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.
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 (aged 36)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Genres||Texas blues, country blues|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, musician|
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. 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. 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. 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". 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 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.
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.
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).
"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" is a song written by Johnny Wallace and Herbert J. Lance and recorded by Ruth Brown in 1952. It was Brown's third number-one record on the US Billboard R&B chart. and her first pop chart hit.According to Atlantic Records producer Herb Abramson, Lance wrote the song with his friend Wallace (the brother of the boxer Coley Wallace) after the pair had heard a blues singer on the street in Atlanta, Georgia, singing a mournful song that included the title in its lyrics. The song they heard may have been "One Dime Blues", sung by Blind Lemon Jefferson in the 1920s, which in the lyrics had the line "Mama, don't treat your daughter mean," and recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1949. Ruth Brown initially disliked the song but was persuaded by Lance and Wallace to record it in December 1952, after Abramson had speeded up its tempo.The song was subsequently recorded by many others, including Anita Wood (1960), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Delaney & Bonnie (1970), Koko Taylor (1975), and Susan Tedeschi (1998). Brown re-recorded the song in 1962, when it made number 99 on the US pop chart.Art Laibly
Arthur Charles "Art" Laibly (April 17, 1894 – October 30, 1971) 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.
He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, moving with his parents to Covington, Kentucky as a child. He played violin in local dance bands, and later worked for a lumber company, before becoming a sales manager for the Wisconsin Chair Company, the parent company of Paramount Records, in Port Washington, Wisconsin. In 1925 he was appointed as Sales Manager and Recording Director at Paramount, with authority over J. Mayo Williams. In late 1925, Dallas record salesman R. T. Ashford wrote suggesting that Laibly record the then-unknown Blind Lemon Jefferson. He did so, in early 1926 in Chicago, and Jefferson's records became highly successful. Laibly also started recording further blues musicians, including Bo Weavil Jackson, Lucille Bogan, Charley Patton, Son House, and Skip James, who were recommended to him by talent agents in the southern States such as H. C. Speir.Laibly reportedly had little regard for the qualities of the music he was recording. He accepted recommendations from agents without auditioning the musicians, and his approach to recording was described as "whimsical"; when recording Son House in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1930, for instance, Laibly would listen to a single verse of each song before deciding whether or not to record it.Laibly was dismissed by Paramount in 1931, partly as a result of the decline in record sales with the development of radio. He later worked as a salesman of other products, and as an insurance agent. He died in 1971.Blind Lemon Jefferson discography
This is a comprehensive discography of Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was an East Texas–born and Chicago-based Texas blues musician. He recorded 79 singles from 1925 to 1929. Jefferson was notable among blues musicians of his time for recording both spiritual and secular music, and he recorded both blues and ragtime songs.Blue Goose Records
Blue Goose Records was an American independent record label set up in the early 1970s by Nick Perls.
While on Blue Goose's sister label, Yazoo Records, Perls compiled rare 78 rpm recordings from the 1920s by Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell, Memphis Jug Band, Blind Blake, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. On Blue Goose Records he recorded not only 'rediscovered' black blues artists like Sam Chatmon, Son House, Yank Rachell, Shirley Griffith and Thomas Shaw, but also younger blues and jazz performers, including Larry Johnson, Jo Ann Kelly, Woody Mann, John Lewis, Roy Book Binder, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, Rory Block, Roger Hubbard and Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts' member Graham Hine.
Most of the Blue Goose Records albums were re-released in 2002 on CD by the Japanese record company, Air Mail Recordings.Coutchman, Texas
Coutchman (sometimes spelled Couchman) 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.
Coutchman was settled around 1850 and named after local landowner William Coutchman. It had a peak population of about 300 people. Coutchman had a post office from January 1894 to February 1905, at which time post was directed to the post office in Wortham. In the 1910 census Coutchman was listed as having a population of 100 people. By 1980 there was no listing. The area ceased to have an identity as a separate community later in the 20th century.
Coutchman is best known as the birthplace of blues great Blind Lemon Jefferson.Crawling King Snake
"Crawling King Snake" (alternatively "Crawlin' King Snake" or "Crawling/Crawlin' Kingsnake") is a blues song that has been recorded by numerous blues and other artists. It is believed to have originated as a Delta blues in the 1920s and be related to earlier songs, such as "Black Snake Blues" by Victoria Spivey (1926 OKeh 8338) and "Black Snake Moan" by Blind Lemon Jefferson (1926 OKeh 8455).
As "Crawling King Snake", it was first recorded by Big Joe Williams on March 27, 1941. The song is a country-style blues, with Williams on vocal and nine-string guitar and William Mitchell providing imitation bass accompaniment. On June 3, 1941, Delta bluesman Tony Hollins recorded "a markedly different version" (OKeh 06350), which served as the basis for many subsequent versions.Deep Elm Blues
The "Deep Elm Blues" is an American traditional song. The title of the tune refers to historical African-American neighborhood in downtown Dallas, Texas, known as Deep Ellum, and a home to music legends Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Lead Belly, and Bill Neely. Sometimes the song's title is spelled "Deep Elem" or "Deep Ellum".The first known recording was made by the Cofer Brothers under the name of the Georgia Black Bottom on OKeh Records. The Shelton Brothers recorded various versions of this song, the first being cut in 1933 with Leon Chappelear under the pseudonym of Lone Star Cowboys for Bluebird Records. They recorded it again in 1935 for Decca Records followed by "Deep Elm No.2" and "Deep Elm No.3". Les Paul (as Rhubarb Red) recorded "Deep Elem Blues" and "Deep Elem Blues #2" on Decca in 1936. The Sheltons also recorded it in the 1940s as "Deep Elm Boogie" for King Records.
Other versions of the song were made between 1957 and 1958 by Jerry Lee Lewis for Sun Records, Bobby Jackson for Gold Air Records, Mary McCoy & the Cyclones for Jin Records and, later, by Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, Levon Helm, the Infamous Stringdusters, and Rory Gallagher.Gennett Records
Gennett (pronounced with a soft G) was an American record company and label in Richmond, Indiana, United States, which flourished in the 1920s. Gennett produced some of the earliest recordings of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, and Hoagy Carmichael. Its roster also included Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, and Gene Autry.Gospel blues
Gospel blues or holy blues is a form of blues-based gospel music that has been around since the inception of blues music, a combination of blues guitar and evangelistic lyrics. Notable gospel blues performers include Blind Willie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Gary Davis and Washington Phillips. Blues musicians such as Boyd Rivers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Sam Collins, Josh White, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie Mctell, Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes and Skip James have recorded a fair number of Gospel and religious songs, these were often commercially released under a pseudonym.
Blues musicians who became devout, or even practicing clergy, include Reverend Robert Wilkins and Ishman Bracey.Jack of Diamonds (song)
Jack of Diamonds (a.k.a. Jack o' Diamonds and Jack of Diamonds (Is a Hard Card to Play)) is a traditional folk song. It is a Texas gambling song that was popularized by Blind Lemon Jefferson. It was sung by railroad men who had lost money playing conquian. At least twelve white artists recorded the tune before World War II. It has been recorded under various titles such as "A Corn Licker Still in Georgia" (Riley Puckett) and "Rye Whiskey" (Tex Ritter).The song is related to "Drunkard's Hiccoughs", "Johnnie Armstrong", "Todlen Hame", "Bacach", "Robi Donadh Gorrach", "The Wagoner's Lad", "Clinch Mountain", "The Cuckoo", "Rye Whiskey", "Saints Bound for Heaven", "Separation", and "John Adkins' Farewell." This family of tunes originally comes from the British Isles, though is most well known in North America. The lyrics may originate in the American Civil War song "The Rebel Soldier" and the melody from the Scottish song "Robie Donadh Gorrach", known by Nathaniel Gow as "An Old Highland Song".While Bob Dylan never recorded "Jack of Diamonds", a poem based on its lyrics is included on the back cover of Another Side of Bob Dylan, grouped with others under the title "Some Other Kinds of Songs".Matchbox (song)
"Matchbox" is a rock and roll 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.
"Matchbox" was recorded as a rockabilly song by Carl Perkins in December 1956 and by fellow Sun Records performer, Jerry Lee Lewis - who played piano on the original track - in 1958. The Carl Perkins tune shares some lyrics with 1920s blues songs by Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson but the music is totally different. Sam Phillips and Sun Records released the Carl Perkins version as the B-side to "Your True Love". Although only the A-side became a record chart hit in 1957, "Matchbox" is one of Perkins' best-known recordings and variety of musicians have recorded the tune.Milestone Records discography
The discography for Milestone Records runs from 1966 when the label was established by Orrin Keepnews and Dick Katz.Paper Rival
Paper Rival was an indie rock band formed in late 2005 from Nashville, Tennessee. Originally known as Keating, the band changed its name to Paper Rival in 2007 after a tour of Canada where the band was mistaken for a Canadian band who already possessed the name. In December 2007, Paper Rival was named Spin.com's "Artist of the Day". The band released its debut full-length album produced by Patrick Damphier, Dialog on May 20, 2008. The group cited artists Blind Lemon Jefferson, Merle Haggard and Bruce Cockburn (whose song "Pacing the Cage" was covered on their 2007 self-titled EP) as musical inspirations.Paramount Records
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.See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
"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".Texas blues
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.That Black Snake Moan
"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.The Firstborn Is Dead
The Firstborn Is Dead is the second studio album released by the post-punk band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It was first released in 1985. On this record, singer Nick Cave continued his fascination with the American South, with its references to Elvis Presley and bluesmen like Blind Lemon Jefferson. The photography is by Jutta Heinglein.
The album was recorded in the Hansa Studios in Berlin, Germany. Cave later said of this album, "Berlin gave us the freedom and encouragement to do whatever we wanted. We'd lived in London for three years and it seemed that if you stuck your head out of the box, people were pretty quick to knock it back in. Particularly if you were Australian. When we came to Berlin it was the opposite. People saw us as some kind of force rather than a kind of whacky novelty act."The album's name is a reference to Jesse Garon Presley, the stillborn identical twin of Elvis Presley.The album was remastered and reissued on 27 April 2009 as a collector's edition CD/DVD set. The CD features the original 7-song vinyl LP's track listing, while "The Six Strings That Drew Blood" is featured as a bonus audio track on the accompanying DVD.Vigilante Man
"Vigilante Man" is a song by Woody Guthrie, recorded and released in 1940 as one of his Dust Bowl Ballads.The song is about the hired thugs ("vigilantes") who would violently chase away migrants to California trying to escape the Dust Bowl, a man-made ecological catastrophe in the American Great Plains during the 1930s. One verse refers to the murder of Preacher (Jim) Casy, a central figure in John Steinbecks' 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath.The tune was taken from "Sad and Lonesome Day", a song made popular by The Carter Family; which itself borrows from "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.