Biography Of A Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey

Dwight Garner at the NY Times:

The Robert Johnson we meet in this book remains somewhat blurry and indistinct. He wasn’t a big personality, people tell McCormick. He was soft-spoken; he held people’s attention only when he played.

Johnson grew up in the Mississippi Delta with his mother and stepfather, an illiterate sharecropper. He hated farm work and fled to Memphis whenever he could. Early on he played a drugstore harmonica and a jaw harp, then annoyed older musicians by noodling on their guitars when they weren’t around. He got pretty good.

He was a slender man with tapering fingers. He was said to be shy, but sometimes recklessly bold around women. There was a strong music scene in the Delta and in Memphis, and he thrived in it, playing on street corners and in juke joints. People tend to remember him playing the popular songs of the time, more so than the somber and stabbing work that came to define him.

more here.