Talk:Robert Johnson

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Possibility Robert Johnson Had Marfan Syndrome[edit]

I'd like to suggest that the article on Robert Johnson be updated to include new theories that he suffered from Marfan's Syndrome and that is what led to his death. One of the symptoms is having very long fingers, which would explain why his style is so unique and difficult to reproduce. I don't feel comfortable editing the article myself so am hoping someone will take on the task. See article Retrospective blues: Robert Johnson — an open letter to Eric Clapton Grannysage (talk) 19:28, 7 October 2015 (UTC)

Speculation based on a grainy old photograph and a half-remembered account from an unnamed source, seven decades after the subject's death - yup, that's about as close to the epitome of Original Research as you can get ~dom Kaos~ (talk) 12:44, 3 September 2017 (UTC)
I reverted this edit - it is discursive and probably in the wrong section. However, the speculation that Johnson may have had Marfan syndrome has been mentioned quite widely in sources, and probably should be mentioned somewhere in the article. Ghmyrtle (talk) 12:31, 2 June 2019 (UTC)

New biography[edit]

The new biography of Johnson, Up Jumped the Devil by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, has recently been published and seems to have been well received. Presumably some of it will be used as a good source for future edits? Ghmyrtle (talk) 12:27, 18 June 2019 (UTC)

Update: Edits that clearly draw on the Conforth/Wardlow book were made by an anonymous editor here and here on May 16, 2020, but were reverted by Arjayay (without explanation) and Ojorojo ("..needs reliable corroboration that new source is definitive"). I intend to reinstate some but not all of those deleted edits. The book has won at least one award, and is generally regarded by those with a scholarly interest in blues history as certainly a reliable source (if not "definitive" - can anything ever be?). I have the book so can check page numbers, etc. Further comments welcome, but I intend to do it within the next few days. Ghmyrtle (talk) 21:43, 20 May 2020 (UTC)

Johnson bios have been off my radar for a while, but with the recent attention, I've ordered a copy (I like Wardlow's Chasin' That Devil Music). It will be interesting to see how this article develops. —Ojorojo (talk) 16:21, 21 May 2020 (UTC)
It's a fascinating and well-researched book. In even newer news, have you seen this? The book isn't out yet, but virtually all the experts who have seen the cover think that the photo is genuine. So, more insights to come, hopefully. Ghmyrtle (talk) 16:30, 21 May 2020 (UTC)
Hmmm, "hi, I'm Bob" – could this be the end of the popular enigmatic, quasi-mythical figure? —Ojorojo (talk) 17:20, 21 May 2020 (UTC)
Or "R.L." as he preferred, according to the book. Some things I will be changing in his song articles:
  • Satherly (note spelling) was not involved in the recording sessions.[p. 152] His selection of what to release and when is what producers usually do, but he is not specifically identified as such.[p. 185–186] The 1991 box set liner notes only list Law as the producer.
  • According to Johnny Temple, R.L. taught him the boogie bass line for guitar,[p. 127] not the other way around nor "jointly developed". Temple brought it to Chicago and was the first to record using it, but R.L. developed it first.
  • His 78s sold reasonably well for the time,[pp. 150–152, 186] so he wasn't unheard of nor ignored by the public. Many were sold to establishments with juke boxes, so their exposure was greater than the numbers alone suggest.
  • He was not jailed between the first and second San Antonio sessions, but before the first one.[p. 172]
  • The more sensational descriptions of some of his work ("evokes the themes of damnation and redemption, darkness and light ... glimpses into the musician's inner life, and all its attendant turmoils", "The poetic imagery is brilliant and intense with a feeling of personal frenzy. The song's lyrics reflect an agonized spirit for whom there is no escape") need to be toned down or qualified as the impression of the particular writer.
  • While I wonder about the accuracy of some recollections that are 50–70 years old (and some from when they were very young children), they don't remember him as being obsessed with Satan or overly into hoodoo/folk magic. C/W paint him more as shaped by the abandonment by his mother and the death of his first wife and child, which came out in anti-religion/anti-God rants when he was drunk. He probably bought into the guilt trip of "playing the Devil's music", which was common among many early bluesmen.
As I go through the articles, there will probably be more. Anything to add?
Ojorojo (talk) 14:43, 1 June 2020 (UTC)
Only that all the records about Satherley - his birth, death, naturalisation, social security records, etc. - spell it with a second "e". So, it's a typo in the book. Ghmyrtle (talk) 20:27, 24 June 2020 (UTC)

Commercial Success?[edit]

The new bio, mentioned in another topic, documents the sales of Robert Johnson's original recordings by producer Don Law. Surprisingly, they enjoyed significant sales, according to the books authors. "While we have no actual numbers detailing how many records Vocalion pressed (save for the notion that Robert's only hit, 'Terraplane Blues' sold in the thousands), we have exact numbers for the dime store pressings......Robert's sixteen songs (eight records) accounted for five thousand total pressings by Perfect Records, four hundred by Romeo Records, and only one hundred fifty by Oriole Records." All told, it appears Johnson's record sales approximated more than 10,000 copies, in a less than two-year period which at that time would be quite substantial and perhaps belies the notion that he had NO commercial success. Of course, Johnson was paid a flat fee for each song and his income was not dependent on the number of discs sold. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Dbaile53 (talkcontribs) 17:12, 20 June 2019 (UTC)

If you have the book, I suggest that you add appropriate wording to the article, using the correct citation template at Template:Cite book. By the way, if you add a comment to a talk page like this one, you should sign it using four of these symbols: ~ Ghmyrtle (talk) 20:49, 20 June 2019 (UTC)

Other Photographic Images[edit]

Removed from article for lack of proper referencing:

===Motion Picture Films===
In April 2018 blues researcher Scott Kaplan, publisher of the blues website kingbiscuitblues.com, discovered that the performers in an already popularized August 1929 Fox Movietone Newsreel film were Robert Johnson playing banjo and singing with Hayes McMullan, Robert Petway, Tommy McClennan and Mississippi Fred McDowell The films feature the group performing the songs Suwannee River in a rowboat on a Bayou and Mary Don't You Weep on a field with a dialogued finale of Hayes McMullen and Tommy McClennan sharing a laugh over Johnson(.)"--Artaxerxes (talk) 14:24, 15 October 2019 (UTC)
It is possible to source the claim to the website mentioned, but the supposed identifications are clearly fanciful and completely without foundation. Tony 1212 (talk) 19:26, 24 June 2020 (UTC)

New photo / when to consider "accepted"[edit]

Hi all, now that the new photo is officially released, along with the Annye Anderson book, at what point can it be considered accepted as genuine for the purpose of this article?

https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Robert-Growing-Up-Johnson/dp/0306845261

Cheers - Tony Tony 1212 (talk) 22:11, 21 June 2020 (UTC)

It's already mentioned, in the "Photographs" section. To say any more than we currently do would, I think, require a statement from acknowledged experts that they think it is genuine, for instance in book reviews. I know from social media posts that it certainly is accepted as genuine, but that's not really admissible. Ghmyrtle (talk) 20:30, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
I was wondering if the book itself contains such opinions from researchers - now the full text is available (I do not have a copy myself)... Tony 1212 (talk) 22:07, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
I assume that Preston Lauterbach, the co-author, endorses it, but I don't have the book either. (Surprised he doesn't have an article here.) The blurb for the book says: "Featuring a foreword by Elijah Wald and a Q&A with Anderson, Lauterbach, Wald, and Peter Guralnick, this book paints a vivid portrait of an elusive figure who forever changed the musical landscape as we know it...." . Wald and Guralnick are authoritative, I would say. Ghmyrtle (talk) 22:15, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
So someone needs to read the book and figure out if it covers what we are seeking... Tony 1212 (talk)
...or if an authority on Johnson publishes a review that endorses the photo. Ghmyrtle (talk) 22:30, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
PS: Here is a review that says: "The authenticity of the photo was confirmed in a Facebook post by blues scholar Elijah Wald, who wrote the book’s foreword." Ghmyrtle (talk) 22:34, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
That's good enough in my opinion... I have adjusted the article text accordingly, see in you are happy with it...Tony 1212 (talk) 05:38, 25 June 2020 (UTC)

Other Robert Johnsons[edit]

The Radiolab podcast "Crossroads" (NPR; April 2012) doesn't simple raise "the possibility that more than one Robert Johnson was traveling around the region making music at the time of the subject's life." It fairly well establishes this fact with an impressive list of interviewees. The lameness of this dodge fails to save the day: "This would not be surprising, however, since blues musicians from this time often claimed they were someone else." Um, okay, so that doesn't really help. That this Robert Johnson "even occasionally claimed to be Lonnie Johnson" doesn't help much to obscure the fact that other people with his fairly common name were doing as he was in the same era and region. The statement of a county registrar, Cornelia Jordan, used in the Death section -- given so much space to help establish the veracity of the reported claim of his death -- is weak, not just for its folksy nature, but also for the fact that she was investigating the death of a BANJO PLAYER. Unless the instruments this Robert Johnson played are adjusted in the infobox and elsewhere, this makes a bald indictment of itself. When do registrars investigate deaths, anyway? The NPR show mentions that the subject of this article was seen twice after his reported death. Best to be less certain, I'd say, with so much uncertainty afoot.--Artaxerxes (talk) 11:41, 9 July 2020 (UTC)

I think scholarship has moved on since 2012, particularly with the Conforth and Wardlow book in 2019 which (I believe) does not consider the possibility of mistaken identity. Regarding the mention of the banjo (rather than guitar) on the back of the death certificate, they state that this is "an understandable mistake" (p.260). The recent book by his stepsister (which I haven't read) also, I believe, would provide evidence that the person who made the recordings was the person who died in 1938. But, there are many people more expert than me who could give further opinions. Ghmyrtle (talk) 13:02, 9 July 2020 (UTC)
If investigation of a banjo player's death by a county registrar is to be used to confirm the facts of this Robert Johnson's death -- when other Robert Johnson's were known to be roaming around the South plying their musical craft -- I think it best to explain: 1) why the county registrar; and, 2) why a banjo. Otherwise it just serves to further obscure death facts that appear to the objective observer to have been lost to obscurity. That this Robert Johnson's death should be shrouded in mystery perfectly fits the rest of his biography. This irony could be used as intro to a section that doesn't definitively establish how he died (because it can't).--Artaxerxes (talk) 13:17, 9 July 2020 (UTC)
We're not here to establish truth, we're here to report reliable sources and let the reader come to their own assessment. Having said that, I don't think there's any serious doubt that the Conforth and Wardlow book is the most reliable source that exists, and where there are conflicting opinions the wording of some sections in the article may need to be tweaked to give their findings greater prominence. For what it's worth, Elijah Wald, who is quoted in that 2012 radio piece, also wrote the foreword to the book - so, was convinced I assume. Ghmyrtle (talk) 13:50, 9 July 2020 (UTC)