It is a hope of the ARChive of the Contemporary Music to some day find an actual 78 RPM record of the great blues singer Robert Johnson among a pile of 78s that get donated to us. The possibility of this ever happening, of course, is very slim—winning the lottery slim. It has become a joke among us: make sure you look through everything because there may be a Robert Johnson 78!
The ARC’s collection does actually own a Robert Johnson 78 ( “Me and The Devil Blues”/”Little Queen of Spades.” Vocalion, 04108, 78rpm, 10″, 1937) —generously donated by a member of its Board of Advisors, Keith Richards. But still, it would be nice to find one “in the wild,” as record collectors say, when they find a valuable record for really cheap.
Last week, as ARC Director B George and I were in the field packing up a donated collection, we didn’t expect to come across any Robert Johnson 78s, since there were no 78s to pore over. However, we did find a Robert Johnson USB thumb drive!
A Robert Johnson USB thumb drive? How could there be this 21st Century technology available for a guy who died in 1938? Seems that in 2011, the good people at Sony Music, who have the master release rights to Johnson’s music in the U.S.A., reissued his available recordings in a super deluxe collection box set celebrating his birth 100 years ago.
The USB drive was made as a promotional device that contains a press release document and photo of the product. As per the press release, the box set includes:
1) Vintage hardbound 10×10-inch book, housing vinyl 78rpm replicas of his 12 singles (now at 45 rpm), including a lavish booklet;
2) ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION – Newly-remastered 2-CD set of 42 master and alternate takes from 1936-1937
3) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN’T YOU HEAR THE WIND HOWL? – 1997 documentary DVD, hosted by Danny Glover, with Keb’ Mo’, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Cray, and others
4) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS – 2-CD set featuring:
CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault – 24 songs collected from 12 rare 78s by Victor blues greats, 1928-1932
CD Two: Also Playing – 10 songs from a mix of artists recorded same days as the Robert Johnson 1936-‘37 sessions
All of the music mentioned above has been converted to mp3s and are on the USB drive. Sadly, the video footage is absent.
The ARC can claim that it now houses the music of the legendary Robert Johnson’s on 78 RPM, long-playing LP (including the first collection of his work on the original six-eye Columbia label issued in 1961), digital compact disc and now USB flash drive!
PS – The box set contents above seem quite unusual, with no available info online. Please drop us a line if you know anything about this packaging.
PPS – Learn more about the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation
Also published on Medium.