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Good God, why doesn't that man yodel and be done with it? - A woman in the audience commenting on Peetie Wheatstraw's signature "ooh, well well", recounted by Teddy Darby, quoted in Paul Garon's The Devil's Son-In-Law

Author Topic: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson  (Read 3807 times)

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Offline harriet

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #60 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.

Offline waxwing

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #61 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
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #62 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.

Offline harriet

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #63 on: July 09, 2019, 08:18:06 PM »
IMHO you have some good points Stuart thanks. 

Offline lindy

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #64 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."

« Last Edit: July 09, 2019, 09:37:11 PM by lindy »

Offline lindy

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #65 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

Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #66 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. 

Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #67 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...)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #68 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

Offline DerZauberer

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #69 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
"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are." - Son House

Offline Johnm

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #70 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   
 
« Last Edit: July 12, 2019, 10:50:34 AM by Johnm »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #71 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.


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Offline Johnm

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #72 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
« Last Edit: July 12, 2019, 04:40:06 PM by Johnm »

Offline CF

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #73 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.
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Stuart

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Re: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
« Reply #74 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.



 


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