Excerpt: “For more than half a century, fans and researchers have rhapsodized and hypothesized about Johnson’s itinerant lifestyle, untimely death, and iconic songbook. The mythology that swirls around this one man from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, has created its own “cottage industry” of publishing and tourism, says Bruce Conforth, coauthor with Gayle Dean Wardlow of the new biography Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson. As Johnson’s life story seems more elusive, his place in blues history seems more secure.
The most famous myth surrounding Johnson concerns his alleged “deal with the Devil” at a Mississippi crossroads, where it’s said he traded his soul for guitar virtuosity. The Devil legend entered popular consciousness in the 1960s (long after Johnson died, in 1938), and is in many ways the wellspring of rock ‘n’ roll’s satanic motifs—from the Rolling Stones through Iron Maiden and beyond. The story’s obviously not true, but that’s hardly the point. The point is that the Devil is in rock music’s DNA, and the stories around Johnson helped put it there.”