The Complete Recordings (Robert Johnson album)

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The Complete Recordings
Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings.jpg
Compilation album by
ReleasedAugust 28, 1990 (1990-08-28)
  • November 23–27, 1936
  • June 19–20, 1937
  • Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, US
  • Warner Brothers/Vitagraph Building, Dallas, Texas, US
GenreDelta blues
Robert Johnson chronology
King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. II
The Complete Recordings

The Complete Recordings is a compilation album by American Delta blues musician Robert Johnson. The 41 songs were recorded in two sessions in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas for the American Record Company (ARC) during 1936 and 1937. Most were first released on 78 rpm records in 1937. The Complete Recordings, released August 28, 1990, by Columbia Records, contains every recording Johnson is known to have made, with the exception of an alternate take of "Travelling Riverside Blues".

The Complete Recordings peaked at number 80 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album sold more than a million copies,[1] and won a Grammy Award in 1991 for "Best Historical Album."[2] In 1992, the Blues Foundation inducted the album into the Blues Hall of Fame.[3] It also was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2003.[4] Eric Clapton and Keith Richards contributed to the album liner notes with essays on Johnson's influence on their music.[5]

Background and recording[edit]

Prior to his death in 1938, through the help of H. C. Speir Johnson recorded 29 songs for the American Record Company (ARC). His complete canon of recordings includes these 29 masters, plus 13 surviving alternate takes, all recorded at two ARC sessions held in San Antonio and Dallas, Texas. The Mississippi Delta—two hundred miles of fertile lowlands stretching from Memphis, Tennessee, in the North to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the South—was one of the primary locales in which the blues originated and developed.[6] He is said to have been heavily influenced by early blues artists like Skip James,[7] who was recorded in 1931, around the same time that Johnson amazed his elders with his mastery of the guitar. James's eerie, distinctive style is reflected throughout Johnson's recordings, especially "32-20 Blues," which he adapted from James's "22-20 Blues."

Johnson's first session in San Antonio took place over three days – November 23, 26, and 27, 1936. Sixteen songs were recorded in the Gunter Hotel, where ARC had set up equipment to record several musical artists. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" was the first song recorded. Also captured in San Antonio were "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" and "Sweet Home Chicago," both of which became post-war blues standards. "Terraplane Blues," known for its metaphoric lyrics, became a regional hit and Johnson's signature song. Most of the selections were released on Vocalion 78 rpm records, but three songs and several interesting alternate takes remained unissued until they appeared on the Columbia albums. Six months later, on June 19 and 20, 1937, other recording sessions took place at the Warner Brothers/Vitagraph Building in Dallas where, once again, ARC had set up its recording equipment to capture many different musicians. This time 13 songs were recorded and 10 were released during the following year.[8]

Reception and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Baltimore Sun(favorable)[10]
Chicago Tribune[11]
Down Beat[12]
Entertainment Weekly(A+)[13]
Los Angeles Times(favorable)[14]
Rolling Stone[16]
Washington Post(favorable)[18]
The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings[19]

While Robert Johnson's professional recording career can be measured in months, his musical legacy has survived more than 70 years. Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, the two most prominent Chicago bluesmen of the 1950s, both had their roots in the Delta: Muddy was influenced by Johnson's records,[20] and Wolf worked with Johnson around the Delta area.[21] Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence modern blues and popular music performers.

The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot wrote that The Complete Recordings, along with Clapton's The Layla Sessions (1990), survive as "monuments of 20th Century music that will rarely, if ever, be equaled".[22]

In 2012, the album was ranked number 22 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[23]

Track listing[edit]

For recording dates and original releases, see Robert Johnson recordings.

Disc one
1."Kind Hearted Woman Blues"2:49
2."Kind Hearted Woman Blues" (alternate take)2:31
3."I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"2:56
4."Sweet Home Chicago"2:59
5."Ramblin' on My Mind"2:51
6."Ramblin' on My Mind" (alternate take)2:20
7."When You Got a Good Friend"2:37
8."When You Got a Good Friend" (alternate take)2:50
9."Come On in My Kitchen" (alternate take)2:47
10."Come On in My Kitchen"2:35
11."Terraplane Blues"3:00
12."Phonograph Blues"2:37
13."Phonograph Blues" (alternate take)2:35
14."32-20 Blues"2:51
15."They're Red Hot"2:56
16."Dead Shrimp Blues"2:30
17."Cross Road Blues"2:39
18."Cross Road Blues" (alternate take)2:29
19."Walkin' Blues"2:28
20."Last Fair Deal Gone Down"2:39
Disc two
1."Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)"2:50
2."If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day"2:34
3."Stones in My Passway"2:27
4."I'm a Steady Rollin' Man"2:35
5."From Four Till Late"2:23
6."Hellhound on My Trail"2:35
7."Little Queen of Spades"2:11
8."Little Queen of Spades" (alternate take)2:15
9."Malted Milk"2:17
10."Drunken Hearted Man" (alternate take)2:24
11."Drunken Hearted Man"2:19
12."Me and the Devil Blues" (alternate take)2:37
13."Me and the Devil Blues"2:29
14."Stop Breakin' Down Blues"2:16
15."Stop Breakin' Down Blues" (alternate take)2:21
16."Traveling Riverside Blues"2:47
17."Honeymoon Blues"2:16
18."Love in Vain"2:28
19."Love in Vain" (alternate take)2:19
20."Milkcow's Calf Blues" (alternate take)2:14
21."Milkcow's Calf Blues"2:20


  • Robert Johnson – acoustic guitar, vocals
  • Don Law – original recording producer
  • Vincent Liebler – original recording engineer
  • Laurence Cohen – Columbia "Roots ‘n’ Blues Series" producer
  • Frank Driggs – reissue producer
  • Stephen LaVere – reissue producer

1995 rerelease[edit]

The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings reports that a 1995 rerelease of the album had improved sound, resulting from better source material and remastering. In addition to a maximum four-star rating, the guide awarded this reissue a “crown”, indicating a CD of exceptional merit.[19]

2011 reissue[edit]

A new remastered edition of the album was released in 2011 in commemoration of Johnson's 100th birthday. The Centennial Collection was released in both standard and deluxe editions.[24] The track order was changed so that all of the alternate takes were placed at the end of the discs, rather than side by side with the master tracks—as the 1990 release had placed them.[25] Included on this edition, is a previously unissued take of "Traveling Riverside Blues" (DAL.400-1) which was previously thought to be one of nineteen Robert Johnson Recordings that were lost or destroyed. It was found in the archives of Alan Lomax, which had been purchased by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bordowitz, Hank. Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press (2004), page 22 – ISBN 0-8065-2631-9
  2. ^ "Awards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  3. ^ Bragg, Rick. Journeys: Driving the Blues Trail, In Search of a Lost Muse. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-07.
  4. ^ "About This Program | National Recording Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  5. ^ "PBS - American Roots Music : The Songs and the Artists - Robert Johnson". Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  6. ^ "Vintage Books: Confederates in the Attic". Archived from the original on 7 March 2001. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  7. ^ Dicaire, David. Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th, McFarland & Company (1999), page 20 – ISBN 0-7864-0606-2
  8. ^ "All About Jazz: Robert Johnson". Archived from the original on 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Review: The Complete Recordings. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  10. ^ Considine, J.D. "Review: The Complete Recordings". The Baltimore Sun: 8.L. November 11, 1990.
  11. ^ Kot, Greg. "Review: The Complete Recordings". Chicago Tribune: 12. December 9, 1990.
  12. ^ Columnist. "Review: The Complete Recordings". Down Beat: 55. February 1997.
  13. ^ Browne, David. Review: The Complete Recordings. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  14. ^ Cromelin, Richard. "Review: The Complete Recordings". Los Angeles Times: 16. August 25, 1990.
  15. ^ Columnist. "Review: The Complete Recordings". Q: 126. August 1994.
  16. ^ Palmer, Robert. Review: The Complete Recordings. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  17. ^ Columnist. Review: The Complete Recordings. Time. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  18. ^ "Review: The Complete Recordings". The Washington Post: n.09. December 28, 1990. Archived from the original on 2009-08-08.
  19. ^ a b Russell, Tony; Smith, Chris (2006). The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings. Penguin. pp. 328–329. ISBN 978-0-140-51384-4.
  20. ^ Obrecht, Jas, ed. (2000). Rollin' and Tumblin': The Postwar Blues Guitarists. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. p. 96. ISBN 0-87930-613-0.
  21. ^ Segrest, James; Hoffman, Mark (2005). Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-1-56025-683-0.
  22. ^ Kot, Greg. "A Blue Rendezvous: Johnson and Clapton Speak the Same Language". Chicago Tribune: 8. October 7, 1990.
  23. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
  24. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (May 2, 2011). "Robert johnson: the Centennial collection [columbia Legacy]". Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  25. ^ Barbrick, Breg (May 4, 2011). "Music Review: Robert Johnson – The Centennial Collection". Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  26. ^ M. Dion Thompson. "At the American Folklife Center, a blues resurrection: A long-lost recording by bluesman Robert Johnson is most remarkable for flaws that make the legendary musician a little more human". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 17 March 2019.

External links[edit]