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The Complete Recordings is a compilation album by American blues musician Robert Johnson, released August 28, 1990 on Columbia Records. The album's recordings were recorded in two sessions in Dallasmarker and San Antonio, Texasmarker for the American Record Company during 1936 and 1937. Most of the songs were first released on 78rpm records in 1937. The Complete Recordings 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 has sold more than a million copies, and won a Grammy Award in 1991 for "Best Historical Album." In 1992, the Blues Foundation the album into the Blues Hall of Fame. It also was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congressmarker' National Recording Registry in 2003. The board selects recordings in an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Prior to his death in 1938, through the help of H. C. Speir Johnson recorded 29 songs for the American Record Company . His complete canon of recordings includes these 29 masters, plus 13 surviving alternate takes, all recorded at two ARC sessions held in San Antoniomarker and Dallas, Texasmarker. The Mississippi Delta—two hundred miles of fertile lowlands stretching from Memphis, Tennesseemarker in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippimarker in the south—was one of the primary locales in which the blues originated and developed. He is said to have been heavily influenced by early blues artists like Skip James, 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, most notably in "32-20 Blues," which he adapted from James's "22-20 Blues."

Johnson's first session in San Antonio, Texasmarker lasted three days, on the 23rd, 26th, and 27th of November 1936, sixteen songs were recorded in the Gunter Hotel, where ARC had set up equipment to record a number of musical acts. "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" was the first song recorded. Also captured in San Antoniomarker 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, but three songs and several interesting alternate takes remained unissued until they appeared on the Columbia albums. Six months later, on the 19th and 20th of June 1937, other recording sessions took place in a Dallas, Texasmarker warehouse where, once again, ARC had set up its recording equipment to capture many different acts. This time 13 songs were recorded and 10 were released during the following year.

The song "Cross Road Blues" is one of his best and most popular, thanks to Eric Clapton and Cream (Wheels of Fire), whose interpretation popularized the song in the late 1960s. Johnson didn't live long enough to enjoy his belated superstardom, established in the early '60s when Columbia Records released a collection of Johnson recordings called King of the Delta Blues Singers. Bluesmen like Clapton and Keith Richards viewed the release as something of a blues bible, considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers" The Rolling Stones recorded "Love in Vain on their 1969 album, Let It Bleed, and "Stop Breakin' Down" on their Exile on Main St. (1971) album.

Reception and influence

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, two prominent Chicagomarker bluesmen, have their roots in the Delta: both knew Robert Johnson, and were heavily influenced by him. By Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. In 2004, Me and Mr. Johnson is a blues album by Eric Clapton, which is a tribute to legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, reaching to number 6 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 563,000 copies in the United States. The Chicago Tribune s Greg Kot wrote that The Complete Recordings, along with Clapton's The Layla Sessions (1990), survives "monuments of 20th Century music that will rarely, if ever, be equaled".

Track listing

Side one
Track Song Title Notes Time
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. Rambling on My Mind 2:51
6. Rambling 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 2:47
10. Come On in My Kitchen (alternate take) 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

Side two
Track Song Title Notes Time
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 2:24
11. Drunken Hearted Man (alternate take) 2:19
12. Me and the Devil Blues 2:37
13. Me and the Devil Blues (alternate take) 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 2:14
21. Milkcow's Calf Blues (alternate take) 2:20


  • Robert Johnson – performer
  • Don Law – producer
  • Beryl Cohen Porter – compilation producer


  1. Bordowitz, Hank. Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press (2004), page 22 - ISBN 0806526319
  2. Grammy Award list
  3. Bragg, Rick. Journeys: Driving the Blues Trail, In Search of a Lost Muse. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-07.
  4. 2003 National Recording Registry choices
  5. Random House: Vicksburg to Memphis
  6. Dicaire, David. Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th, McFarland & Company (1999), page 20 - ISBN 0786406062
  7. All About Jazz: Robert Johnson
  8. PBS: American Root Music
  9. Wald, Elijah. Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, Harper Collins (2004), page xxiv - ISBN 0060524235
  10. Billboard: Eric Clapton
  11. Kot, Greg. " A Blue Rendezvous: Johnson and Clapton Speak the Same Language". Chicago Tribune: 8. October 7, 1990.

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