Blind Lemon Jefferson

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Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blindlemonjeffersoncirca1926.jpg
Only known photograph of Jefferson, 1926
Background information
Birth nameLemon Henry Jefferson
Born(1893-09-24)September 24, 1893
Coutchman, Texas, U.S.
DiedDecember 19, 1929(1929-12-19) (aged 36)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Texas blues, country blues
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, musician
Years active1900–1929

Lemon Henry "Blind Lemon" Jefferson (September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) [1] 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". [2]

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were often repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term "gospel song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.

Contents

Jefferson's performances were distinctive because of his high-pitched voice and the originality of his guitar playing. [2] 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. [3] Later blues and rock and roll musicians, however, did attempt to imitate both his songs and his musical style. [2]

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

Biography

Early life

Jefferson was born blind, near Coutchman, Texas. He was the youngest of seven [4] (or possibly eight) children born to Alex and Clarissa Jefferson, who were African-American sharecroppers. [2] 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. [5] 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. [6]

Coutchman is a ghost town in northern Freestone County, Texas, United States, some 4 miles southwest of Streetman off of Texas Farm to Market Road 246, near CR 994 and CR 995.

Sharecropping form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land

Sharecropping is a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land. Sharecropping has a long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements that have used a form of the system. Some are governed by tradition, and others by law. Legal contract systems such as the Italian mezzadria, the French métayage, the Spanish mediero, the Slavic połowcy,издoльщина or the Islamic system of muqasat, occur widely.

Streetman, Texas Town in Texas, United States

Streetman is a town in Freestone and Navarro counties in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census the population was 247, up from 203 at the 2000 census.

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. [7] 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. [8]

Conscription in the United States "The draft" in the United States

Conscription in the United States, commonly known as the draft, has been employed by the federal government of the United States in five conflicts: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The third incarnation of the draft came into being in 1940 through the Selective Training and Service Act. It was the country's first peacetime draft. From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the United States Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. The draft came to an end when the United States Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military force. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan; all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily resumed if needed. United States Federal Law also provides for the compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17 and 45 and certain women for militia service pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution and 10 U.S. Code § 246.

1920 United States Census National census

The Fourteenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau one month from January 5, 1920, determined the resident population of the United States to be 106,021,537, an increase of 15.0 percent over the 92,228,496 persons enumerated during the 1910 Census.

Freestone County, Texas County in the United States

Freestone County is a county located in the east central part of the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 19,816. Its county seat is Fairfield. The county was created in 1850 and organized the next year.

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. [2] According to his cousin Alec Jefferson, quoted in the notes for Blind Lemon Jefferson, Classic Sides:

East Texas cultural, geographic and ecological area in the US federated state of Texas

East Texas is a distinct cultural, geographic and ecological area in the U.S. state of Texas.

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.

Prostitution practice of engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment

Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. Prostitution is sometimes described as sexual services, commercial sex or, colloquially, hooking. It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. A person who works in this field is called a prostitute, and is a type of sex worker.

In the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with the blues musician Lead Belly. [2] 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. [9] By the early 1920s, Jefferson was earning enough money for his musical performances to support a wife and, possibly, a child. [2] However, firm evidence of his marriage and children has not been found.

Beginning of recording career

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. [10] 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. [11] 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). [12]

Jefferson did what few had ever done before him – he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world. [13] Unlike many artists who were "discovered" and recorded in their normal venues, Jefferson was taken to Chicago, Illinois, 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. [14] 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.[ citation needed ]

Success with Paramount Records

Label of one of Jefferson's Paramount records, 1926 ParamountLabelBLJefferson.jpg
Label of one of Jefferson's Paramount records, 1926

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. [15] 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.[ citation needed ]

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. [13] 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. [16]

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". [14] 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.[ citation needed ]

Death and grave

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10:00 a.m. on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate said was "probably acute myocarditis". [17] 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. [18]

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 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". [19] 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. [20] [21]

Discography and awards

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.

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. [22] Jefferson was among the inaugural class of blues musicians inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

Cover versions

See also

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References

  1. Some sources indicate Jefferson was born on October 26, 1894.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dicaire, David (1999). Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 140–144. ISBN   0-7864-0606-2.
  3. Charters, Samuel (1977). The Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN   0-306-80438-7.
  4. "Blind Lemon Jefferson: American Musician". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  5. 1900 US Census. Census place: Justice precinct 5, Freestone, Texas. Roll T623 1636, p. 3A. Enumeration district 37.
  6. 1910 US Census. Census place: Justice precinct 6, Navarro, Texas. Roll T624_1580, p. 17B. Enumeration district 98. Image 982.
  7. World War I Draft Registration records, Dallas County, Texas. Roll 1952850. Draft board 2.
  8. 1920 US Census. Census place: Kirvin, Freestone, Texas. Roll T625_1805, p. 3A. Enumeration district 24. Image 231.
  9. Robert Palmer. Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 107. ISBN   978-0-14-006223-6.
  10. Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012). Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926: An Annotated Discography. McFarland & Company. p. 175.
  11. Nyback, Dennis W. "Miss Lee Morse: The First Recorded Jazz Singer" (PDF). Washingtonhistory.org. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  12. Specht, Joe W. (2010). "Oil Well Blues: African-American Oil Patch Songs". Paper presented at joint annual meeting of East Texas Historical Association and West Texas Historical Association, Fort Worth, February 27, 2010.
  13. 1 2 Evans, David (2000). "Music Innovation in the Blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson". Black Music Research Journal. 20 (1): 83–116. JSTOR   779317.
  14. 1 2 Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN   1-85868-255-X.
  15. Dixon, R. M. W.; Godrich, J. (1970). "Recording the Blues". Reprinted in Oliver, Paul; Russell, Tony; Dixon, Robert M. W.; Godrich, John; Rye, Howard (2001). Yonder Come the Blues. Cambridge. p. 288. ISBN   0-521-78777-7.
  16. Erbsen, Wayne (1981). "Walter Davis: Fist and Skull Banjo". Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1981. pp. 22–26.
  17. The Frog Blues & Jazz Annual No. 1: The Musicians, the Records & the Music of the 78 Era. Frog Records. 2010. ISBN   0956471706.
  18. "William Ezell - Biography & History". AllMusic . Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  19. "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Blind Lemon Jefferson)". Keeponliving.at. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  20. "Jefferson, Blind Lemon". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. May 30, 2010. "In 2007 the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery."
  21. "Blind Lemon's Headstone - Picture of Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery, Wortham". Tripadvisor.co.za. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  22. "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Infoplease.com. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  23. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 6, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  24. "Laibach Spectre". Spectre.laibach.org. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  25. "Blind Diode Jefferson". Falloutwiki.com. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  26. Crow, Bill (1990). Jazz Anecdotes. Oxford University Press. pp. 175–176, ISBN   9780195071337.
  27. "Big Boy's "That's All Right"". Scotty Moore. 2005-01-16. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  28. Paula Mejia (January 29, 2016). "Jefferson Airplane, Starship Co-Founder Paul Kantner Dies at 74". Newsweek. Retrieved October 21, 2018. 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).
  29. Clayton Funk and N. G. "Jefferson Airplane". AAEP 1600 (Art and Music since 1945), course materials. Ohio State University. Retrieved October 21, 2018.

Sources

Further reading