With the publication last summer of “Up Jumped The Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson” by Gayle Dean Wardlow and Bruce Conforth, we discovered there was previously unknown Memphis chapter in his history. Incidentally this book has won the Penderyn Prize for the best music book of any kind. We now have as full a description of the solid family life there as we’re ever likely to have. RJ was welcomed with open arms into the extended Spencer household and thrived in the warm, stimulating life in Memphis. His stepsister Annye Anderson was only twelve when RJ passed but her childhood memories are detailed and revelatory. In her hands, RJ becomes the consummate urban musician, listening to the latest swing bands on Beale Street and indeed playing the music of Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. We get a far different picture of RJ and she takes many of his contemporaries to task for misleading tales. The chapter on the current state of the legal issues around the music stand in stark contrast to the childhood reminiscences we get elsewhere. In later life, she took over from Sister Carrie in the disturbing and distressing negotiations with Steve LaVere over the ownership of RJ’s songs. Needless to say, neither one saw any money from the years of negotiations. She read what was published about Brother Robert and decided she wanted to correct the record, contacting Preston Lauterbach to help tell her story. Lauterbach, who has written several excellent books on Memphis in this era, interviews Ms. Anderson at length and did an excellent job in compiling the story of Broth Robert. We also get an enthusiastic foreword by Elijah Wald, who sat in on some of the interviews. That cover picture of RJ is its first publication, it’s from Ms. Anderson’s private collection.

TBS Presents: Raoul Bhaneja on City Hall Live Online
August 2020 - Cootes Paradise