The Robert Johnson recording speed controversy

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Elijah Wald, Robert Johnson

Author : Elijah Wald

Source :


“I have no idea why this story seems to surface every few years as if it were news, but we are clearly on another round. The claim was made back in 2004 that all of Robert Johnson’s recordings were issued at a speed that was about 20% faster than he actually played. The most recent reappearance of this claim, in the UK Guardian newspaper, adds the completely spurious claim that this is the “consensus” among musicologists. So, to start at the beginning: No, it isn’t. It is possible that some musicologists believe Johnson’s recordings are at the wrong speed, but I am not aware of any. At this point, the consensus among experts on prewar blues–musicologists and musicians alike–is roughly what I will outline below. Of course, we could be wrong, and I am not suggesting that a majority vote should end this debate, but for the moment the consensus is that some of Johnson’s tracks may have been issued at the wrong speed, but it is wildly improbable (bordering on impossible) that all of them have been issued at a single, consistent, wrong speed.

Here are some reasons to rule the “slowed down” theory out:”



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