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Author Topic: Blind Lemon Jefferson--His Life in his Lyrics?  (Read 1435 times)

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Offline BlueRob

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Blind Lemon Jefferson--His Life in his Lyrics?
« on: January 27, 2009, 07:54:19 AM »
Hi all,
Thanks for the warm welcome to WeenieCampbell!

I thought I'd start a new post where we can discuss Lemon Jefferson's history, by looking into his song lyrics. It's true that not all his lyrics are strictly about himself--I'm sure some were used from older songs or other blues artists, and others he fabricated. But, given the very little real information about his life, and the fact that many of his lyrics make references to things he was doing/places he went in his real life, I figure that some lyrical study might shed some more light on who Lemon was. Unfortunately, his life's story was recorded with as poor a quality as his Paramount records! And for all of us who strain our ears to the Victrola to confirm his scratchy words, I'm sure there is much we can learn about Lemon from what he said.

Let's start with "One Dime Blues":
********
ONE DIME BLUES (1927)

In 1927, when he recorded this song, Lemon was in his third year recording for Paramount Records. During this time, he was recording in Chicago and (at least early on) commuting there from Dallas, before setting up a temporary residence in a South Chicago apartment. The "morning news" he buys in the song, is probably at least a general reference to the "Dallas Morning News", a well-established paper by the 1910s that survives today. But Lemon also says he was "standing on East Cairo Street one day"...there was no Cairo Street in Dallas, BUT East 62nd Street in Chicago used to be known as East Cairo Street. Perhaps Lemon was so familiar with the Dallas Morning News--and still so unfamiliar with Chicago at that point--that he referred to the Chicago newspaper as "that morning news". Lemon was known by eyewitnesses and fellow bluesmen to play at railroad stations, and at the junctions of a road and the railroad tracks. East Cairo Street is crossed by a railroad track, which led south past the place where he kept a kitchenette apartment. By 1927, Lemon had released 2 songs (on the same album) about his feet hurting (Weary Dogs Blues) and about how his "feets failed me" (Hot Dogs). Perhaps Lemon was getting away from walking so much, and taking the train in Chicago to reach his playing destinations?

Lemon is definitely hurting financially in this song, although he was making money by recording records. Seems to me this song was written during his hard adjustment period in Chicago.

« Last Edit: January 27, 2009, 10:31:06 AM by BlueRob »
"Crossin' over Jordan, don't have no fear--Jesus gonna be my engineer"

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson--His Life in his Lyrics?
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2009, 04:42:11 PM »
I always love the way he ends it by buying a cigar, always seems so optimistic and leaves me in a positive mood!

So you're going with Cairo St in Chicago, not Lufkin TX, which you pointed out in the Lemon lyrics thread?

Offline BlueRob

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson--His Life in his Lyrics?
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2009, 10:45:59 AM »
Yeah, isn't it great how he has only a dime...and blows it on a newspaper and a cigar! Might as well, right?

But yes--I admit, I got ants in my pants and jumped to conclusions too early with Lufkin, hehe.

At this point, the Chicago "East Cairo Street" appears to be the most likely candidate for Lemon's 1927 song "One Dime Blues". Present-day East 62nd Street was called "Cairo Street", at least as early as 1893. Seems to have been named for the 1893 World's Fair attraction, the "Islamic" exhibit, located on both sides of Cairo Street. It was a wildly-popular attraction for spectators and tourists to the fair with restaurants, stores, rides and the like--a theme park, basically--and musicians were known to play in the streets during the Fair. I have seen a postcard of "Cairo Street" dating to as late as 1915--many of the original Arabesque buildings remained. I wonder if Cairo Street's reputation as a locus for street musicians endured into the late-1920s as well? Another big clue supporting the Chicago theory is Lemon's mention of walking at "Jackson Park" (Weary Dogs Blues), recorded the same year as "One Dime Blues". Present-day East 62nd Street's easternmost end terminates at Jackson Park: site of the World's Fair of 1893.

The Cairo St. in Lufkin, TX is very short (looks like only 500 or 600 feet long), was (and still is) in a remote location far from the town center (unlikely to have been a store or newsstand nearby), and has no official "East" or "West" delineation, as Chicago's did.

There was/is also a Cairo Street in Springfield, MO--also a sparse-looking residential neighborhood now, some of the houses appearing to date from before 1930. Interestingly, I recently saw for sale on Ebay a real-photo postcard (dated 1912) of the "Shriner Special" train in Springfield, MO, saying it was headed for Dallas, TX. But once again, its remote location away from the commercial district (and the fact that Lemon never mentions Springfield in his songs), makes this location less likely that Chicago's.

I will keep searching for other Cairo Streets.
"Crossin' over Jordan, don't have no fear--Jesus gonna be my engineer"

Offline BlueRob

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson--His Life in his Lyrics?
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2009, 07:13:57 AM »
Yeah, isn't it great how he has only a dime...and blows it on a newspaper and a cigar! Might as well, right?

But yes--I admit, I got ants in my pants and jumped to conclusions too early with Lufkin, hehe.

At this point, the Chicago "East Cairo Street" appears to be the most likely candidate for Lemon's 1927 song "One Dime Blues". Present-day East 62nd Street was called "Cairo Street", at least as early as 1893. Seems to have been named for the 1893 World's Fair attraction, the "Islamic" exhibit, located on both sides of Cairo Street. It was a wildly-popular attraction for spectators and tourists to the fair with restaurants, stores, rides and the like--a theme park, basically--and musicians were known to play in the streets during the Fair. I have seen a postcard of "Cairo Street" dating to as late as 1915--many of the original Arabesque buildings remained. I wonder if Cairo Street's reputation as a locus for street musicians endured into the late-1920s as well? Another big clue supporting the Chicago theory is Lemon's mention of walking at "Jackson Park" (Weary Dogs Blues), recorded the same year as "One Dime Blues". Present-day East 62nd Street's easternmost end terminates at Jackson Park: site of the World's Fair of 1893.

The Cairo St. in Lufkin, TX is very short (looks like only 500 or 600 feet long), was (and still is) in a remote location far from the town center (unlikely to have been a store or newsstand nearby), and has no official "East" or "West" delineation, as Chicago's did.

There was/is also a Cairo Street in Springfield, MO--also a sparse-looking residential neighborhood now, some of the houses appearing to date from before 1930. Interestingly, I recently saw for sale on Ebay a real-photo postcard (dated 1912) of the "Shriner Special" train in Springfield, MO, saying it was headed for Dallas, TX. But once again, its remote location away from the commercial district (and the fact that Lemon never mentions Springfield in his songs), makes this location less likely that Chicago's.

I will keep searching for other Cairo Streets.
************

Lemon's "worried dogs"...

"Hot Dogs" was recorded around June of 1927. I'd like to place the "booger-rooger" he refers to as occurring in June 1927. I'd like to think there is some truth to, and significance in his ailing feet (which must have caught up with him by then, being heavy and purportedly walking all over creation as a musician for years). The flip side of the "Hot Dogs" record was "Worried Dogs Blues", which was actually recorded the previous month (May 1927)--Lemon states that his "weary dogs first started" at "Jackson Park", not far from Lemon's Chicago apartment, and where "East Cairo Street" (One Dime Blues) was. Then on "Hot Dogs" he claims that he was using crutches, and had been to a doctor. Could this be a chronicle of Lemon's medical foot problem? Lemon then spends the song reassuring his fans that, indeed, his "weary dogs" are well again, and he's back to his fun, lively, Lemony self. Perhaps this medical problem prompted his being given a Ford car, and/or being chauffered around?
"Crossin' over Jordan, don't have no fear--Jesus gonna be my engineer"

 


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