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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Black Snake Moan - Blind Lemon Jefferson


"Blind" Lemon Jefferson (Lemon Henry Jefferson; September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) was an American blues singer and guitarist from Texas. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s, and has been titled "Father of the Texas Blues".

Jefferson's singing and self-accompaniment were distinctive as a result of his high-pitched voice and originality on the guitar. Though his recordings sold well, he was not so influential on some younger blues singers of his generation, who could not imitate him as they could other commercially successful artists. However, later blues and rock and roll musicians attempted to imitate both his songs and his musical style. His recordings would later influence such legends as B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Canned Heat, Nick Cave, Son House and Robert Johnson.
Lemon Henry Jefferson was born blind near Coutchman, Texas in Freestone County, near present-day Wortham, Texas. Jefferson was one of eight children born to sharecroppers Alex and Clarissa Jefferson. Disputes regarding his exact birth date derive from contradictory census records and draft registration records. By 1900, the family was farming southeast of Streetman, Texas, and Lemon Jefferson's birth date is indicated as September 1893 in the 1900 census. The 1910 census, taken in May before his birthday, further confirms his birth year as 1893, and indicated the family was farming northwest of Wortham, near Lemon Jefferson's birthplace.

In his 1917 draft registration, Jefferson gave his birth date as October 26, 1894, further stating that he then lived in Dallas, Texas, and that he had been blind from birth. In the 1920 Census, he is recorded as having returned to the Freestone County area, and he 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 also became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns in front of barbershops and on 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.

By the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with fellow blues musician Lead Belly. In Dallas, Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas. Jefferson likely moved to Deep Ellum in a more permanent fashion by 1917, where he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of blues guitar, in exchange for Walker's occasional services as a guide. Also, by the early 1920s, Jefferson was earning enough money for his musical performances to support a wife, and possibly a child. However, firm evidence for both his marriage and any offspring is unavailable
Jefferson died in Chicago at 10 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis". For many years, apocryphal rumors circulated that a jealous lover had poisoned his coffee, but a more likely scenario is that he died of a bad heart attack after becoming disoriented during a snowstorm (i.e., he froze to death). Some have said that Jefferson died from a heart attack after being attacked by a dog in the middle of the night. More recently, the book, Tolbert's Texas, claimed that he was killed while being robbed of a large royalty payment by a guide escorting him to Union Station to catch a train home to Texas. 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). Far from his grave being kept clean, it was unmarked until 1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was erected in the general area of his plot, the precise location being unknown. 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
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