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Lawrence Cohn “Rescues” Robert Johnson

November 23, 2017

Robert Johnson, arguably the most influential blues musician of the 20th century, began five days of recording on this date in 1936 in San Antonio, Texas — the first of only two known periods in a recording studio during his short life (1911-1938). Fifty-five years later, record producer Lawrence (Larry) Cohn of Legacy (a division of Sony) won a Best Historical Album Grammy for Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, which sold over a million copies in the U.S. within three years. Cohn, born in Pennsylvania in 1932 and raised in Brooklyn, and engineer David Mitson discovered the Johnson tapes by accident in a previously forgotten section of Sony’s Iron Mountain archive complex outside Buffalo, NY. Cohn, who had started out as a reviewer of blues music for the Saturday Review, also edited the lavishly illustrated anthology, Nothing But the Blues: The Music and the Musicians, and was given the W.C. Handy Award for his work retrieving Johnson’s music from obscurity. As the creator of “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Cross Road Blues,” “Love in Vain,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and many other foundational blues songs, Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first induction ceremony in 1986.

“When producer Lawrence Cohn and engineer David Mitson discovered long-lost tapes of bluesman Robert Johnson, it was as if they had found the tomb of King Tut.” —Ben Cromer, Billboard magazine, December 7, 1996