Stop Breaking Down
|"Stop Breakin' Down Blues"|
|Single by Robert Johnson|
|Format||10" 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||Dallas, Texas, June 20, 1937|
|Length||2:16 (take 1)
2:21 (take 2)
|Label||Vocalion (no. 04002)|
"Stop Breaking Down" or "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" is a Delta blues song recorded by Robert Johnson in 1937. Described as an "upbeat boogie with a strong chorus line", the song became popular largely through later interpretations by other artists.
Recording and composition
Robert Johnson recorded "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" during his last recording session in 1937 in Dallas, Texas. The song is a solo piece with Johnson providing guitar accompaniment to his vocals. Several songs have been identified as "melodic precedents": "Caught Me Wrong Again" (Memphis Minnie, 1936), "Stop Hanging Around" (Buddy Moss, 1935), and "You Got to Move" (Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy, 1934).
Of his Dallas recordings, it is Johnson's most uptempo song, with "his exhuberant vocal driv[ing] home the story line". Two takes of the song were recorded, both sounding very similar, although Johnson fluffed the opening verse of the second take. His record company released both takes on different pressings, with some singles having the first take and others having the second. Although the song is played in a fretted guitar style, on both takes Johnson added a brief slide coda that comes across "like a little inside joke".
In 1970, the first take of the song was included on Johnson's King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. II album, making it available for the first time since its initial release. Both takes were later included on the 1990 box set The Complete Recordings.
Recordings by blues artists
As with most Johnson songs, "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" failed to generate much interest with the blues record buying public when it was released. However, his work was kept alive by a "small circle of Mississippi peers" with interpretations recorded by other blues artists. In 1945, Sonny Boy Williamson I recorded his version as an early Chicago blues with Big Maceo (piano), Tampa Red (guitar), and Charles Sanders (drums) (RCA Victor 20-3047). Titled "Stop Breaking Down", the song featured somewhat different lyrics, including the refrain "I don't believe you really really love me, I think you just like the way my music sounds" in place of Johnson's "The stuff I got it gon' bust your brains out, hoo hoo, it'll make you lose your mind". Williamson's song inspired the versions sung "by most postwar Chicago blues artists".
In 1954, Baby Boy Warren recorded it as a Chicago-style blues shuffle, but used most of Johnson's lyrics (Drummond 3003). Forest City Joe recorded the song in 1959, which was released on a compilation album The Blues Roll On (Atlantic SD 1352). In the late 1960s, Junior Wells with Buddy Guy recorded "Stop Breaking Down" for the Coming at You Baby (1968) and Southside Blues Jam (1969) albums. Their versions are medleys which incorporate lyrics from "Five Long Years" and Sonny Boy Williamson I's "Stop Breaking Down".
The Rolling Stones recorded "Stop Breaking Down" for their 1972 Exile on Main St. album. They interpreted the song somewhat differently from the earlier versions, with prominent slide guitar work by Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger providing the harmonica and guitar. The Rolling Stones' only ever live performance of the song (with Robert Cray on slide guitar and lead vocals) is included on their The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Live concert DVD.
"Stop Breakin' Down" was also recorded by Lucinda Williams in 1979 for her first professional release, Ramblin', a blues cover album (which also includes two more Robert Johnson songs, "Ramblin' on My Mind" and "Malted Milk Blues"). In 1986, Pussy Galore included the song for their parody of the Rolling Stone's Exile on Main St. The Jeff Healey Band recorded a rendition for Cover to Cover, released in 1995. The White Stripes' 1999 debut album features a version of "Stop Breaking Down"; a live version recorded by the BBC is included with their 2002 "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" single. Todd Rundgren included the song on his 2011 Todd Rundgren's Johnson tribute album to Robert Johnson.
Lawsuit over copyright
"Stop Breakin' Down Blues" (along with "Love in Vain") was the subject a lawsuit regarding the copyright for the song. In 2000, the court held that the songs were not in the public domain and that legal title belonged to the Estate of Robert Johnson and its successors.
- Wald 2004, p. 179.
- Wardlow, Komara 1998, p. 206.
- Wald 2004, p. 180.
- Palmer 1981, p. 128.
- Wald 2004, p. 187.
- Of Jagger's guitar part, album recording engineer Andy Johns explained, "That's why it's a little choppier". Kubernik 2010.
- "ABKCO Music v. Stephen LaVere". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. June 26, 2000. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
- Kubernik, Harvey (May 8, 2010). "Engineer Andy Johns discusses the making of The Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street'". Goldmine.
- Wardlow, Gayle Dean; Komara, Edward M. (1998). Chasin' That Devil Music. Miller Freeman Books. ISBN 0-87930-552-5.
- Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-006223-8.
- Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2.