Artist News Awards

Robert Johnson biography takes Penderyn Music Book Prize

By | Published on Tuesday 12 May 2020

Robert Johnson

Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow’s ‘Up Jumped The Devil: The Real Life Of Robert Johnson’ has been named the winner of this year’s Penderyn Music Book Prize.

Launched in 2015, each year the award celebrates what a panel of judges deem to be the best music book published in the last year. Last time it went to folk musician Shirley Collins for her autobiography ‘All In The Downs’.

In ‘Up Jumped The Devil’, Conforth and Wardlow attempted to write a book that avoided the various myths and fictions written about American blues musician Johnson since his death in 1938, aged 27.

“My co-author Gayle Dean Wardlow and I are THRILLED and honoured to accept the sixth annual Penderyn Music Book Prize on behalf of Robert Johnson”, says Conforth. “To have our book be picked ahead of so many other worthy publications is truly overwhelming”.

He goes on: “I said that we were accepting the prize on behalf of Robert Johnson because for 50 years it has been our dream to free Johnson from the belief that he was merely a phantom about whom next to nothing would ever be known and to give him back his true identity”.

“Since 1937”, he adds, “when John Hammond wrote the first review of a Johnson recording for the American communist magazine New Masses, Robert’s life has been written about and discussed through best-guesses based on little or no information, supernatural myths, fanciful fabrications, and outright lies … We therefore wrote our book not to seek anything other than to return Robert Johnson’s humanity to him. By doing away with the myths and providing the most comprehensive facts possible we wanted to give Robert his life back”.

The full shortlist for this year’s Penderyn Prize was as follows:
Up Jumped The Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson – Bruce Conforth & Gayle Dean Wardlow
It Gets Me Home This Curving Track: Objects & Essays 2012-2018 – Ian Penman
The Lark Ascending: The Music Of The British Landscape – Richard King
Record Play Pause: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist Volume 1 – Stephen Morris
Another Planet: A Teenager In Suburbia – Tracey Thorn
The Searing Light, The Sun & Everything Else, Joy Division The Oral History – Jon Savage