Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson

One of the first things you notice about Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow’s biography of Robert Johnson is that there’s a photo on every other page – and that’s not a bad thing at all. The maps, vital records, and pictures of people and buildings illustrate the man and his time. The authors use many tools to recreate Johnson’s short life, from census records and marriage licenses to interviews with Johnson’s contemporaries.

Johnson had a chaotic childhood. He was abandoned by his mother as a toddler, left with his step-father and his new wife in Memphis. Later on, Johnson’s mother reclaimed him and brought him back to a rural area where he was expected to farm for her new, much younger husband. Johnson’s life in Memphis with a loving family and solid school system sounds idyllic in comparison to working in the fields with a strict stepfather. He knew early on that he did not want to be a farmer and turned quickly to music.

This book is an easy, enjoyable read. I found the beginning with information about Johnson’s life more interesting than the (brief) dissection of individual songs later on. Learning just a little about the history of itinerant musicians and juke joints from Johnson’s story makes me want to read more about the musicians from this era who traveled and played music.


Kim Chi Workshop Recipe

Kimchi (adapted from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation)



  • 1 pound/7-8 cups cabbage, chopped in bite sized pieces.
  • 1 daikon radish or a few red radishes, thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks.
  • 1-2 carrots, sliced in 1/8-1/16 thick slices

Delicious substitutions and additions include kohlrabi, kale, mustard greens, burdock, just about anything you have on hand.

Spice Paste:

  • 1-2 onions, leeks, a few scallions, or shallots, thinly sliced.
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or pureed
  • 3-4 hot red chilies, stemmed and de-seeded.  May substitute dried, flaked, or ground hot pepper.
  • 3 tbsp fresh grated ginger (approx 3-4 inch chunk)
  1. Mix a brine of 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons of salt. Place veggies in a bowl and cover with brine. Use a plate or weight to keep veggies submerged.  Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Prepare the spice paste: put peeled ginger, garlic, and chilies in food processor or blender and grind into a rough paste. Add onion/scallions.
  3. Drain brine off vegetables, reserving brine. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. Rinse salt off as needed.
  4. Mix the vegetables with the spice paste.
  5. Pack the mixture into a clean quart size jar, packing tightly to make the brine rise. Add reserved brine if the vegetables are not fully submerged.
  6. Weigh them down with a small jar, cabbage core, or a zip-lock bag filled with brine. Ferment for 2-5 days, ideally in a draft free 65-68 degree environment.
  7. Taste it every day. When it tastes ripe, move it to the refrigerator or root cellar.

Recipes to Use Your Kim Chi:

Kim Chi Pancake

Kim Chi Fried Rice