Letter Confirms Robert Johnson's Texas Recordings
The discovery of a long-lost letter offers rare insight into Robert Johnson's life and confirms that the bluesman recorded at a downtown Dallas building, music historians said.
Blues fans have long thought Johnson recorded 13 songs in 1937 in a building two blocks east of Dallas City Hall. The building was home to Brunswick Records at the time, but there was no known documentation to confirm where the recordings took place.
That was until San Diego blues enthusiast Tom Jacobson tracked down a 1961 letter unlocking the mystery.
In the letter, the producer of the recordings, Don Law, wrote that the session took place in a makeshift studio at the Brunswick Records office _ a three-story building now owned by a drink distribution company.
Johnson died 18 months after the recordings at age 27, but his music lived on and was hugely influential on 1960s musicians like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
"It's just an incredible document," Jacobson told The Dallas Morning News for its Monday editions. "It's an important piece of Americana about a musical genius."
Law was the only producer to record Johnson, including another session in San Antonio eight months before the Dallas recordings. Law died 23 years ago.
Jacobson donated the letter to the Library of Congress in December. It also includes information about other Johnson tales, like the night in San Antonio that he asked Law for money to pay a prostitute, and how he was so secretive about his guitar technique that he would face the wall while playing when other musicians were present.
Jacobson found the letter in the New York City basement of Frank Driggs, a former Columbia Records employee who wrote the liner notes for the 1961 release of Johnson's music, "King of the Delta Blues."
Michael Taft, the head of folk culture archives at the Library of Congress, said the letter and recording site are important because so little is known about Johnson's life.
"It's a big deal for us," he said. "To finally be able to say this is the building he recorded in, that's a way of bringing Robert Johnson back to life."
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