Collector pays $37k for rare Tommy Johnson 78

| October 25, 2013

tommy johnson recordCourtesy of Jazz Promo Services

GRANT PASS, Ore—Longtime blues record collector and expert John Tefteller was the winning bidder at $37,100 for a super rare blues 78 rpm record by blues legend Tommy Johnson. This is highest price ever paid for a single 78 rpm blues record and one of the highest prices ever paid for any record.

Bidding, on Internet auction site eBay, was hot and heavy for the record, and stood at $16,800 until the final seconds when the price shot up to just over $37,000.

The record, which features Johnson on the Paramount label from 1930, is one of only two known and verified copies. All other copies of this disc are presumed lost or destroyed. The two songs on this record “Alcohol And Jake Blues” and “Ridin’ Horse” are considered masterpieces of the genre and Johnson is one of the top five legendary figures in early recorded blues music, right along side Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James and Son House.

Tefteller, who has been collecting rare blues records for more than 40 years, already owns the only other known copy and has released the songs previously on one of his Classic Blues Artwork From The 1920s Calendar series, but this newly verified record is in vastly better condition than the other one and Tefteller said he “just had to have it.” His original copy will be sold to help offset the cost of this new one and he said he is “going to remaster and re-release this new copy next year” for his 2015 Blues Calendar release. The Blues Calendars come complete with a 20- to-24 track CD that is included free with each Calendar.

Tefteller picked up his eBay win in person in South Carolina recently.

“I am happy to report to the record collecting world and admirers of great Delta Blues music worldwide that this newly discovered copy is in Excellent condition and will be able to be remastered to sound absolutely superb.”

The seller was a local Columbia, S.C., collector who found the record some years back at an estate sale.

“He absolutely did not realize what he had and how rare it was until he put it on eBay,” said Tefteller. “Within the first few hours of being listed on the auction site another collector tried to stop the sale by offering the seller $4,000.00 for the record. Fortunately, he let the auction proceed and I was able to win it in the final moments.”

Tommy Johnson made a total of five records for the legendary Paramount label back in 1929 and 1930. He was a little known and very under appreciated singer/guitar player from Crystal Springs, Miss., at the time. His legend and stature has grown tremendously over the years and his records, especially the Paramount’s, are “Holy Grails” for blues collectors. Johnson also recorded three records for the Victor label, which are desirable, but enough copies have survived so that they will “only” sell for $1,000 to $5,000 each. Johnson died in Mississippi in 1956.

This was the first public sale of a Tommy Johnson Paramount 78 rpm record. Tefteller said he was “blown away” when he saw it listed on eBay and knew that he had to bid “very seriously” to acquire it. A total of 29 bids were placed during the auction with Tefteller’s final bid being the winner.

“I can’t wait to have it properly re-mastered and share it with the world” said Tefteller, who resides in Grants Pass, Ore., and deals in rare rock and roll and rhythm and blues 45s and 78s while maintaining what has been called by those who have seen it as “the world’s best collection of blues records and memorabilia” and “The British Museum Of The Blues.” Tefteller specializes in collecting the Paramount label, run out of a furniture factory in Port Washington, Wis., from the early 1920s to the early 1930s. Historians recognize Paramount as the most innovative and creative independent record label from that time and anything on the label is coveted by record collectors worldwide.

“The original masters for these recordings were all destroyed by World War II. The only way we can hear them now is rescue the few remaining commercial copies which are in private homes,” explained Tefteller. “We have to seek out the best or only copies that exist today and remaster from those.”

There are a number of legendary records by master blues musicians of the time that have yet to be found.

“Find me the missing Willie Brown or J.D. Short on Paramount label and you will see me writing really big checks.” Tefteller said.

Tefteller’s website, Blues Images, can be seen at

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