Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Rough Guide To Blind Lemon Jefferson (World Music Network)
CD/Ltd Edition 180grm vinyl/DL
A new Blind Lemon Jefferson compilation with additional bonus goodies – it’s got to be good. Simon Tucker reviews for Louder Than War.
Blind Lemon Jefferson’s story is one of myth and rumour, tragedy and triumph, weakness and incredible strength. Born in Wortham, Texas in the early 1900’s,Jefferson grew into an extremely curious and talented teenager. He would often wander out from the farm that was his home into East Texas where he would busk displaying an extraordinarily original style of singing and guitar playing. The fact he was blind also added to his mystique (the severity of his blindness is still contested with some claiming he was born profoundly blind whilst others claim he was only partially blind as he was able to roam interstates up and down America with minimal help).
Jefferson refused to be pigeonholed and would play all manner of styles from country to gospel via traditional blues and rags. One theory about why he was so wildly eclectic is that is was due to him being such an unusually well traveled man for his age and the era he was born in. Jefferson would play churches one day then a rough-house bar the next. His vocal stylings were also extremely varied. On tracks such as That Crawlin’ Baby (where he’s chastising a bad mother) and One Dime Blues he sings in a more traditional style whilst tracks such as Easy Rider Blues and Prison Cell Blues he uses a more folksy style (on the former you’d swear you were listening to an early Bob Dylan recording whilst on the latter his vocal strains with so much emotion you can hear his vocal chords struggling to achieve the heights he is intent on achieving).
Jefferson would always lay his soul bear in his songs and the struggle between right and wrong. Songs like I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart and All I Want Is That Pure Religion show his desire to be a ‘good’ and ‘pure’ person (it is said that he would never play a gig on a Sunday night whatever the fee), whilst tracks such as Black Snake Moan and Rabbit Foot Blues show a more lustful side to his character (the lyric ‘well it seems like you’re hungry, honey come and lunch with me’ is delivered in such a way it oozes as much sexual energy as anything Jagger has done).
Blind Lemon Jefferson was discovered and promoted by Paramount Records who marketed him as a ‘real old-fashioned blues singer’ and he went on to become one of the first true stars of the scene (it was reported that in the late 20’s he had two cars, a chauffeur, and $1500 in the bank) influencing and inspiring many a blues musician (these include Robert Johnson, Son House, and B.B. King).
Sadly, Jefferson died only 36 years of age and the cause of his death is still disputed with the most popular theory being he got disorientated during a snow storm and froze to death.
Luckily for us, his genius was preserved and this extremely well packaged compilation is as comprehensive a set that you will find. Twenty five tracks of genius, each one still containing the fuzz and pop of the original recordings adding to that glorious feeling one gets when listening to music from this era.
As well as the main disc, we also get another whopping twenty five tracks of songs by artists who in some way or another were influenced by the great man himself. Included are Willie Brown, Big Bill Broonzy, and the incomparable Leadbelly whose track is a direct homage to Jefferson.
This is no cheap tacked on at the end bonus disc, this is an exciting and vital collection of songs and a massive amount of credit has to go to all involved in the compiling of these two cds.
All words by Simon Tucker. For more of Simon’s writings for Louder Than War visit his author’s archive or follow him on Twitter @simontucker1979