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Frank Foster was playing a street concert from the Jazzmobile in Harlem. He called for a blues in B-flat. A young tenor player began to play "out" from the first chorus, playing sounds that had no relationship to the harmonic progression or rhythmic setting. Foster stopped him. "What are you doing?" "Just playing what I feel. "Well, feel something in B-flat, mother****er"

Author Topic: Has anyone read Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, His Death, and His Legacy?  (Read 1129 times)

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Offline Westside

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    • Westside Ryan
Howdy,
I was wondering if anyone has read "Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, His Death, and His Legacy" and if so, is it worth picking up a copy?
Thanks,
Ryan

Offline uncle bud

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It is a fairly basic book that relies mostly on the research of others and gathers it together in one place. Like most blues books, the prose is utilitarian at best. Until Paul Swinton FINALLY PUBLISHES HIS LEMON BOOK, this and the stuff that is scattered around elsewhere in things like the special issue of Black Music Research Journal is what we've got.

Offline Westside

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Offline Bunker Hill

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For what it's worth here's the Table of Contents and introduction to Black Music Research Journal Vol 20, No.1 Spring 2000. May not have caught all scanning anomalies....went cross-eyed!


Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Myth and the Man   7
   Alan Govenar
Blind Lemon Meets Leadbelly   23
   Kip Lornell
The Language of Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Covert   35
   Theme of Blindness Luigi Monge
   Musical Innovation in the Blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson   83
David Evans
===================
EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION to Black Music Research Journal Vol 20, No.1 Spring 2000
DAVID EVANS

Although he was not the first folk (or "country") blues singer guitarist, or even the first to make commercial recordings, Blind Lemon Jefferson is generally and appropriately viewed by music historians as the first "star" of this type of blues. His rise to fame followed immediately upon the release of his first blues record in March or April 1926, and his fame lasted well beyond his death in December 1929. Jefferson is almost always named as a favorite artist or an influence in interviews of blues guitarists who were born in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Along with Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, and Lonnie Johnson, he makes almost everyone's short list of great blues artists of the 1920s. His records continued to be treasured and played in black American households until 78s were phased out in the 1950s. Even in the 1970s, the veteran black comedian Redd Foxx was able to suggest the singer's importance in a nationwide mass media setting. In a televised skit on his popular Sanford and Son program, Foxx donated a stack of "worthless" old 78s by "Blind Mellow Jelly" to a local library. After being thanked for the donation and told that the records were valuable, Foxx tried desperately to get them back, appearing before the librarian wearing dark glasses and tapping a cane on the floor, claiming that Blind Mellow Jelly was his grandfather who had left these records as his only legacy. "1 want my granddaddy's records," Foxx kept vainly imploring. For years after this broadcast, when I tried to buy blues 78s at secondhand shops, sellers would hold back Blind Lemon Jefferson's discs, stating that Jefferson was Redd Foxx's grandfather and that the records were very valuable.

Serious American and foreign collectors, musical connoisseurs, and folklorists actually began to notice Jefferson's records even during his lifetime, and by the 1940s, virtually every jazz record collection contained at least one or two Blind Lemon Jefferson discs. Even though his music probably seemed remote from the instrumentation or style of classic jazz and jazz accompanied blues singing, Jefferson was admired simply for his spectacular musicianship and seen, like Leadbelly, as some sort of "roots" figure. By the 1960s, however, as a new wave of folk  and rock oriented collectors and fans emerged, Jefferson began to be transformed from a musical wellspring into a mute icon, an image of a fat blind man with a funny name holding a guitar. The process began innocently enough with a San Francisco folk/rock band calling itself Jefferson Airplane in his honor. By the end of the decade, Rick Hall's Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, would create a house backup group called the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band. In the 1970s, Jefferson had become "Blind Mellow Jelly" on Sanford and Son, and by the 1990s, there was a popular alternative rock band called Blind Melon, few of whose fans had ever heard Jefferson's name or his music.

Meanwhile, Jefferson's very status as a musical roots figure began to be challenged in the 1960s, as his memory dimmed in black America and the reputation of bluesman Robert Johnson (1911 38; see "Robert Leroy Johnson" 1999) rose in white America in the course of the folk  and blues music revivals. The image of the devil haunted Johnson proved more romantically attractive to white listeners than that of the blind musician working for his living on street corners. By the 1990s, Johnson's 1936 37 recordings of solo guitar accompanied blues, remastered and repackaged in a two CD box set, would become an international platinum record phenomenon, whereas Jefferson's recordings, made some ten years earlier, had become arcane historical curiosities, occasionally cited but seldom heard by the masses of new blues fans, known mostly to rarified collectors and serious music historians willing to put up with formidable surface noise in order to get at the music.

The purpose of this collection of articles on Blind Lemon Jefferson is to help restore his original stature as an artist, to place him more firmly in the context of American music during the first three decades of the twentieth century, and to shed light on his life, career, lyricism, and musical style. A theme that runs through all these articles is the obscurity and ambiguity surrounding him, which have gradually led to a lower valuation being placed on his work than he enjoyed during his recording career in the last four years of his life. This obscurity has led Alan Govenar, one of the contributors, to title his recent stage play about Jefferson Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues, suggesting that the musician is still waiting to be recognized as the "King."

Govenar's contribution is not a biography of Blind Lemon Jefferson but a discussion of the many uncertainties, contradictions, problems, and myths that one encounters in trying to piece together Jefferson's life history. Even if the true facts could be ascertained, they are scattered among recollections of usually brief encounters with the man by other musicians, thin reports from relatives, friends, and townspeople, a few public documents, and hints dropped in his recorded lyrics. This material is found in album notes, interviews published in fan and collector magazines, and a host of other sources. British blues researcher Paul Swinton has announced that he will attempt to pull this material together in order to construct a full-length biographical study. Meanwhile, Govenar's article can serve as a caution to anyone engaged in making statements about this artist

Kip Lornell's article deals with only one phase of Blind Lemon Jefferson's career, but an important and early one, namely, his encounter and association with Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter). Early writers about jazz and American folk music viewed these two figures as primary representatives of folk blues, generally with the understanding that the more famous Jefferson influenced Leadbelly and made a major contribution to the blues portion of the latter's repertoire. Lornell shows that the relationship was more complex than this, having taken place at a time when neither man had more than local or regional fame and when their styles and repertoires may have been considerably different from what they later represented on recordings.

Luigi Monge examines the recorded lyrics of Blind Lemon Jefferson from a holistic point of view, showing how they served, among other things, as a means for the singer to cope with and express himself on his condition of blindness, not in obvious or specific ways but through a massive number of small hints that deflect attention away from his handicap and make him appear almost supersighted. The evidence that Monge presents, most of it entirely overlooked by others who have ana?lyzed Jefferson's individual song texts, is clearly of importance in developing a psychological portrait of this great artist. It also offers a method for studying the lyrics of other blues singers.

My own article on Jefferson's music is not an attempt to categorize his style. Instead it tries to determine what was innovative about his music at the time of his recording career, how he differed from his few recorded predecessors, and how he influenced the tradition of guitar accompanied blues singing and even the sound of the guitar in later popular music. I try to make a case for a pervasive influence by Jefferson, while at the same time showing how this influence has become obscured, beginning even in his lifetime.

Earlier versions of these four articles were presented in a session at the annual meeting of the Sonneck Society for American Music' in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 12, 1999. All of the authors have exchanged infor?mation and commentary with one another. The articles have also benefited from fieldwork experience. Govenar, based in Dallas, where Jefferson performed much of his music during the last two decades of his life, has been gathering information periodically since the 1980s from people who had contact with the artist. Lornell did fieldwork on Leadbelly's life in northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana in the early 1990s, and his article draws further on the earlier fieldwork of John and Alan Lomax and Frederic Ramsey. In my own article, 1 have incorporated reminiscences of Jefferson by Mississippi blues artists whom I encountered in my fieldwork in the 1960s.

Following the Sonneck Society meeting, Monge and I and our wives, Enrica and Marice, spent a few days in Blind Lemon Jefferson's home territory of Wortham, Mexia, and Groesbeck, Texas, getting a sense of the area and following leads about the artist. Although Jefferson had been dead for almost seventy years, we were able to talk to two people who had known him well, one of them 101 years old and the other 96, both of them recommended to us by Alan Govenar. Although we have not used all of our fieldwork data in these four works, the experience has shaped our understanding of this subject in many ways, some obvious and some subtle. We hope that this understanding will promote greater interest in one of the most remarkable musical personalities of the twentieth century.

REFERENCES
Robert Leroy Johnson. 1999. Essays by David Evans. international Dictionary of Black Composers, edited by Samuel A. Floyd Jr., 2:650 656. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Offline Westside

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  • Howdy!
    • Westside Ryan
Thanks!

Offline Gilgamesh

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Howdy,
I was wondering if anyone has read "Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, His Death, and His Legacy" and if so, is it worth picking up a copy?
Thanks,
Ryan


Only if it's in the bargain bin. The author doesn't know anything about blues or have any insights, he just block quotes people like Evans and Govenar.

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