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Author Topic: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...  (Read 3404 times)

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Offline Stumblin

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Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« on: October 11, 2010, 04:17:04 PM »
I've done googled my po' self ragged trying to search for any references to sales figures for Josh White and Robert Johnson. I think there are at least some reasonably plausible estimates knocking about, but I'm having a hard time trying to track them down.
Any & all help, as always, much appreciated. Ta.

Online Johnm

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2010, 05:02:22 PM »
Hi Stumblin',
Are you asking about sales figures for Josh White in his pre-War Blues and Gospel period, or in his Folk-era incarnation?  It will make a big difference in the sales figures, i expect.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2010, 05:09:24 PM »
Sorry I can't answer your question, but I wonder what the answer (if someone comes up with one) will tell you. Johnson's original issues were sold as single 78 RPM Race records exclusively in the South, and my guess is that sales numbered in the hundreds or maybe fewer. I'd be willing to bet that, on a per-song basis, the Columbia LP reissues far outsold Johnson's originals, but these were sold almost exclusively to white blues afficionados. In 1936, a 78 cost about 75 cents (38 cents / side). By the time the LP was issued, the Consumer Price Index had approximately doubled, bringing the equivalent cost up to 75 cents / side. The LP reissue of Johnson (about $5) gave you 16 sides, or 31 cents / side.

Josh White's success was in the LP era, during a time when there was a lot more disposable income around for buying records. So on a per-song basis, he must have outsold Johnson's 78 RPM sales.

Josh White also sold primarily to a white audience, in this case as part of the folk boom, and perhaps less so to hardcore blues fans.

I assume we'll hear from people who disagree with me ...

Lyle

Offline dj

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2010, 05:30:49 PM »
I assume you mean how did Josh White's recordings from 1932 to 1940 or so, when he was being recorded for the race market, compare to Johnson's record sales in the late 1930s.  It was always said of Johnson that his biggest seller, Terraplane Blues, sold around 800 copies, but a quick search of my library doesn't find any citation for that.  Perhaps it was in the essay on the back of King Of The Delta Blues Singers.  I can't find any sales figures for any of White's race recordings, but I'd suspect that his best sellers sold better than 800 copies, though not wildly better, maybe double that.  But that's pure speculation, and I could be off by a lot! 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2010, 07:10:47 PM »
Comparing actually numbers of recordings, records pressed, sold etc is in part the turf of Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta book about Johnson, so you may want to check there. I suspect White's sales from 1932-40 would far exceed Johnson's.

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2010, 12:10:39 AM »
Thanks, all.
Yes I'm referring to the pre-war period.
I'll check Escaping the Delta. This is just a little hunch I'm working on etc.

Offline harry

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2010, 07:02:20 AM »
found this message by bob brozman at guitarseminars

"I once found a copy of the same record for 50 cents at the bottom of a stack of really bad records....this was one of his bigger sellers, though I don;t know the number of copies sold. I do know that Terraplane sold 16,000 copies, so it is not that rare, compared to any Patton or Skip James Paramount, but of course demand is high. The condition other than the bite looks to be good. I wuld say even with the chip it should be worth serious dough."

Offline dj

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2010, 08:15:19 AM »
Quote
Comparing actually numbers of recordings, records pressed, sold etc is in part the turf of Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta

Duh!  I looked everywhere but there!  Thanks, uncle bud.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2010, 08:51:06 AM »
Don't thank me too soon. I just did a quick flip through the book and didn't find anything.  :P Didn't look too carefully though.

Offline lindy

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2010, 09:19:00 AM »

I just read Elijah's book within the past 2-3 months, and I seem to remember him writing that Terraplane sold a maximum of 10,000 copies, good enough to get Johnson invited back for a second recording session. Please correct me if I'm wrong on that.

10,000 or 16,000, in either case I'd say it was remarkable that so many copies were sold during the height of The Depression. Still, as Wald points out, that makes RJ a minor figure in his own time.

L

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2010, 09:48:40 AM »
Slipped my mind that another place to look would naturally be Wald's biography of Josh White, Society Blues.

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2010, 10:00:37 AM »
Slipped my mind that another place to look would naturally be Wald's biography of Josh White, Society Blues.
Oh, I don't have that one. Escaping the Delta hasn't given forth of its bounty yet, I'll have another bash at it after dinner.
I bought a Josh White album purely out of curiosity recently, spent a good part of yesterday evening listening. Previously, I didn't really know much about him, having tended to prefer a more "Hard Delta" delivery. I expect sales figures for a single White release would have been significantly greater than those for a single Johnson release - this is essentially what I'm trying either to confirm or refute.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2010, 10:19:45 AM »
In his pre-folk incarnation, ie in the race record market, Josh White had some 60-odd sides issued, a likely indication that his sales were ok. On this basis, I agree with the general supposition that he would have sold way more than Johnson and I don't think his records are all that rare.

 In the first half of the 30's sales of more than 500 would be enough to turn a profit but I think they expected more than that as the volume of recording increased from 1935 onwards.

My recollection of reading about RJs sales was that Terraplane was a hit, selling around 5000 copies.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2010, 10:39:55 AM »
I bought a Josh White album purely out of curiosity recently
Once upon a time one must have been spoitl for choice seee http://www.wirz.de/music/whitefrm.htm

Offline elijahwald

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Re: Josh White vs, Robert Johnson - sales figures...
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2010, 11:07:37 AM »
Neither of my books addresses this specific question, and I don't have numbers, but... they wouldn't even be close. Josh White was one of the two or three most popular recording artists to come out of the Carolinas and sold well from Atlanta up through Virginia, while Johnson was virtually unknown outside his home area.

I base that on several things: Interviewing Piedmont players of the right generation, I fairly consistently found that if I asked them who they were listening to on records they said Blind Boy Fuller and Josh White, sometimes adding Buddy Moss. (Blind Blake should obviously be in there, but I rarely heard his name although a lot of people played his tunes.)
Josh's Pinewood Tom 78s were extremely common throughout this region as late as the 1990s, and may be still for all I know. A couple of his songs, "Blood Red River" in particular, often turn up in the repertoires of people throughout the Piedmont.

My guess is that this was partly a matter of regional fashions. The Piedmont had more old-fashioned tastes, so in the 1930s people were still buying ragtimey guitar records. By contrast, most blues fans in Mississippi were already tending to buy the piano-guitar records coming out of Chicago and St. Louis--many, of course, made by expatriate Mississippians.

 


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