Even Robert Johnson’s face was shrouded in myth when Columbia compiled these late 30s 78s at the dawn of the 60s. The painted sleeve views a hunched black man from above, photos being as unknown as clear facts about the supposedly taught-by-Satan player. This release was perfectly timed to become a touchstone of the R&B and blues-rock booms, not least in the idea of Johnson as a demon-dogged prototype for Keef. Maybe it shouldn’t matter that, as Marybeth Hamilton’s book In Search Of The Blues: Black Voices, White Visions (2007) uncomfortably explains, its attendant mythology of primal bluesmen arising from a swampy, Civil War-haunted Delta was invented by competing collectors around the time of the album’s release. They coined the phrases “country blues” and “Delta blues”, and, beginning in 1961, promoted obscure artists such as Johnson on Origins Jazz Library LPs. These convinced Columbia to release Johnson’s debut LP, the same year as that of the similarly myth-shrouded Bob Dylan. When a Johnson photo was finally published in 1986, the hip, white-shirted young man staring coolly at you (he was fatally poisoned at 26) was revealed to be a more modern, urbane figure. His youthful, keening voice, jolting, leaping guitar and richly resourceful songwriting should outlive the legends. NH
Runners-up: Bobby Bland Two Steps From The Blues, Roy Orbison Lonely And Blue, The Shadows The Shadows.