Here we salute the Best of the Rest "Traditional " Blues artists having listed Robert Johnson in Top 10 Guitarists (all
genre) and Muddy Waters in Top 10 All-Time Blues. These "Grand-Daddies of Blues" are the pioneers from which all
that followed drew their inspiration. White highlights are links to artists' "official" websites.
"Blind" Lemon Jefferson was born in Couchman, near Wortham, in
Freestone County,Texas, the youngest of seven children born to
sharecroppers, Alec and Clarissy Banks Jefferson. Our research put his
date of birth as September 24, 1893 but Lemon recorded his birth date as
October 26, 1894, on his World War I draft registration. This is but the first
in a long line of mysteries surrounding the life of the most popular male
blues recording artist of the 1920s and one of the earliest representatives
of the “classic blues”. There are contradictory accounts of where Lemon
lived, performed, and died, further complicated by the total lack of
photographs of Lemon. To date, only two photographs of him have been
identified, including the two used here with a fake tie painted in by hand.
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Blind Lemon was an influence on Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecker, Mance Lipscomb, Son House,
Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Canned Heat, Lou Reed, Carl Perkins, Jefferson Airplane
and even The Beatles. King Soloman Hill paid tribute to Blind Lemon's "Gone Dead on You Blues" in his reworking of
this song as " My Buddy, Blind Pappa Lemon ". 'Doc' Watson credited listening to Jefferson’s recordings as his first
exposure to the blues, which would powerfully influence his own style. His big hit, "See That My Grave is Kept Clean"
has been covered by Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Blind Boys of Alabama, Mavis Staples, John Hammond and many more.
Alan Govenar and Akin Babatunde composed a musical review called: Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues, and have
also developed a touring musical revue, entitled Blind Lemon Blues.
"Lord, it's one kind favor I'll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean." --- Blind Lemon Jefferson,
lyrics to his popular song and inscription on his tombstone
"Got the Blues"
"Long Lonesome Blues"
"Dry Southern Blues"
"Black Horse Blues"
"Got the Blues"
"Chock House Blues"
"Old Rounders Blues"
"Stocking Feet Blues"
"Black Snake Moan"
"Shuckin' Sugar Blues"
"Booger Rooger Blues"
"Rabbit Foot Blues"
"Bad Luck Blues"
"Black Snake Moan"
"Match Box Blues"
"Easy Rider Blues"
"Rising High Water Blues"
"Weary Dogs Blues"
"Right Of Way Blues"
"Teddy Bear Blues (Take 2)"
"Black Snake Dream Blues"
"Struck Sorrow Blues"
"Deceitful Brownskin Blues"
"Gone Dead on Your Blues"
"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
"One Dime Blues"
"Lonesome House Blues"
Yes, They SaiD It...
- ”They was rough. Men was 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.” --- Alec Jefferson,
Lemon's cousin, as quoted in the notes for Blind Lemon Jefferson: Classic Sides
1926 Blues Singles
1927 Blues Singles
" 'Lectric Chair Blues"
"Mean Jumper Blues"
"Balky Mule Blues"
"Change My Luck Blues"
"Prison Cell Blues"
"Cannon Ball Moan"
"Long Lastin' Lovin'"
"Piney Woods Money Mama"
"Low Down Mojo Blues"
"Competition Bed Blues"
"Lock Step Blues"
"Sad News Blues"
"How Long How Long"
"Christmas Eve Blues"
"Maltese Cat Blues"
BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON
Sept. 24, 1893 - Dec. 19, 1929
Unlike many of the early country blues artists whose style consisted on simple, 12-bar blues compositions, Blind imitative
effects and in a variety of keys and tunings. The distinctiveness of his high, clear, two-octave vocal range, the
complexity of his ironic, humorous, sad and poignant lyrics, and shouting style of vocals made his recordings easily
identifiable. Some of his rhythms were repetitive and some were not. Some of the highly rhythmic tunes related to
different dances, the names of which he called out at times between or in the middle of stanzas.
In 1912, he moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and became a well-known figure playing his 12-string guitar in the
Deep Ellum district of Dallas. He was known to have performed almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central
Avenue. There are historical allegations that say he'd keep strolling and playing until he had enough cash to quit and
drink for the rest of the day. It was about this time he met Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter with whom he traveled playing
in brothels in a number of Texas cities. Leadbelly's recording of "My Friend, Blind Lemon" or "Blind Lemon Blues", the
first known recording of 12-string blues, was a tribute to his friend.
Released under the pseudonym of Deacon L. J. Bates, Lemon's first recordings
were gospel songs and spirituals like "I Want to be like Jesus in my Heart" and
"All I Want is that Pure Religion". Then in 1925, Lemon's life and career path
changed. Sam Price recommended him to a talent scout for Paramount Records
while in Dallas and was taken to Chicago. Until Jefferson, few had recorded solo
voice and blues guitar. The Blues were considered "ladies" music. Mamie Smith,
Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and other lady blues singers first popularized the form,
but it was with other people's songs and backed by small bands or orchestras. He
was the first black male singer/guitarist to have a hit.
As previously mentioned, little was known about Blind Lemon's personal life. It is not definitely known
whether Jefferson was married, although one source says he married in 1922 or 1923 and had a son
just prior to his discovery by Paramount Records. Another reports that sometime, after 1920, Jefferson
met Roberta Ransom, who was ten years his senior. They married in 1927, the year that Ransom's son
by a previous marriage, Theaul Howard, died. Howard's son, also named Theaul, who remained in the
area and retired in nearby Ferris, Texas, is the source of the latter report. .
The exact date of Blind Lemon's passing is also somewhat of a mystery since there is no evidence of a death certificate.
It has been reported that he had a heart attack and died of exposure after becoming disoriented on the streets during a
Chicago snowstorm. The book Tolbert’s Texas claims that he was killed while being robbed of a large royalty cash
payment by a guide taking him to Union Station to catch a train home to Texas. Yet another "story" has his coffee
poisoned by a jealous lover. Ah, the mystery of one Blind Lemon Jefferson.
The “Father of the Texas Blues" was born legally blind but may have had
some residual sight as he wore clear, rather than dark glasses. Some even
questioned whether or not Lemon was really blind. Receiving no formal
education, he traveled from town to town in the Wortham area, playing his
guitar and singing his original songs, prison songs, blues, spirituals and
dance numbers after learning the guitar in his teens. His influences were
Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas and Alger "Texas" Alexander as both had
traveled around East Texas performing a variety of blues and dance tunes.
have sold 100,000 copies. He also made two recordings on the Okeh label. The
first recordings under his own name, in 1926, His first two recordings leases
under his own name, "Booster Blues" and “Dry Southern Blues" were hits and led
to the six-figure sales of the other two songs from the session, "Got the Blues"
and “Long Lonesome Blues,” Unfortunately, Paramount's studio quality was so
poor it sounded like they were recorded in a bathroom.
Jefferson moved to Deep Ellum more permanently by 1917. He met a young blues enthusiast named, Aaron Thibeaux
Walker, later known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of blues guitar, in exchange for Walker’s
occasional services as a guide. Lemon reportedly hired T-Bone Walker to lead him to gospel gigs in Dallas.
Due to the popularity of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other artists eventually signed by Paramount such as Blind Blake
and Ma Rainey, that they became the leader in Blues recording in the 1920s. Lemon was given a car by Mayo Williams,
Paramount's connection to the black community, and he even had enough cash left over to hire a chauffeur.
In May 1926, Paramount had Lemon re-record the hits improved facilities with advanced techniques at Marsh
Laboratories in fear the masters would wear out before sales stopped. That happened rarely in the six-year history of
recording black artists. But the discovery that there was mass market appeal for Lemon's music revolutionized the music
industry at the time. African-American women migrating to jazz while the blues market was overtaken by black men
crooning the blues on guitar. Both versions appear on compilation albums and you can really tell the difference,
Lemon was unhappy with his royalty deal at Paramount and jumped to the OKeh label to record "Matchbox Blues" and
"Black Snake Moan". By the time Lemon returned to Paramount a few months later due to contractual obligations,
“Matchbox Blues” had become such a big hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions, under
producer Arthur Laibly.
Jefferson's 1927 classic cuts include the haunting song “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”,
which became such a big hit its was re-recorded and re-released in 1928. "One Dime Blues"
and "Easy Rider Blues" were done in the same session and released, again, with Blind
Lemon using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates. He also recorded two uncharacteristically
spiritual songs, “He Arose from the Dead” and “Where Shall I Be?”. From 1925 to 1929,
Lemon made 110 recordings (including all alternate takes), of which seven were not issued
and six are not yet available in any format. All of Lemon's released recordings have been
reissued by Document Records.
However Blind Lemon's death really occurred, we know it was in Chicago about a week before Christmas in 1929.
Paramount Records sponsored the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist Will Ezell. Lemon was
buried in the Wortham (Texas) Negro Cemetery, and his grave went unmarked until October 15, 1967, when blues
devotees placed a metal marker on the plot and was made an official Texas historical monument. In 1997, the town of
Wortham began a blues festival named for the singer, and a new granite headstone was placed at his grave site. In
2007, the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery. In keeping with Jefferson's wishes as
recorded in the song, his grave site is being kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham Texas. Jefferson was
inducted into the initial class of the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.
- "Yes, acoustic country-blues still lives in Cambridge. The city used to be a hotbed of the music—
and the tradition continues with Bill McQuaid... who not only knows who Blind Lemon Jefferson
is, but can play that music with the brilliance it deserves." Steve Morse, Boston Globe
1928 Blues Singles
"Eagle Eyed Mama"
"Peach Orchard Mama"
"Oil Well Blues"
"Tin Cup Blues"
"Sat. Night Spender Blues"
"Black Snake Moan #2"
"Bed Springs Blues"
"Yo, Yo Blues"
"Southern Woman Blues"
"Long Distance Moan"
"That Crawlin' Baby Blues"
"Fence Breakin Yellin' Blues"
"Cat Man Blues"
"The Cheaters Spell"
"Bootin' Me 'Bout"
1928 Blues Singles
R.I.P. BLIND LEMON
In many ways,Blind Lemon typified the rural bluesman. His music was idiosyncratic, rough and personal. His style of
guitar playing was unschooled and lacked structure and his character unbridled, coarse and tough. He struggled to
make a living, not in the blues clubs, but on the streets and at the all-night parties held on the outskirts of every town
from Texas to Georgia. And yet he is revered today like never before... and due to his influence on all that came after
him, he deserves Guitar Maniacs' #1 rank among the traditional blues guitarists.