ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatchbox Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Down Home Boys (Papa Harvey Hull & Long "Cleve" Reed)Mama You Don't Know HowNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Big Joe WilliamsPeach Orchard Mama Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Blind Willie McTellLast Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonBed Spring BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonPrison Cell Blues Mean & Evil Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins Reminiscences Of Blind LemonLightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian Folkways]
Lightnin' Hopkins One Kind FavorAll The Classics 1946-1951
Son HouseCounty Farm BluesBlues Images Vol. 4
Blind Lemon Jefferson Shuckin' Sugar BluesThe Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon Jefferson Corinna Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Rabbit Foot Blues If It Ain't One Thing, It'Rabbit Foot Blues
Ramblin' ThomasNo Baby BluesTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Blind Boy Fuller Untrue BluesBlind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935-1938
Blind Lemon Jefferson Got The Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Long Lonesome Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson Hot Dogs The Best Of
Leadbelly Blind Lemon (Song)Leadbelly Vol. 6 1947
Leadbelly Silver City Bound Leadbelly's Last Sessions
Blind Lemon JeffersonBad Luck Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Horse Blues The Best Of
Blind Lemon Jefferson That Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
Hattie Hudson Doggone My Good Luck Soul Dallas Alley Drag
Thomas Shaw Jack Of Diamonds San Diego Blues Jam
Mance LipscombEasy Rider BluesCaptain, Captain: The Texas Songster
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues The Complete Classic Sides
Blind Lemon JeffersonBlack Snake Moan Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers
Pete HarrisBlind Lemon's SongTexas Blues: Early Masters From the Lone Star State
Rev. Emmett Dickenson The Death Of Blind LemonBlues Images Vol. 6
King Solomon Hill My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon Blues Images Vol. 2

Show Notes:

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Today we spotlight Blind Lemon Jefferson and the enormous influence he had on his contemporaries and countless blues artist over the ensuing decades. Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the ’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers. Researcher Bruce Bastin, known for his extensive research in the Piedmont region, said of Jefferson… “…there can have been few nascent bluesmen outside Texas, let alone within the state, who had never heard his music. Among interviewed East Coast bluesmen active during Blind Lemon’s recording career, almost all recall him as one of the first bluesmen they heard on record.” Today we spotlight some of Lemon's best numbers as well as a those artists he inspired. Lemon's influence cast a long shadow among both black and white artists and today's show is in no way comprehensive but does give a snapshot of just how big Lemon's impact was.

Jefferson was born in September 1893. By 1912, he was working over a wide area of Texas, including East Dallas, Silver City, Galveston, and Waco. Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the center of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. Mance Lipscomb saw Jefferson playing there as early as 1917. Although Jefferson’s reputation was originally made as a singer of sacred songs, the percentage of blues in his repertoire greatly increased as the years progressed. In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make his first records either in December 1925 or January 1926. Jefferson's first session produced "I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" using the name Deacon L.J. Bates. It was the second session, however, that made Jefferson a star. He recorded four songs at that session: “Booster Blues” b/w “Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. "Got The Blues" b/w "Long Lonesome Blues" hadn't been on sale long in the spring of 1926 when Paramount asked him to record it again because of the huge demand for the record. This was unheard of for a male blues artist. Prior to Jefferson the blues had been recorded primarily by women backed by piano or bands

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rambler Blues
Click to Enlarge

Tony Russell describes Jefferson's impact: "Jefferson offered instead blues sung by a man playing guitar – playing it, moreover, with a busyness and variety that showed up many of those pianists and bands as turgid and ordinary. The discovery that there was an audience for Jefferson's type of blues revolutionized the music business: within a few years female singers were out of favor and virtually all the trading in the 'race' market (jazz aside) was in men with guitars." Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, "Black Horse Blues", "Jack O’ Diamond Blues" and "That Black Snake Moan" were among these classic numbers.

In 1927, when producer Mayo 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," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I Be." Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. Despite his success, which allowed him to maintain a chauffeur-driven Ford and a healthy bank balance, Jefferson’s lifestyle was little affected. While he spent time in Chicago, where most of his recordings were made, he continued to work as an itinerant performer in the South.

In addition to his frequent recording sessions in Chicago throughout the late '20s, Blind Lemon Jefferson still performed in Texas and traveled around the South. He played Chicago rent parties, performed at St. Louis' Booker T. Washington Theater, and even worked some with Son House collaborator Rev. Rubin Lacy while in Mississippi. In late September of 1929, Jefferson went to Paramount's studios in Richmond, IN, for a fruitful session that included two songs,"Bed Springs Blues" and "Yo Yo Blues", that were also issued on the Broadway label. Jefferson was back in Chicago in December of 1929 when, sadly, he was found dead following a particularly cold snowstorm.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: 'Lectric Chair Blues
Click to Enlarge

Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis" (Lemon's death certificate was found in 2010 and published in the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual #1). Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist William Ezell. Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. 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, Texas.

Several blues singer/guitarists like Thomas Shaw and Mance Lipscomb thought Jefferson’s style almost impossible to imitate with any degree of success. But there were a few recordings made in the pre-war period that managed to do so, notably Issiah Nettles (The Mississippi Moaner), who covered Lemon’s "Long Lonesome Blues" as "It’s Cold In China Blues". Willard ‘Ramblin’ Thomas (probably a one time associate of Jefferson) had a number of songs in the the vein of Lemon. Jesse Thomas' 1948 number, "Double Due Love You" opens with lyrics also taken from the Blind Lemon' "Long Lonesome Blues." Thomas also recorded Lemon's "Jack of Diamonds" in 1951.

We feature several artists today who either covered Lemon's songs or who's records clearly bear the mark of Lemon's influence.  The Down Home Boys recording of "Mama, You Don't Know How", from 1927, has Long Cleve Reed, Papa Harvey Hull and Sunny Wilson re-working Lemon's "Black Snake Moan". Blind Boy Fuller was influenced by Lemon. The opening lick to his intro to "Untrue Blues" comes right out of "Rabbit's Foot Blues” while "Meat Shakin' Woman", derives its melody from "Bad Luck Blues". According to Son House’s recollection of his 1930 Paramount session, producer Art Laibley had asked the musicians if anyone could do a version of the song. Charlie Patton and Willie Brown passed but House went back to his room with Louise Johnson, worked half the night adding his own words to Lemon's melody, and the next day recorded "Mississippi County Farm." The song became a mainstay of House's repertoire, and he recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942. Hattie Hudson's 1927 song, "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul" was an "answer song" to Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues" issued in 1926, and has the repeated tag-line "doggone my bad luck soul."

Today we spotlight several artists who knew Lemon first hand such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Thomas Shaw and King Solomon Hill. Lightnin' Hopkins offered different account of when he met Blind Lemon but it seems to have been sometime in the early to mid-20's. From 1959 we hear "Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon" and "One Kind Favor, his cover of Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

It was on the streets of Deep Ellum that Lemon met up with Leadbelly. Leadbelly, in later years, was understandably proud of his relationship with Lemon. They probably met up sometime after 1910, when Leadbelly and his wife Aletta moved into Dallas. Leadbelly would play guitar, mandolin or accordion behind Lemon and he remembered topically performing the number "Fare Thee Well, Titanic" (the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912) on the streets of Dallas with Jefferson and on other occasions, dancing while Lemon would play a guitar solo version of "Dallas Rag". As a team they traveled together on the railroads from town to town earning a reasonable living. In later years Leadbelly would recall how he and Lemon “was buddies” and how.. “we’d tear those guitars all to pieces”. Their partnership certainly ended by January 1918, when Leadbelly (using the alias Walter Boyd) was indicted on a charge of murder, found guilty and thereafter became a guest of the Texas penal system.

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Cannon Ball Moan
Click to Enlarge

Thomas Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson's early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. At Blind Jefferson's urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson's “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson's songs from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person. Today we play his version of Lemon's classic "Jack Of Diamonds."

King Solomon Hill was closely connected to Crying Sam Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson and their influence is evident, to some degree, in Hill's style. "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon"is a heartfelt tribute to someone Hill clearly admired: "Hmmm then the mailman brought a misery to my head/When I received a letter that my friend Lemon was dead." Those lines echo the opening of Lemon's “Gone Dead On You Blues”: Mmmmmm, mailman's letter brought misery to my head. Mmmmm, brought misery to my head. I got a letter this morning, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Hill ran with Lemon for about two months after he passed through Minden. Hill's widow recalled that "he sung that song a whole lot 'bout Blind Lemon. Said he loved his buddy 'some way better than anyone I know.'" On one record, “Whoope Blues” b/w Down On My Bended Knees” the subtitle on the record says “Blind Lemon's Buddy.”

In 1930 , shortly after Lemon's death, Paramount issued a double sided tribute to Lemon: “Wasn't It Sad About Lemon” by the duo Walter and Byrd was on one side while the second side was the sermon “The Death Of Blind Lemon” by Rev. Emmett Dickenson. Leadbelly recorded a number of songs about Lemon after his passing. Today we spin his "Blind Lemon (Song)" from 1947 and the marvelous "Silver City Bound" from his last session in 1948.

-A Twist of Lemon by Paul Swinton  (Blues & Rhythm, No. 121)

-Blind Lemon And I Had A Ball by Victoria Spivey  (Record Research 76, May 1966 p.9)

Share