Even though it was a typically hot middle-of-June Texas afternoon and even though the “recording studio” was a third-floor room in a warehouse/office building in downtown Dallas, Robert Johnson had the most productive day of recording in his career.
Johnson cut seventeen sides during this, his fifth recording session for the American Record Corporation. Those seventeen sides included master discs of ten songs and a nearly-identical, alternate-take “safety” disc each of seven of those songs.
His second most productive session was his first: Monday, November 23, 1936 in San Antonio, Texas, when he cut thirteen sides and eight different songs. (See my archived post of November 23, 2010 for more details on that historic day.)
The songs he recorded 75 years ago today (in the order he recorded them) were: “Hell Hound On My Trail,” “Little Queen of Spades,” “Malted Milk,” “Drunken Hearted Man,” “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” “Honeymoon Blues,” “Love In Vain Blues” and “Milkcow’s Calf Blues.”
Of these ten songs, many have become standards in the repertoire of countless acoustic Blues musicians and electric Blues/Rock bands including Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and Keb ‘Mo, to name a very few. “Hell Hound On My Trail” and “Love In Vain Blues” were given special significance when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selected them for their list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll.
Here are those two songs. Please take a few minutes and listen to them both. (Got headphones?) These are the original 1937 recordings. Hearing is believing.
Robert Johnson’s recording session on June 20, 1937, in the Vitagraph/Warner Brothers Exchange Building, 508 Park Avenue, Dallas, Texas, was his last. He passed away under mysterious circumstances on August 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Mississippi.