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There is no boundary between 'types of music'. I see two types of sounds -- good ones and bad ones - Gram Parsons

Author Topic: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson  (Read 3233 times)

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Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #90 on: July 26, 2019, 09:18:36 PM »
Re: sales of Robert johnson's records in the 1930s.

Sales records were destroyed, so nobody knows what the actual sales of his records were. I wish people would just acknowledge that and move on. The notion that "Terraplane" sold and most of the others did not is simply part of the mythology. One would expect this to be made perfectly clear in a book whose stated purpose is to deflate all Johnson myth.

Conforth writes (pg. 215) that "Robert's bestseller from the [Dallas] session ended up being his 1938 release of 'Little Queen of Spades' backed up with 'Me and the Devil Blues.' More copies of that record and 'Stop Breakin' Down' have been found in unsold store stocks -- or by door knocking -- than of his other Dallas recordings." [emphasis added]

Unsold store stocks means that the records did not sell. Thus, finding a bunch of copies this way may well prove the opposite point. And does this include copies on all labels, or just Vocalion?

There is no evidence that "Little Queen of Spades" or "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" sold better than any other single by Johnson. No sales figures exist.

Furthermore, on page 186 Conforth writes that "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" had an initial pressing of at least 5,000 copies. This cannot be right. The typical industry practice was to press just enough to meet the market for new records, and if the pressing sold out, only then would further pressing be justified. They would only press 5,000 (or more) of a new record if the artist had built up a reputation over years and the initial market demand would be well above average, e.g. Duke Ellington. Conforth notes that this single was repressed on the Conqueror label for sale through Sears, and "only best sellers ... were issued on Conquerer." This supposedly proves "Broom" was a best seller. If so, why wasn't "Terraplane" released on Conquerer?

The only sales figures that do exist are the pressing quantities (which are not sales figures) for the dime store releases on Perfect, Romeo, and Oriole. These are listed by Conforth on page 151-52 (5,000 total pressed on Perfect, 400 on Romeo, 150 on Oriole). As a matter of speculation, we may infer from this that more than 5,000 total were also pressed on Vocalion -- though how many more is impossible to guess, and pressing figures do not correlate to retail sales.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #91 on: July 26, 2019, 10:59:54 PM »
Initial pressing decisions would be based on current demand. Back then there would have been no four period weighted moving average demand projections, or other demand planning algorithms, available or even possible.

So I agree with you, unlikely anyone would decide to produce a large amount of product unless they had either a) firm orders, or b) were so inspired by the recordings they just decided to roll the dice.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2019, 11:08:43 PM by Rivers »

Offline jharris

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #92 on: July 27, 2019, 08:59:17 AM »
Here an interesting article regarding RJ and the dime store labels: https://www.vjm.biz/robert-johnson.pdf

Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #93 on: July 27, 2019, 09:40:09 AM »
Thanks for the link to the article, Jeff.

Another consideration would be how many copies were needed so that the all the retail locations had copies in stock to sell. In marketing and merchandising, things were different in 1937.

In the early '70s, I knew a guy who had a small record store and also was a regional distributor for several labels. I remember him telling me that one of the rules of retail was that if a customer didn't see it in stock, 90% of the time they wouldn't ask the store to order it. They'd look for it elsewhere. Of course, they had to know about the record, but you get the picture.

Back in the late '60s or early '70s IIRC, Pat Sky said that he had a new album coming out--Soon to be available in drugstores and supermarkets with a hole punched in the corner of the album cover and going for the bargain price of $.99. Many a truth...

Back then there would have been no four period weighted moving average demand projections, or other demand planning algorithms, available or even possible.

In other words, back then they made an educated guess based on experience. Now the guess is based on numbers derived from experience and processed by a series of instruction sets.  ;)

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #94 on: July 27, 2019, 03:52:45 PM »
If Robert was paid $25 per song (page 181), Conforth should have made it clear what an enormous amount of money he made for 29 songs. 29 songs x $25.00 each totals $725.00, which according to the online Inflation Calculator, had the value equivalence of $12,896.09 in 2019 dollars.

It makes you wonder why he didn't buy a car at that point and give up the unglamorous and dangerous world of riding the rails and hitchhiking. He could have purchased a new Terraplane (the ad on page 149 prices these at $595) free and clear. What the hell did he do with $12,896??? The book indicates no change in his lifestyle at all (except traveling north) after 1936.

Also -- if the dimestore pressings (5,500) were wholesaled at a price of .15 cents each (a guess), that would be $825. So ARC would have recovered their expenses and made $100 profit on just the dimestore pressings alone.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #95 on: July 30, 2019, 12:08:54 PM »
Howdy:

I have just finished reading "Up Jumped the Devil" twice and I have to say I enjoyed in. Compared to some recent blues biographies I have read recently (Lonnie Johnson, Son House etc.) it seems to me well written. I like to footnote system used in the book, note constant quoting of sources in the text which slow things down too much.

I don't doubt there are some suppositions and slight exaggerations to make the account flow, but that's fine with me.

One thing that mildly bugs me is what JohnM mentioned, the analysis of Robert's music is amateurish. Like the use of the term "natural tuning" (rather than standard tuning), nothing "natural" about it. Also the mention of "Kindhearted Woman Blues" being is A standard in the first position-all of the I chord sections are never played in the first position. To me a shocking error as the Robert Johnson A blues accompaniment was his most used motif.

The discussion of his time with Ike Z. was to me the most intersting part of the book. Gosh, I wish this dude had been recorded.

But all in all a great read, to my mind the best blues biography in recent years. A corrected second edition, as Rivers said, would be great, but not enough to not read the current one. I offer Weenie Campbell assistance to the editing chores for the second edition!

What makes Mr. Johnson drink,
Alex

Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #96 on: August 02, 2019, 08:39:09 AM »
"BLUES LIVES: PROMISE AND PERILS OF MUSICAL COPYRIGHT" by OLUFUNMILAYO B. AREWA

Attached (Excuse the all caps)

https://www.law.temple.edu/contact/olufunmilayo-arewa/
« Last Edit: August 02, 2019, 08:44:50 AM by Stuart »