Robert Johnson biography due early 2019

The Bruce Conforth & Gayle Dean Wardlow biography of Robert Johnson called ‘Up Jumped The Devil’ is to be published early next year by Chicago Review Press. The book has been a longtime in preparation and should be the definitive biography of Johnson.

Interview with Bruce Cornforth on Robert Johnson is well worth listening to!

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5 Responses to Robert Johnson biography due early 2019

  1. E. Douglas Pratt says:

    A new biography of RJ is very exciting. The interviewer says it’s mainly theoretical…I hope he’s wrong about that. In 1990 I did some avocational field research in The Delta and learned a few details that had not been published (this confirmed at the time in personal discussion with Peter Guralnick). So Conforth’s claim that this book has newly documented facts is promising.

    Conforth begins by distinguishing between what others thought about RJ, and factual knowledge based on hard evidence. He claims that most of what we “know” is twisted, or wrong, and that there are enormous gaps, and that he & Wardlow have researched a large amount of hard evidence that had not been examined till now:

    RJ had begun playing earlier in life than had been reported; he was one of just a few early Blues musicians who traveled widely outside the Old South; RJ played an Italian wedding in Newark; he went to school till 16 and was a serious reader. The authors claim additional evidence that RJ’s recordings likely were not speeded up before being published; and he kept a notebook!.

    But there are “No surprise” items in this book. We always knew RJ’s recordings sound like two guitars; that he used the whole neck of the guitar; that RJ’d traveled widely; that he was a busking pop songster. We already knew record producers directed him to play his rough Delta folk style, about African-American subjects, and they steered him away from the pop repertoire he possessed; we knew about Ike Zimmerman’s coaching.

    Conforth criticizes John Hammond for under-appreciating RJ’s sophistication and this seems harsh based on Hammond’s passion, on his fierce advocacy; based also on his autobiography and on the excellent but critical, Hammond biography.

    Even if there are fewer new nuggets of fact than we might hope for, it sounds like this new biography is a new level of synthesis.

  2. shona says:

    Even if there are fewer new nuggets of fact than we might hope for, it sounds like this new biography is a new level of synthesis.

  3. Tony says:

    The book is out this week. See my review on this site from the Morning Star newspaper published last month.

    • Javier says:

      I’ve been put off buying this book after reading a somewhat negative review claiming that the book has several errors regarding song tunings etc.

      I’m very surprised none of the reviews I’ve found have picked up on these. Until a new edition comes with some improvements, I’m not going to spend my money on this book.

      • Tony says:

        Javier. Don’t be put off – it is a masterwork by two writers who know their subject. Its a biography not a guitar tutorial book!

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