Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson : Conforth, Bruce, Wardlow, Gayle Dean By Bruce Conforth, Gayle Dean Wardlow


Forget what the moaners say, this book is the last word, the last accurate and honest word on Robert Johnson, without all the tosh about deals with the devil and crossroads etc etc !There are a few minor points I beg to differ on, eg. the “secret tuning” it is said he used for just one take of one song. I tried out the tuning myself and found myself very capable of playing the song quite close to the recording. However, it’s a weird tuning, needs a capo & difficult to stay in tune, and he doesn’t play the v low tuned sixth string at all. When you can play the tune quite accurately in standard Open G tuning, why bother with this daft tuning ? Makes no sense to me !!Excellent book otherwise. 336 pages If you thought you were losing the will to live hearing about RJ seemingly above all other blues singers think again.Wardlow & Conforth have done a great job with this, the latest in a line of Robert Johnson books. These guys really know what they are talking about. Worth every penny. 336 pages This brilliant piece of historical research was so good that I struggled to put this book down and read it in a handful of sittings. The culmination of fifty years' worth of investigations by the authors, the book unravels Robert Johnson's troubled childhood and places him into the context of the dehumanizing society that replaced slavery in the Southern States. It is quite staggering to think that it would take so much effort to find out about someone born in 1911 yet the author's reveal a world which is unimaginable these days. These books about bluesmen seem to require a great deal of work to get to the bottom of largely unforgotten lives. I am an avid reader of history books and discovering the truth about Robert Johnson through censuses and births/marriage/ death records as well as discounting the many unreliable contemporary accounts always seems to me as a task akin to researching medieval lives in Europe. I think this books is as much a robust and fascinating piece of historical research as a biography. I love the fact that the authors take the trouble to disentangle the legends that surround Johnson's life whilst revealing just how these stories were propagated and what led them to be believed. In Johnson's case, it becomes apparent that his transient life style fueled these legends whilst contemporaries like Son House transpire to be unreliable witnesses who have led previous biographers down the garden path. As the truth is revealed, I felt that the writers also managed to capture a good deal of Johnson's personality and they make him human, albeit not a character that is particularly likeable. Clearly a loner who relentlessly pursued women and ultimately to his detriment, I found the account as to how musical virtuosity was disseminated (or not !) fascinating and maybe offers a topic for a further book. The book serves as a social history, recreating a world which has been heavily romanticized in the past although markedly different from the reality. I think that the chapters concerning the two recording sessions are also fascinating and reveal Johnson to have borrowed a lot of his material from an earlier generation of artists. His guitar playing technique and the various tunings is intriguing although I found the chapter where he ultimately arrived in large urban centres fascinating because it was clear he was behind the curve with regards the way that blues evolved in the 1930s. There was clearly a lack of interest in electrical amplification or in the way that jazz players like Charlie Christian were taking guitar playing forward. Despite this, he was still familiar with the likes of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, covering some of their urban music. You sense that he was a musician who would have remained true to his acoustic, country roots. All in all, this book is a success in so many ways. The social history aspect is a revelation and a lesson that the often tragic and short lives lived by the musicians was a reflection of the brutality of their lives, often lived without any degree of sentiment. It also serves as a brilliant biography before opening up his music to analysis. I am not sure that there is much else to learn about Johnson's tragically short life after reading this book and the contrast with how his death was handled at the local level with the spurious, romanticized account given by impresario John Hammond is indicative of how even in the 1930s liberal white people had no understanding of the reality of the lives led by their black counterparts. All in all, whether you treat this a historical research or a biography of one of the 20th century's most mysterious artists, this is a fantastic read that I thoroughly recommend. 336 pages I desperately tried to read the book from the standpoint of someone who had only heard RJs recordings and had never been exposed to the stories, myths, ramblings and general bs surrounding him a difficult task, believe me.The authors have, in my opinion, made a pretty good fist of producing a biography based on an incredible amount of interviews, records, documents and such going back over the last fifty years thoroughly debunking the 'sold his soul to the devil' tale along the way.All of their sources and notes are listed at the end of the book which allows the reader to check the authors sources if they wish to do so.It tells the story of a young man from a broken home who only wanted to play guitar, compose songs, play differently to his peers, chase women, drink, play gigs, record and become famous but was eventually cut down in his prime.There is no evidence of dark deals and the like presented in this book only of a guitarist/musicianer who worked bloody hard to be different and be the best in his chosen profession.Does this sound any bells out there?I'm of an age to have seen perform and met, albeit only briefly, Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix in their heydays and I sometimes really despair at the bs and downright lies that have been disseminated (usually by writers and commentators who weren't even born before 1970) about these guitarists and their true histories which I know about.In the case of Wardlow and Cornforth, even though they were born way after RJ had passed, I think they have done their research thoroughly, dispassionatley and brought together a book that will probably (hopefully?) come to be accepted as the nearest to the truth of RJs life and times.and no doubt will be discussed ad nauseum just like everything else to do with RJ.It is well worth the read.LaVere eat your heart out! ;) 336 pages Blues scholarship of the highest water. Fully annotated, well argued and it continues the work done by Elijah Wald and others in stripping out the myths, putting the Delta Blues in its full context. All of this only serves to make Johnson's story the fascinating. An excellent book 336 pages

The Penderyn 2020 Music Book Prize (UK edition)Living Blues Critics Choice Best Blues Book of 2019Living Blues Readers Choice Best Blues Book of 2019Certificate of Merit in the Best Historical Research in Recorded Blues, Soul, Gospel, or RB category from ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections)An essential story of blues lore, black culture, and American music historyRobert Johnsons recordings, made in 1936 and 1937, have profoundly influenced generations of singers, guitarists, and songwriters. Yet until now, his short lifehe was murdered at the age of 27has been poorly documented. Gayle Dean Wardlow has been interviewing people who knew Johnson since the early 1960s, and he was the person who discovered Johnsons death certificate in 1967. Bruce Conforth began his study of Johnsons life and music in 1970 and made it his mission to fill in what was still unknown about him. In this definitive biography, the two authors relied on every interview, resource, and document, much of it material no one has seen before. This is the first book about Johnson that documents his lifelong relationship with family and friends in Memphis, details his trip to New York, uncovers where and when his wife Virginia died and the impact this had on him, fully portrays the other women Johnson was involved with and tells exactly how and why he died and who gave him the poison that killed him.Up Jumped the Devil will astonish blues fans worldwide by painting a living, breathing portrait of a man who was heretofore little than a legend. Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson : Conforth, Bruce, Wardlow, Gayle Dean

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