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Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson

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An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife Though only 27-years-young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson's enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta Blues style. And yet, while his m An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife Though only 27-years-young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson's enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta Blues style. And yet, while his music has retained the steadfast devotion of modern listeners, much remains unknown about the man who penned and played these timeless tunes. Few people alive today actually remember what Johnson was really like, and those who do have largely upheld their silence-until now. In Brother Robert, nonagenarian Annye Anderson sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson's unconventional path to stardom-from the harrowing story behind his illegitimate birth, to his first strum of the guitar on Anderson's father's knee, to the genre-defining recordings that would one day secure his legacy. Along the way, readers are gifted not only with Anderson's personal anecdotes, but with colorful recollections passed down to Anderson by members of their family-the people who knew Johnson best. Readers also learn about the contours of his working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of Johnson's favorite things, from foods and entertainers to brands of tobacco and pomade. Together, these stories don't just bring the mythologized Johnson back down to earth; they preserve both his memory and his integrity. For decades, Anderson and her family have ignored the tall tales of Johnson "selling his soul to the devil" and the speculative to fictionalized accounts of his life that passed for biography. Brother Robert is here to set the record straight. 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.


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An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife Though only 27-years-young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson's enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta Blues style. And yet, while his m An intimate memoir by blues legend Robert Johnson's stepsister, including new details about his family, music, influences, tragic death, and musical afterlife Though only 27-years-young and relatively unknown at the time of his tragic death in 1938, Robert Johnson's enduring recordings have solidified his status as a progenitor of the Delta Blues style. And yet, while his music has retained the steadfast devotion of modern listeners, much remains unknown about the man who penned and played these timeless tunes. Few people alive today actually remember what Johnson was really like, and those who do have largely upheld their silence-until now. In Brother Robert, nonagenarian Annye Anderson sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson's unconventional path to stardom-from the harrowing story behind his illegitimate birth, to his first strum of the guitar on Anderson's father's knee, to the genre-defining recordings that would one day secure his legacy. Along the way, readers are gifted not only with Anderson's personal anecdotes, but with colorful recollections passed down to Anderson by members of their family-the people who knew Johnson best. Readers also learn about the contours of his working life in Memphis, never-before-disclosed details about his romantic history, and all of Johnson's favorite things, from foods and entertainers to brands of tobacco and pomade. Together, these stories don't just bring the mythologized Johnson back down to earth; they preserve both his memory and his integrity. For decades, Anderson and her family have ignored the tall tales of Johnson "selling his soul to the devil" and the speculative to fictionalized accounts of his life that passed for biography. Brother Robert is here to set the record straight. 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.

30 review for Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson

  1. 4 out of 5

    Edward Lorn

    I devoured this book. My highest possible recommendation for any reader, but especially for those who love Delta blues.

  2. 4 out of 5

    JDK1962

    Interesting not so much because of Robert Johnson, but because it's a very readable account of black lives in Memphis back in the 20s and 30s. Johnson's a peripheral character in the book, but that's fine. The tale of Johnson's estate is, if Ms. Anderson's version is accurate, pretty horrific: virtually all the money going to people who had nothing to do with Johnson (beyond trying to extract money from his legacy). Interesting not so much because of Robert Johnson, but because it's a very readable account of black lives in Memphis back in the 20s and 30s. Johnson's a peripheral character in the book, but that's fine. The tale of Johnson's estate is, if Ms. Anderson's version is accurate, pretty horrific: virtually all the money going to people who had nothing to do with Johnson (beyond trying to extract money from his legacy).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Doctor Moss

    This book does more than any I have read to bring Robert Johnson back to real life, from the mythological and the scholarly. It’s probably about time. The mythological has pretty much run its course. And the scholarly just feels so far out of tune with its own subject matter, like yet another academic mini-industry. Annye Anderson was Robert Johnson’s step-sister, not actually related by blood. Annye’s mother and Robert’s mother had been married to the same man, Charles Dodd (later known as Charl This book does more than any I have read to bring Robert Johnson back to real life, from the mythological and the scholarly. It’s probably about time. The mythological has pretty much run its course. And the scholarly just feels so far out of tune with its own subject matter, like yet another academic mini-industry. Annye Anderson was Robert Johnson’s step-sister, not actually related by blood. Annye’s mother and Robert’s mother had been married to the same man, Charles Dodd (later known as Charles Spencer). But Charles was not Robert’s father. Robert was born after Charles left Julia, Robert’s mother, fearing the consequences of a fight with a white man in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, Robert’s birthplace. Julia had been Charles’ first wife. Annye’s mother, Mollie, was Charles’ third wife, living in Memphis. Hope you’ve got all that straight now. But Robert treated Charles as a father in many ways, once he got to know him. And Memphis served as a kind of home base for him. That gave Annye regular contact with Robert, despite their different fathers, mothers, and 15 year difference in age. The book is told as a memoir by Annye. She’s a very entertaining storyteller in her own right, and her recollections of growing up in Great Depression-era Memphis are worth the price of the book. But her recollections of her step-brother Robert are the core. She knew him in a different way than the biographers who have written about him knew him. This is a first hand account, and it’s told from the perspective of Robert’s family and home-life rather than his musical life on the road. It’s a different Robert Johnson, no doubt just as responsible for how he expressed himself musically. But it’s someone who helped his little step-sister up the stairs, who played and sang nursery rhymes for kids, and who would play “Little Boy Blue,” who enjoyed Gene Autry and could yodel like Jimmie Rodgers. Of course he was also the musician we know from his recordings of “Kindhearted Woman,” “Walkin’ Blues,” and all the rest. Even the new photograph published on the front of the book shows him through different eyes, more relaxed, smiling more easily, out of the pinstripe suit we know from his iconic photo. Anderson tells her story in two parts. First is her life growing up in Memphis, with her Brother Robert as a member of the family. All those personal memories of Memphis and of family get-togethers and parties where Robert would play. The second part is titled “The Afterlife of Robert Johnson.” Annye was more than a little surprised by Robert’s fame after he died, especially as white musicians picked up his songs, selling millions of copies of their versions. And of course there were the men who saw Robert as a goldmine. Steve LaVere was probably the most uninhibited exploiter of Robert’s legacy, but he wasn’t the only one. Annye and her Sister Carrie (Robert’s step-sister by blood) tried to gain some measure of control over Robert’s estate, but they and their lawyers were fighting an uphill battle against motivated, greedy, and unscrupulous types (primarily “white people”). It’s not so much musicians who made and sold the music as the people whose only real talent seems to have been siphoning the money off — those are the ones Annye expresses justified anger towards. That’s a story that’s unfortunately not even close to unique to Robert Johnson. What makes it harder to swallow is the contrast between the adulation, even the glorification rightly given him while some of the very same people who provide adulation and glorification are looking for a way to cash in. After those two main parts of the book, there is a short interview or discussion among Annye, her co-author for this book, Preston Lauterbach, and Robert Johnson biographers Elijah Wild and Peter Guralnick. Finally Lauterbach provides his own Afterword on the Memphis of Robert Johnson’s time. But it’s the voice of Annye Anderson that makes the book. It’s not even, like I said, just because she’s talking about Robert Johnson. It’s because she’s a good story-teller with a good story to tell.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Ray

    The book is the recollection of Johnson's 91-year-old stepsister, who was 12 years old when the Delta Blues man died at the age of 27 in 1938. "He didn't get his abilities from God or the Devil. He made himself." p. 148 Annye moved north in 1947. She was surprised to find racism everywhere. "In our nation's capital, it took me my entire first lunch hour to find someplace to serve me a meal. It must be known that there is only one region in the United States, you're either up South or down South." The book is the recollection of Johnson's 91-year-old stepsister, who was 12 years old when the Delta Blues man died at the age of 27 in 1938. "He didn't get his abilities from God or the Devil. He made himself." p. 148 Annye moved north in 1947. She was surprised to find racism everywhere. "In our nation's capital, it took me my entire first lunch hour to find someplace to serve me a meal. It must be known that there is only one region in the United States, you're either up South or down South." p. 98. Swindlers cheated Johnson's family out of all the royalties from his songs. It's a heartbreaking tale. Peter Berryman gives a terrific review of the book in his Feb. 2021 /Whither Zither/ column for the Mad Folk newsletter. It doesn't seem to be online anywhere. The Mad Folk newsletter archives have only newsletters a year old or more https://madfolk.org/archives/newslett... and Lou and Peter's website has only his pre-covid columns, which ended in 2017: https://louandpeter.com/whither-zither

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    There’s a line in the introduction by Preston Lauterbach describing when Mrs. Anderson presented him with the undiscovered photo of Robert Johnson that seems to resonate in your soul: “On the recording, you can practically hear the lump fill my throat and the tears brim in my eyes, as I say, ‘That’s worth a million dollars.’” It’s true. Robert Johnson’s story is steeped in myths and legends, word of mouth accounts and exaggerations. He’s been turned into a blues god, someone who sold his soul to There’s a line in the introduction by Preston Lauterbach describing when Mrs. Anderson presented him with the undiscovered photo of Robert Johnson that seems to resonate in your soul: “On the recording, you can practically hear the lump fill my throat and the tears brim in my eyes, as I say, ‘That’s worth a million dollars.’” It’s true. Robert Johnson’s story is steeped in myths and legends, word of mouth accounts and exaggerations. He’s been turned into a blues god, someone who sold his soul to the devil when in reality, he was just a young, black musician trying to find his place in the world doing something he loved. Looking at the cover, seeing Robert Johnson smiling and happy should bring a smile to any blues fan’s face. It’s humanizing. Refreshing. This story isn’t so much about Robert Johnson as it is about his family and the people he surrounded himself with. Mrs. Anderson paints a colorful picture of those who supported Robert Johnson throughout his short life and the society in which they all thrived. What we also see is the struggle his family had after his death, from finding out about his death two weeks after he died to trying to gain the rights to his estate and songs years later. You can feel the pain in Mrs. Anderson’s words. Robert Johnson’s story has always been written by white fans (which, the irony is not lost on me writing this review), from the blues revival of the 1960s to the researchers in the decades past trying to uncover the truth. Hearing it from the perspective of someone who was living it, in that culture, makes it authentic and hurt all the more. We get stories of Robert Johnson playing music for the kids, celebrating Joe Louis’s victory, and being a normal human being. It’s a must-read for any blues enthusiast, any music fan, any person who has ever been interested in hearing another side of a well-known story.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Havoc

    This reads like I was allowed to sit in on a conversation. Amazing stories and kind of all over the place, but I was just glad to be invited along for the ride.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bradley Morgan

    This memoir from Anderson, transcribed from interviews conducted with Preston Lauterbach in 2018 at the age of 92, tells the story of Anderson’s childhood growing up in Memphis and the impact legendary blues musician Robert Johnson had on her life. Though not related by blood, they were still family with Anderson affectionately referred to as Baby Sis by Johnson with whom she called Brother Robert. Despite all the legends and mythology surrounding Robert Johnson, he was just Brother Robert to An This memoir from Anderson, transcribed from interviews conducted with Preston Lauterbach in 2018 at the age of 92, tells the story of Anderson’s childhood growing up in Memphis and the impact legendary blues musician Robert Johnson had on her life. Though not related by blood, they were still family with Anderson affectionately referred to as Baby Sis by Johnson with whom she called Brother Robert. Despite all the legends and mythology surrounding Robert Johnson, he was just Brother Robert to Anderson. A kind and generous lanky young man who brought smiles to the faces of his family and community with his music, he was not the drunken vagabond that history had painted him as from tales told by people who didn’t really know him. And if he was all that, Anderson says he never brought it home and she never saw those qualities because, in her words, Brother Robert “wasn’t in my pocket.” The first half of the memoir features Anderson discussing her family history, life in Memphis during the 1930s, and her relationship with Brother Robert. In the second half, she tells how she learned that Brother Robert was famous and recounts the decades long battle she fought to secure royalties for Brother Robert’s family and those closest to him. Anderson says that the family experienced Brother Robert’s death twice with the second time being the endless legal battles with white men who wanted to profit off someone they didn’t even know. Anderson, to this day, has fought against the mythology of her beloved Brother Robert and denounces and disputes much of the stories attributed to him. Also included is an interview with Anderson conducted by folk music historian Elijah Wald, photos from Anderson touring childhood locations in 2018 and from her own personal collection (including the book’s cover photo which is only the third verified photo of Robert Johnson), and an essay from Lauterbach about Beale Street during the 1920s and 1930s that adds historical context to many of the references from Anderson in her memoir. This book is a deeply personal and fascinating look into one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood figures of 20th century music.

  8. 5 out of 5

    James Klagge

    A sweet and informative memoir of Robert Johnson by his stepsister, who was 12 when he died. It shows the personal and family side of his life, and is as much about Black life in Memphis in the 1930s as it is about the man. It is also about the after-life of Robert Johnson and how his reputation and story and photos and music were exploited by white men--Steve LaVere being the main bad guy in her telling. The legalities of these issues are a mess, because of the exploitation on one side and the A sweet and informative memoir of Robert Johnson by his stepsister, who was 12 when he died. It shows the personal and family side of his life, and is as much about Black life in Memphis in the 1930s as it is about the man. It is also about the after-life of Robert Johnson and how his reputation and story and photos and music were exploited by white men--Steve LaVere being the main bad guy in her telling. The legalities of these issues are a mess, because of the exploitation on one side and the naïveté on the other. It is a wonder anything has passed legal muster and been published. Or maybe it didn't. She mentions a number of songs that Robert played but were never recorded by him. That was interesting. What she doesn't mention is that some of them that he composed have been recorded by others who knew him. "Little Boy Blue," "Mr. Downchild," and "Take a Little Walk with Me" were recorded by Robert Jr. Lockwood. As helpful as she is for understanding life at that time, she is not authoritative. Robert caught rides on trains often, called "riding the blinds." That's a phrase used in blues songs. She says, near the end of Ch 2, that it means "catching on wherever you can't see" (whatever that means). I think she's just guessing. It means riding between the cars (where they are hitched together). The photo on the cover, first known and published here, is worth the price of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tony Nielsen

    When blues singer and guitarist Robert Jonson died in 1938, supposedly murdered, he left a legacy of 29 songs he had recently recorded for Columbia Records. Those songs and the sense of mystery surrounding the late 27 year old have endured. More than endured. They formed the foundation of the blues genre which would light the fire for rock music in the 1960's. With only two known photographs, rumours and innuendo the name Robert Johnson and those songs have exerted an almost mythical draw from th When blues singer and guitarist Robert Jonson died in 1938, supposedly murdered, he left a legacy of 29 songs he had recently recorded for Columbia Records. Those songs and the sense of mystery surrounding the late 27 year old have endured. More than endured. They formed the foundation of the blues genre which would light the fire for rock music in the 1960's. With only two known photographs, rumours and innuendo the name Robert Johnson and those songs have exerted an almost mythical draw from the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, in fact pretty much all the leading lights of rock music from the mid Sixties forward. In Brother Robert: Growing up with Robert Johnson his step-sister Annye C. Anderson unlocks the doors to his family life, shedding more light on the man than we've seen before, and another photograph for good measure. Annye is forthright and gives us insight into her step-brother even though its been decades since he died when she was young. Whether you're a blues fan, or you have an interest in the music of the last few decades Robert Johnson is no doubt a name you will or have already encountered. Through the eyes of Annye C. Anderson the journey back in time is a rare treat. Thank you Annye.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    Those who criticize Mrs. Annye C. Anderson's book on the basis of its alleged historical inaccuracies need to learn the difference between a history and a memoir. Written by the step-sister of, and perhaps the last living direct link to, the seminal, revolutionary, incomparable blues genius Robert Johnson, this book is a memoir of her life in his presence. Mrs. Anderson was only 12 years old when Johnson died under circumstances which will forever remain a mystery, but this nonagenarian's remini Those who criticize Mrs. Annye C. Anderson's book on the basis of its alleged historical inaccuracies need to learn the difference between a history and a memoir. Written by the step-sister of, and perhaps the last living direct link to, the seminal, revolutionary, incomparable blues genius Robert Johnson, this book is a memoir of her life in his presence. Mrs. Anderson was only 12 years old when Johnson died under circumstances which will forever remain a mystery, but this nonagenarian's reminiscences help not only to flesh out a painfully thin portrait of a musical genius, but provide useful context on his entire family and the communities and times in which they lived, especially Memphis, TN in the 1930s. And if it sometimes takes on the character of a rambling walk down memory lane, this only helps to add to its charm and, ultimately, its authenticity. The first portion of this remarkable work consists of Mrs. Anderson's recollections from the time during which Robert Johnson was still very much a living presence in her life. Far from the ne'er-do-well whom legend alleges sold his soul to the Devil at the infamous crossroads in exchange for his musical brilliance, what emerges is a portrait of a well-rounded young man who was unusually musically precocious. The recordings which Johnson left behind hardly hint at his affinity for jazz, country, or the show tunes of the era. Nor does the legend disseminated by his contemporaries help to reveal the image of a soft-spoken, literate, and thoughtful twenty-something young gentleman, the depths of whose talents weren't fully appreciated even by his own extended family. As Mrs. Anderson reminds the reader repeatedly, Johnson wasn't "in her pocket," and she acknowledges that she cannot speak for his behavior while on the road, a caveat which, one would hope, might silence those critics who take issue with the historical accuracy of her account of his character and lifestyle. The second section of the book is heartbreaking, and describes how Johnson's half-sister, Carrie, and later, Mrs. Anderson herself struggled for decades to gain control of the Robert Johnson estate. Beginning in the 1970s, they were gradually swindled by a shameless rascal named Stephen LaVere out of control of Johnson's music and image. It was LaVere who "borrowed" the two now-famous photographs of Johnson and copyrighted them under his own name, ostensibly acting as an agent for the sisters, who, in fact, never saw a dime. And it was LaVere who took control of Johnson's music, registering the publishing rights and taking it upon himself to produce the 1990 double-CD release "The Complete Recordings." Carrie died in the early 1980s, but Mrs. Anderson continued to fight for control of these materials throughout the 1990s. In 1998, under dubious circumstances, a court named Claud Johnson, who claimed to be Robert's illegitimate son, the rightful heir, despite glaring inconsistencies in his claims. A further appeal in 2000 was rejected. Mrs. Anderson, fortunately, had held on to one previously unrevealed photo of Robert Johnson, the striking image which graces the cover of her book. The final section of this volume consists of the transcript of a brief interview conducted with Mrs. Anderson, which teases out a few more interesting details about Johnson's life. This is followed by a brief essay by Preston Lauterbach (Mrs. Anderson's co-author) describing the history of Memphis's Beale Street red light district up through the era in which Robert Johnson lived there, which gives further context to the tale just told. All in all, I can't imagine any serious fan of Robert Johnson's music passing up a chance to give this wonderfully evocative memoir a careful reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I never thought a book like this would be published because I truly thought that all of Robert Johnson's family must be long gone. Yet, Anderson, at 94, published this book about her sister/brother relationship with Robert Johnson, based on memories from over 80 years ago. Really, Brother Robert is about Anderson. It's about her feelings towards her family and the times she lived in and through. There are some interesting anecdotes about Robert Johnson that add some personality to the singular, I never thought a book like this would be published because I truly thought that all of Robert Johnson's family must be long gone. Yet, Anderson, at 94, published this book about her sister/brother relationship with Robert Johnson, based on memories from over 80 years ago. Really, Brother Robert is about Anderson. It's about her feelings towards her family and the times she lived in and through. There are some interesting anecdotes about Robert Johnson that add some personality to the singular, menacing myth and legend that has surrounded his life though. He comes across as a pretty sweet guy: kind to children, loving big brother, and overall, pretty polite. Obviously, this is a limited perspective because he died when she was about 12, but it's refreshing to read about this side of his personality. Anderson's love for Johnson resonates whenever she's talking about him. However, as interesting as her non-Robert Johnson narrative is, I'd say this book (not including the legal struggles with his estate and licensing) is pretty limited on new information. I am happy to have read it though and hope that Anderson gained some peace of mind from having finally told her story after all these years. She sounds like quite a lady.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wayne Fenlon

    Brilliant audiobook. I didn't know much about Robert Johnson going into this. Pretty much listened to this in one sitting. That kind of says it all really. Highly recommended. Brilliant audiobook. I didn't know much about Robert Johnson going into this. Pretty much listened to this in one sitting. That kind of says it all really. Highly recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mcdermott

    This book helps put to rest some of the myths, and illuminates the times of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. Annye Anderson was a step-sister of Robert, who often visited his extended family in Memphis. Now in her 90's, Anderson describes not just the Johnson she knew, who died when she was 12 years old, but also how Black people lived in the South during the Depression. Johnson's mother had stayed behing in Mississippi when her first husband had to escape a lynch mob, settling in Memphis and r This book helps put to rest some of the myths, and illuminates the times of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. Annye Anderson was a step-sister of Robert, who often visited his extended family in Memphis. Now in her 90's, Anderson describes not just the Johnson she knew, who died when she was 12 years old, but also how Black people lived in the South during the Depression. Johnson's mother had stayed behing in Mississippi when her first husband had to escape a lynch mob, settling in Memphis and remarrying. This created an extended family of in-laws and step-relatives who visited or stayed, and who looked after each other, neighbors, even strangers in the midst of the Jim Crow era. While the common stories paint Johnson as a man who lived hard on the road, and was pursued by the demons that inspired his blues songs, Anderson remembers a "Brother Robert" who hung with his relations, took his kid "sister" to the movies to watch Gene Autry or Ginger Rogers, and would play nursery rhymes for the kids, and hymns for the adults. Anderson lays out many of the musical influences on Robert and the family. They had a piano in the house, and always crowded around the radio for "Grand Ole Opry," especially fiddler Uncle Dave Macon. They identified with Jimmie Rodgers' "T.B. Blues," because everybody then knew someone who had died of tuberculosis. They followed Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Jimmie Lunceford, the latter of whom had started his band in Memphis and often made return engagements. Johnson would play many genres, whether at home, while out "hoboing" for gigs, or being snuck in to play parties at whites-only hotels. She admits to being told very little about Johnson's life on the road, but puts doubt on the common claim that he died from a poisoned whiskey bottle. She says Johnson did read the papers, and was aware of what was going on in politics and civil rights. The last time his Memphis family saw him was when to got together to listen to, then celebrate, Joe Louis' victory over Nazi boxer Max Schmeling. The last half of the book cover Annye's later life. Memphis schools had a comprehensive Home Economics curriculum for Black girls, but only so they could become domestics. Anderson instead became a teacher, settling in Washington and in the Boston schools. She also describes the decades-long battle over control of Robert's music. As his legend grew and his songs were covered by rock stars from Dion DiMucci to Eric Clapton, a fight for control over his estate brought a lot of people to Johnson's relatives. They made promises of getting them some money, collected papers and the few photographs they had, then disappeared. His records for the Vocalion label ended up controlled by Columbia, which had reissued his songs on two LPs in the 60s, but could not assemble a comprehensive set because his "estate" could not be established. There was also the problem of whether he had written his songs by himself, or assembled bits of previous songs like many blues and country did then. The 2-CD box set that finally came out in 1990 still left many issues unresolved. It's a fascinating look at Johnson and his world. Anderson points out that the idea of "selling your soul to the Devil at the crossroad" was a common theme in Black churches. And it leaves me to wonder whether all these artists who covered his songs built up the hard-traveling stories about him in order to make themselves appear as rough-edged as they wanted Robert Johnson to be.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    What a fabulous read of the memories of a 95 year old woman of her childhood growing up with her step-brother. She talks about some of the relations who were preachers: Reverand Cross married to her Aunt Ida (her father's sister) and Brother Granville married to Sister Bessie (Annye's older half-sister.) It was not unusual traveling as a Black in the South to stay with relations or close friends, as most hotels were closed to Blacks and so Robert would have been steeped in the religion of the ti What a fabulous read of the memories of a 95 year old woman of her childhood growing up with her step-brother. She talks about some of the relations who were preachers: Reverand Cross married to her Aunt Ida (her father's sister) and Brother Granville married to Sister Bessie (Annye's older half-sister.) It was not unusual traveling as a Black in the South to stay with relations or close friends, as most hotels were closed to Blacks and so Robert would have been steeped in the religion of the time and would have heard them preach: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where to good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'" And he would have been exposed to Hoodoo and would have known of the spell: "when you wanta make music easy...you take that guitar and that bone then you go to the forks of the road and you sit there and make your music right there....that's sellin your soul to the devil." She mentions how they all believed in the devil back then and that Robert could not have spent time in their house with the Mother Julia, a devout Christian, without being baptised. Back then most folks also believed in Hoodoo but goes on to say: "If black folks, couild really cast a spell, they would have done so to their white masters during slavery." She talks about the last night she saw her brother, the night of the Joe Lewis/Max Schmeling fight on 22JUN1938. The whole neighborhood was gathered around at homes that had a radio listening. There were parties and music everywhere and huge celebrations when Joe Lewis won the fight and talks about Robert jumping for joy at the victory. He left town the next day and died about 7 weeks later. They didn't get the news until 2 weeks later and she felt incredible sadness knowing she'd never sing Jimmie Rogers together ever again or John Henry or other well known songs. The family was never completely sure of the circumstances of his death, but lean towards the poison. After Robert's personal effects eventually were turned over to the family including his guitar (which his step-brother later pawned) and a note, declared to be his death confession: "Jesus of Nazareth, king of Jerusalem, I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He Will call me from the Grave." This concludes the first half of the book. The second half details the family and the struggle to eventually regain what is rightfully theirs and being swindled by several whites, asking for a slip of paper to be signed for permission to release a biographical book, only to find out later, there is a record coming out and song royalties being collected, with mere hundreds only coming to the family. When her oldest surviving step-sister (and Robert's sister) was gravely ill, she signed over power of attorney to Annye. This book is an attempt to set the record straight about the man she knew: as a man who was kind, open, and generous. She never saw him take a drink or ever be drunk or fight. And she says 'black people will tell white people anything to get a dollar;" about the stories that have told about Robert Johnson.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Garvey

    While the actual material on Robert Johnson himself is somewhat scarce (he hobo'ed around a lot and the author was 12 years old when he died) what there is, is a fabulous resource for any fan or historian of the blues. Descriptions of her step-brother entertaining children, notes on his favourite foods, how he dressed, what his handwriting was like and how he reacted to Joe Louis hammering Max Schmeling are precious, personal insights into a mysterious life. Anderson's book works brilliantly at s While the actual material on Robert Johnson himself is somewhat scarce (he hobo'ed around a lot and the author was 12 years old when he died) what there is, is a fabulous resource for any fan or historian of the blues. Descriptions of her step-brother entertaining children, notes on his favourite foods, how he dressed, what his handwriting was like and how he reacted to Joe Louis hammering Max Schmeling are precious, personal insights into a mysterious life. Anderson's book works brilliantly at setting Johnson in time and place and her recollections form a fascinating oral history of growing up Down South (she later notes that racial discrimination was far from just a southern thing and categorises the US as being split into Up South and Down South) in the 1930s. A short essay at the end of the book on Memphis' legendary Beale street by Anderson's co-author/interviewer Preston Lauterbach adds more fascinating context. Anderson's account of Robert Johnson's 'afterlife' is depressingly raw, as she details how Johnson's guitar was pawned and lost, and how white men with no connection to the family exploited his music, took his royalties and caused untold stress to those with a much better claim. But, even through all that, her affection for her long-since departed Brother Robert, and her fight to reclaim his name and his life from ugly myth, gossip and speculation is really quite beautiful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Not exactly a biography, this book has several sections. The first are memories of Annye Anderson, who is Robert's younger half-sister, of her and her family's time spent with Robert. She was significantly younger than him, and many aspects of his life she wasn't really involved with but still interesting. She is still alive today, in her 90's and collaborated on this book. The second section is about how the author tried to help Sister Carrie, Robert's last blood relative fight in the courts to Not exactly a biography, this book has several sections. The first are memories of Annye Anderson, who is Robert's younger half-sister, of her and her family's time spent with Robert. She was significantly younger than him, and many aspects of his life she wasn't really involved with but still interesting. She is still alive today, in her 90's and collaborated on this book. The second section is about how the author tried to help Sister Carrie, Robert's last blood relative fight in the courts to control Robert's estate and get some of the royalties to his songs she had been promised. Unfortunately this never worked out. A supposed son surfaced and was named by the courts as his heir on what sounded like scant evidence. No DNA testing or anything. He has since passed away. So the author and sister Carrie never saw any money from his songs, and people who were unrelated to him did. The third section is an interview with the author which seems to mirror what's in part one, and the fourth section is about the history of Beale street. It's a shame that there wasn't more written about him by people who actually knew him. Some people promised to write biographies, gathered information and some of the few existing photos of Robert and his family and never followed through. Annye has one photo in this book that had never been published before. Robert died a mysterious death at a young age. Good for Annye for making this book happen!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brad McKenna

    Ms. Anderson is Robert's step-sister and so shines a different light on the mythic Mr. Johnson. She thinks nothing of the Deal with the Devil poppycock because the dude could always play. She also confirms the origin of some songs, like Terraplane Blues ain't about a car. There was a lot more about the people in Robert Johnson's life than about his life itself, for the first part anyway. The second part details the pain the family went through as white men rediscovered his music and wanted to "h Ms. Anderson is Robert's step-sister and so shines a different light on the mythic Mr. Johnson. She thinks nothing of the Deal with the Devil poppycock because the dude could always play. She also confirms the origin of some songs, like Terraplane Blues ain't about a car. There was a lot more about the people in Robert Johnson's life than about his life itself, for the first part anyway. The second part details the pain the family went through as white men rediscovered his music and wanted to "help" the family get Robert his due. Naturally, the white men reneged. It made me feel guilty for having discovered Robert Johnson through the likes of Eric Clapton and the Complete Robert Johnson disc i brought back in high school. It's just another example of the perceived need of white savoirism. If you're a blues fan, especially a Delta Blues fan, you've gotta read this book. If you're curious about Robert Johnson, read this book, too. Then compare it to the articles written about him on the interwebs.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chaz Ricks

    I loved this book. Really a great insight into where Robert Johnson really came from and where he called home. I’ve done a lot of reading and studying about the life of Robert Johnson and the authors insights are really incredible. I relish in her personal accounts of the blues legend, but I am cautious about her claims that she makes about him and events she wasn’t there for. Like who he spent his time with away from home, how she disregards a lot of his lust for women and love of the drink. Th I loved this book. Really a great insight into where Robert Johnson really came from and where he called home. I’ve done a lot of reading and studying about the life of Robert Johnson and the authors insights are really incredible. I relish in her personal accounts of the blues legend, but I am cautious about her claims that she makes about him and events she wasn’t there for. Like who he spent his time with away from home, how she disregards a lot of his lust for women and love of the drink. That all seems pretty well documented and you have to keep in mind that she admired him as a pre-teen and probably doesn’t want her memory spoiled by his other life. All I’m saying is I take some of her matter of factly rejections of Johnson’s other life with a grain of salt. Either way, it was an awesome book and wonderful insight that really helped me find the human within the myth and legend that is Robert Johnson.

  19. 5 out of 5

    ~ Jackson

    I always enjoy reading biographies written by people that actually knew the subject. Mrs. Anderson, while only twelve when her "Brother Robert" had passed, has some delightful memories of him. She also had access to the many memories from other older family members, either through memories of their conversations, as well as personal letters transcribed here. Her legal hassles with Steven LaVere and Mack McCormick shouldn't be surprising to anyone that knows anything about Robert Johnson, but to I always enjoy reading biographies written by people that actually knew the subject. Mrs. Anderson, while only twelve when her "Brother Robert" had passed, has some delightful memories of him. She also had access to the many memories from other older family members, either through memories of their conversations, as well as personal letters transcribed here. Her legal hassles with Steven LaVere and Mack McCormick shouldn't be surprising to anyone that knows anything about Robert Johnson, but to hear her side of the story is quite enlightening. I've read a number of biographies and autobiographies of the old Blues masters, including Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Charley Patton, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters, but this book has a much more personal look at the time and the places. My only negative critique about it, is that I wanted it to go on and on.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Annye C. Anderson, Robert Johnson’s stepsister paints a vivid picture of the time period, neighborhood, and family Robert Johnson spent time with when he wasn’t traveling, playing in clubs, or recording. It reveals a kind, fun loving, and intelligent man, who was innovative, warm, and interested in many kinds of music. She also reveals the ugly greed of copyright and money with regard to the music business, and how, sadly, Robert’s actual relatives did not get any of the money they rightfully de Annye C. Anderson, Robert Johnson’s stepsister paints a vivid picture of the time period, neighborhood, and family Robert Johnson spent time with when he wasn’t traveling, playing in clubs, or recording. It reveals a kind, fun loving, and intelligent man, who was innovative, warm, and interested in many kinds of music. She also reveals the ugly greed of copyright and money with regard to the music business, and how, sadly, Robert’s actual relatives did not get any of the money they rightfully deserved for his photos or his great recordings. My favorite and lasting impression, is Anderson’s quoting Johnson entertaining the local children with his playing, and asking, “What’s your pleasure?”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jcrandspace

    A beautiful portrait of the? last living relative of Robert Johnson. Technically not related to him, she was his stepsister, Annye makes him out to be a kind and loving man. She admits several times that she didn't know everything about him, he died when she was twelve, but she really brings the person she knew to life along with Memphis of yesteryear. Her co-author has a great afterward and there is a nice interview with her, the amazing Peter Guralnick, and one other writer who escapes me (sor A beautiful portrait of the? last living relative of Robert Johnson. Technically not related to him, she was his stepsister, Annye makes him out to be a kind and loving man. She admits several times that she didn't know everything about him, he died when she was twelve, but she really brings the person she knew to life along with Memphis of yesteryear. Her co-author has a great afterward and there is a nice interview with her, the amazing Peter Guralnick, and one other writer who escapes me (sorry dude)! A little repetitive in parts, but all heart.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Seabaugh

    Good read, though this isn’t the same type of book as say “Up Jumped the Devil.” If you are wanting to learn as much as you can about Robert Johnson, then this is an essential read. These words come from someone who knew him personally. I liked it because the stories tell us about the human being...and not al the mystical “crossroads” mythology. Also, hearing her talk about the years of court battles over the music rights is a sad deal. This is a book for Robert Johnson fans. If you are one, enj Good read, though this isn’t the same type of book as say “Up Jumped the Devil.” If you are wanting to learn as much as you can about Robert Johnson, then this is an essential read. These words come from someone who knew him personally. I liked it because the stories tell us about the human being...and not al the mystical “crossroads” mythology. Also, hearing her talk about the years of court battles over the music rights is a sad deal. This is a book for Robert Johnson fans. If you are one, enjoy.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike Decker

    Annye Anderson's oral history of her step-brother gives us not only an idea of the true Robert Johnson, but recreates a long lost culture and time in Memphis in the early towards mid-20th century. The details in her memory, even ones like her collecting pull tops and knowing by sight what can they came off of or how everyone - family, friends, neighbors - where connected, all theses layers give paint to the picture. What a wonderful gift from this humane and stoic 94 year old! Annye Anderson's oral history of her step-brother gives us not only an idea of the true Robert Johnson, but recreates a long lost culture and time in Memphis in the early towards mid-20th century. The details in her memory, even ones like her collecting pull tops and knowing by sight what can they came off of or how everyone - family, friends, neighbors - where connected, all theses layers give paint to the picture. What a wonderful gift from this humane and stoic 94 year old!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bart Hill

    A fantastic read about Robert Johnson as told by his step-sister. Johnson died when she was 12 years old, but there's plenty of interesting material here for any fan of the Blues. I also appreciated the section of the book exploring the copyright issues relating to who controlled Johnson's music and the two well-known photographs of Johnson. A fantastic read about Robert Johnson as told by his step-sister. Johnson died when she was 12 years old, but there's plenty of interesting material here for any fan of the Blues. I also appreciated the section of the book exploring the copyright issues relating to who controlled Johnson's music and the two well-known photographs of Johnson.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elle Mill

    Thus is a humanizing account of Robert Johnson, a man whose life has been turned into legend. His younger stepsister Annye Anderson gives a fuller picture of Johnson's family and personality. This is a fascinating read. Thus is a humanizing account of Robert Johnson, a man whose life has been turned into legend. His younger stepsister Annye Anderson gives a fuller picture of Johnson's family and personality. This is a fascinating read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Thomas

    Fascinating. Delightful in it's capture of Mrs. Anderson's life, speech, and history. And alas, another sad story of exploitation. But a new look into the life and history of a critical figure in American Music. Fascinating. Delightful in it's capture of Mrs. Anderson's life, speech, and history. And alas, another sad story of exploitation. But a new look into the life and history of a critical figure in American Music.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jayne Pearl

    A finely tuned memoir Mrs. Anderson tells her story I’m an unquavering and honest voice, with wonderful details about the times and places in which she grew up with her blues man step-brother Robert Johnson and their close-knit musical extended family.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wilson

    The personal dimension that Ms. Anderson's recollections give to our understanding of the great Robert Johnson is remarkable. But she's as much the story here. Smart, brutally honest, and wise, Robert's half-sister has a story to tell and Robert's just the half of it. The personal dimension that Ms. Anderson's recollections give to our understanding of the great Robert Johnson is remarkable. But she's as much the story here. Smart, brutally honest, and wise, Robert's half-sister has a story to tell and Robert's just the half of it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Fascinating story well told by someone who was there! Thanks to PS for the suggestion!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    A little boring at times but a must read for the musicologist. Makes Mr. Johnson a more rounded personality for sure.

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