound to make everything both clearer and more realistic.
In both of these aims the XR remastering technique brings with it clear benefits - and here follows the really technical bit. Using a three-hour-long compilation of dozens of different male blues singers, covering a wide range of music and all accompanied by acoustic guitar, I generated an average frequency spectrum with which to guide the re-equalisation, which allows us to counteract many of the tonal flaws in the original recording equipment. Then closely-targetted noise reduction strips away swathes of noise, pushing the NR to the limits of what it can do alone. From this I can generate a new soundprint for the song with which to re-equalise once more the original Patton recording, this time at much finer resolution. This allows the equalisation to act as a secondary, noise-reducing filter as well as re-setting the tonal balance of the music as already described. After this equalisation it's now possible to use regular digital noise reduction to dig even further into the disc noise, thus revealing more of the sound of Patton and his guitar ever before.
The king of ragtime guitar & master of 'piano guitar'
"A great player, a great musical figure ... he was fabulous" - Ry Cooder
The output of the Paramount Record Company in the late 1920's and early 1930's is among the most frustrating in the history of recorded sound. On the one hand, they managed to assemble what has come to be regarded as one of the greatest 'stables' of blues musicians ever to record under one label, and of those, Blind Blake is most certainly in the very top rank.
On the other hand, their production values and methods were abysmal. Disc quality was so poor that even when new and unplayed their products were so shoddy and inferior that they lost distribution deals and some shops refused to stock them. Rather than invest in metal masters strong enough to withstand the requirements of pressing a hit record, they used cheap, soft metal parts which quickly deteriorated. If a hit was on the cards they merely recalled the musician and got them to re-record the song and make a new,