Blind Lemon Jefferson
Complete Recorded Works c. December 1925-January 1926 – 24 September 1929
Vol. 3: c. February 1928 to c. August 1928
Featuring the recordings of:
Blind Lemon Jefferson, vocal / guitar. Blind Lemon Jefferson, vocal / guitar; unknown, piano.
Genres: Blues, Texas Blues, Country Blues, Country Blues Guitar, Blues Piano.
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. January, 1928 marked the mid-point of Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s recording career. Behind him were no less than fourteen records released through 1926 and 1927, including several major hits: he was the hottest property on the Paramount label and his records continued to sell consistently well through 1928. His first release of the year, Gone Dead On You Blues / One Dime Blues (both credited to ‘Lemon Jefferson‘), had been recorded the previous autumn. 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 Electric Chair Blues, which was later ‘covered’ by William Harris for Gennett (6752). This is one of his most atmospheric pieces with its evocation of the prisoner “sittin’ in the electrocutin’ room and cryin”. Bessie Smith had recorded Send Me To The’ Lectric Chair the previous year and, while the songs are quite different, this might explain the female standpoint adopted by Jefferson in the last verse. 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’s lines are too quirky and idiosyncratic to be the product of another song writer (e.g. “I left my meal-ticket rider barefooted, my partner’s slippin’ for a new pair of shoes” from Lemon’s Worried Blues!). A criticism leveled at Lemon’s later recordings that does have some substance is that they are melodically very similar, this is redeemed by the varied lyrics and immaculate performances. Some of Jefferson’s songs are quite strange and relate to a racy life-style that may or may not reflect the reality of Jefferson’s private life, with constant references to “drinkin’ all night”, competition for “wild women” (who are often “cunning as a squirrel”) and dealing with “desperados” (as in the remarkable Fence Breakin’ Yellen Blues). A number of his verses were used by later blues singers, e.g. the “Elgin Movements” verse from Change My Luck Blues that Robert Johnson utilized for his 1936 Walking Blues. Piney Woods Money Mama includes some interesting social references, mentioning that she had “hair like an Indian squaw”, reflecting the extensive intermarriage between black and native Americans, and pointing up the subservient role of black domestics: “cook’s in the kitchen, pickin’ and fussin’ over turnip greens, white folks in the parlour playin’ cards and the children ate cake and cream”. Low Down Mojo Blues, the ‘B’ side, probably inspired Blind Boy Fuller‘s 1937 Mojo Hidin’ Woman (Vocalion 03499). Blind Lemon 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 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. 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. Fortunately another 22 Blind Lemon Jefferson blues were added in 1929 to complete the recorded legacy of the greatest of all the Texas blues singers.
Bob Groom Copyright: 1991 Document Records