John Tefteller Redefines Rare For Record Collectors

Kansas Joe McCoy.

Kansas Joe McCoy.

Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

John Tefteller collects and restores some of the most rare recordings of American blues artists known. Mr. Tefteller describes his hobby and collection this week on The Collectors Show, which can be heard on iTunes and at In the last 35 years, Tefteller has discovered many, never before heard recordings by musicians like Tommy Johnson, King Solomon Hill, and Blind Joe Reynolds to name a few.

Most of these records date back to the 1920’s when they were made of shellac, played at 78 RPM, all on a phonograph that used a cactus needle instead of a steel needle. Collecting and restoring these recordings is historically and culturally significant, as most of the artists were not well recognized, even in their own time.

The recordings of their music are rare for many reasons. To start, there were fewer of these records pressed, as the audience for them was smaller. As the performers were mostly African American so too were there fans who in the 1920’s and 30’s had less money to spend on entertainment than others. The Second World War was another reason.

Shellac For the War Effort

These records were made mostly of shellac, a material needed for the war effort. Because of the war in the Pacific, the Allies had no access to rubber trees. So, all electrical wiring was wrapped in cloth and waterproofed with shellac. Phonograph records were recycled to provide this material for wiring in vehicles, radios, aircraft, etc. With the passage of many decades, a smaller and less affluent audience, combined with the pressure to reuse phonograph records, few of these survived. Studio master tapes were lost to the ages as well. None exist. The only way these performances survive is on a very few, crudely pressed shellac platters. Tefteller says finding them requires the skills of a detective and a lot of luck. For example, he is in contact with family members of the original artists and can sometimes find records from them. The more traditional ways of finding them are at Flea Markets and estate sales.

Restored But Not Over Done

Once found, Tefteller digitally restores them to a level where they are acceptable for a 20th century audience while being careful not to process the charm of the original completely out of them. And even the playing of the records requires some special equipment. The platters were 16 inches across and typically were played on a phonograph that used a cactus needle instead of a steel needle.

Zeplin Cover Tunes

These blues recordings and the people who made them pioneered rock and roll music. Some rock music was not inspired by these, but provided the music and the lyrics.

Here are a few examples:

  • When The Levy Breaks, recorded and performed by Led Zeplin was originally written and performed by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe. It’s a song about a flood of the Mississippi River that happened back in the 1920’s. Page and Plant are both Brits.
  • Crossroads was originally performed and written by Robert Johnson, but later “covered” by Led Zeplin.
  • Goin Up The Country recorded by Canned Heat was originally done by Robert Johnson as well.

Tefteller is looking for some records missing from the Paramount catalogue by a performer named Willy Brown. He is also interested in records by Skip James and Charlie Patton. If you find these, get in contact with John as he will be interested in buying them from you. John Teftellers’ web site is:


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