THE BLOG
02/18/2011 02:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

He Named It "Grammy" : A Conversation With Hunter & Stan Freberg, Plus New Robert Johnson Releases

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Mike Ragogna: Stan Freberg, Hunter Freberg. Together, you're like an institution. So, you have a new album together but before we go there, how the heck did you two meet?

Hunter Freberg: Ten years ago--I really say eleven years ago--I received something in the mail from a Woodbury University in Los Angeles that I have never received anything from before. Usually, I would put it to the side, but something told me I should open it and I did. I see a Freberg picture, and I say, "Oh, I'm a big Stan Freberg fan." I see that he is getting The Ray Bradbury Award for creativity for the year 2000, all of the proceeds go to the library associates of the university. I go, "I'm in town, I'm a fan and I love to read, so how wonderful to support that."

I drive out there and there is nobody around when I get to the main gate and I don't know where to park. So, I park on the wrong side of campus and by the time I get over to the library where it's being held, I miss the whole reception and the possibility of meeting him. He is now on stage, he starts to entertain, and he's great as usual. After it's over, I thought, "It will be great to chat with him," but he and Bradbury were seated signing books and CDs, so I thought I'll grab a cup of coffee, then I'll come back and talk to him. I don't want to bend down over him to talk to him, so I figured eventually, he'll stand up.

I go back later on, he's still signing, and all the fans are there, so I said forget it. I get to my car and drive to the main gate of the University. When I get there, a little voice inside of me said, "Stop. You have two choices--you either go on home and say it would have been nice to meet him but it just didn't happen." The other voice inside of me said, "What's five minutes?" Five minutes is the difference in both of our lives. I decide to turn my car around, and go where I should have gone in the first place.

I get out of the car and one more minute, I would have missed him. The limo is there, the door is open, Bradbury is inside waiting for Freberg to come. Up the steps, all by himself, comes Stan Freberg. I said, "Hi, I really enjoyed your presentation, my name is Betty Hunter and I have an appropriate last name because I used to be a headhunter." With his sense of humor he finds that hilarious. So, he says, "Why don't you put me on a Fortune 500 company board of directors to use my humor." I said, "What I do professionally, I could do that." So, he gives me his card and said, "Call me with some ideas." You don't have to tell me that twice!

Eleven AM the next morning, I call, and I get his voicemail. I said, "Your favorite headhunter just following through give me a call." A week goes by and nothing. I thought, "Have I lost my touch personally and professionally?" Then, finally, I get a voicemail that says...

Stan Freberg: ..."Oh Betty, I'm so sorry, I was writing Volume 3 of USA on a legal pad and twenty-eight pages later, I flipped back to the beginning and said, 'Oh there's that headhunter's number.'"

HF: So, he called and left that voicemail. I called and he answered the phone and said...

SF: ..."Freberg."

HF: So, I said, "Hunter," and from that moment on, we have not called ourselves anything but Freberg and Hunter. I legally changed my name when we got married, I dropped the Betty, so it's simply Hunter Freberg. People ask, "Is that a family name?" and we both start laughing.

MR: Hunter from your perspective what are the highlights of Stan's career? Stan, I guess you'll love hearing this yourself.

SF: (laughs) I always wondered what the highlights of my career were.

HF: Let's go with receiving a scholarship to Stanford from high school for winning three major California state speech championships. Just two weeks after graduating from high school, though, he decided to take a bus from Pasadena and go to Hollywood to see if he could get an agent. I will let him tell the bus story. Then, he starts his first career doing voiceovers--like the Beaver from Lady And The Tramp and 400 Warner Brothers and Looney Tunes cartoons. So, we have the Animation Hall of Fame. Next, he goes to television where he's doing the children's show Time For Beanie. I fell in love with him then, when I was four years old. He has three Emmys for that show. Then, he goes to radio, so there's the Radio Hall of Fame.

He has the legendary Capitol recording artist career with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole... For Freberg, there are all of his humorous records when he opened for Sinatra on his world tours. Then, there's the advertising career. There was no humor in advertising before Stan Freberg. In the hundred legendary giants of radio in the past one hundred years, Freberg ranked number 49. Number 50 is Rupert Murdoch, interestingly enough, for different aspects of advertising. Needless to say, people would kill for one of his careers, let alone all of them. Not bad for a few years on Earth.

MR: Stan, she left nothing out, right?

SF: She didn't mention I created the word "Grammy" 52 years ago. I lived at 911 N. Beverly Drive, which has an auspicious name to those numbers. I walked down to the corner to The Beverly Hills Hotel, where the founding of the Grammys was taking place, but it wasn't called a "Grammy" yet. The founding board of governors for NARAS said, "Oh Stan, we finally figured out what we are going to call our award." I said, "What are we going to call it?" They said, "The Eddie." I said, "Why would you call it the Eddie? People will think it's named for Eddie Fisher." They said, "Well, it's for the Edison Horn." I said, "What Edison actually created was the Gramophone. We should call it the 'Grammy.'" There was a long pause, then somebody said, "No, that sounds like we're all going over to Grammy's house for Thanksgiving." Then, the composer/conductor, Elmer Bernstein stood up and said, "Hold it. Freberg is right. 'Grammy' is it. Don't even think twice about it. Grammy sounds like nothing but the Grammys." So, we voted on it, and it became the Grammy.

MR: You also wrote the credo for NARAS by which all records should be judged. Alright, let's get to your new album Songs In The Key Of Freberg. What are its surely humble beginnings?

SF: The first thing I wrote was "The Ceiling Of My Mind," Hunter and I wrote the lyrics, and I wrote the music. Then, we decided this could be a whole album and I loved the title Songs In The Key Of Freberg. I used to record for Rhino with Richard Foos...he didn't laugh. I tried to pitch it to him then and there was no laughter. Then, when I married Hunter, we said, "Why don't we do a whole album--Songs In The Key Of Freberg? She loves that title of course, and everyone loves that title.

MR: It's great. And then?

SF: We decided to do "Side Effects." We love all of those medications on television, but I always yell, "When do you get to the side effects!" You would never take any of those medications if you knew the side effects.

MR: Hunter, you referred to Stan taking a little bus trip.

SF: I had a scholarship to Stanford because I won three California Speech tournaments. Before I started Stanford, I told my mother I wanted to take a bus into Hollywood and see if I could get an agent. She said, "Stanley, you don't just take a bus into Hollywood and try and get an agent." That's what happened, actually. My father was a Baptist minister and he said, "Hollywood is a strange place, Stan, you better be back before nightfall." So, I took the bus in, and I'm looking at the bus driver looking in the mirror and he said, "Where do you want to get off, kid?" I said, "I wanna get off in the middle of Hollywood." He hit the brakes and I said, "Is this the middle?" He said, "Kid, this is as middle as it gets."

There is a building at the corner of Whitley and Hollywood. I walk in, and look on the index in the lobby. I see Dry Cleaners, Invisible Weaving, and then I see Talent Agency--Stars of Tomorrow. I said, "That's me!" I get in an elevator, an old creaky elevator. I walk in and I said, "Stars of Tomorrow?" This short guy with a cigar walks in with a woman with big white shoulder pads. They said, "Yes, can we help you?" I said, "Yes, I would like to speak to somebody about some representation." They asked, "What do you do?" I said, "Different voices." She said, "Like what?" I said, "I could do F.D.R." I proceeded to do a few voices and then she said, "Stop!" She walks in, calls this man she knows named John Burton at Warner Brothers, and she said, "I'm bringing in a talented man to see you...I know you have Mel Blanc, but he can't possibly do all the voices in the world...his name is Stan Freberg, we'll be right there." She took me over and I do the same thing for John Burton and he said, "Stop." I thought, "Oh I'm bombing." He said, "Could you come back tomorrow and do that for all of our great animation directors--Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett? I said, "Absolutely." I got back on the bus and went home while visions of Looney Tunes danced in my head. I got up in the morning and took the bus back to Hollywood.

Now, they have me at the bottom of a big projection room with a black curtain around me because animation directors don't like to see the guy, they just want to hear him. So, John Burton said, "Go ahead, Stan." I start doing the voices and they all start to laugh, so that's fine with me. Finally, he said, "Come out and meet the directors, Stan." Bob Clampett was doing a motion picture called My Friend Fala--Fala was the name of the Scotty dog FDR had. He decided that he would have the dog talk like Roosevelt. I said, "Oh, great." Chuck Jones said, "I'm doing a picture on The Three Bears, I want you to be this giant baby bear.
Then, Friz Freleng looks up at me and says, "Why haven't we heard of you before, Stan?" I said, "Oh, I've been around, you know." He says, "Oh, I didn't mean that the way it sounded, I mean I'm sure you didn't just get off the bus."

HF & MR: (laugh)

SF: A week later, I have a new Screen Actors Guild card in my pocket, and I'm doing the first of over 400 Warner Brothers characters including Pete Puma, my favorite character. At Warner Brothers cartoons, they say the question that is most asked of them was "Who did the voice of Pete Puma?"

HF: I'm married to all of these different people. We don't have a single dull moment in our marriage. I'm married to all of these different characters.

MR: (laughs) Okay, tell us about the song "Gridlock" from Songs In The Key Of Freberg, a topic no one in L.A. is familiar with.

SF: We love gridlock because we're in it everyday.

MR: (laughs) Okay, what else you got? More about the album...

SF: We had a terrible experience, we remodeled our house, we built up. People can relate to "The Remodeling Song." "The Jacaranda Tree" is one of my favorites too.

HF: Basically, when we were thinking about doing the CD, when we first were dating, we'd laugh and say we were Two Funny Frebergs, Two Brains In Love. We said we would never find another brain in sync with ours. So, when we were dating, we started doing an ad campaign together. I gave him an opening line, he gave me a line, I gave him a line, and back and forth. We were driving in the car doing this...we did it within like 8 minutes. I said, "Gee, do you maybe think we should start doing this professionally?" How easy was that?

SF: It was for a client I remember named Jeno Paulucci, still our client today after all of these years.

HF: We had so much fun doing it, and so we were doing marketing campaigns and doing a whole bunch of things. As the years went by and we had so much fun with our humor and we had similar backgrounds in entertainment and media, I said we should really think about doing a CD. We are always creative with different things. I was a music minor at USC's Thornton School of Music, I could work on the lyrics, but Freberg had the genius for all of the music. That's where I'm blown away. I hear him in different rooms of the house creating all of this fabulous music. I go, "How do you do that?" He never had any professional training at all, he feels it's a God-given gift. It's wonderful for me, because through the years, he created so many wonderful things.

SF: People are amazed to see that I wrote all the words and music myself to Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America.

MR: That's considered one of the greatest comedy albums of all time.

SF: One of my favorite songs from that is "Take An Indian To Lunch."

MR: You have to go into that.

SF: Let me say something about the Indians before I go any further. American Indians had been used as political pawns for years, I felt for them. So, I was invited by the chairman of the Navajo nation--his name, Peter McDonald. I was invited to the Kennedy Center at a celebration called The Night Of The First Americans. I looked out as I was performing, and everybody was in headdresses and silver and in turquoise. I thought, "Gee, it's lucky that the top of the opera house doesn't sink from all of that jewelry." Martin Sheen introduced me, by the way. Sammy Davis Jr. said to the Indians, "Freberg and I are the only white men here tonight."

MR: How did you put together as ambitious a project as ...The United States Of America was?

SF: What happened to me was I flunked U.S. history in high school. I had this boring, terrible history teacher. I had to go to summer school in order to graduate. When I went, there was the same boring history teacher. I'm lucky I got through that at all. So, now my A&R guy at Capitol Records later on was Ken Nelson. Capitol had done compilations of all of my hits, now they said we needed to do an album with a theme to it. I wondered if I could make history not only bearable but entertaining. I went in to Ken Nelson's and I said, "It's going to be Freberg's version of U.S. history." Capitol said, "Okay we get the idea, go ahead and make the album."

MR: And many years later, you followed ...The United States Of America concept with The Middle Years that was the Rhino project, picking up right where you left off.

SF: Yeah, I picked up where I left off, and that was around The Declaration of Independence and all of that.

MR: You've started working on a third?

SF: Hunter and I are actually working on Volume 3.

HF: The funniest thing happened. We find all of these Freberg fans, but especially of Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America. We were going to a bookstore in Beverly Hills and Billy Crystal happened to be doing a signing. Billy had no idea Stan was going to show and hadn't met him before and he does this double take. The two of them start going into a repertoire of Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America. Then, Billy says to Stan that when he was sixteen years old, he used to perform that work entertain in Upstate New York at Sweet Sixteen parties. We went, "Who knew?" But recently, we were at the Directors Guild Of America award show, and we run into Steven Spielberg. Steven starts singing one of the songs, "It's A Round, Round World," every single part of it. Letter perfect.

SF: Hunter and I applauded him. That was a great moment.

MR: How does it feel to be that influential and quotable?

SF: It feels great. Nobody told me I was in Time magazine, they had Jaws on the front cover. I'm reading the story, and it says that Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss--while they were waiting for the fog to lift off of Martha's Vineyard--are seeing how many songs they can remember from Stan Freberg's United States Of America. That's the first time I knew Spielberg was a fan. Of course, I believe all of my talents come from the Lord. All of my talents are God-given--that's how I was able to write music without any professional musical training.

MR: Got any other stories?

HF: We went to Liza Minnelli's wedding--not the divorce, just the wedding. We were one of her 1200 closest friends. When we were at the reception, we looked over and the world was there, of course. At that time, it was Kirk Douglas, Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor...you name it. We see Sir Anthony Hopkins and he was seated at a table not talking to anyone. So, I said to Freberg, "Why don't you go over and introduce yourself to Sir Anthony." He said, "He wouldn't know my work." I said, "How do you know? He lives in California, now why don't you go and have some fun!" So, Freberg walks over there...

SF: ...I said, "Sir Anthony?" He says, "Yes." I said, "My name is Stan Freberg, sir, I don't know if you know my work or not, but I just wanted to tell you..." I didn't get any further. He jumped on his feet pumping my hand, "Stan Freberg, my dear man, when I was first starting off in London, I used to mouth to your records. All of them." So, I motioned over to Hunter and said, "This is my wife," and he said, "Oh my dear Mrs. Freberg," as he's pumping her hand.

HF: I said, "Who knew that Hannibal Lecter was a fan?"

MR: (laughs) You had one of the highest rated and most beloved shows which was Stan Freberg Presents The Chun King Chow Mein Hour Salute To The Chinese New Year among others.

SF: Yeah, I actually did that for my friend Jeno Paulucci. I thought you were going to talk about Beanie And Cecil.

MR: I was, can you go into that?

SF: I was one of the co-creators for Time For Beanie along with Bob Clampett. Daws Butler and I did all of the voices. We thought we were just doing the voices. I asked, "Where are the puppeteers?" He said, "You're the puppeteers." We said, "We're the puppeteers?" I told Daws, "It's called on the job training." From that day forward, I did Dishonest John, the villain. It was my idea because I used to do a show for a guy in Glendale called Honest John. Daws and I did all the voices and all of the puppets.

HF: When I met Freberg, I knew all of the careers and so forth, but I had no idea he was the co-creator for ...Cecil. All of these years later, I have an 8x10 glossy of the show.

SF: Little did she know she would wind up marrying Cecil The Seasick Sea Serpent.

MR: (laughs) I want to get into your advertising career. There was no humor in advertising before your work, right?

SF: Nope, there was not. Advertising Age Magazine called me "The Father of the Funny Commercial."

MR: What were some of your favorite commercials?

SF: Some of my favorites were, of course, the ones I did for my friend Jeno Paulucci. There were a couple called "Truth In Advertising" and "Hot Dog! Hot Dog! Hot Dog!" for Chun King Chow Mein. Then, there was one for The Sunsweet Prune Company--"Today The Pits, Tomorrow The Wrinkles!" The voice was done by somebody named Ronald Long. I called the guy who was initially going to do it from England who decided at the last minute that he didn't want to lower himself to doing a common commercial. I called a man named Lou Rosso at Goldwyn Studios, I said, "Cancel the crew." He said, "Too late. You have to cancel them 24 hours in advance and it's the day of the shoot." So, I showed up on the set and all the crew says, "Light 'em," the chair that the man who is unknown was going to sit in. The assistant director said, "Where is the actor?" I said, "Don't worry about that, just light the chair." I called an agent I knew that represented British actors. She handled a man named Ronald Long and gave me his number. I called and said, "Is this Ronald Long?" He said, "Yes." I said, "I'm going to ask you to say two things: 'I will warn you in advance I'm not going to like your prune' and 'They're still rather badly wrinkled though.'" He said both, and I said, "You're hired!" He said, "Good, I've always wanted to work for you, Mr. Freberg. When are we shooting?" I said, "Right now." He said, "What do you mean right now?" I asked, "Do you know where the Samuel Goldwyn Studios are on Santa Monica?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Wear a tweed sport coat with an open button down shirt and an ascot. Do you have an ascot?" He said, "Yes, of course. I'm British, you know." So, he shows up and I said, "Here is the actor." Take One was the one I used. I had all of the lines on these cue cards, but he was so brilliant, it was so easy.

HF: That raised the sales of Sunsweet Prunes 400%.

SF: The Wall Street Journal did a front page, Column One story on Sunsweet Pitted Prunes.

MR: You're also responsible for the famous Contadina Tomato Paste commercial--"Who puts eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can?"

HF: Yeah, and there is also the great Lone Ranger commercial.

MR: Yeah, the Jeno's Pizza Roll commercial.

SF: Yeah, that was Jeno Paulucci's. It was with the original The Lone Ranger and Tonto--Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

MR: That's my favorite of the era. Can you go into that one?

SF: It's a similar thing to Ronald Long showing up at the last minute. Peter Leeds, an actor friend of mine, who dressed up as The Lone Ranger in case I couldn't talk him into it. But I had been able to talk The Lone Ranger into our doing the commercial. I called up Clayton Moore and I said, "Clayton?" He said, "Yes?" I said, "Let me ask you this. Have you changed your mind?" He said, "Have you talked to Jack Wrather who owns the rights to The Lone Ranger and Lassie?" I said, "I haven't talked to him personally, but I'm sure one of my people has. Why don't you do it for me?" He says, "Well I'm not too sure." I said, "Clayton you owe it to the children of America." He said, "You're right, what do I do?" I said, "We shoot right now?" He says, "Right now?" So, I said, "I know why you don't want to do it--you've gotten flabby." "What?? I'm in better shape today than I was when I made those shows!" "Well, I can't see that unless you come over here." Then, I said, "I know, you probably don't have your costume anymore." He says, "Hold on a minute." He puts the phone down, comes back, shakes the plastic and says, "I just got it back from the cleaners." I said, "Put on your mask, put on your costume, I will leave your name at the Universal gate and come over." He walks in and everybody applauds and Peter Leeds said, "What about me?" I said, "Get your money and wash up." That's how we shot The Lone Ranger commercial.

MR: That's the one with the confrontation over The William Tell Overture.

SF: My joke was The Lone Ranger was very angry that the Lark Cigarette Company at the time had stolen The Lone Ranger theme song.

MR: A classic. Years later, you also did a bunch of things including a speaking role in Stuart Little, and you also appeared on three Roseanne episodes. Let's get back to Songs In The Key Of Freberg. You decided to self market it, how does that work?

HF: We do a lot of keynote speeches all over the country over the years. We did Comic-Con in San Diego the past two years. We've spoken at Disney, we've gone to London for the BBC, we did Vegas for a book festival. We had a bunch of stuff for very differing audiences. That works out very well for us, we have these wonderful Freberg fans. Those years at Comic-Con were amazing because we saw so many generations of Freberg fans. Many people have passed on the love and the humor to their children and even their grandchildren. It's great when a lot of twenty year olds come up doing his routines, whether they are his songs or his commercials. They have just a wonderful time in doing that and that's been great for us. We just entertained recently at The Writers Guild theater. Penn of Penn & Teller flew in from Las Vegas to interview us about the new CD. We had a great time with that, and we had a wonderful audience. It worked out very well for us. People go to our website and realize they can easily buy our CD on Amazon, and digitally on iTunes. The website is hunterfrebergltd.com. We have a whole envelope of about 35 misspelled ways of spelling "Freberg."

SF: There is one from Tiffany's where they said Stan Fregerg.

MR: That's just wrong.

HF: The company is Hunter Freberg LTD. Limited, but not very. So, somebody sent us, "Dear Mr. and Mrs. LTD..."

MR: So, my dear Mr. & Mrs. LTD, again getting back to Songs In The Key of Freberg, it seems like your new songs are songs about life.

SF & HF: Oh, yes.

MR: How do you stay in love and work so closely together?

HF: You know what we do? There is a wonderful cartoon that is syndicated and it's called Love Is... Ever since we started dating 11 years ago, we have cut out the Love Is... cartoons for each other. We have had the most wonderful ones that we have gotten kicks out of over the years.

MR: Nice. Have any advice for new artists?

SF: The best thing is to take a bus into Hollywood. (laughs)

MR: (laughs)

HF: One of the things I want to add with advice is simply the word "perseverance" for what you want to do in following your hopes and dreams. You don't need twenty people to believe in you, you only need one. Freberg and I found, when we met each other, we both had a lot of perseverance personally and professionally in our lives throughout the years. Years ago, a PR executive in New York said to me, "When God created the word "perseverance," he had you in mind." I thought, "How perfect I met Stan Freberg, and what song had he written for Volume Two of the U.S.A. but 'Perseverance.'"

MR: So, what does the future bring?

HF: We would love to take his greatest work, The U.S.A., and either animate it or take it to Broadway. Then, we possibly have a show that PBS is interested in us doing together which would be great because it's based on our own show. We love meeting people in person. We love, hopefully, making people laugh and living life to the fullest.

MR: Last thoughts or stories we haven't covered?

SF: I want to mention one thing quickly. I was on my way to Broadway, at one point, with a great producer named David Merrick. We were rehearsing at the St. James Theatre and he said this to me: "Take Lincoln out of the Civil War, he doesn't work." I said to him, "David, Abraham Lincoln is not a fictional character I made up. You can't take him out of the Civil War." He said, "Yes we can, we can do anything we want in the theater!" So, that's when I walked away from David Merrick. I threw the U.S.A in a drawer at my house and didn't think about it 'til later.

HF: We thought after 9/11, it would be a good time to put it on Broadway. Somebody also wants to animate "Green Christmas." That would be great for theatrical distribution at the end of the year.

SF: And I always told Hunter that she would make a great ambassador. Recently, the prestigious international jewelry firm, Harry Winston, gave her that title.

HF: Ambassador Hunter Freberg--it has a nice ring to it!

MR: Oh my. (laughs) Stan, Hunter, again, all the best and it's really phenomenal that you guys took the time for this. Thank you so much.

SF: Thanks a million, Mike. It's always great to talk to you. Thanks for your time.

Tracks:
1. The Ceiling of My Mind
2. Gridlock
3. The Remodeling Song
4. Jacaranda Tree
5. Who Cares?
6. Conversation
7. Gas Station Nation
8. Your Call Will Be Answered in the Order in Which It Was Received
9. Aggravation
10. Side Effects

(transcribed by Theo Shier)

PRESS RELEASE:

LEGENDARY BLUESMAN ROBERT JOHNSON'S 100th BIRTHDAY ON MAY 8, 2011, INSPIRES TWO CENTENNIAL SETS

• ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS - CENTENNIAL EDITION
(DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER PACKAGE THAT FEATURES 4 SEPARATE ITEMS)
:

1) Vintage hardbound 10x10-inch book, housing vinyl 78rpm replicas of his
12 singles (now at 45 rpm), including a lavish booklet;

2) ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION -
Newly-remastered 2-CD set of 42 master and alternate takes from 1936-1937

3) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN'T YOU HEAR
THE WIND HOWL? - 1997 documentary DVD, hosted by Danny Glover
with Keb' Mo', Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Cray, and others

4) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS - 2-CD set featuring:
CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault - 24 songs collected from 12 rare 78s
by Victor blues greats, 1928-1932
CD Two: Also Playing - 10 songs from a mix of artists recorded same days
as the Robert Johnson 1936-'37 sessions
AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY AT www.thecompleterobertjohnson.com;
Pre-order now in advance of April 26th release

• ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION - Double-disc described above
will also be available as a stand-alone release starting April 26, 2011

May 8, 2011, marks the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who, according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in a midnight bargain that has haunted the music world for three-quarters of a century. The 'deal' brought forth Johnson's incandescent guitar technique and a run of 10-inch 78 rpm singles for the Vocalion, Oriole, Conqueror and Perfect labels recorded in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937. Those songs have become a cornerstone of Columbia Records' identity, and will be celebrated on two CENTENNIAL releases from Columbia/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.

Over the years, Johnson's influence has resounded in the music of Muddy Waters ("32-20 Blues"), Elmore James ("I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"), Junior Parker ("Sweet Home Chicago"), John Hammond Jr. ("Milk Cow's Calf Blues"), the Rolling Stones ("Love In Vain," "Stop Breakin' Down Blues"), John Mayall ("Ramblin' On My Mind"), Cream ("From Four Until Late"), Eric Clapton ("Cross Road Blues"), Johnny Winter ("When You Got a Good Friend"), Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt ("Walkin' Blues"), Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top ("Hellhound On My Trail"), Led Zeppelin ("Traveling Riverside Blues"), Keb' Mo' ("Preachin' Blues"), Cassandra Wilson ("Come On In My Kitchen"), and countless others. It is by far the most empowering body of work in American history to emerge from one solitary blues figure.

As recently as this year, John Mayer was nominated for a Grammy Award® for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, for his cover of "Crossroads" on his Battle Studies album, Columbia, 2009. "Cross Road Blues," of course, gives Eric Clapton's annual Chicago music festival its title.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson's birth, Columbia/Legacy pays homage to his spirit with ROBERT JOHNSON: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL MASTERS - CENTENNIAL EDITION, a multi-faceted "box set" encompassing stand-alone vinyl, CD and DVD components. Its components include:

1) A hardbound vintage book, with sleeves housing the dozen 78rpm vinyl-disc replicas (now at 45 rpm) originally released by Johnson, including a lavish 10-inch-square booklet;

2) ROBERT JOHNSON: THE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION, a new double-CD which includes all 29 songs he recorded in 1936 and '37, for a combined total of 42 masters and alternate takes;

3) RARITIES FROM THE VAULTS, a double-CD comprising:
CD One: Blues From The Victor Vault, a dozen rarely-collected 78s (i.e. 24 A-sides and B-sides) from the Victor archive by Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell, and others, recorded between 1928 and 1932; and
CD Two: Also Playing..., 10 tracks featuring artists recorded during the same San Antonio and Dallas sessions as Robert Johnson, a musical hotpot ranging from folk and hillbilly, cowboy and Mexican to Texas Swing;

4) THE LIFE & MUSIC OF ROBERT JOHNSON: CAN'T YOU HEAR THE WIND HOWL?, a DVD of the critically-acclaimed 1997 documentary film, directed by Peter Meyer, hosted by Danny Glover, and featuring Keb' Mo' as Robert Johnson. The 76-minute film also includes interviews with Robert Cray, Johnny Shines, John Hammond, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., Henry Townsend, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.

The four components will ship together and are available exclusively at www.thecompleterobertjohnson.com in advance of their April 26th release. This package will not be available in stores.