WeenieCampbell.com

Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Books and Articles => Topic started by: harry on June 06, 2019, 08:20:24 AM

Title: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harry on June 06, 2019, 08:20:24 AM
Well the book is out now.

I haven't read it yet but Mack McCormick was involved in the project but probably didn't wanna share the 3rd authentic photo of Robert.

https://books.google.nl/books?id=58ttDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=nl&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (https://books.google.nl/books?id=58ttDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=nl&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false)
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 08, 2019, 10:02:20 AM
https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/up-jumped-the-devil-products-9781641600941.php

https://www.amazon.com/Up-Jumped-Devil-Robert-Johnson/dp/1641600942

Fellow Puget Sounders: Both SPL and KCLS have copies in their holdings.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 09, 2019, 06:00:42 PM
I'm reading it on Amazon preview, quite a lot is visible right now, so read what's there while it's still available. Overall impression is favorable, it's providing much context I did not have before.

Apart from a couple of minor flights of fancy at the beginning of chapters, of the "Robert gazed out at the endless fields of cotton..." variety, I have encountered nothing too annoying so far. I might actually buy this one.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 10, 2019, 06:34:10 AM
I might actually buy this one.
You really should, Rivers!

What Conforth and Wardlow set out to do is to investigate every reminiscence ever recorded of Robert Johnson. From this they come up with a detailed chronology in which all the familiar contradictions are plausibly explained as the result of faulty memory, exaggeration or simply being misled by Robert himself. Some of their judgements may prove faulty, but the overall account is persuasive and coherent.

They seem to have paid more attention than previous writers to Robert's half-sister Carrie. So they highlight his boyhood in Memphis and his continuing connection with his family there. From this perspective, Johnson was a city boy who discovered his rural Delta roots and hated everything in life there ? apart from a passionate devotion to whiskey, women and music. This in turn suggests why he poured his creativity into extending the rural musical tradition rather than embracing the Blues of the city. It then makes sense that he was virtually unknown outside his region before 1959.

If you really want to be sceptical, you might feel that they go beyond the evidence in their assessment of Ike Zimmerman's guitar skills or Robert's concern with voodoo. But at worst this may prove to be over-interpretation, not flight of fancy.

Even the opening chapter you object to seems to be firmly based on eyewitness accounts of Robert preparing to perform at one country juke and actually performing at another.

Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 10, 2019, 06:53:35 AM
Oh I don't object to anything. A bit of artistic license leavens what could have tended toward 'listiness'. I got a few chapters in before the preview ended and my impression was positive. I found myself trusting the writers as sincere and on the level.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on June 10, 2019, 10:28:34 AM
Thanks for the heads up on the Amazon preview, I liked what I read.

The intro says the Complete RJ sold 50 million copies?! That cant be right is it?
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 10, 2019, 11:27:15 AM
The intro says the Complete RJ sold 50 million copies?! That can't be right is it?

I don't think so. A while back I recall reading that the Columbia set, "Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings," had sold 500,000 copies in all its various formats, including vinyl, but I don't know if that is accurate. Perhaps it was referring to the total sales of all the Columbia RJ releases in all formats over the years.

I would be interested to know how many RJ albums and songs have been sold worldwide in all formats, including downloads, just out of curiosity.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 10, 2019, 12:09:12 PM
The intro says the Complete RJ sold 50 million copies?! That cant be right is it?

There's a note with the source of this claim:

Quote
11 Lawrence Cohn, email to Bruce Conforth, January 4, 2016

Actually the claim is even stronger:

Quote
Sony expected the box set to sell no more than ten thousand copies over a five-year period. Immediately they were shocked. The set sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the first several weeks and today has sold more than fifty million copies in the United States alone.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 10, 2019, 02:27:17 PM
Let's see--330 million people in the U.S. (not counting illegals), divided by 50 million box sets, equals one box set for every 6.6 Americans. Simply mind-boggling!

Sounds like we need to add a question to the upcoming U.S. census form.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on June 10, 2019, 02:31:36 PM
Hi all,
It would be be interesting to know how many of the supposed fifty million copies of the set were never listened to, from beginning to end, even once.  I'm extremely dubious of the fifty million U.S. sales claim--one of every 6.5 or so Americans purchased the set?  I don't think so. 
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on June 10, 2019, 02:43:40 PM
It's true, I have had the experience several times in life of spotting the boxset on a random acquaintances' shelf and asking if they were fans and it's always just a curiosity buy. MANY people have this and no other 1920s-1930s Blues musician's music in their collection.

50 million sales is an exaggeration or a misprint, surely!
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 10, 2019, 02:56:57 PM
I don't think so either, John. Thus the little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. Perhaps the 500,000 figure I recall was for the first year. Since my initial post, I see it's been stated in numerous places as the figure for year one after its release.

Here's a link to NYT article I found:

https://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/26/arts/robert-johnson-once-largely-myth-now-a-hit.html

From what I read in the last 15 minutes or so, endorsements and promotion by some of the bigger names in the Rock world helped to boost sales, as did the press the box set received after its release.

Yeah, I agree. How many people actually listened to the set all the way through?? Like me, many of you in Weenie-Land probably recall trying to get friends to listen to the original versions of songs covered by popular groups, such as songs by RJ, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, et al, only to find that it was a fool's errand in most cases.

Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 10, 2019, 03:48:06 PM
I bought the CD box set, first edition, when it came out. Is was a horrible screechy sonic mess to my ears, with liner notes to match. Then came a fixed, remastered version. Supposedly it was much better.

I did not buy the new improved version as the whole saga had gone beyond ridiculous at that point.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 10, 2019, 04:42:40 PM
I picked up Vol. 1 sometime in the late 1960s and Vol. 2 when it came out a few years later. Immediately copied the LPs to cassette tapes so I wouldn't have to get up and turn the record over on my AR turntable. Lazy is as lazy does. Listened to the cassette tapes for decades. A few years after it came out I bought the Centennial Collection, made playlists to match the original LP songs and sequencing and burned them to CDs. That's what I listen to.

As for all the hype and nonsense, it was after his time and as far as I know, RJ never had a hand in it, so I ignore it.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 10, 2019, 05:20:01 PM
Exactly. The hype is just noise that has zip to do with RJ. Which is what we've all been saying around here for years. I pray the new book will change the paradigm for good.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on June 10, 2019, 06:08:30 PM
Hi all,
One thing that I think would be really interesting, and I don't know if they get into it in the book, would be discussion of recorded renditions, obviously influenced by Robert Johnson, that were made by other musicians either prior to the first Columbia re-issue, or by musicians who almost certainly never heard and could not have been influenced by the Columbia re-issues.  I'm thinking of Johnny Shines' "Ramblin'", a couple of Calvin Frazier performances and a Smoky Babe piece or two.  Smoky Babe had some of Robert Johnson's sound in Spanish tuning DOWN, impressively, a la "Terraplane Blues".  I think these early indications of a musical influence coming from Robert Johnson are fascinating because they pre-date the hype that began after the first Columbia re-issue.  It may be that the book focuses more exclusively on Robert Johnson himself, though.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 11, 2019, 05:26:12 AM
That's an interesting idea.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: waxwing on June 11, 2019, 07:21:28 AM
Johnm-
I quibbled with Elijah Wald up at PT one summer because in his RJ book he rushed to claim Johnson had no influence in the day and never once mentioned Robert Lockwood, who went on to play the King Biscuit radio show and influence many players at the time just after RJ's death. He cited pressure from publishers to create a controversy.

I met Robert Junior at an SF Blues Fest shortly before his death. Carefully not mentioning Johnson once, I asked him what he felt his greatest contribution was and he stated that he brought jazz chords to the blues. I thought it ironic tho that we were on the west coast where post war blues pretty much was jazz at that time. None the less, I think Lockwood was undeniably a stream of Robert Johnson influence.

Wax
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 11, 2019, 07:47:25 AM
There's nothing in the book about recordings after Johnson's death.

The only discussion I'm familiar with is in the liner notes by Neil Slaven  to the JSP box-set The Road to Robert Johnson And Beyond.

CDs C and D contain the Lomax recordings of Muddy Waters, which are only marginally relevant, and selected recordings of Robert Lockwood, Calvin Frazier, Robert Lee McCoy, Big Joe Williams, Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Little Walter, Elmore James, Homesick James, Baby Boy Warren. Finally there are eleven tracks by the obscure Blind Willie Dukes who recorded in Detroit in 1975 ? with the dubious claim that he'd been taught by Johnson himself. It looks as if he'd learnt the songs from records ? quite possibly an LP or LPs.

I checked  Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta, but his historical interests after Johnson's death are firstly how Black musicians  moved in a different direction and secondly how White musicians latched on to him.

(Written before i saw waxwing's posting.)
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 11, 2019, 08:12:11 AM
...he rushed to claim Johnson had no influence in the day and never once mentioned Robert Lockwood, who went on to play the King Biscuit radio show and influence many players at the time just after RJ's death.

Actually, he did mention Lockwood, but as an example of departure from the idiom of the solo singer-guitarist

Quote from: Elijah Wald
As Muddy Waters remembered it, "Several boys around there could use the slide and  I'd say that they were just as good as Robert Johnson, the only thing about it is they never had a chance to get a record out." When we listen to Johnson, we are hearing the cream of a large crop, and that particular crop was not playing that way even a decade after his death. By the 1940s, those young  men were joining jump combos, as Robert Lockwood did.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: jpeters609 on June 11, 2019, 12:01:44 PM
Calvin Frazier, who played with Robert Johnson and whose 1938 Library of Congress recordings (made in Detroit) are some of the closest examples of Johnson's playing style, likewise stopped playing in that fashion on his few postwar recordings from the 50s. On those later recordings, he has become a through-and-through T-Bone Walker emulator (and was advertised as such in contemporary newspaper ads). Much to our loss, as his '38 recordings, though very much in the Johnson style, were not slavish imitations. Rather, they felt original and fresh and more vital than his later commercial records, which indeed sound very much like recordings with commercial intentions.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 12, 2019, 05:23:08 AM
Calvin Frazier, who played with Robert Johnson...
What Up Jumped the Devil brings out is how little anybody played with him ? in performance anyway. Frazier, Lockwood and Shines travelled with him as companions ? 'disciples' may not be too strong a word ? and shared gigs. They performed when he wan't performing.

This chimes with another thing the book brings out ? that he developed his guitar technique to serve instead of an accompanying piano and/or second guitar. All the guitar couldn't supply was extra volume. This must partly explain his devotion to small country jukes when there must have been more money to be made in the cities
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on June 12, 2019, 06:44:35 AM

This chimes with another thing the book brings out ? that he developed his guitar technique to serve instead of an accompanying piano and/or second guitar. All the guitar couldn't supply was extra volume. This must partly explain his devotion to small country jukes when there must have been more money to be made in the cities

This observation presupposes that Robert Johnson's guitar technique was different in its design and particulars than the techniques of his contemporaries playing in the same style.  Particulars of technique always vary from player to player.  Conceptually, though, Robert Johnson's technique was not notably different from most other players in the style--it was designed to equip him to perform as a solo act, accompanying himself.  Such an approach is in no way remarkable.  One of the prime incentives for being able to perform as a soloist is not having to split the money from a gig with any other musicians.  And when one considers the extent to which Robert Johnson's playing in some instances was so heavily indebted to recorded performances by Lonnie Johnson and Scrapper Blackwell, it's hard to view his approach to playing as being exactly revolutionary or altogether new.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 12, 2019, 05:33:58 PM
This observation presupposes that Robert Johnson's guitar technique was different in its design and particulars than the techniques of his contemporaries playing in the same style.

They don't presuppose, John. They do argue the case. Of course, they could be wrong, but the book is a seriously considered  piece of work.

Quote
One of the prime incentives for being able to perform as a soloist is not having to split the money from a gig with any other musicians. 

And yet he chose repeatedly to split the gig and the money ? with musicians who were perfectly equipped to play with him, except that he told them not to.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: jharris on June 13, 2019, 08:18:23 AM
John makes some very good points, in particular the influence of Lonnie Johnson. So, I've read the book and here's a few thoughts:

Firstly this is a very well written book with impressive research that seems to draw on every important source written about Johnson. They also make the most of available official documentation, mining a wealth of information from marriage, land and census documents. No problems on this front but I do have a few quibbles.

This is being touted as the "definitive" Robert Johnson book but it can't be since, as far as I can tell, they never read Mack McCormick's unpublished Robert Johnson biography. Sure Mack was interviewed, but he was notorious for keeping his research under wraps so I'm sure there's plenty he didn't divulge. Along with this is the 3rd Robert Johnson photo that has never been published.

The authors do a good job deflating the myths around Johnson but also play into a bit. Going back to John's point, they write on a few occasions something to the effect that due to his guitar prowess it shouldn't be suprising that his peers might think there was something supernatural about his abilities. So why Robert Johnson and not someone like Lonnie Johnson who was virtually unmatched as a blues guitarist and also had devil imagery in his songs? More information about RJ's influences and the guitar players during this period would have provided better context.

Speaking of context, one thing that was lacking was the racial climate RJ operated in. This is mentioned in passing but considering RJ's constant ramblings, particularly in Mississippi in the 20's and 30's, I felt more context on the Jim Crow era should have been included. This is something of a trend in blues writing, a whitwashing of history that is far too common.

Lastly I would have liked more information on the development of RJ's songs. They talk about him playing mainly covers early on but not much on how he developed his impressive repertoire of songs by by time he got in the studio.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 13, 2019, 02:15:44 PM

So why Robert Johnson and not someone like Lonnie Johnson who was virtually unmatched as a blues guitarist and also had devil imagery in his songs?

Sheer emotional intensity and drive, I suspect.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 13, 2019, 02:35:38 PM
Thanks, Jeff. I'm waiting for my turn for the book at the library. I agree that John makes some excellent points about RJ's guitar playing. Those of us who figured out RJ's songs decades ago and have listened to recordings that pre-dated RJ's (now made easier with the "Roots of RJ" compilations and Woody Mann's book) understand that while his recordings demonstrate an accomplished self-contained style, he certainly had plenty of company and did not stand alone.

My favorite RJ recording is "They're Red Hot." It's almost against type and gives some insight into the fact that his repertoire wasn't limited to "straight Blues" (whatever that means). I wish he had recorded many more songs like "They're Red Hot." I'm sure what he recorded was filtered through the A&R people. One can only speculate...
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 13, 2019, 02:47:11 PM

So why Robert Johnson and not someone like Lonnie Johnson who was virtually unmatched as a blues guitarist and also had devil imagery in his songs?

Sheer emotional intensity and drive, I suspect.

I think you have to look at the complete package--vocals and guitar. In some of the songs, the vocals seem to elevate his playing in a way that wouldn't be there if one could listen to them as pure instrumentals.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 13, 2019, 03:19:41 PM
The best RJ impression I've ever seen was in a PT workshop with none other than Steve James. Pressured by the rowdies in the room, me included, he covered some RJ stuff and discussed the pitching of the recordings. I've seen Steve many times since then and he's never tried to get close to a Robert Johnson tune in public.

On that occasion he closed his eyes and made a hellacious racket capoed up high on his wood body reso and singing his head off. Sounded closer to the recordings than anything I'd heard before or since. When he finished he was slumped in his chair, sweating and clearly drained, said he didn't try to do that stuff very often!

As I remember it we all applauded long and loud. Or maybe we sat there in stunned silence. Either would have been appropriate. Anyone here remember that?
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 13, 2019, 03:58:45 PM
I was at a workshop with Son House in the early 70s. I sat about three feet in front of him. Talk about intensity. When he was finished, I was sweating and emotionally drained. He was a little over 70 and it was apparent a life of alcoholism had definitely taken its toll. I can hardly imagine what he must have been like forty years earlier when he was in his prime.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 13, 2019, 05:14:00 PM
Perhaps the secret sauce is the natural integration of vocals and instrument, and the ability to sustain that to channel the art lurking beyond. That art certainly applies to Lemon, Patton, Booker White, Leadbelly and many others.

We're all at our best when we're both singing and playing well. Loud is good. It seems that those who can push vocals to the limit consistently while playing along often end up being the big stars. Robert Johnson fits that profile to a T, IMHO

And by the way I am very glad we can now discuss this without all that supernatural bullshit (too kind a word) distracting us from coming to a realistic appraisal. So thanks to Gayle Dean & Bruce. It's been a long time coming.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: lindy on June 13, 2019, 05:59:25 PM
We're all accustomed to using the word/concept of "sound" as in the sentence, "Wow, no one in that band knew how to play an instrument, but they sure had a great sound." My reference point is the 1950s: during the early rock and roll era, producers figured out that if they could create a great "sound," teenagers would do whatever they could to get the 59 cents to buy a 45 rpm single.

Speculation time, folks: I can picture Robert Johnson spending a lot of time practicing and purposefully searching for a sound, and I can imagine his understanding of the importance of finding a good sound for commercial recording purposes. He certainly knew how to arrange songs to end at 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Like I said, it's big-time speculation on my part, I never met the man. But I can envision Johnson understanding the importance of a great sound long before others caught on to the idea, and then practicing and refining until he achieved just the right mix of voice and straight-forward guitar playing based on records he had access to.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 13, 2019, 08:17:13 PM
I seriously doubt Robert Johnson himself was trying to do anything other than the best he could and thereby make a good living. That's all there is, and that's good enough for me.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 13, 2019, 08:36:59 PM
What you say rings true, Lindy, and it would also explain why he preferred to work solo.  Having another accompanist in there with him would have flattened out the musical impact of what he was communicating, and would have made the sound more generic.  Working strictly as a soloist, he was notably his own man, and his particular musical message could come across, loud and clear.

Obviously he would have had many opportunities to participate in combos, duos, trios. For unknown reasons he didn't want to go that way. Why that should be is speculation.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Parlor Picker on June 14, 2019, 01:54:06 AM
I seriously doubt Robert Johnson himself was trying to do anything other than the best he could and thereby make a good living. That's all there is, and that's good enough for me.

Exactly. A well-observed comment.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on June 17, 2019, 05:50:49 PM
Hi all,
It would be be interesting to know how many of the supposed fifty million copies of the set were never listened to, from beginning to end, even once.  I'm extremely dubious of the fifty million U.S. sales claim--one of every 6.5 or so Americans purchased the set?  I don't think so. 

That's an extremely suspect figure in any context, but especially so for a book whose stated raison d'tre is the deflation of myths. Not a promising start.

I've long ago learned to dismiss ALL claims of sales as meaningless hype until actual sales figures from actual accounting ledgers (or other legit paperwork) can be examined by an outside source, i.e. an historian, not the company's PR department.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on June 18, 2019, 11:22:29 AM
In addition to merely being an error WRT the numbers, it's possible that Larry was joking (TIC) and the authors took him seriously.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on June 20, 2019, 06:16:47 AM
Bruce Conforth has said there are typos in the introduction that will be fixed for the 2nd edition
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: tmylet on June 21, 2019, 06:47:56 AM
Great book and incredible research. The big take-away for me was that while there were lots of bluesman who played for dances, etc. that happened to be recorded, Robert Johnson was the first who really honed his music into songs to be recorded. It leaves me wondering if his playing in juke joints, corners, etc. were three minutes or longer like I assume all the others played.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 21, 2019, 01:20:18 PM
Good question. I surmise he would be both spinning it out and also keeping it short. This was an educated guy who also liked to have a good time, after all. I have nothing to back that up, just a belief that he could easily walk and chew gum, format-wise.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DavidCrosbie on June 22, 2019, 09:02:18 AM
It leaves me wondering if his playing in juke joints, corners, etc. were three minutes or longer like I assume all the others played.

Conforth and Wardlow observe that (with one exception) whenever two takes of a song survive, they are identical in timing, text and arrangement.

For what it's worth, my guess is that he'd employ flexibility with the rest of his repertoire, but keep the recorded songs as they were on the discs. We hear that ? at least once ? he performed Terraplane Blues to prove that he was the man on the record. It's a fair guess that he did a three-minute version.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Prof Scratchy on June 22, 2019, 03:13:54 PM


Conforth and Wardlow observe that (with one exception) whenever two takes of a song survive, they are identical in timing, text and arrangement.


The above does not apply to the two versions of Crossroads, nor to the two versions of Rambling On My Mind.




Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harry on June 22, 2019, 03:20:27 PM
Phonograph Blues too.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: daddystovepipe on June 23, 2019, 03:26:31 PM
I always wondered why Johnson played only one guitar solo (only Kind Hearted Woman has one)? 
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on June 23, 2019, 05:06:56 PM
I think we're still falling into the trap of discussing him like he was not just a regular musician, albeit a very good one. Everyone who plays changes their delivery to suit the venue, occasion, mood and audience. Why would Robert be any different?

The myth is hard to scrape off your shoe. He was a player with a streak of talent a mile wide, certainly. What he did while constrained to recording a three minute take is interesting, and not the be all and end all. As such it's pretty unimportant, IMNSHO
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harriet on June 24, 2019, 10:23:49 AM
I always wondered why Johnson played only one guitar solo (only Kind Hearted Woman has one)? 


That's interesting. Maybe he found from performing that people were glued to the sung portion and didn't want to lose the attention of the people recording him or maybe he was instructed to just do the sung portion.   Shame someone wasn't asked that.

Harriet
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harry on July 02, 2019, 04:04:09 PM
Page 164; it reads "Dust My Broom" was recorded in Open E.
Page 166; it reads "Ramblin On My Mind" was recorded in a 'unusual open tuning"

Wasn't it the other way around?

Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Prof Scratchy on July 03, 2019, 02:51:47 AM
Dust My Broom is in Drop D, Rambling is in Vestapol. There are other errors in the chapter discussing the music, which I found surprising, as Bruce Conforth plays guitar. It’s a pity, given that the book aspires to being a ‘definitive’ history. Also, the recordings are empirical evidence of how the music was played, so there shouldn’t be room for error. The lengthy discussion of a ‘computer verified’ ‘secret’ tuning will unfortunately send gullible readers up the wrong garden path!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 03, 2019, 02:52:44 PM
Dust My Broom is in Drop D, Rambling is in Vestapol. There are other errors in the chapter discussing the music, which I found surprising, as Bruce Conforth plays guitar. It’s a pity, given that the book aspires to being a ‘definitive’ history. Also, the recordings are empirical evidence of how the music was played, so there shouldn’t be room for error. The lengthy discussion of a ‘computer verified’ ‘secret’ tuning will unfortunately send gullible readers up the wrong garden path!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk


This thread is logging a bunch of errors in the book, and the discussion has barely begun.

I can't get over the 50 million thing.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Prof Scratchy on July 03, 2019, 03:16:07 PM
I have to say that I enjoyed the book overall, and wouldn’t want to discourage people from reading it. The timeline information about Robert’s life story is the main interest.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 03, 2019, 03:32:59 PM
This thread is logging a bunch of errors in the book, and the discussion has barely begun.

I can't get over the 50 million thing.

Maybe Gayle Dean and Bruce could set up a website where people can post the errors they come across. They could follow up with a consolidated "Errata" page that is updated periodically. Free proofreading and copy editing post-publication--what's not to like??!!
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on July 03, 2019, 03:40:38 PM
I see your point, Stuart, but I think that vetting the posted "errors" would be a major pain and a time suck, too.  Considering some of the silly things I've seen posted just about Robert Johnson's music, I would be a more than a bit leery of encouraging whomever to report errors they found in the book.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 03, 2019, 04:25:37 PM
You are right, John. I thought of that as well, but it would have to be  something like the Pre-War Blues Group of which Gayle Dean and Bruce are members and people would be vetted before they joined. --And would be bounced the first time they stepped out of line.

The internet has turned into such a mess that I kind of long for the days of BBSs and SIGs. The technology was much more basic, but somehow there was a lot more quality control with respect to who participated in the discussions.

I was reading a little of the RJ book yesterday and thought of all the nonsense. In some ways I think it can be traced back to the two Columbia LPs. Serious, fact based liner notes might have made a difference. People might have been more focused on the music and less on the other stuff. But maybe not. What do I know?
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on July 03, 2019, 04:41:37 PM
Dust My Broom is in Drop D, Rambling is in Vestapol. There are other errors in the chapter discussing the music, which I found surprising, as Bruce Conforth plays guitar. It’s a pity, given that the book aspires to being a ‘definitive’ history. Also, the recordings are empirical evidence of how the music was played, so there shouldn’t be room for error. The lengthy discussion of a ‘computer verified’ ‘secret’ tuning will unfortunately send gullible readers up the wrong garden path!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk


This thread is logging a bunch of errors in the book, and the discussion has barely begun.

I can't get over the 50 million thing.

Bruce admitted the error and says the number was actually . . . 500,000!
Quite a difference.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 03, 2019, 04:44:35 PM
Considering some of the silly things I've seen posted just about Robert Johnson's music, I would be a more than a bit leery of encouraging whomever to report errors they found in the book.

That's an understatement of cosmic proportions  :)
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harry on July 04, 2019, 02:39:08 PM

[/quote]

Bruce admitted the error and says the number was actually . . . 500,000!
Quite a difference.
[/quote]

Where did you read it?
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on July 05, 2019, 04:28:16 AM
Bruce and Gayle Dean are both members of the Facebook group, The Real Blues Forum.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: alyoung on July 09, 2019, 07:12:11 AM
The error is also acknowledged in a footnote to the Blues & Rhythm review of the book. As far as the computer-verified tuning is concerned ... I tried it, and yeah, I suppose it works, but what a hassle. You wouldn't want to be going in and out of it for just a few songs. As a sidenote, Robert Lockwood -- the only man known to have had guitar lessons from Johnson -- played Rambling in dropped D tuning; no slide and sounding like RJ's Broom.   
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on July 09, 2019, 12:16:11 PM
Hi all,
Apropos of Al's comment, and Prof Scratchy's earlier comment on Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom", I re-listened to Johnson's rendition the day before yesterday, and he definitely played it out of D position in dropped-D tuning.  For Johnson to have played it in Vestapol, he would have had to finger what he played in the IV chord under his singing in the verses fretting 5-5-5-X-10-9, while rocking between the fifth and seventh fret of the fifth string, which he certainly did not do.  All of the turn-arounds that he plays holding a high I note on the first string while playing a descending bVII-VI-bVI-V line just over an octave below transfer intact from the way he played them in his A blues, if "Dust My Broom" is played in dropped-D.  To play the same turn-around in Vestapol is pointlessly complex, and would involve fretting the first and third strings at the twelfth fret, while walking down the fifth string chromatically from the fifteenth fret (!), 15-14-13-12.  Once again, he did not do that.  The turn-around he plays at the end of the next-to-last verse, from 2:24--2:27, he plays at the base of the neck, starting with a garden variety D chord in standard tuning on the first two strings, third fret of the second string and second fret of the first string.  From there, he resolves to a G7 in which he frets the bVII in the bass at the third fret of the sixth string, going from the third fret of the second string to the open first string followed by a triplet in which he goes from the first fret of the first string to the third fret of the second string followed by the open first string.  He finishes the turn-around in a standard base-of-the-neck A7 chord, X-0-2-2-2-3, the sound of which to be duplicated in Vestapol would have to be fretted X-0-2-3-4-5.  The turn-around at the end of the next-to-last verse is enough, by itself, to place "Dust My Broom" in dropped-D tuning in D position.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harry on July 09, 2019, 04:51:29 PM
Did people like Rory Block and John Hammond Jr. actually read the manuscript pre-publication? I'm convinced they must had noticed the errors.


“This is the book the blues world has been waiting for. Authored by two uniquely qualified scholars following years of extensive interviews and exhaustive research, the result is fascinating, important, and factual, without agenda or embellished narrative. . . . It is in my view a far more moving account than many others that have been obscured by so much fantasy. It’s a can’t-put-it-down kind of book—an exciting, great read.” —Rory Block, celebrated acoustic blues guitarist/singer and five-time Blues Music Award winner


"Finally an in-depth biography of one of the greatest blues musicians ever. The clearing up of the myths and mysteries is a relief. The work of the authors is meticulous. They detail Robert Johnson's journey with facts, creating a full view of his life and times, his friends and influences, so the reader has a comprehensive understanding of how he came to be the greatest of the Delta bluesmen. I am blown away!" —John Hammond, Jr.

Edit, John Hammond Jr.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harriet on July 09, 2019, 06:26:28 PM
I don't know what the acceptable standard the community of researchers in this area adhere or subscribe to but reading the comments both here and on other forums with regard to errors, it's not one that I would have liked to have seen for the book.  It seems that the bugs are still being ironed out on this so I'll wait untill the 3rd or 4th printing, the same way I would with a new software version that's released and goes through a period of public beta testing and correction.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: waxwing on July 09, 2019, 07:02:34 PM
Did people like Rory Block and John Jammond Jr. actually read the manuscript pre-publication? I'm convinced they must had noticed the errors.

I don't see why they would? Both performers have based much of their careers on glorifying RJ (as Hammond says "the greatest...") Anything that furthers the cause is fine by them.

Not knocking either as a performer, as they are both very moving on stage, but they both played up RJ in their patter when I've seen them.

Speaking of "performance" as an aspect of performing, as it were. I think that is RJ's primary attribute. His guitar is not really all that mind bending, I've heard his voice described as that of a squirrel, but he really "brings it" in the moment. Rarely do I hear "performance" spoken about as an aspect of playing music, on this board or others. Arranging, playing clean, tone, clear voice, or raspy voice. These and other things are technical qualities, which make them easy to define and often discussed. But the quality of focusing your entire being into the moment of performing, in a way that compels engagement by the observer, is a far more etherial aspect, difficult to talk about, or even comprehend for many. Possibly, the only thing that really counts to most of the audience.

RJ had it! He brought it in both of his sessions. You feel it when you hear it.

He also had a far better recording situation, technically speaking, as microphones, recording, and record production had advanced considerably between the late '20s and the mid '30s. So when Columbia was looking for some blues to re-release in the early '60s, the sound quality of the RJ masters (metal disks) was far enough superior to most of the popular players of the pre depression era to make a difference. Coupled with RJ's depth of performance this made him Columbia's choice. Yeah, I'd imagine there was some hype at the time, grown out of the John Hammond Sr Carnegie Hall concert that went looking for him after his death, but nothing like today. Columbia did amp it up a notch as someone mentioned above.

I often think it is sad that the RJ hype has made him an anathema to many who wish to see other great players get just as much due. Myself included.

I would like to see more discussion of the performnce aspect in discussing the artists we love. It is the essence of all performed arts, music, theatre, dance: it is the person standing in front of the audience that gathers all the parts and "makes" a performance happen. And that performance can never really be repeated, even the most scripted piece will be vastly different from night to night, not by purposefully changing anything, but just by being in the moment.

Wax
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 09, 2019, 07:42:56 PM
It's obvious that whatever the process was, from inception to publication of the book, there were deficiencies. I do not have any knowledge with respect to what they were specifically, but my guess is that the lack of competent proofreading and copy editing were among them.

While John Hammond Jr. and Aurora Block are outstanding performers, I don't know if they have the same skill level when it comes to working on a book through its various stages. --Or if they would have time to take on a project such as this one.

Elijah Wald and Ted Gioia are published authors and my assumption is that they know what the standards are, but whether or not they participated in the various stages the book went through is another matter.

And the there's the press which bears part of the responsibility. True story: A fellow I know, who is Chinese, is an excellent scholar and teaches at one of the Ivys, submitted a pre-corrected draft of his book to Cambridge University Press for review in electronic form, which is SOP these days. This was before native speakers of English with copy-editing skills went through it. (Lindy knows what this is about.) Sometime later he submitted the manuscript in final form. Guess which version CUP published? It was a major embarrassment and CUP had to recall all the books in the print run and pulp them. The first version wasn't really bad, but I could tell something was awry. How does this kind of thing happen?

So, to make a long post longer, suffice it to say that while we do not know the specifics, it's obvious to many of us that there were problems that could have been avoided by careful proofreading and copy editing.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: harriet on July 09, 2019, 08:18:06 PM
IMHO you have some good points Stuart thanks. 
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: lindy on July 09, 2019, 09:23:16 PM
Speaking of "performance" as an aspect of performing, as it were. I think that is RJ's primary attribute. His guitar is not really all that mind bending, I've heard his voice described as that of a squirrel, but he really "brings it" in the moment. Rarely do I hear "performance" spoken about as an aspect of playing music, on this board or others. Arranging, playing clean, tone, clear voice, or raspy voice. These and other things are technical qualities, which make them easy to define and often discussed. But the quality of focusing your entire being into the moment of performing, in a way that compels engagement by the observer, is a far more etherial aspect, difficult to talk about, or even comprehend for many. Possibly, the only thing that really counts to most of the audience.

Good observation, and I agree--performance/presence was RJ's main strength.

I'm going to self-promote my earlier response -- #31 in this thread. As I stated there, I think it is highly plausible that Mr. Johnson understood not only the importance of "presence" in performance, he also understood the benefits of finding a good "sound" for both juke joints and recording sessions, and I can envision his working hard to achieve both. I see zero contradiction between this possibility and the idea of Johnson "not trying to do anything other than the best he could."

Also in the vein of Wax's comment, at the Port Townsend workshop this summer there will *two* instructors focusing a week's worth of classes (a.m. or p.m.) on the details of performance--Guy Davis will be teaching a "performance lab" and Terry Bean will be teaching "stage performance."

Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: lindy on July 09, 2019, 09:36:10 PM
Adding to Stuart's post about publishing disasters, the absolute worst case of (non)copyediting for me is "Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues," by Philip Ratcliffe.

Philip was a first-time author--the book is a classic example of a "labor of love." He deserves our gratitude.

The University of Mississippi Press completely botched the preparation process. My impression is that they didn't even run a spell check on the text, let alone hire or assign a copyeditor to do a thorough job.

I still recommend that you read it, it has lots of good anecdotes, but set aside any and all expectations you might have for "university press quality."

Lindy
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 09, 2019, 10:37:15 PM
Echoing Lindy, the Mississippi John Hurt book contains a lot of valuable material and information, so read it for content, not as a stylistic model.

And like Lindy, and probably most everyone else, I often find myself copy editing and proofreading--if only subconsciously--texts that didn't get "The Treatment" (an inside joke, echoing Fatso Judson's methods), before they went into print.

And regarding performance, we should not overlook the great intangible of individual personality. 
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 10, 2019, 11:09:50 AM
Back in the early 1990s when books were typeset, I worked on a book, doing some light copy editing and proofreading. We worked through the galleys, noting the corrections in blue pencil and also listing them on a separate sheet. When we got the page/print proofs, we saw that some of our corrections had not been made, so once again it was the blue pencil along with a list of corrections to be made. Then the book was published with some of the original errors still not corrected. A while later, reviews started to appear. "More attention to detail when proofreading would have eliminated obvious errors." (Just shoot me...)
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 11, 2019, 06:24:44 PM
Wax - right on.

So anyway we now have a new, improved, fulcrum for leveraging discussions around RJ. The details presented in the book, where they deviate from reality, are relatively minor and can be ironed-out over more time and I'm sure they will be.

While not wishing to diminish the authorial- and editorial errors what's way more important is to get far, far away from the previous understanding of him and his music, which was clearly, to many of us, arrant claptrap. Devil at the crossroads, yeah right! >:D
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: DerZauberer on July 12, 2019, 03:55:04 AM
The authors definitely want(ed) to get things right and factually correct, and to anyone who is in the Facebook "Real Blues Forum" group can read their replies and corrections. So while there may have been oversights, they were at least not intentional. And I would agree that this is the "best" and "most complete" and "most factual" resource we now have!

Errata as per Facebook group:

1) The photo of Johnny Shines on page 169 needs to be attributed to Lew Campbell instead of Christopher Smith

2) On page six it says that "more than 50 million copies were sold in the United States alone." This was a misreading of it selling "500,000 copies in the first year alone." According to Larry Cohn, the record's producer, it has sold between 2 and 3 million copies.

3) On page 5 it says "...that same year (1989) Rolling Stone magazine published the first photo of Robert." The actual year was 1986.

4) Also on page 5 it says "In 1991 Sony music released a two-CD set..." The actual release was in 1990. Cohn won his Grammy for the recording in 1991, but the CD came out in 1990.

5) Although Larry Hoffman's work is cited in the footnotes, he somehow got left out of the Bibliography. So, on page 283 under Articles, after Hammond, John and before House, Eddie James "Son", it should say
Hoffman , Larry. "Robert Lockwod, Jr." Rollin' and Tumblin': The Postwar Blues Guitarists,ed. Jaz Obrecht, (2000): 165-167
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on July 12, 2019, 10:24:05 AM
Hi all,
Re the tuning which was used to play "Ramblin' On My Mind", Robert Johnson's intro to the song, the first twelve seconds of his rendition, provides all of the aural information needed to place the song conclusively in Vestapol tuning.  As the intro begins, he goes from a slide note playing the V of his scale on the second string to a I note at the same fret on the first string, while he is brushing a low I note on the sixth string and a V note on the fifth string.  At :02, he goes from a V note on the second string, sliding into a III note at the same fret on the third string, resolving to a I note on the first string.  So far, we have a voicing of R-5-X-3-5-R for the tuning.  At :03, he walks down the fifth string, hitting a chromatic descending line, VI-bVI-V, fretted at the second fret of the fifth string, the first fret of the fifth string and the open fifth string. At :08, he starts his turn-around, in which he walks down the fifth string chromatically from the 3rd fret to the open fifth string, playing bVII-VI-bVI-V while moving between a I note on the open first string and a V note on the open second string at the beginning of the walk-down and then hanging on the open first string.  At the conclusion of the intro, he does a thumb brush stroke going first from a slid unison I note on the fifth string, fifth fret, against a I note on the open fourth string, followed a second brush stroke going from a major VII note of the scale on the fifth string (fourth fret) to a I note on the open fourth string, followed by a similar move going from a slid unison I note on the sixth string, seventh fret and the open fifth string, followed by a second brush stroke going from a #IV note on the sixth string, sixth fret and the V note on the open fifth string.  All of the slide work Robert Johnson does on the front end of the intro is at the twelfth fret.  So what you end up with is a tuning voiced R-5-R-3-5-R, which is Vestapol, as Prof Scratchy posited earlier in this thread.
Corroborations of Vestapol as Robert Johnson's tuning for the song abound in the remainder of his rendition.  He has a particularly interesting and inventive touch in the IV chord of his first verse.  He begins the IV chord at :24, doing thumb brush strokes of a shuffle rhythm on the sixth and fifth strings.  On 1 +, he brushes 5-5 on the sixth and fifth strings (root and fifth of the IV chord), followed by brushing 5-7 on 2 +, root and sixth of the IV chord.  In the left hand this would involve doing an index barre of the fifth and sixth strings at the fifth fret and using (probably) the third finger to fret the seventh fret of the fifth string.  On 3 +, he does a surprising thing, popping his index barre up so that he is only fretting the fifth fret of the sixth string and brushing the open fifth string along with that, 5-0, a root and II note of the IV chord, on 4 +, he brushes the fifth and sixth string at 5-7 on the beat, followed by the index finger picking the open third string on the + of beat IV.  He then pinches the open first string with the 5-5 on the sixth and fifth strings that begins the second bar of the IV chord.
In the third verse, singing of "the first mail train I see", Robert Johnson speaks, "I think I hear it coming now.", at 1:23, followed by rapid strumming of the open first second and third strings in the treble, the pitches of which corroborate Vestapol tuning.  Immediately following the strumming, he plays an ascending line on the sixth, fifth and fourth strings, voiced R-5-R moving from the sixth to the fourth string, at the open strings, second fret, third fret and fourth fret, essentially the same walk-up used for "Big Road Blues", but differing in as much as the fifth string is walked up along with the fourth and sixth strings in "Ramblin' On My Mind", and only the sixth and fourth strings are played in the "Big Road Blues" walk-up.
There is absolutely nothing that Robert Johnson played in the course of the rendition that would require the use of any tuning other than Vestapol, indeed the piece sits easily and naturally in Vestapol tuning.  And the pitch of the open strings in the course of the rendition dictate that Robert Johnson used Vestapol tuning to play "Ramblin' On My Mind".
All best,
Johnm   
 
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Prof Scratchy on July 12, 2019, 11:13:51 AM
Thanks for working on this, John - I hope the authors pay attention to discussions like this in any revisions of the book.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on July 12, 2019, 11:32:12 AM
You're welcome, Prof.  In a book about a musician, I think the actual musical component of what he or she did in his/her life is a huge factor--the biggest, actually.  So it seems particularly important to get the discussion of it right.  If the analysis is erroneous, it's not only wrong, it's misleading.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: CF on July 12, 2019, 12:14:04 PM
There's a strange reluctance or disinterest in some of the pre-war Blues content providers to reach out to the knowledgeable community of enthusiasts which they communicate with on a daily basis. It could be proprietary in this case with Bruce being a guitar player and interpreter of Robert songs. John Tefteller published a photo/ad that was supposed to be Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy in one of his recent calendars. It is clearly not them and I was rather surprised a collector of pre-war Blues photos did not know what Minnie looks like, nor, apparently, anyone on his staff. Odd.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 12, 2019, 12:38:33 PM
Thanks, John. I agree, if it's about a musician, then it's important that the musician's music gets the attention it deserves and is not relegated to the background. Thank you for going though "Ramblin'" in such a detailed manner.

CF: The "Acknowledgements" section of the book contains no shortage of names, so it's not like they worked in a vacuum. But you're right--sometimes there are lapses that are inexplicable. What is usually needed is for several sets of eyes who are familiar with the material to go through a manuscript with a fine tooth comb to catch errors and point out problems. It's tedious and time consuming work, and can be just another brick on the load, especially when people are busy with their own work. And then there's project fatigue. I've read a few manuscripts where at a point it becomes obvious that the person has run out of gas. But hopefully the RJ book will see a second edition that will contain corrections and rectify omissions.


Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 12, 2019, 05:54:55 PM
I look forward to the second, and probably third editions of the book, regarding this first edition as a plateau. Bring it on. Musical analysis errors pale in comparison to the hype we've been subjected to for far too long, by people who should have known better, and actually did know better but, you know, $$
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Johnm on July 13, 2019, 10:15:46 AM
Hi all,
I guess I value accuracy of musical analysis more (which figures).  The commercially created mythology around Robert Johnson has been easy enough to ignore.  The lives of musicians are like anyone else's lives--they are lives.  That's why I don't get very excited about documentation of life events, birth certificates, marriage licenses, et al.  That is certainly just my own orientation, though, since many people find such things fascinating.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: bnemerov on July 14, 2019, 10:48:25 AM
John,
Amen.
best,
Bruce
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: orvillej on July 14, 2019, 12:08:34 PM
I read the book. I found it interesting and appreciate the years of work and research Gayle and Bruce put into writing it and finally getting it published. I caught a few of the mistakes, some of which just seem like typos, and in reading this thread I see more that have been noticed by the erudite members here. While the book has its shortcomings, I found the detailed look at the movements and relationships of RJ to be informative and since I've never been interested in the devil at the X-roads BS, I was glad they depicted him as a person and a musician and gave short shrift to that stuff. I think overall it's an important addition to the blues scholarship that we have.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 14, 2019, 05:21:27 PM
Quote from: Waxwing
Speaking of "performance" as an aspect of performing, as it were. I think that is RJ's primary attribute. His guitar is not really all that mind bending, I've heard his voice described as that of a squirrel, but he really "brings it" in the moment. Rarely do I hear "performance" spoken about as an aspect of playing music, on this board or others. Arranging, playing clean, tone, clear voice, or raspy voice. These and other things are technical qualities, which make them easy to define and often discussed. But the quality of focusing your entire being into the moment of performing, in a way that compels engagement by the observer, is a far more etherial aspect, difficult to talk about, or even comprehend for many. Possibly, the only thing that really counts to most of the audience.

RJ had it! He brought it in both of his sessions. You feel it when you hear it.


Charisma, in other words. Excellent point. So many musicians complain that their records are dull simulations of their live performances. I don't think RJ would have said that. There are some ordinary moments across the 29 sides, but for the most part, RJ's records project a confident, charismatic performer.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 14, 2019, 05:29:09 PM
Hi all,
I guess I value accuracy of musical analysis more (which figures).  The commercially created mythology around Robert Johnson has been easy enough to ignore.  The lives of musicians are like anyone else's lives--they are lives.  That's why I don't get very excited about documentation of life events, birth certificates, marriage licenses, et al.  That is certainly just my own orientation, though, since many people find such things fascinating.
All best,
Johnm

I think people want to find something remarkable in the documentation that can help explain an artist's imagination. Sometimes it does, but most of the time, the life activities of great artists are much the same as anyone else's. The facts of RJ's life are the same dull, humdrum facts you find with many people growing up poor in the South. Millions had similar experiences. What made RJ stand out was his extraordinary imagination, the development of which is impervious to documentation. 
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 14, 2019, 05:49:34 PM
Speaking of context, one thing that was lacking was the racial climate RJ operated in. This is mentioned in passing but considering RJ's constant ramblings, particularly in Mississippi in the 20's and 30's, I felt more context on the Jim Crow era should have been included. This is something of a trend in blues writing, a whitewashing of history that is far too common.


I really don't get the impression that people today understand the depth of Jim Crow laws and the extent of segregation in RJ's lifetime. They know about the lynchings, but that's about it. This is hugely important context to the history of the blues. The authors state that Dallas was extremely racist for making RJ take the freight elevator at the Brunswick building, but this was probably one of the more benign aspects of Jim Crow that he had to face. And what went on in Dallas went on in every other city; it's unfair to single out Dallas as somehow unique.

It's remarkable that people like RJ and Shines could apparently have such freedom of movement in that climate.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 14, 2019, 05:59:39 PM
Riding the blinds, hoboeing around are not really freedom of movement. True freedom of movement is upward mobility based on talent and intellect, I would suggest. But this is America, where it's seen as romantic to live low to the ground, but not so much if it's you that has to do it.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 14, 2019, 06:20:09 PM
True freedom of movement is upward mobility based on talent and intellect, I would suggest.

Along with opportunity, hard work and resilience, I might add.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 14, 2019, 06:24:24 PM
well naturally! And good looks... a trust fund doesn't hurt, so I'm told.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 14, 2019, 10:30:52 PM
And good looks... a trust fund doesn't hurt, so I'm told.

Leaves me out--on both counts.  ;D
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: waxwing on July 14, 2019, 11:52:29 PM
Quote from: Waxwing
Speaking of "performance" as an aspect of performing, as it were. I think that is RJ's primary attribute. His guitar is not really all that mind bending, I've heard his voice described as that of a squirrel, but he really "brings it" in the moment. Rarely do I hear "performance" spoken about as an aspect of playing music, on this board or others. Arranging, playing clean, tone, clear voice, or raspy voice. These and other things are technical qualities, which make them easy to define and often discussed. But the quality of focusing your entire being into the moment of performing, in a way that compels engagement by the observer, is a far more etherial aspect, difficult to talk about, or even comprehend for many. Possibly, the only thing that really counts to most of the audience.

RJ had it! He brought it in both of his sessions. You feel it when you hear it.


Charisma, in other words. Excellent point. So many musicians complain that their records are dull simulations of their live performances. I don't think RJ would have said that. There are some ordinary moments across the 29 sides, but for the most part, RJ's records project a confident, charismatic performer.

Hmmm?

Charisma:
1. Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others
2. a divinely conferred power or talent.

Not really what I'm talking about. I would use

Presence: the state of existing, occrring, or being present in a place or thing.

Performance artists (actors musicians, dancers) and psychologists use this to mean a full awareness or consciousness of the present, that is, being fully present in, and aware of, the moment, particularly with regard to relationship to other performers, and to the audience. Sometimes we call it  "the flow", or "the pocket". It is not something like good looks, a deep voice or an expansive personality, which either you have received divinely (or genetically) or forget it. Presence is something that can be addressed, through practice, awareness, and a true sense of one's joy in performing. It is absolutely something that most people, given the awareness and desire, can work on and improve. It may develop naturally for some, through constant performance, but once a performer begins to experience the flow, that awareness can inspire a personal investigation of how to get into that state.

Wax
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: waxwing on July 15, 2019, 12:11:02 AM
Presence is what you get for paying your dues. When you've played long enough, and lived long enough, that exerience is what you bring when you "bring it". And when you do, people listen.

Wax
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 15, 2019, 03:10:35 PM
Maybe that's why people felt the need to put forward supernatural explanations for RJ's reported sudden leap in instrumental- and vocal ability.

Had he demonstrably paid his dues? If not, "it must have been the devil". So the marketers got ahold of those quotes and did what marketers do. Just a thought, the logic sort of works.

I've never really known what paying one's dues means, musically or in any other endeavor, other than being in a union briefly. Guess I still haven't paid mine.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 16, 2019, 04:37:56 AM
Riding the blinds, hoboeing around are not really freedom of movement. True freedom of movement is upward mobility based on talent and intellect, I would suggest. But this is America, where it's seen as romantic to live low to the ground, but not so much if it's you that has to do it.

But wouldn't RJ have been hitch-hiking part of the time? He tried to "flag a ride" at the crossroads.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 26, 2019, 09:18:36 PM
Re: sales of Robert johnson's records in the 1930s.

Sales records were destroyed, so nobody knows what the actual sales of his records were. I wish people would just acknowledge that and move on. The notion that "Terraplane" sold and most of the others did not is simply part of the mythology. One would expect this to be made perfectly clear in a book whose stated purpose is to deflate all Johnson myth.

Conforth writes (pg. 215) that "Robert's bestseller from the [Dallas] session ended up being his 1938 release of 'Little Queen of Spades' backed up with 'Me and the Devil Blues.' More copies of that record and 'Stop Breakin' Down' have been found in unsold store stocks -- or by door knocking -- than of his other Dallas recordings." [emphasis added]

Unsold store stocks means that the records did not sell. Thus, finding a bunch of copies this way may well prove the opposite point. And does this include copies on all labels, or just Vocalion?

There is no evidence that "Little Queen of Spades" or "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" sold better than any other single by Johnson. No sales figures exist.

Furthermore, on page 186 Conforth writes that "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" had an initial pressing of at least 5,000 copies. This cannot be right. The typical industry practice was to press just enough to meet the market for new records, and if the pressing sold out, only then would further pressing be justified. They would only press 5,000 (or more) of a new record if the artist had built up a reputation over years and the initial market demand would be well above average, e.g. Duke Ellington. Conforth notes that this single was repressed on the Conqueror label for sale through Sears, and "only best sellers ... were issued on Conquerer." This supposedly proves "Broom" was a best seller. If so, why wasn't "Terraplane" released on Conquerer?

The only sales figures that do exist are the pressing quantities (which are not sales figures) for the dime store releases on Perfect, Romeo, and Oriole. These are listed by Conforth on page 151-52 (5,000 total pressed on Perfect, 400 on Romeo, 150 on Oriole). As a matter of speculation, we may infer from this that more than 5,000 total were also pressed on Vocalion -- though how many more is impossible to guess, and pressing figures do not correlate to retail sales.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Rivers on July 26, 2019, 10:59:54 PM
Initial pressing decisions would be based on current demand. Back then there would have been no four period weighted moving average demand projections, or other demand planning algorithms, available or even possible.

So I agree with you, unlikely anyone would decide to produce a large amount of product unless they had either a) firm orders, or b) were so inspired by the recordings they just decided to roll the dice.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: jharris on July 27, 2019, 08:59:17 AM
Here an interesting article regarding RJ and the dime store labels: https://www.vjm.biz/robert-johnson.pdf
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on July 27, 2019, 09:40:09 AM
Thanks for the link to the article, Jeff.

Another consideration would be how many copies were needed so that the all the retail locations had copies in stock to sell. In marketing and merchandising, things were different in 1937.

In the early '70s, I knew a guy who had a small record store and also was a regional distributor for several labels. I remember him telling me that one of the rules of retail was that if a customer didn't see it in stock, 90% of the time they wouldn't ask the store to order it. They'd look for it elsewhere. Of course, they had to know about the record, but you get the picture.

Back in the late '60s or early '70s IIRC, Pat Sky said that he had a new album coming out--Soon to be available in drugstores and supermarkets with a hole punched in the corner of the album cover and going for the bargain price of $.99. Many a truth...

Back then there would have been no four period weighted moving average demand projections, or other demand planning algorithms, available or even possible.

In other words, back then they made an educated guess based on experience. Now the guess is based on numbers derived from experience and processed by a series of instruction sets.  ;)
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Gilgamesh on July 27, 2019, 03:52:45 PM
If Robert was paid $25 per song (page 181), Conforth should have made it clear what an enormous amount of money he made for 29 songs. 29 songs x $25.00 each totals $725.00, which according to the online Inflation Calculator, had the value equivalence of $12,896.09 in 2019 dollars.

It makes you wonder why he didn't buy a car at that point and give up the unglamorous and dangerous world of riding the rails and hitchhiking. He could have purchased a new Terraplane (the ad on page 149 prices these at $595) free and clear. What the hell did he do with $12,896??? The book indicates no change in his lifestyle at all (except traveling north) after 1936.

Also -- if the dimestore pressings (5,500) were wholesaled at a price of .15 cents each (a guess), that would be $825. So ARC would have recovered their expenses and made $100 profit on just the dimestore pressings alone.
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: GhostRider on July 30, 2019, 12:08:54 PM
Howdy:

I have just finished reading "Up Jumped the Devil" twice and I have to say I enjoyed in. Compared to some recent blues biographies I have read recently (Lonnie Johnson, Son House etc.) it seems to me well written. I like to footnote system used in the book, note constant quoting of sources in the text which slow things down too much.

I don't doubt there are some suppositions and slight exaggerations to make the account flow, but that's fine with me.

One thing that mildly bugs me is what JohnM mentioned, the analysis of Robert's music is amateurish. Like the use of the term "natural tuning" (rather than standard tuning), nothing "natural" about it. Also the mention of "Kindhearted Woman Blues" being is A standard in the first position-all of the I chord sections are never played in the first position. To me a shocking error as the Robert Johnson A blues accompaniment was his most used motif.

The discussion of his time with Ike Z. was to me the most intersting part of the book. Gosh, I wish this dude had been recorded.

But all in all a great read, to my mind the best blues biography in recent years. A corrected second edition, as Rivers said, would be great, but not enough to not read the current one. I offer Weenie Campbell assistance to the editing chores for the second edition!

What makes Mr. Johnson drink,
Alex
Title: Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Post by: Stuart on August 02, 2019, 08:39:09 AM
"BLUES LIVES: PROMISE AND PERILS OF MUSICAL COPYRIGHT" by OLUFUNMILAYO B. AREWA

Attached (Excuse the all caps)

https://www.law.temple.edu/contact/olufunmilayo-arewa/
SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2020, SimplePortal