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Classic performances by a legendary folk-blues singer

Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

Blind Lemon Jefferson accompanying himself on guitar

Chicago; 1926-29

Side 1

  1. (3067) The Black Snake Moan

  2. (3066) Stocking Feet Blues

  3. (2558) Chock House Blues

  4. Broke and Hungry

  5. (20064) Chinch Bug Blues

  6. (20065) Deceitful Brownskin Blues

Side 2

  1. Lonesome House Blues

  2. (20381) Balky Mule Blues

  3. Blind Lemon’s Penitentiary Blues

  4. That Black Snake Moan Number 2

  5. Long distance Moan

  6. Bakershop Blues

   BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON sang the blues with a rough vigor, intensity and uncompromising earthiness that reaches unfaded across the year. Such was the strength of his instinctive artistry that it stull has the power today – to move us, to stir us, to make us uncomfortably but unavoidably aware of the facts of life and love and pain and joy as they were known by Lemon and by the people about whom and for whom he sang.

   “Lemon” was actually his name, and he was born blind. He was probably born in the Summer of 1897, in Couchman, Texas, a meager farming settlement in the central part of that state, not too far (as Texas distances go) from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He began to sing his blues as a boy and completed his blues education on the streets and in the brothels of Dallas. He probably wandered as far as Alabama and Tennessee, becoming famous in his own world – blues singers like T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins remember his well, and Leadbelly, who worked with his in Dallas (“his and me was buddies”) has told of their association in several conversations and recordings. In the mid-‘20s, Paramount, one of the notable jazz and “race records” labels of that day, brought him to Chicago. He lied and recorded there until the Winter of 1030, when he was found dead on the street in the snow – wither frozen to death or the victim of a heart attack. He grave, unmarked, is in a small country graveyard not far from where he was born.

Such facts as these (most of which I learned only from a generally valuable book called “The Country Blues,” written by Samuel B. Charters and published in 1959 by Rinehart) have their own importance, of course. But the real story of Lemon Jefferson and his worth lies only very partially in facts and events. As Charles notes: “A blind boy in the poor farm country in central Texas had to make some kind of living and begging on the streets with a guitar was about the only way….” But not every boy living behind the wall of dark glasses and sightless eyes could come to express bitter insights so compellingly. (As his told neighs told Charters: “Lemon had a gift.”) It is starting to learn that and hard: a high, biting voice that could be called ‘Whining,’ except that he would seem to have passed far beyond the self-pity that such a word suggests.

   The most important ‘fact,’ then, is that Lemon - like all true folk-artists – was in his music not so much himself as an achingly accurate reflection of his world and his time. In that music was something of all the Texas blues singers he had listened to, and something also of all the other men and women he sang to. And there is much here that goes even further than the sorrows and joys of the Southern Negro of the earlier years of this century; for songs about “hard cabarets” and harder penitentiaries, about being “broke and hungry; ragged, dirty, too,” are fundamentally songs about all oppressed and impoverished but defiantly unvanquished peoples.

   Jefferson’s music is rough-hewn: the early “country blues” ran to strange erratic meter; and the harsh nasal voice with its heavy layer of dialect is never easy to understand. But it is hard music that is well worth paying attention to. For one thing, it has a naked and unashamed emotional pull that is n itself rare and valuable. For another, ,someplace in this music must lie the secret of how this specific person – by all accounts a personally unattractive, illiterate man who often ate with his hands and shoes other appetites apparently were largely focusses on cheap whiskey and prostitutes – could also be so accurate a musical spokesman and so imposing a performer. And that particular secret is, without doubt, one of the major clues to what art and poetry and music are all about.

From Chock House Blues

So many wagons, done cut that good road down;

So many wagons, done cut that good road down;

And that woman I love, mama, don’t want me ‘round.

Baby, I can’t drink whiskey, but I’, a fool about my home-made wine; (repeat)

And no sense in leavin’ dice that makes the seven all the time.

From Broke and Hungry

I’m motherless, fatherless, sister-and-brotherless, too; (repeat)

Reason I tried so hard, to make the trip with you.

You miss me woman, count the days I’m gone; (repeat)

I’m goin’t away to build me a railroad of my own.

I feel like jumpin’ through the keyhole in your door; (repeat)

If you jump this time, baby, you won’t jump no more.

From Lonesome House Blues

I’d a dream last night, all abut my gal; (repeat)

You can tell by that, sweet papa ain’t feelin’ so well.

This house is lonesome, my baby left me all alone; (repeat)

If your heart ain’t rock, sugar, must be marble stone.

I got the blues so bad, it hurts my feel to walk; (repeat)

It has settled in mybrain and it hurts my togue to talk.

From Blind Lemon’s Penitentiary Blues

I hung around Grossbeck (?), worked in hard cabarets; (repeat)

I never felt the least bit uneasy, ‘til I caught that penitentiary-bound train.

I used to be a drunkard, rowdy everywhere I go; (repeat)

If ever I get out of this trouble I’m in, man, I won’t rowdy no mo.’

 [Discograhical note]

None of these selections have previously been reissued on 12-inch LP; the first two and last two numbers on Side 1 have not been reissued before this in any form.

   Other important vocal blues reissues on riverside include –

Blind Lemon: BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON (Vol. 1) (RLP12-125)

MA RAINEY (Vol. 1) (RLP12-108)

Broken Hearted Blues: MA RAINEY (Vol. 2) (RLP12-137)

Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (including selections by Ma Rainey and Trixie Smith (RLP12-101)

GREAT BLUES SINGERS: Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Chippie Hill (RLP12-121)

   Outstanding newly-recorded samples of blues in the country-blues tradition are –

The Folk-Blues of JOHN LEE HOOKER (RLP12-838)

That’s My Story: JOHN LEE HOOKER (RLP-12-321)


NOTE:  Notes written by Orrin Keepnews. cover designed by Ken Deardoff.

Remastered 1960, by Jack Matthews (Components Corp.)

This material reissued by special arrangement with John Steiner and Paramount Records.


235 West 46th Street New York 36, N. Y.

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