Searching for Robert Johnson: The Life and Legend of the "King of the Delta Blues Singers"

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Robert Johnson, while probably the most influential of all blues guitarists, is also one of the most obscure. Recognized as an influence on musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband in 1938--at the age of twenty-seven. This untimely death, his supposed bargain with the devil that enabled him to play guitar, and the ferocity and tormented originality of his work have given rise to a legend that has inspired a Hollywood movie and numerous stories. Peter Guralnick's extended essay about the life of the man and the myth, and of the place and time that produced both, illuminates much of the obscurity around Johnson without forfeiting any of the mystery.

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Blues fans have long held up Robert Johnson's small but potent body of work as a slender pillar on which much modern blues and rock rest, and the songs themselves remain astonishing paradigms of the blues' most primordial style, the country blues of the Mississippi Delta. Yet, for decades after his murder in 1938, details of Johnson's life and clues into the genesis of his music consisted of little more than the evocative themes and settings of the songs themselves.

This brief but absorbing meditation on Johnson's life and art, originally published in 1989 in anticipation of the first release of his complete recordings, benefits from the detective work of earlier blues scholars, most notably Mack McCormick, who began piercing the veil surrounding Johnson's life in the '60s. By the '80s, reminiscences from the bluesman's contemporaries, more solid evidence of his shadowy lineage, and even the belated discovery of photographs added more dimension to McCormick's "phantom" Johnson. Yet, possibly by his own design, Robert Johnson remained more outline than flesh, still explained more lucidly in the fevered nightmares and earthy imagery of his songs than by the scattered details of his life.

Guralnick succeeds in conveying the power of Johnson's music and delineating both its origins and, ultimately, singular genius. His debts to delta blues avatars Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson are solidified, yet, more crucially, Guralnick roots Johnson's artistic growth in the specific context of this rural corner of Mississippi, at this particular moment between the world wars. He also frankly addresses the potency of Johnson's myth and an early death that only glorifies the brief, bright arc of his work. No less crucial is Guralnick's ability to convey the dark beauty of the music itself, giving Searching for Robert Johnson a broader sweep as an essential blues primer. --Sam Sutherland

About the Author:

Peter Guralnick is the author of the hugely successful book on Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis. He lives in West Newbury, Massachusetts.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780525248019: Searching for Robert Johnson

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ISBN 10:  0525248013 ISBN 13:  9780525248019
Publisher: Dutton Adult, 1989
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9780436199998: Searching for Robert Johnson

Martin..., 1990
Hardcover

9780712666688: Searching for Robert Johnson : The Life and Legend of the King of the Delta Blue

Pimlico, 1998
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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 1998. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Robert Johnson, while probably the most influential of all blues guitarists, is also one of the most obscure. Recognized as an influence on musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband in 1938--at the age of twenty-seven. This untimely death, his supposed bargain with the devil that enabled him to play guitar, and the ferocity and tormented originality of his work have given rise to a legend that has inspired a Hollywood movie and numerous stories. Peter Guralnick. Seller Inventory # AAC9780452279490

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 1998. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Robert Johnson, while probably the most influential of all blues guitarists, is also one of the most obscure. Recognized as an influence on musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband in 1938--at the age of twenty-seven. This untimely death, his supposed bargain with the devil that enabled him to play guitar, and the ferocity and tormented originality of his work have given rise to a legend that has inspired a Hollywood movie and numerous stories. Peter Guralnick. Seller Inventory # AAC9780452279490

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 1998. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Robert Johnson, while probably the most influential of all blues guitarists, is also one of the most obscure. Recognized as an influence on musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband in 1938--at the age of twenty-seven. This untimely death, his supposed bargain with the devil that enabled him to play guitar, and the ferocity and tormented originality of his work have given rise to a legend that has inspired a Hollywood movie and numerous stories. Peter Guralnick. Seller Inventory # BTE9780452279490

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