Blind Lemon Jefferson
Only known photograph of Jefferson, 1926
|Birth name||Lemon Henry Jefferson|
|Born||September 24, 1893|
Coutchman, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 19, 1929 36) (aged|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Lemon Henry "Blind Lemon" Jefferson (September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929)was an American blues and gospel singer-songwriter and musician. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and has been called the "Father of the Texas Blues".
Jefferson's performances were distinctive because of his high-pitched voice and the originality of his guitar playing.His recordings sold well, but he was not a strong influence on younger blues singers of his generation, who could not imitate him as easily as they could other commercially successful artists. Later blues and rock and roll musicians, however, did attempt to imitate both his songs and his musical style.
Jefferson was born blind, near Coutchman, Texas. He was the youngest of seven(or possibly eight) children born to Alex and Clarissa Jefferson, who were African-American sharecroppers. Disputes regarding the date of his birth derive from contradictory census records and draft registration records. By 1900, the family was farming southeast of Streetman, Texas. Jefferson's birth date was recorded as September 1893 in the 1900 census. The 1910 census, taken in May, before his birthday, confirms his year of birth as 1893 and indicated that the family was farming northwest of Wortham, near his birthplace.
In his 1917 draft registration, Jefferson gave his birthday as October 26, 1894, stating that he lived in Dallas, Texas, and had been blind since birth.In the 1920 census, he is recorded as having returned to Freestone County and was living with his half-brother, Kit Banks, on a farm between Wortham and Streetman.
Jefferson began playing the guitar in his early teens and soon after he began performing at picnics and parties. He became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns in front of barbershops and on street corners.According to his cousin Alec Jefferson, quoted in the notes for Blind Lemon Jefferson, Classic Sides:
They were rough. Men were hustling women and selling bootleg and Lemon was singing for them all night... he'd start singing about eight and go on until four in the morning... mostly it would be just him sitting there and playing and singing all night.
In the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with the blues musician Lead Belly.Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. It is likely that he moved to Deep Ellum on a more permanent basis by 1917, where he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of playing blues guitar in exchange for Walker's occasional services as a guide. By the early 1920s, Jefferson was earning enough money for his musical performances to support a wife and, possibly, a child. However, firm evidence of his marriage and children has not been found.
Prior to Jefferson, few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar, the first of which were the vocalist Sara Martin and the guitarist Sylvester Weaver, who recorded "Longing for Daddy Blues", probably on October 24, 1923.The first self-accompanied solo performer of a self-composed blues song was Lee Morse, whose "Mail Man Blues" was recorded on October 7, 1924. Jefferson's music is uninhibited and represented the classic sounds of everyday life, from a honky-tonk to a country picnic, to street corner blues, to work in the burgeoning oil fields (a reflection of his interest in mechanical objects and processes).
Jefferson did what few had ever done before him – he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world. [ citation needed ]Unlike many artists who were "discovered" and recorded in their normal venues, Jefferson was taken to Chicago in December 1925 or January 1926 to record his first tracks. Uncharacteristically, his first two recordings from this session were gospel songs ("I Want to Be Like Jesus in My Heart" and "All I Want Is That Pure Religion"), released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. A second recording session was held in March 1926. His first releases under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues", were hits. Their popularity led to the release of the other two songs from that session, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues", which became a runaway success, with sales in six figures. He recorded about 100 tracks between 1926 and 1929; 43 records were issued, all but one for Paramount Records. Paramount's studio techniques and quality were poor, and the recordings were released with poor sound quality. In May 1926, Paramount re-recorded Jefferson performing his hits "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues" in the superior facilities at Marsh Laboratories, and subsequent releases used those versions. Both versions appear on compilation albums.
Largely because of the popularity of artists such as Jefferson and his contemporaries Blind Blake and Ma Rainey, Paramount became the leading recording company for the blues in the 1920s. [ citation needed ]Jefferson's earnings reputedly enabled him to buy a car and employ chauffeurs (this information has been disputed); he was given a Ford car "worth over $700" by Mayo Williams, Paramount's connection with the black community. This was a common compensation for recording rights in that market. Jefferson is known to have done an unusual amount of traveling for the time in the American South, which is reflected in the difficulty of placing his music in a single regional category.
Jefferson's "old-fashioned" sound and confident musicianship made it easy to market him. His skillful guitar playing and impressive vocal range opened the door for a new generation of male solo blues performers, such as Furry Lewis, Charlie Patton, and Barbecue Bob.He stuck to no musical conventions, varying his riffs and rhythm and singing complex and expressive lyrics in a manner exceptional at the time for a "simple country blues singer." According to the North Carolina musician Walter Davis, Jefferson played on the streets in Johnson City, Tennessee, during the early 1920s, at which time Davis and the entertainer Clarence Greene learned the art of blues guitar.
Jefferson was reputedly unhappy with his royalties (although Williams said that Jefferson had a bank account containing as much as $1500). In 1927, when Williams moved to Okeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and Okeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues", backed with "Black Snake Moan". [ citation needed ]It was his only Okeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than his Paramount records at the time. When he returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions, with the producer Arthur Laibly. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates), and two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be". "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" was so successful that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928.
Jefferson died in Chicago at 10:00 a.m. on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate said was "probably acute myocarditis". For many years, rumors circulated that a jealous lover had poisoned his coffee, but a more likely explanation is that he died of a heart attack after becoming disoriented during a snowstorm. Some have said that he died of a heart attack after being attacked by a dog in the middle of the night. In his 1983 book Tolbert's Texas, Frank X. Tolbert claims that he was killed while being robbed of a large royalty payment, by a guide escorting him to Chicago Union Station to catch a train home to Texas. Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by the pianist William Ezell.
Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). His grave was unmarked until 1967, when a Texas historical marker was erected in the general area of his plot; however, the precise location of the grave is still unknown. By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, and a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. The inscription reads: "Lord, it's one kind favour I'll ask of you, see that my grave is kept clean." The words come from the lyrics of his own song, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean".In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery, and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham.
Jefferson had an intricate and fast style of guitar playing and a particularly high-pitched voice. He was a founder of the Texas blues sound and an important influence on other blues singers and guitarists, including Lead Belly and Lightnin' Hopkins.
He was the author of many songs covered by later musicians, including the classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". Another of his songs, "Matchbox Blues", was recorded more than 30 years later by the Beatles, in a rockabilly version credited to Carl Perkins, who did not credit Jefferson on his 1955 recording. Fellow blues artist B.B. King credited Jefferson as one of his biggest musical influences, next to Lonnie Johnson, Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected Jefferson's 1927 recording of "Matchbox Blues" as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.Jefferson was among the inaugural class of blues musicians inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
Arthur "Blind" Blake was an American blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He is known for numerous recordings he made for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932.
John Smith Hurt, better known as Mississippi John Hurt, was an American country blues singer and guitarist.
Country blues is one of the earliest forms of blues music. The mainly solo vocal with acoustic fingerstyle guitar accompaniment developed in the rural Southern United States in the early 1900s. Artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson (Texas), Charley Patton (Mississippi), Blind Willie McTell (Georgia) were among the first to record blues songs in the 1920s. Country blues ran parallel to urban blues, which was popular in cities.
Paramount Records was an American record label known for its recordings of jazz and blues in the 1920s and early 1930s, including such artists as Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Papa Charlie Jackson was an early American bluesman and songster who accompanied himself with a banjo guitar, a guitar, or a ukulele. His recording career began in 1924. Much of his life remains a mystery, but his draft card lists his birthplace as New Orleans, Louisiana, and his death certificate states that he died in Chicago, Illinois, on May 7, 1938.
Blind Boy Fuller was an American blues guitarist and singer. Fuller was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural African Americans along with Blind Blake, Josh White, and Buddy Moss.
Texas blues is blues music from Texas. As a regional style, its original form was characterized by jazz and swing influences. Later examples are often closer to blues rock and Southern rock.
Blind Willie Johnson was an American gospel blues singer, guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings completed between 1927 and 1930—thirty songs in total—display a combination of powerful "chest voice" singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced later generations of musicians. Even though Johnson's records sold well, as a street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime. His life was poorly documented, but over time music historians such as Samuel Charters have uncovered more about Johnson and his five recording sessions.
"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" is a song recorded by American blues musician Blind Lemon Jefferson in two slightly differing versions in October 1927 and February 1928 that became "one of his most famous compositions". Son House used the melody on his 1930 recording of "Mississippi County Farm Blues".
"Matchbox" is a song written and recorded by Carl Perkins and released in 1957. Blind Lemon Jefferson wrote and recorded a song entitled "Match Box Blues" in 1927, which is musically different but which contains some lyric phrases in common.
King Solomon Hill is the name assigned to a blues singer and guitarist who recorded a handful of songs in 1932. His unique guitar and voice make them among the most haunting blues recorded. After much speculation and dispute, he has been identified as Joe Holmes, a self-taught guitarist from Mississippi.
"Corrine, Corrina" is a 12-bar country blues song in the AAB form. "Corrine, Corrina" was first recorded by Bo Carter. However, it was not copyrighted until 1932 by Armenter "Bo Carter" Chatmon and his publishers, Mitchell Parish and J. Mayo Williams. The song is familiar for its opening verse:
Alger "Texas" Alexander was an American blues singer from Jewett, Texas. Some sources claim that he was the cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins, but no direct kinship has been established. It has also been asserted that he was the uncle of the Texas country blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims.
Roll Away the Stone is an album by American blues singer and guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps, released in 1997. It was his first release on the Rykodisc label and reached #10 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums charts.
"Walkin' Blues" or "Walking Blues" is a blues standard written and recorded by American Delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Although unissued at the time, it was part of House's repertoire and other musicians, including Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, adapted the song and recorded their own versions.
Willard Thomas, better known as Ramblin' Thomas, was an American country blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. He is best remembered for his slide guitar playing and for several recordings he made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Blues scholars seem undecided if his nickname referred to his style of playing or to his itinerant nature. He was the brother of the blues musician Jesse Thomas.
Freddie Spruell was an American Delta blues guitarist and singer, variously billed as Papa Freddie or Mr. Freddie. He is generally regarded as the first Delta bluesman to be recorded, although Mamie Smith (1920) and Blind Lemon Jefferson (1925) predated him in recording the first blues records. Details of his life are sketchy and sometimes contradictory.
"That Black Snake Moan" is a song written and recorded by American country blues musician Blind Lemon Jefferson. Inspired by singer Victoria Spivey's "Black Snake Blues", the song was released on Paramount Records in 1926, and has since become recognized as a signature composition which exemplifies Jefferson's unconventional melodic style and utilization of double entendres. The song was re-recorded a year later as "Black Snake Moan" for Okeh Records, and both versions have remained accessible through the availability of several compilation albums.
Arthur Charles "Art" Laibly was an American record producer and sales manager. He was the first to make commercial recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Skip James, and also recorded many other notable blues performers including Charley Patton and Son House, for Paramount Records in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Lightnin' Hopkins is an album by blues musician Lightnin' Hopkins, recorded in 1959 and released on the Folkways label. The album was first released at around the time the book The Country Blues came out and was an instant success and gave Lightnin's career a well-deserved new lease on life. Lightnin' went on to record many more songs in the '60s and '70s.
The group was forged shortly afterward with vocalist Grace Slick, bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who provided the name for the band, drawn from a blues name he’d been given by a friend (Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane).