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Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Robert Johnson is the subject of the most famous myth about the history of the blues: he allegedly sold his soul at the crossroads in exchange for his incredible talent, and this deal led to his tragic death at age 27. This single notion can be recited by everyone who has ever heard of him, but the actual story of his life remains unknown save for a few inaccurate ...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Chicago Review Press
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Julie
Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth is a 2019 Chicago Review Press publication.

Finally! A worthy biography of blues great Robert Johnson!

Even if you are not familiar with Robert Johnson, you have most likely heard his music, which has been covered by countless other Bluesmen and rock stars- most famously perhaps is Cream’s version of "Crossroads Blues", featuring Eric Clapton.

If you are familiar with Johnson, then you are probably aware of the aura of
...more
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
Everyone knows the story about blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at a Mississippi crossroads to become the greatest guitar player the world had ever seen.
Most have probably heard the story about the bluesman being cut down in his prime by a bitter woman who poisoned him.
Johnson's legacy is full of tall tales and inaccuracies that were never corrected after his untimely death.

Few facts are known about Robert Johnson's life and those that are have rarely been shared
...more
John
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Of the biographies written about Robert Johnson, this one now takes front and center. I've read several of those books, and although the ones I read were well-written, this book occupies a place apart for Johnson biography. This is primarily due to the authors having a 50 year association with Johnson research: his times and his craft. Both authors began their research 50 years ago and thus actually spoke to people who knew Johnson. This book is not filled with speculation. Rather, it is a calm ...more
Nancy Oakes
I really have to give this one some thought. Long before reading this book, and long before watching the Netflix documentary, I had already seen a documentary called Can't You Hear The Wind Howl: The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (1997) that goes over most of this same material. No surprise there, since Wardlow did a great deal of work for that documentary. Personally, I was really into Johnson's story in this book, but my thing is that that the information could have been organized a wee bit ...more
Jeff Crompton
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the book about legendary bluesman Robert Johnson that I thought would never be written. It's certainly not the most comprehensive biography ever, but Conforth and Wardlow have assembled everything that has been uncovered about Johnson, and it's a lot more than I would have thought. It seems that more people who actually knew Johnson have been found and interviewed over the years than I realized. To my surprise, there is enough here to actually get some sense of what the great bluesman ...more
Rupert
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Detailed look at Robert Johnson the man & his growth & progression as a musician, often debunking the long-standing myths surrounding him. Many interviews with those who knew him going back 50 years. Particularly illuminating stories from Johnny Shines.
Nick
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I couldn't give it a fifth star because of just how many times the authors put down other writers for mythologizing Robert Johnson, even though they acknowledge how difficult the truthful source material was to find.
Amazingly, though, that's the only weak part of the book. The factual information was amazing, and ranged from maps and photos of the places that Johnson lived and played to details about who else was recorded during the days in which he made his two sets of recordings. The amazing
...more
Dominic Antonucci
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the definitive story of Robert Johnson. No nonsense and extremely thorough. It sheds light on all of the mystery without diminishing any of Robert Johnson’s mythical power. Excellent.
Chris Carlisle
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Up Jumped the Devil is a no holds barred account of the seemingly mythical life of the man known as Robert Johnson, or was it Robert Spencer, or RL, or Lil Dusty? These are just some of the names that you learn about that this man went under making his life story a difficult one to come by with facts. The author of this book does a great job separating fact from fiction, and has wrote a book that will hopefully come to be the definitive biography of Robert Johnson. As previously mentioned, ...more
M - The long hot spell
I was already a fan of delta blues before I read this book though to be honest I had not (knowingly) heard Robert Johnson’s blues. This book tries to remedy the misinformation, myth and outright lies that still surround Johnson’s life and death. It’s thorough. So thorough. And it’s not written in the style of a can’t put downexpose. You know what? Johnson’s life was exciting enough, without all the bull****. This book had the blues, the musicians, the time period(1930’s), the people, the homes, ...more
Sharon S
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dazzling, thought-provoking, captivating, educational.

Iconic book for an iconic musician. "He allegedly sold his soul at the crossroads in exchange for his incredible talent" is one of the famous rumors for Robert Johnson's fame and death. He even has a song about the devil, so it makes you think, and the songs rhythm's hypnotic, too. When I listen to his blues I hear how he's significantly affected the music today.

The novels written in a historical context with suprising details about Robert
...more
Lance Benoit
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A really in depth view into Robert Johnson's life. Following Johnson through his trials and adventures in life on the quest to play the blues. I liked how much detail this book went into. Already of fan of the blues, especially players such as Johnson and Howling Wolf, and Muddy Waters, this book has really sparked my interest in researching the Delta Blues more. Especially considering my close proximity to many of the places mentioned in this book.
Will Mayo
This book here is a nice study of the interplay between life and art, how life affects art how art affects life and how the two together go to forth to the creation of a legend. Robert Johnson, bluesman, often called the King of the Delta Blues, was a well practiced musician who hopped freight trains and traveled along roads both in the country and in the city to play his guitar as well as other men have played the piano, capturing that old drawn out sound he would often play with his friend and ...more
RA
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well, the actual definitive BIO of famed Robert Johnson, painstakingly researched by Wardlow & Conforth for the past 50 years, dispels the inaccuracies and find some truth about his real life. Indispensable for those fascinated by his music, his mythology.
Jason Dikes
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The finest biography of Johnson clears up many of the myth's that have surrounded the man since the early 1960s.
Martin
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, blues
Excellent biography of one of the legends of American music. Johnson’s life was Shakespearean in scope and this book is the biography that this great musician deserves. Recommended both as a musical biography and as a look at times gone by.
Rivers
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dreadfully self-absorbed intro (we get it, you did the research no one else did), but after that 5 stars. Exhaustive detail, good narrative, relatively few leaps of faith. Would have liked more analysis of hte music but there's other books that do that.
Jay Clement
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
64-2019.. Well researched, but awfully dry account of Robert Johnson’s short life. The real story of his death and the debunking of the Crossroads deal with the Devil are good to know. His music lives on, no matter the circumstances of that life and death.
John
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning.

The authors have brought Robert Johnson to life in a way that will probably remain unrivaled forever. Definitive is a word tossed around a lot but, in this case, it's wholly applicable.
Doctor Moss
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Maybe there should be two Robert Johnsons. One is the mythical Robert Johnson, who really did make a deal with the devil at the crossroads, who owes his lyrical and technical ability to the deal that he made. And then the other, who is the subject of this biography.

Conforth and Wardlow did their homework. They interviewed whoever they possibly could, they sought out letters and personal documents, census records, . . . you name it, to trace Robert Johnson’s life literally from cradle to grave.

...more
Philip Kuhn
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. THE definitive biography of blues legend Robert Johnson. It dispels all the rumors and half-truths about Johnson's life.

The authors do an excellent and commendable job of research on this book. You can tell they spent countless hours researching it. A large number of people were interviewed, local historians are contacted and interviewed, living people, government documents like census and marriage records are all used.

The authors go Woodward & Bernstein on Robert Johnson's
...more
Scott
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Although I was planning on giving this book 4 stars, I have to give it 5 for its contribution to music scholarship. This book has truly been half a century in the making (when one considers one of the co-authors’ interviews from 52 years ago as essential to the book).

The book was written to be the definitive biography of Robert Johnson. It also attempts to demythologize his story (but unwittingly adds more to it, in my opinion, to some extent—like the fact that Robert would play the blues in
...more
Eric
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
All I knew about Robert Johnson was covers of his songs and the ubiquitous myth of the crossroads, so I figured I owed to myself to read this book. There was no deal at a crossroads, but boy did this poor guy have some demons! And some incredible talent! I was especially fascinated by the descriptions of each of the songs that he recorded. The research that went into the making of this story is quite impressive. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of delta blues, it paints a vivid picture ...more
Jon
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I can't say I've read a lot of books about Robert Johnson, so I don't really have an opinion about the previous research done into his life and mysterious past. This definitely feels like a well researched volume, with lots of evidence and supporting documentation, so I'm glad to have given it a go. That said, it does read a little too clinical and research life, I would have loved for more digging into what makes his music so powerful all these years later. Definitely a much read for blues ...more
Jay
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Conforth, a longtime Robert Johnson expert and music historian, has released a comprehensive biography of one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived. Through meticulous research (even as coming through local census records and genealogy records), Conforth was able to separate fact from myth. Robert was a rambling man, so some things we'll just never know... but past and a few present interviews from second parties are included in the book. Conforth has a great BS tracker - so he ...more
Patrick Macke
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
the authors did their homework and set the record straight on Johnson's roots and travels and recording career ... in Johnson's case the music + the myth = the legend ... none of us believe Johnson sold his soul, so the "myth" has never needed to be literally disproven; the facts are enlightening, but the myth is simply more intriguing than this book
Evan
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, 2019
Very interesting biography that dispels several generally-accepted pieces of misinformation as well as the central myth regarding the crossroads, while providing a very insightful glimpse into the world of a travelling bluesman in the Delta South of the 1930s.
Denise
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Impeccably researched yet very readable, this book is a fascinating look at the brief life of bluesman Robert Johnson.
Doris Raines
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WHAT AWESOME MAN HE WAS SO MUCH MORE THAN A LEGEND. ...more
Nate
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
While I learned a lot from this book it was really dry.
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