WORD BK Presents: Bruce Conforth and John Hammond for UP JUMPED THE DEVIL

06/05/2019 - 7:30pm


WORD is excited to welcome Bruce Conforth to Greenpoint for a discussion about his new book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson. Bruce will be joined in conversation by guitarist John Hammond.


Robert Johnson lived his life as a working musician. In death, he’s become a myth. His iconic status in blues culture parallels Babe Ruth’s place in the history of baseball. Johnson transcended his field to become synonymous with the culture and identity of the genre. While many believe the story of the blues begins with the story of Robert Johnson, few know how much of that story is fiction. In Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, blues historians Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow combine their decades of research, interviews and extensive experience to present the authoritative biography of one of music’s most mysterious figures. Johnson is best known for the mythic tale of his deal with the devil, selling his soul at the crossroads in exchange for his mastery of the guitar. Conforth and Wardlow not only debunk this popular myth, but go on to uncover the true, tragic history of a once-in-a-generation virtuoso.

Johnson’s life has long been viewed through the romantic lens of apocryphal anecdotes. Since his death, various “experts” on Johnson have come forward with inaccurate information, vague biographies and unsubstantiated claims. Conforth and Wardlow put the theories and falsehoods to rest through their investigative tenacity, collecting every written or recorded recollection from those who knew Johnson and uncovering birth certificates, census records and other archival materials to solidify their research. What they find reveals little known stories of Johnson’s time in Memphis, his marriage and love interests, the circumstances surrounding his untimely death at only 27 years old and other remarkable elements of a fascinating life story. Up Jumped the Devil does justice to its subject, sharing, for the first time, the true story of a legendary American figure. While Johnson will forever be tied to the myths surrounding his name, this great new biography proves that sometimes the truth can be just as good a story.


Bruce Conforth was a longtime professor of folklore, blues, popular culture, and the history of social movements at the University of Michigan. He was also the founding curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson Cover Image
ISBN: 9781641600941
Availability: In stock at Brooklyn or Jersey City -- click for more details
Published: Chicago Review Press - June 4th, 2019

  • The Penderyn 2020 Music Book Prize (UK edition)
  • Living Blues Critics Choice Best Blues Book of 2019
  • Living Blues Readers Choice Best Blues Book of 2019
  • Certificate of Merit in the Best Historical Research in Recorded Blues, Soul, Gospel, or R&B category from ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections)
An essential story of blues lore, blac

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