Pass it Around
The Story of the LAST Unheard Robert Johnson Track (Nail in the Coffin)
The only bad thing about Robert Johnson is that there are no more tracks to find. It used to be when one discovered an artist worth hearing, one had to go look for the rest at record stores, or under the mattress in bad neighborhoods.
Johnson is now 100...and they've all been found. The last discovery was made in 1997 when an "obscene" track withheld from the Columbia releases was added to the public canon. That the obscene lyric is the now familiar and standard blues phrase involving "juice running down a leg" doesn't matter, what does matter is that although the recording was purchased by the national trust, we still had to pay Columbia/Sony to hear it. The unreleased version of Traveling Riverside Blues on a 10 inch test-pressing was sold by the Alan Lomax archive to the Library of Congress American Folklife Center for $10,000, and was at the time the only unheard track by the artist. That Columbia was allowed to profit from it 8 years after millions had already paid for the reissue of Johnson's other output in 1990 (and the LP version years earlier) seemed odd to me.
Folklife director Alan Jabbour said "It's part of the Robert Johnson legacy, which in turn is part of our blues legacy." Apparently, it was part of the Columbia Sony legacy as well, since they asked fans to purchase the entire set to hear the then single new 2:38 addition back in 1998. As you can tell, I never got over it! HUMPF!
But it was worth the wait and I gladly shelled out the dough for the shellac.
By the way, they also erased the smoke from Johnson's lips when they put him on a U.S. Postage Stamp. A perfect example of Orwell's premise. Erase the cigarette, erase history and create a new reality. Call me stickler
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