Welcome back to the sporadic & spasmodic posting schedule of Robert Frost’s Banjo. Will wonders never cease: I actually have a Monday Morning Blues post for you folks!
If you remember back a ways, I’ve been slowly constructing a series of notable Texas Blues artists & songs. Since there’s been some lapse, I’ll refer you back to the first two installments on Henry Thomas & Texas Alexander.
Today’s featured artist is seminal, whether you’re talking about Texas blues, acoustic blues, or just the blues in general. Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the biggest stars of his day, & was the first male blues singer who could compete with the so-called Blues Queens such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox & others in terms of popularity. Although the white blues audience has since revised the history of the early blues such that it seems the lone guitarist-singers were the major figures, in fact this wasn’t true for audiences in their own time. Jefferson was an exception; there were a few others like Lonnie Johnson & Tampa Red, but the performers we know think of us most significant, like Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell & Robert Johnson, at best enjoyed a regional fame.
Lemon Jefferson was born in 1893 in Coutchman, Texas. Blind from birth, he began playing guitar in his early teens, & in addition to playing the picnic & party circuit, he also began a career as a street musician. Around 1910, he began traveling to Dallas, & particularly the Deep Ellum section that was the center of a growing blues scene. He moved to Deep Ellum in 1917, & it was at that time he got to know T-Bone Walker, who he taught blues guitar in exchange for Walker’s services as a guide. Leadbelly & Lightnin’ Hopkins also knew Jefferson during his time in Dallas.
Jefferson’s recording career—almost exclusively with Paramount—lasted only three years, from 1926-1929, but during that time he recorded a number of hits & also songs, like “Black Snake Moan” that have become classics, not only in his original recorded versions, but in many covers & imitations. Jefferson’s songs were typically bawdy & filled with double entendre; musically, his accompaniments are complex, featuring intricate single note runs interspersed with his chords. Once you become familiar with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s sound, his songs are among the most easy to identify, even during the instrumental passages.
Simply amazing music—& great fun too! Enjoy!
Image of Blind Lemon Jefferson links to its source at wikimedia.org