"Blind" Lemon Jefferson

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"Blind" Lemon Jefferson (born Lemon Henry Jefferson; September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929) was

an American blues and gospel singer, guitarist, and songwriter fromTexas. He was one of the most

popular blues singers of the 1920s, and has been called "Father of the Texas Blues".


Jefferson's performances were distinctive as a result of his high-pitched voice and the originality on his

guitar playing.[2] Although his recordings sold well, he was not so influential on some younger blues

singers of his generation, who could not imitate him as easily as they could other commercially

successful artists.[3] Later blues and rock and roll musicians, however, did attempt to imitate both his

songs and his musical style.




Early life


Jefferson was born blind, near Coutchman in Freestone County, near present-day Wortham, Texas. He

was the youngest of seven (or possibly eight) children born tosharecroppers Alex and Clarissa Jefferson.

Disputes regarding his exact birth date derive from contradictory census records and draft registration

records. By 1900, the family was farming southeast of Streetman, Texas, and Lemon Jefferson's birth

date is indicated as September 1893 in the 1900 census.  The 1910 census, taken in May before his

birthday, further confirms his year of birth as 1893, and indicated the family was farming northwest of

Wortham, near Lemon Jefferson's birthplace.

 In his 1917 draft registration, Jefferson gave his birth date as October 26, 1894, further stating that he then lived in Dallas, Texas and had been

blind since birth. In the 1920 Census, he is recorded as having returned to Freestone County and was living with his half-brother, Kit Banks, on a

farm between Wortham and Streetman.[


Jefferson began playing the guitar in his early teens, and soon after he began performing at picnics and parties. He became a street musician,

playing in East Texas towns, in front ofbarbershops and on streetcorners. According to his cousin, Alec Jefferson, quoted in the notes for Blind

Lemon Jefferson, Classic Sides:


They were rough. Men were hustling women and selling bootleg and Lemon was singing for them all night... he'd start singing about eight and go on

until four in the morning... mostly it would be just him sitting there and playing and singing all night.


In the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with fellow blues musician Lead Belly.[  In Dallas,

Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. Jefferson likely

moved to Deep Ellum in a more permanent fashion by 1917, where he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught

Walker the basics of blues guitar in exchange for Walker's occasional services as a guide. By the early 1920s, Jefferson was earning enough money

for his musical performances to support a wife, and possibly a child. However, firm evidence for both his marriage and any offspring is unavailable.


Beginning of recording career


Prior to Jefferson, very few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar, the first of which was vocalist Sara Martin and guitarist Sylvester

Weaver. Jefferson's music is uninhibited and represented the classic sounds of everyday life from a honky-tonk to a country picnic to street corner

blues to work in the burgeoning oil fields, a further reflection of his interest in mechanical objects and processes


Jefferson did what very few had ever done – he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world.[10] Unlike

many artists who were "discovered" and recorded in their normal venues, in December 1925 or January 1926, he was taken to Chicago, Illinois, to

record his first tracks. Uncharacteristically, Jefferson's first two recordings from this session were gospel songs ("I Want to be like Jesus in my

Heart" and "All I Want is that Pure Religion"), released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. This led to a second recording session in March 1926.

His first releases under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues", were hits; this led to the release of the other two songs from that

session, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues," which became a runaway success, with sales in six figures. He recorded about 100 tracks

between 1926 and 1929; 43records were issued, all but one for Paramount Records. Unfortunately, Paramount Records' studio techniques and

quality were poor, and the resulting recordings were released with poor sound quality. In fact, in May 1926, Paramount had Jefferson re-record his

hits "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues" in the superior facilities at Marsh Laboratories, and subsequent releases used those versions. Both

versions appear on compilation albums and may be compared


Success with Paramount records




Label of a Blind Lemon Jefferson Paramount record from 1926


Largely due to the popularity of artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and contemporaries such as Blind Blake and Ma Rainey, Paramount became

the leading recording company for the blues in the 1920s. Jefferson's earnings reputedly enabled him to buy a car and employ chauffeurs (although

there is debate over the reliability of this as well); he was given a Ford car "worth over $700" by Mayo Williams, Paramount's connection with the

black community. This was a frequently-seen compensation for recording rights in that market. Jefferson is known to have done an unusual amount

of traveling for the time in the American South, which is reflected in the difficulty of pigeonholing his music into one regional category


Jefferson's "old-fashioned" sound and confident musicianship made him easy to market. His skillful guitar playing and impressive vocal ranges

opened the door for a new generation of male solo blues performers such as Furry Lewis, Charlie Patton, and Barbecue Bob. He sticks to no musical

conventions, varying his riffs and rhythm and singing complex and expressive lyrics in a manner exceptional at the time for a "simple country blues

singer." According to North Carolina musician Walter Davis, Jefferson played on the streets in Johnson City, Tennessee, during the early 1920s at

which time Davis and fellow entertainer Clarence Greene learned the art of blues guitar.


Jefferson was reputedly unhappy with his royalties (although Williams said that Jefferson had a bank account containing as much as $1500). In

1927, when Williams moved to OKeh Records, he took Jefferson with him, and OKeh quickly recorded and released Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues"

backed with "Black Snake Moan," which was to be his only OKeh recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount. Jefferson's

two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound quality than on his Paramount records at the time. When he had returned to Paramount

a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions, under

producerArthur Laibly. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (once again

using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates) along with two other uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and "Where Shall I

Be". Of the three, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" was so successful that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928.


Death and grave


Jefferson died in Chicago at 10:00 am on December 19, 1929, of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis".[13] For many

years, apocryphal rumors circulated that a jealous lover had poisoned his coffee, but a more likely scenario is that he died of a heart attack after

becoming disoriented during a snowstorm. Some have said that Jefferson died from a heart attack after being attacked by a dog in the middle of

the night. More recently, the book, Tolbert's Texas, claimed that he was killed while being robbed of a large royalty payment by a guide escorting

him to Union Station to catch a train home to Texas. Paramount Records paid for the return of his body to Texas by train, accompanied by pianist

William Ezell.


Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). Far from his grave being kept clean, it was unmarked until

1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was erected in the general area of his plot, the precise location being unknown. By 1996, the cemetery and

marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon

Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas


Discography and awards


See also: Blind Lemon Jefferson discography


Jefferson had an intricate and fast style of guitar playing and a particularly high-pitched voice. He was a founder of the Texas blues sound and an

important influence on other blues singers and guitarists, including Lead Bellyand Lightnin' Hopkins.


He was the author of many tunes covered by later musicians, including the classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". Another of his tunes,

"Matchbox Blues", was recorded more than 30 years later by The Beatles, albeit in arockabilly version credited to Carl Perkins, who himself did not

credit Jefferson on his 1955 recording.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Jefferson's 1927 recording "Matchbox Blues" one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. Jefferson was

among the inaugural class of blues musicians inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.






The Forum post is edited by bninna Aug 12 '15
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