Robert Johnson: Lost and Found


About the Author:
Barry Lee Pearson is a professor of English and American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park

About the Author:
Bill McCulloch is a writer, freelance editor, and musician

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Robert Johnson: Lost and Found

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About the Author:
Barry Lee Pearson is a professor of English and American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park

About the Author:
Bill McCulloch is a writer, freelance editor, and musician

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Despite American legend, George Washington never chopped down the cherry tree, Billy the Kid was just a petty hood, and Robert Johnson never sold his soul to the devil. Here, Pearson (English & American studies, Univ. of Maryland, College Park) and McCullough, a freelance journalist, address the shaky foundations of hearsay that have passed for the bluesman's biography, studying all manner of literature. There is little documentation of Johnson's short time on this earth (1911-38), leaving much of what's written about him based upon his lyrics and interviews with his contemporaries. The authors contend that writers and critics, ignorant of black culture and plagued with confirmation bias, twisted small quotes from people who knew Johnson and treated song lyrics as biography (of Johnson's 41 recordings, only two make direct references to witchcraft) to create the soul-sale-to-Satan myth. That tale then snowballed and morphed in pop culture to fit the mood of the times. Although the hoodoo crossroads bit helped to boost record sales and make for interesting liner notes, Robert Johnson: Lost and Found is a reminder that Johnson's talent was enough; he didn't need the devil's help to become a legend. Recommended for public and academic libraries with extensive popular music and Americana collections to balance out the scholarship on Johnson.-Eric Hahn, West Des Moines, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252075285
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 3/18/2008
  • Series: Music in American Life Series
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 935,930
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Lee Pearson is a professor of English and American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, a noted blues scholar, and the author of three books, including Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers. Bill McCulloch is a writer, freelance editor, and musician. He formerly collaborated with Pearson on articles about thirty-six American blues artists for the American National Biography.

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Table of Contents

1 The Making of a Paper Trail 1
2 Our Hero 5
3 The Anecdotes 11
4 Early Notices 18
5 The Reissue Project, Phase One 27
6 Reissue, Phase Two 33
7 Myth Eclipses Reality 46
8 Reissue, Phase Three: or, Fifteen Minutes of Fame 53
9 A Myth to the Twenty-first Century 62
10 Satan and Sorcery 65
11 The Song Texts 70
12 A House of Cards 87
13 Who Was He, Really? 103
Notes 115
Bibliography 129
Index 137
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2005

    There's nothing wrong with myth

    This is an excellent, thorough investigation of the Robert Johnson myth. Although very sober and forensic, I couldn't help but feel that the authors addressed the devil-trade anecdote as a transaction well within the bounds of possibility: they seemed focused on proving that Robert Johnson did NOT sell his soul to Satan, a transaction that, apparently, would otherwise be entirely possible to perform... Just not by Johnson. In any case, this slightly stilted angle of argumentation makes for some wonderful reading. I get the feeling that the authors don't really 'get' that all myths are precisely the result of the complex machinery of misunderstandings, frauds, lies, gossip and hidden interests that they themselves describe as having intervened in the life of Robert Johnson. Human beings, especially artists, yearn to trascend their own humanity and become the stuff of legend. I believe there is nothing wrong with what has happened to the memory of Robert Johnson. Being the jokester that he was, according to his friends, he must be laughing out loud, wherever he is.

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