Rare Robert Johnson record turns up at Jerry's Records
Jerry Weber, left, of Jerry Records in Squirrel Hill, and his son, Willie, hold a rare copy of Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" on the Vocalion label. The "holy grail of 78s" is estimated to be worth $6,000 to $12,000.
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You never know what you'll find in a stack of old records, which is part of what has driven Jerry Weber for four decades.
Last week, the owner of the world-famous Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill gave a man he didn't know $50 for several boxes of old albums found while cleaning out an attic. They sat in a hallway at Jerry's for a couple days before anyone looked at them. Among a collection of mostly junky, water-damaged, stuck-together discs, he found what he calls "the holy grail of 78s."
It's a 78 rpm copy of "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" (on Vocalion), the second song ever recorded by late Mississippi blues legend Robert Johnson, in 1936.
"I saw one 30 years ago that was broke," says Mr. Weber, "and I saw one that a friend of mine found and let me hold before he sold it. It's the most expensive record I've ever found, and it's in real nice shape."
He grades it VG, as in very good, as opposed to mint condition, and says the book value is between $6,000 and $12,000.
According to John Tefteller, an Oregon-based collector who specializes in rare blues and jazz records, "There are probably about 15 to 30 copies of that record in that condition floating around the country in various collections."
He adds, "There's not a huge market for something like that. Yes, it's rare, but you could count on your hands and toes the number of people who would buy it for a few thousand dollars."
The only Robert Johnson 78 on eBay is a rough-looking copy of "Kind Woman Blues/Terraplane Blues," up for $1,150.
Johnson, born in 1911, was an itinerant street-corner musician who never achieved fame during his lifetime. In November 1936, he recorded 16 songs, including "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," at a temporary studio set up at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. It was one of only two sessions he ever did, but his influence was substantial, thanks to such British blues players as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, who revered his work and covered his songs in the '60s.
The mythology of Robert Johnson is that he gained his ability to play the blues by selling his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in rural Mississippi. His death in 1938, at age 27, is mysterious, but it is believed that he was poisoned by a woman's jealous husband.
Mr. Weber plans to hold on to this rare "Broom" for a while, and his son, Willie, will play it for customers every Saturday at 2 p.m. until the end of the year at Whistlin' Willie's 78s, which is adjacent to Jerry's at 2136 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill.
First Published November 16, 2012 12:00 am