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We used to go to different people's houses, you know. In those days I mean they could hear music and - if somebody could play an instrument, man, they would get up at night, from one o'clock; and they'd fix food and they'd have drinks and they'd stay up till five, six o'clock in the morning and give you money. It wasn't a dance but a serenade; we'd go from house to house. In those days there wasn't too much things like juke boxes, high fidelity sound, wasn't nothing like that then; and whenever somebody could play and could play well, he was considered as somebody; he could go anywhere and he had it made, you know? - Baby Doo Caston, on playing music in Natchez in the 1920s, interview with Jeff Todd Titon

Author Topic: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music  (Read 1053 times)

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Offline JasO

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Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« on: April 22, 2011, 12:39:43 PM »
I'd like to share an in-depth article on the life, times, and music of the great Blind Lemon Jefferson. The latest addition to my non-profit online music archive, the article includes information given to me over the years by B.B. King, John Hammond, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Steve James, and others.

I especially like B.B. King's insights into Jefferson's guitar style: ?His way of execution left you with the feeling that you could hear someone else backing him up. And he had a special way of phrasing, too, that I don?t hear from many people today. Anyone can play 64 notes in a bar, but to place just one or two in that same bar in just the right place, or maybe even let one go by, then double up on it in the next bar ? that?s something special.

"He had something in his phrasing that?s so funny,? B.B. continued. ?He had a way of double-time playing. Say, like, one-two-three-four, and then he?d go [in double-time] one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. And the time was still right there, but double time. And then he could come out of it so easy. And then when he would resolve something, it was done so well. I?ve got some of his records now ? I keep them with me. But he?d come out of it so smooth. His touch is different from anybody on the guitar ? still is. I?ve practiced, I tried, I did everything, and still I could never come out with the sound as he did. He was majestic, and he played just a regular little 6-string guitar with a little round hole. It was unbelievable to hear him play. And the way he played with his rhythm patterns, he was way before his time, in my opinion. Blind Lemon was my idol."

In another section, Steve James responds to something Mike Bloomfield said about Blind Lemon not playing with a danceable beat: ?People say Lemon had no meter, but he had fabulous meter ? he just stretched the verses out. It?s a Texas thing; he basically did the same thing that Lightnin? Hopkins did on his Gold Star stuff. For instance, sometimes he had a lick that was a bar longer than the 12-bar structure dictated. Sometimes he?d do as many of these fast single-note lines as he wanted to before going back to the chord, and then he?d strum. Other times he?d do some rolls a la Blind Blake ? he had a tremendous thumb ? and then he?d break his bass pattern. Sometimes he would do an alternating bass line, or he?d just smack a monotonic bass line and then walk boogie lines. He had beautiful arrangements where he?d walk a bass line up against a descending melody, almost like classical or ragtime counterpoint. I don?t want to compare his playing harmonically to Blind Blake, but like Blind Blake he was a very economical player. He could do some stunning licks, and he was obviously in real command of the fingerboard.?

There?s lots more about Jefferson?s census and military draft records, his life in Wortham and Dallas, his Paramount and OKeh sessions, his rambles through the American South, his lyrics, and his mysterious death.

If you're interested in seeing the whole article -- all 8300 words! -- I've posted it here: http://jasobrecht.com/blind-lemon-jefferson-star-blues-guitar/

Offline JohnLeePimp

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2011, 01:38:45 PM »
That's dope thanks... I'll have somethin more profound to say when I read it
...so blue I shade a part of this town.

Offline Shovel

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2011, 02:38:28 PM »
good stuff, thanks!
« Last Edit: April 22, 2011, 02:45:06 PM by Shovel »

Offline Stumblin

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  • Got the Blues, can't be satisfied
Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2011, 03:03:37 PM »
That's dope thanks... I'll have somethin more profound to say when I read it
Seconded  8)
I'll read that now.

Offline frankie

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    • DoneGone.net
Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2011, 04:48:25 PM »
Thanks for sharing that, Jas, wonderful article.

If there's one thing I'd change, though, it's this:

"Lemon played in a lot of different keys, and he recorded a number of pieces in open-G tuning."

Lemon played in C, E, G and A - moving around north or south of concert pitch, but recorded only Jack O' Diamonds in open G.

Lemon's songs and their key:  http://www.donegone.net/?page_id=15


Offline Gumbo

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  • So Papa climbed up on top of the house
Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2011, 05:43:40 PM »
that was a good read. thanks :)

Offline JasO

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2011, 05:47:33 PM »
Frankie --

Thanks for this info: "Lemon played in C, E, G and A - moving around north or south of concert pitch, but recorded only Jack O' Diamonds in open G." I've fixed that info in the article. I want this stuff to be as accurate as possible!

Offline eric

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2011, 08:00:32 PM »
Outstanding article.  I looked up some of the Dallas locations, and it was obvious that a lot of them had been flattened during what was called "urban renewal" in 60s.  For those not as old as me, urban renewal basically meant that all the freeways you see in central cities today were built through black neighborhoods.

On another note, on a visit to Austin last week, I checked out the Texas History Museum, and the music exhibit mentioned only one African-American musician, T-Bone Walker, but absolutely nothing about Lemon.  The only mention of Mance was in an exhibit about sharecropping, and even that did not identify him as a musician.
--
Eric

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2011, 10:36:51 PM »
When I saw the subject line I thought it was going to be news of the biography Paul Swinton's been working on for thirty years but, in the absence of that, this will do very nicely. Excellent gathering together all known material. Thanks for sharing it. Keep on keeping on.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, Times, and Music
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2011, 09:25:42 AM »
Yes, thanks for that, I agree it brings the material together nicely. I particularly enjoyed what Steve James had to say. Was that from an interview or something else?

I don't know who is being quoted about the A position playing reminding them of Funny Papa Smith and Texas Alexander, but since it's about guitar playing, just a minor note here that Texas Alexander didn't play guitar and was backed by Lonnie Johnson, Little Hat Jones and others. I don't know which songs the person had in mind, but I imagine it's Willie Reed playing, as his style fits the description and he also backed Texas A.

I'd respectfully disagree with Stefan Grossman when he says that Lemon's tunes in C were imitations of Jimmie Rodgers. Lemon was recording long before Rodgers' first recording sessions for starters. I don't know about the flatpicking either. While Black Horse Blues is clearly fingerpicked as noted in the quote (but Carolina picking? - Gary Davis probably got the lick from listening to Lemon  :P), so is other material in C like Chock House Blues and Lonesome House Blues. I'm not sure why Lemon would flatpick some songs and not others that were all pretty much in the same mold. I think he just did a lot of thumb work, perhaps occasionally supported in the bass by index finger work as Steve James suggests, strummed with the thumbpick and/or the back of his hand, and did tremolos with either the thumbpick or a finger. Basically a loose and strong right hand, not planted on the guitar top. I used to think maybe Dry Southern Blues was done with a flatpick but I'm not even sure about that one now.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2011, 09:27:20 AM by uncle bud »

 


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