Sunday, March 24, 2024


I'm deep into the history of the blues starting with the short life of Robert Johnson whose 29 recorded songs are considered the greatest blues tracks ever laid down. Like a string of modern musicians he died at the age of 27. 

Rumours abounded that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his extraordinary skill with the guitar and his haunting vocals. There were only 2 photos of him. 

He played piano and other instruments and could play country and church songs. He could pick up and play any piece of music. He travelled to New York and Canada playing in pubs, clubs and juke joints, busking in the streets, jumping the  trains.  By all accounts he visited a lot of women on his way through. His two wives+ children died. He was poisoned stone dead for eyeing up a barman's wife. That's how the skeleton of the  story went. 

These four books published in 2004, 2019, 2020 2023 have changed, enlivened, expanded, corrected and deepened our understanding of Robert Johnson.

Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Elijah Wald [2004]:

  The three main chapters of this chunky 342pp epic are The World That Johnson Knew, Thomas Johnson: The Life Remembered  and The Blues Roll On. 

He comes straight in with the fact that 'For its First Fifty years Blues was primarily black popular music. Everything suggests that Johnson hoped to make it on the commercial blues scene but he failed 

In the 1960s a world of white and international listeners discovered the blues, and for roughly the last 40 years, the style has primarily been played for  a white cult audience... Wald considers Johnson to be a bridge between these two very different worlds. His readable texted is packed with fresh perspectives and valuable after notes. Links to all his other books can be found here:

click to  [Author's detailed exposition if the book]


UP JUMPED THE DEVIL; The Real Life of Robert Johnson.

by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean

This highly detailed account of Johnson's life has been widely considered the most accurate story of  the musician's life, They worked on it for 50 years, interviewing as many people who new RJ as possible.

There is a lengthy review on the book in the Chicago Review Press:



This is a  valuable intimate memoir by Robert Johnson's Stepsister Annye C Anderson. She is 95 and is planning to produce a second volume. Its a great insight into Johnson's family.



by Robert "Mack" McCormick There's such a complex story here. A battle for rights. Mack spent 50 years on this book project of all his investigations. He died in 2015 after many years of legal battles over the rights to Johnson's work. This link explains the whole story very well. Macks' monster archive is now in the Smithsonian Museum