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Blind Lemon Jefferson biography



"Blind" Lemon Jefferson (September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) was a 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. His recordings would later influence such legends as B.B King, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Canned Heat, Son House and Robert Johnson. Early life Lemon Jefferson was born blind near Coutchman, Texas in Freestone County, near present-day Wortham, Texas. 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. Jefferson began playing the guitar in his early teens, and soon after he began performing at picnics and parties. 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 Leadbelly. However, firm evidence for both his marriage and any offspring is unavailable. The beginning of the recording career Until Jefferson, very few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar, the first of which was vocalist Sara Martin and guitarist Sylvester Weaver. 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 too of his interest in mechanical things. Jefferson did what very few had ever done; 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, in December 1925 or January 1926, he was taken to Chicago, Illinois, to record his first tracks. Uncharacteristically, Jefferson's 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. This led to a second recording session in March 1926. His first releases under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues," were hits; this 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. Unfortunately, Paramount Records' studio techniques and quality were bad, and the resulting recordings sound no better than if they had been recorded in a hotel room. In fact, in May 1926, Paramount had Jefferson re-record his hits "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues" in the superior facilities at Marsh Laboratories, and subsequent releases used that version. Both versions appear on compilation albums and may be compared. Success with Paramount Records Label of a Blind Lemon Jefferson Paramount record from 1926It was largely due to the popularity of artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and contemporaries such as Blind Blake and Ma Rainey that Paramount became the leading recording company for the blues in the 1920s. 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," 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, under producer Arthur Laibly. 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. Stories As his fame grew, so did the tales regarding his life, often personally involving the teller. T-Bone Walker states that as a boy, he was employed by Jefferson to lead him around the streets of Dallas; he would have been of the appropriate age at the time. A Paramount employee told biographer Orrin Keepnews that Jefferson was a womanizing sloppy drunk; on the other hand, Jefferson's neighbor in Chicago, Romeo Nelson, reports him as being "warm and cordial," and singer Rube Lacy states that Jefferson always refused to play on a Sunday, "even if you give me two hundred." He is claimed to have earned money wrestling before his musical success, which is further claimed as proof that he was not blind at the time. Victoria Spivey elliptically credits Jefferson as someone who "could sure feel his way around." Death and grave Jefferson died in Chicago at 10am on 19 December 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis". Discography and awards 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. The white North Carolina performer Arthel "Doc" Watson credited listening to Jefferson's recordings as his first exposure to the blues, which would powerfully influence his own style. He was the author of many tunes covered by later musicians, including the classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". Another of his tunes, "Matchbox Blues", was recorded more than 30 years later by The Beatles, albeit in a rockabilly version credited to Carl Perkins, who himself did not credit Jefferson on his 1955 recording. Given this influence, it is unfortunate that many of the details of his life remain shrouded in mystery, perhaps forever; even the only known picture of him, shown above, is heavily retouched, with a fake tie painted in by hand. However, at the time, "race music" and its white cousin, "hillbilly music", were not considered to be worthy of consideration as art, rather as a low-cost product to be sold and soon forgotten. Blind Lemon Jefferson is the featured musician on a State of Texas license plate. B. B. King has always maintained that Jefferson was a huge influence on his singing and guitar playing. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed one song by Blind Lemon Jefferson of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. Year Recorded Title 1927 Matchbox Blues Jefferson was among the inaugural class of blues musicians inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Covers of Blind Lemon Jefferson Bob Dylan - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" on Bob Dylan Grateful Dead - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" as "One Kind Favor" on Birth of the Dead Merl Saunders/Jerry Garcia/John Kahn/Bil Vitt - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" as "One Kind Favor" on Keystone Encores, Volume 1 John Hammond - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" as "One Kind Favor" on John Hammond Live B.B. King - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" on One Kind Favor Peter, Paul & Mary - "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," reworked as "One Kind Favor on Peter, Paul & Mary in Concert Kelly Joe Phelps - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" on Roll Away The Stone Counting Crows - "Mean Jumper Blues" NOTE: Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz accidentally claimed credit for "Mean Jumper Blues" in the liner notes of the Deluxe Edition reissue of the album August And Everything After. The cover is featured as part of a selection of early demo tracks. Immediately after the error was brought to his attention, Duritz apologized in his personal blog. References to Blind Lemon Jefferson A putative tribute song, "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon," was recorded for Paramount Records in 1931. The side is credited to King Solomon Hill, but according to blues scholar Samuel Charters, the actual performer was Big Joe Williams, and the song may have been about another singer named Lemon (i.e., not about Blind Lemon Jefferson). Van Morrison refers to Jefferson in the song "Cleaning Windows" on the 1982 album Beautiful Vision. Francis Cabrel refers to Jefferson in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on the 1999 album Hors-Saison. Geoff Muldaur refers to Jefferson with the song "Got To Find Blind Lemon" on the album The Secret Handshake Art Evans portrays Blind Lemon in the 1976 film Leadbelly directed by Gordon Parks Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded the song "Blind Lemon Jefferson" on the album The Firstborn Is Dead. In the episode of The Monkees called "The Monkees at the Movies", Peter Tork is seen offering Michael Nesmith a variety of albums in return for Nesmith's David Jones album. Included in these is his Blind Lemon Jefferson collection. The 2007 film Black Snake Moan refers to the title of Jefferson's song "Black Snake Moan" Blind Lemon is a music venue in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas,TX In the 2003 movie Masked and Anonymous, Bobby Cupid (Luke Wilson) gives his friend Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) Blind Lemon's original guitar, on which he claims Matchbox Blues was first recorded. Patrick Sky parodied Jefferson as "Blind Funk Earwax" playing "Child Molesting Blues" on his 1973 album Songs That Made America Famous Cheech and Chong parodied Jefferson as "Blind Melon Chitlin'" on their self-titled 1971 album Cheech and Chong (album), their 1985 album Get Out of My Room, and in a stage routine that can be seen in their 1983 movie Still Smokin'. In an episode of The Mighty Boosh, reference is made to a famous jazz musician, 'Hot Wee-Wee' Jefferson. A bar called Blind Lemon appears in the Philip K. Dick novel The Game-Players of Titan. An episode of Sanford and Son titled "The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection" refers to Jefferson's name. Michael Martin Murphy refers to Jefferson in the song "Rolling Hills' on his 1973 album Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir. Lead Belly refers to Jefferson in his song "My Friend Blind Lemon." On VeggieTales, Larry tries to sing the blues with the help of Blind Lemon Lincoln. Blind Melon may be a reference to his name and/or style. Chet Atkins calls Jefferson "one of my first finger-picking influences" in the song "Nine Pound Hammer", on the album The Atkins - Travis Traveling Show In Christopher Paul Curtis' novel, Bud, Not Buddy, the character Miss Tyla refers to Blind Lemon Jefferson when she realizes that Bud's head is swollen due to stings from the hornets earlier in the book. She says, "Dark or not, even Blind Lemon Jefferson could see something's wrong with this baby's eye." In the pilot of the television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the character of Ben Boykewich refers to Blind Lemon Jefferson while speaking with the high school counselor. Half Man Half Biscuit included the song "See That my Bike is Kept Clean" on the LP Voyage to the Bottom of the Road. Quotation“ In East Texas... guitar accompanied blues tended to be rhythmically diffuse, with guitarists like Blind Lemon Jefferson playing elaborate, melodic flourishes to answer their vocal lines.