Phonograph blues: Robert Johnson mastered at wrong speed?

Robert Johnson’s “The Complete Recordings,” issued in 1990 by Columbia/Legacy, is one of the most popular blues collections ever released, and is undoubtedly the biggest-selling album ever by a pre-World War II  bluesman. The compilation of works by the late, legendary singer-guitarist — originally released in two LP volumes, in 1961 and 1970 — has been certified platinum.

A story published Thursday in the U.K. paper the Guardian now maintains that Johnson’s dark, much-cherished blues have been reproduced for years at the wrong speed. Writer Jon Wilde claims in the piece that, based on examination of Johnson’s guitar tunings, “the common consensus among musicologists is that we’ve been listening to
Johnson at least 20% too fast.” Wilde also supplies a link to a British site that offers a CD, “Steady Rollin’ Man,” containing speed-corrected versions of 24 Johnson performances.

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