NONFICTION

Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson

Conforth, Bruce & . Chicago Review. Jun. 2019. 320p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781641600941. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781641600972. MUSIC
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Conforth (African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics) and Wardlow (Chasin' That Devil Music) have spent decades studying the life of the enigmatic and groundbreaking blues musician Robert Johnson (1911–38). This book aims to be the most comprehensive, accurate, and fully researched look at his life and music as well as the environment where he grew up, lived, and created his lasting art. The authors use interviews, vital records, census data, and other sources to document the roots and experience of a man who has been shrouded in legend and mystery for almost a century. Johnson's work and loves and the historic sessions that make up his recorded output are thoroughly and richly traced through narrative and the words of contemporaries and those who knew him, along with images of documents and many photographs. Conforth and Wardlow demystify some of the lore about Johnson, painting a human portrait of a talented musician and restless soul whose influential achievements rippled through blues, folk, and rock music in the decades following his death.
VERDICT Essential for blues enthusiasts and Johnson fans, this biography will also appeal to those interested in 20th-century popular culture and music.

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