New photograph of blues legend Robert Johnson unveiled
A new photograph of Robert Johnson – only the third thought to be in existence – will grace the cover of his stepsister Annye Anderson’s forthcoming memoir, Brother Robert: Growing Up With Robert Johnson. The full book cover below.
Image: Hachette Book GroupThe photograph – taken in a nickel portrait booth in 1930s Memphis – appears to reveal a warmer side to the legendary figure, whom Eric Clapton has referred to as “the most important blues musician who ever lived” and who was rumoured to have gained his supernatural musical abilities in a Faustian pact at the crossroads.
In an excerpt from her book, shared with Vanity Fair, Anderson recalled the day that she and her brother had their pictures taken – in a “make-your-own-photo place” on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
“The photo place was right next door to Pee Wee’s, the bar where Mr. Handy wrote his blues. One day when I was 10 or 11 years old, I walked there with Sister Carrie and Brother Robert. I remember him carrying his guitar and strumming as we went. You just walk in, drop a nickel in the slot, pull the curtain, and do it. There was no photographer. I had my picture made. Brother Robert got in the booth, and evidently made a couple.”
Though the photograph would now be revered as a significant artefact of music history, it was first and foremost a cherished personal belonging of Anderson’s, who kept it among her few possessions throughout all the years
“I kept Brother Robert’s photograph in my father’s trunk that sat in the hallway of the Comas house while we lived there with my mother after my father died. After my mother died, we could only take so many things. I took my photographs with me, wrapped in a handkerchief. I only carried a few belongings to Ma and Pops Thompson’s house. When I moved in with my sister Charlyne, I bought some furniture. I stored the photograph, along with others, in a cedar chest I bought. I’ve always had this photograph.”
Rumours of a Faustian bargain – along with his unsavoury early demise – gave rise to the shroud of mystery surrounding Robert Johnson’s life. One of two previous “authentic” photographs of the blues musician, which has been widely circulated, pictured him wearing a sombre expression, as he dangled a cigarette from his lips.
But while his story and legacy remain a tale of intrigue – perhaps even serving the model of the archetypal blues musician – Anderson felt that her new photograph may shed new light on the blues legend, offering a warmer perspective to view him by.
“It shows Brother Robert the way I remember him – open, kind, and generous. He doesn’t look like the man of all the legends, the man described as a drunkard and a fighter by people who didn’t really know him. This is my Brother Robert.”
Annye Anderson’s memoir, Brother Robert: Growing Up With Robert Johnson, releases 9 June through Hachette. Learn more here.
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