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OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Dali ()
Date: August 8, 2009 04:23

Slow it Down, Mr. Johnson!

Of course, many of you have probably heard the rumors. The Robert Johnson recordings are too fast. It is not how they were recorded. They are sped up either by accident, due to a recording error, or on purpose, as they thought more records would sell with faster upbeat music.

Well, the test results have finally emerged, and I urge you to hear it for yourself.

The theory, originated (as some believe) by John Gibbens. His theory – as most popularly beleived in Japan – is that the Johnson recordings play at about 20% faster than they should. So he took the Johnson recordings and went ahead and slowed them down to prove his theory. What happened? A music transformed.

His voice now sounds darkly toned, and you can hear hints of his mentor Son House. His words are better pronounced. The tone acheived from his guitar is amazing – no more 4th fret capos to play Kind hearted Woman along with him. His vocals are clearly delivered, cleverly modulated, and not garbled. His delivery of his vocals will simply capture you at this speed – his timing seems perfect, a far cry from the rushed, almost desperate sound of the recordings at their original speed. Quite simply, it sounds amazing.

However, there are some facts to point out. Johnson was recorded on a mobile studio, directly to disk (actually, the Library of Congress now holds those original recordings). Therefore, the disks were not actually “remastered” or sent somewhere for enhancing, but simply copied. So in order to be “sped up”, we must blame that error on the recording equiptment being miscalibrated. Is it possible to miscalibrate by 20%? It seems unlikey.

However, I pursuade you to judge yourself. Listen to him played back at 80% of the speed, and tell e if the sound better fits everything we know about Robert Johnson. To make it easier, here are some tracks already slowed:

[thedeltablues.wordpress.com]



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2009-08-09 20:52 by Dali.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: hbwriter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 05:08

we (some friends and I) always felt these recording felt somewhat unnatural but simply chalked it up to the ways of the mysterious Mr. Johnson. This here of course makes far more sense - like watching an old scroll become decoded. Wonderful

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: hbwriter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 05:19

so now do they have to slow down the stones version of 'stop breaking down'?

(i know the stones already dealt with love in vain smiling smiley



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2009-08-08 05:39 by hbwriter.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Honestman ()
Date: August 8, 2009 05:23

Amazingthumbs up

HMN

HMN

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: scottkeef ()
Date: August 8, 2009 06:06

The first three examples DO sound more natural but the "Crossroads" sounds like 20% slows it down too much IMO. Wonder what it would sound like at say 10%?

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: TeaAtThree ()
Date: August 8, 2009 06:24

I always wondered what the fascination with RJ was. I get the mythology, and the songwriting is amazing, but I tried and tried over the years to like his recordings and just couldn't get into it. These make a lot more sense to me.

Agree with Scottkeef that Crossroads sounds too slow.

Ah, well, just adding to the mystique...

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: hbwriter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 06:41

tea--for me it wasn't always that accessible either. I always felt like eventually, if I didn't acquire a taste for it, that I just lacked a certain understanding. Where it connected for me was driving around mississippi years ago, in clarksdale, over the course of a few muggy summer nights. Something finally clicked and I felt something totally different when I heard it in that thick Delta air and today, the feeling only grows stronger.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2009-08-08 06:44 by hbwriter.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: otonneau ()
Date: August 8, 2009 06:43

That's a revelation, thanks!

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: TeaAtThree ()
Date: August 8, 2009 07:59

hbwriter,

Totally agree how place changed my perception of music. I grew up a classic rock kid in Baltimore (youngest of 3 brothers) and was very one-dimensional when it came to music.

I moved to Athens, GA right after getting married and started to understand all different kinds of music. Alt-country struck a chord driving around the loop at 1:00 AM and passing one car every couple minutes as opposed to the urban traffic of Baltimore, DC, and Boston. Everything from Son Volt, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, the Drive-by-Truckers, Jack Logan, Alejandro Escovedo, Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain, johhny Cash, Vic Chesnutt, Ry Cooder, Steve Earle, Robbie Fulks, the Jayhawks, Tift Merritt, Old 97s, Gillian Welch, the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Lucinda Williams -- they all came on my radar -- I owe tremendous thanks to my friends in those parts. Totally changed my life music-wise.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: with sssoul ()
Date: August 8, 2009 08:16

this speed issue gets a renewed airing every few years.
a few years ago i went ahead and invested in the CD with the supposedly "corrected" versions,
and it sounds exactly the same as all the other CD editions of Robert Johnson i own.
if it used to be a problem (like maybe with gramophone speeds?) it seems to have been corrected in the meantime.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: hbwriter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 08:20

tea,
yeah man, geography has a way of fixing the lense on our senses a bit, especially with music (and the environment you describe is a perfect case in point) thanks for sharing that

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: His Majesty ()
Date: August 8, 2009 08:43

I seriously doubt that recordings spread over different sessions were all sped up exactly 20% so it seems a bit silly to slow everything down 20%.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: hbwriter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 08:47

it's just the two sessions right? and i think they just slowed one of them down, no?

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: His Majesty ()
Date: August 8, 2009 09:00

Quote
hbwriter
it's just the two sessions right? and i think they just slowed one of them down, no?

Dunno, just typed a reply after quickly reading the thread. grinning smiley

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: boogie69 ()
Date: August 8, 2009 09:18

His songs are great, and obviously became one of the major templates for modern blues, but I agree that the recordings do sound tinny and fast to a degree, almost a bit Alvin and the Chipmunks-ish, or like he was inhaling helium. When I first heard them, I thought to myself I'd really like this stuff if it just sounded just a little bit better. What do you expect though, when you consider how and when they were made. A lot of stuff from back then seems to run fast, look at old silent movies, they all do.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Date: August 8, 2009 12:55

The RJ recordings have always sounded kind of like a silent movie to me. Love the guitar playing, but the singing had that fake personality. The slowed down versions sound way more authentic to me. The vocals come off like a real person and the guitar playing is as always superb. The slow part of "Come on in my Kitchen" is beautiful, as is the low guitar in "Kindhearted Woman Blues". "Crossraods" might sound too slow because of the guitar breaks in between the singing verses; one is so used to them being fast after Clapton did them with full band e.g.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Roadster32 ()
Date: August 8, 2009 13:39

For me this is all rubbish and pure speculation done by persons for the purpose to put themselves in the spotlight using the name of RJ.

The recordings are as they are. Nobody can tell if they are too fast. The only ones that could are dead, i.e. recording engineers, people who saw RJ play.

The only one alive i guess is Honeyboy Edwards. Maybe they should ask him. Or wouldn't he have already said something in the past 80 years if something was wrong?

Another point is, in the slow downed versions RJs voice sounds like he was older and thicker than he used to be. In fact he was a skinny person in his twenties.

Again I think not a word of that is true.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Ricky ()
Date: August 8, 2009 16:21

I read this story some years ago (I think that it's also in wikipedia), but I remember that the people who had the opportunity to meet him said that his voice and gtr playing sounded the same live in concert....

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: theimposter ()
Date: August 8, 2009 23:01

Very interesting. A good post and informative read. Thanks!

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Bliss ()
Date: August 9, 2009 01:49

When I saw the title of this thread, I expected to read something like 'I sold my soul to the devil for the blues'was found embedded in RJ's tunes, along the lines of 'Paul is dead'.

I am not sure which RJ version I prefer. There are bits where it definitely sounds too slowed down, as if it is coming from an aquarium. RJ's voice has some interesting, richly-textured tones.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Beelyboy ()
Date: August 9, 2009 01:56

these "slowed back down" clips sound authentic to me also...
very fascinating this....

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: ghostryder13 ()
Date: August 9, 2009 12:17

my ears are used to the what is considered the faster versions but it took me a good while to get used to beggars banquet's speed being adjusted on the 2002 remasters as well.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Rockman ()
Date: August 9, 2009 12:30

Pitty Robert hadn'ta taken it a lil' slower on that 13th night of August '39....



ROCKMAN

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Mathijs ()
Date: August 9, 2009 14:00

The slowed down versions sound much more natural and real, and fit much more in the body of work recorded by blues musicians of his age and era.

A strong argument also is that some of his guitar parts are impossible to play at concert pitch. There's some songs with a capo at the fourth fret, and the opening lines are played an octave above root, meaning it had to be played on the 16th fret. This is virtually impossible on an acoustic guitar.

Mathijs

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Green Lady ()
Date: August 9, 2009 15:23

I'm enjoying the slowed-down versions very much - sounds much more like a real person and less like an antique. The silent-movie comparison is interesting - when silent movies look too fast, it's because they are - in the 1920s they were filmed at a slightly slower speed that standard modern projectors can't cope with, and seeing them projected at the speed they were designed for is a revelation.

We'll probably never prove whether the RJ discs were too fast, or by how much - but Mathijs's point is pretty convincing: if you can get something that's straightforward to play live by slowing the record by x%, that seems a likely explanation.

Article about slowed-down RJ here, plus a link to buying a whole CD of the stuff if you want to:

[www.touched.co.uk]



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2009-08-09 15:36 by Green Lady.

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: with sssoul ()
Date: August 9, 2009 15:40

>> Article about slowed-down RJ here, plus a link to buying a whole CD of the stuff if you want to <<

that's the CD i got a few years ago, which sounds just like all my other Robert Johnson CDs

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Green Lady ()
Date: August 9, 2009 15:47

Hmmm - thanks for the warning. The samples on that page don't sound like my CD, but they may not be from the CD on sale... Has anyone else bought this?

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: vancouver ()
Date: August 9, 2009 15:58

continuing demand for Johnson’s music: the 1990 CD box-set of The Complete Recordings, with an expected sale of about twenty thousand, sold half a million.


i have this so the speed is too fast ?????????

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Mathijs ()
Date: August 9, 2009 16:23

Quote
vancouver
continuing demand for Johnson’s music: the 1990 CD box-set of The Complete Recordings, with an expected sale of about twenty thousand, sold half a million.


i have this so the speed is too fast ?????????

I understand the '96 version of this release is somewhat speed corrected, but I don't know to what extend.

Mathijs

Re: OT: Robert Johnson slowed down
Posted by: Papo ()
Date: August 9, 2009 16:23

Quote
Roadster32
For me this is all rubbish and pure speculation done by persons for the purpose to put themselves in the spotlight using the name of RJ.
Again I think not a word of that is true.

Au contraire! If you have trained ears or perfect ears or whatever it is sooo obvious. There are a lot of recordings that are released at the wrong speed, among them several by Charlie Parker and other jazz musicians, including early L. Armstrong recordings. Even one side of "Kind of Blue" has been "wrong" for decades.

Whenever I'm suspicious I try to adjust the speed until it sounds natural to me. I did it with Parkers recordings and I did it with several soundtracks extracted from DVD, such as Rattle & Hum and even Shine A Light.
And yep, I did it with Robert Johnson, with some early Dylan, with several other Blues artists...I could have made millions maybe if I had come up with it first, but I didn't give a sh**** and just did it with my old tape machine to give myself some listening pleasure. It's also the reason why I have sold my Robert Johnson cds a while ago, as I could not listen to them.

And before you ask: I'm unlucky to have perfect ears (which is more like a disease or curse than a blessing, 'cause you hear everything!).

And Mathis, good point about the guitar tuning!

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