Sources for Robert Johnson's songs
I am devoting this page to possible sources for Johnson's work other than those explored in my book, Escaping the Delta. Further suggestions are very welcome. Just write to me at
From Four Until Late

Paul Garon points out that "From Four Until Late" has exactly the same melody as Johnny Dunn's "Four O'Clock Blues," an instrumental recorded in 1923. Dunn was from Memphis, and given his proximity and the titles, this has to be more than a coincidence. However, Dunn's piece is an instrumental, and the various songs by the same title recorded by blues queens during the same period do not share this melody. It is possible that Johnson simply wrote words to Dunn's tune, jumping off from the title, but since Dunn's record credits two composers (Gus Horsley and Dunn) I am inclined to think that there was a lyricist involved and I simply have not yet traced a vocal recording or sheet music. (For more information and music by Dunn, go to his page on

On the same song, David Evans notes that Son House or Skip James (House, probably) in the 1960s referred to this melody as the "4 O'Clock Blues." Charley Patton's "Tom Rushen Blues" and "High Sheriff Blues" (both influenced by Ma Rainey's "Booze and Blues") use variants of the melody. So does Skip James's "Yola My Blues Away," which is a "harmonized" variant, and related pieces include James's "Four O'Clock Blues" and the 1941 version by Fiddlin" Joe Martin under the title "Fo' Clock Blues." Evans points out that Martin may have gotten the tune from Son House or Willie Brown, and Johnson could have learned it from any of these sources.
Last Fair Deal Gone Down

Bob van Arsdall points out that "Last Fair Deal" is Johnson's only "protest song". It is a song about the unionization of the Gulfport and Ship Island Railroad, which had been bought by the Southern Railroad, later itself bought by the Illinois Central. Early railroads were good paying jobs for southern blacks, but the unionization of the railroads ironically brought about the layoffs of many and the loss of good paying jobs starting in the late 1920's through the mid 1930's. The theme of "Last Fair Deal" is of someone laid off from the G&SI Railroad and walking back home. The "Last Fair Deal" is the last good paying job available that has just shut down.
They're Red Hot

Lynn Abbott points out a recorded precedent for the phrase, "Hot tamales... red hot," with a hint of the same chord progession, in the Norfolk Jazz Quartet's "Southern Jack," from 1921.
Sweet Home Chicago

While in the book I trace the chorus of this song back to Scrapper Blackwell's "Kokomo Blues," that in turn is based on Leroy Carr's "Baby Don't You Love Me No More."
Come On In My Kitchen

Johnson's immediate source for the first verse of this song was almost certainly Skip James's "Devil Got My Woman," but a very similar verse, "I stole my man from my best friend/ But she got lucky and stole him back again," appears in Ida Cox's "Worried Mama Blues," recorded in 1923. 

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