Another Robert Johnson Mystery


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Below see the semi-decipherable conversation between professor Chalfen and myself vis a vis the mystery of whether the recordings of blues giant Robert Johnson were recorded at the wrong speed and hence play back at a faster speed than they should. This is important because, if true, it implies Mephistopheles may have been less involved than was heretofore believed.

Briliiant Corners readers with views on the subject are welcome to comment. Go here to listen to the demo yourself: http://bit.ly/b5oECMTO

Rob Chalfen- extremely unlikely that location machines of a major record co would run at a commercially non-standard speed (last used in the pre-electric era), that the masters would be dubbed by Vocalion before issue (they weren't) or that conscientious re-issues by Columbia in the 60s would transcribe them at an improper speed.

Steve Provizer—Unprove-able. But possible. I thought those portable cutters were variable speed.

Rob —some, but 78.26 was the industry standard since electric recording was introduced in 1925, and it would have been pretty esoteric to do otherwise...the motors were synched to frequency (60 cps) not voltage, so local electrical conditions wouldn't factor.

Steve- How did they generate a frequency? Crystal?

Rob—no, the motor was regulated by the freq of the wall current, which was always 60

Steve According to Buzby, the exact frequency of a particular grid in a particular part of the US in the 1930's could easily vary by a semi-tone or more (6%) Rob the speed 'correction' on the RJ youtube is @15% Steve Not so-he takes it from 74/75 to 78. There's another youtube posting that's 85%. not this one. Rob dont get that, as 78 is standard play-back, thus no change from received versions. you sure? Steve The point seems to be that playback at 74~5 is more appropriate, as it was the original speed of the masters.

Rob yeah, if that can be demonstrated beyond mere esthetic preference Steve It's Bob Dobbs seance time... (sung to the tune of Howdy Doody) Rob—Sometimes the superhet feedback whistle gets recorded & you could key the speed off that, up around 7K Steve- Sounds superunreliable to me.

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This story appears courtesy of Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog.
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