FEATURED ARTIST / S
|Blind Lemon Jefferson|
Blind Lemon Jefferson, vocal, guitar.
Genres: Texas Country Blues, Country Blues Guitar
Informative booklet notes by Bob Groom.
From this CD's notes:
Considering that he was the most popular male blues recording artist of the 1920s, we know surprisingly little about Blind Lemon Jefferson. Between 1925 and 1929 he made at least 100 recordings, including alternative versions of some songs. Had 43 records issued, all but one on the Paramount label. He died in Chicago, in mysterious circumstances, towards the end of December, 1929. He Inspired a generation of male bluesmen but had few imitators, due to the complexity of his guitar playing and the distinctiveness of his high, clear voice.
In February, 1928 Lemon was back in the recording studio to record his Penitentiary Blues, with its warning "don't be bad" because "they got walls at the state penitentiary you can't jump, man, they high as the sky". Continuing the prison theme he next recorded the sombre 'Lectric Chair Blues. This is one of his most atmospheric pieces with its evocation of the prisoner "sittin' in the electrocutin' room and cryin''. Lemon had recorded See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, his version of the traditional Dig My Grave With A Silver Spade, in October, 1927, and this was issued the following January under the 'Deacon L. J. Bates' pseudonym. It was obviously a speedy seller as a re-recording made in February, 1928 was issued in April, this time without the pseudonym, and this seems to have been one of Lemon's really big hits. Lemon's songs had, by 1928, become more lyrically consistent and it has even been suggested, on poor evidence, that they were composed for him by Paramount staff writers.
Jefferson was at the height of his powers in the summer of 1928 and Prison Cell Blues, with its holler-like AB verse structure, is certainly one of his finest performances, an almost Dickensian scenario with its despairing lyrics. Equally good are Lockstep Blues, another jailhouse epic, and the chilling Hangman's Blues, with its gripping finale: "Well, I'm almost dyin', gaspin' for my breath, and that triflin' woman is singin' to celebrate my death". (Both of these numbers also exist in alternative versions, the latter without the spoken introduction.)
Lemon's only straight cover of another artist's record was his rather anaemic version of Leroy Carr's 1928 hit How Long, How Long Blues, probably made at the prompting of his record company. A pianist was added but he and Jefferson (understandably) failed to reproduce the patented Carr-Blackwell sound and it wasn't released until November, 1928 (with Tampa Red's Through Train Blues on the 'B' side) by which time sales would have been only modest, the Carr record having already sold by the hundred thousand.
A few weeks later Lemon was back to his usual form recording Maltese Cat Blues which, two decades on, provided the inspiration for Sleepy John Estes' moving Rats In My Kitchen, and the lively D. B. Blues which celebrates his acquisition of a new Ford sedan. (Legend has it that after his arrival in Chicago, Lemon employed a chauffeur to drive him around but on the night he supposedly froze to death in the street his driver failed to pick him up.) Although recorded in mid-summer Lemon, always the thorough professional, successfully created the illusion of winter on Christmas Eve Blues ("look how it's snowing") and the joyous Happy New Year Blues, which were issued back-to-back early in December, 1928 as a potential seasonal hit. Sadly 1929 was not to be a happy new year for Lemon, in fact it was to be his last. For the first time since he started to record for Paramount he went for nearly six months without a recording session during the latter part of 1928, whether because of illness, slowing sales or some other factor. His records continued to be released regularly, however, so perhaps it was just that Paramount had enough in the can. Fortunately another 22 Jefferson blues were added in 1929 to complete the recorded legacy of the greatest of all the Texas blues singers.