The Folk-Blues of BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
The legendary folk singer who taught Lead Belly and Josh White
1. Shuckin’ Sugar Blues (3:02)
2. Broke and Hungry (3:00)
3. Lonesome House Blues (2:25)
4. Jack o’ Diamonds Blues (2:46)
5. Mosquito Moan (3:04)
6. Southern Woman Blues (3:04)
7. That Black Snake Moan #2 (2:48)
8. Balky Mule Blues (2:40)
I’d a dream last night, all about my gal;
I’d a dream last night, all about my gal;
You can tell by that, sweet papa ain’t feelin’ so well.
I’m goin’ away mama, just to wear you off my mind; (repeat)
If I live here in Chicago, money’s gonna be my crime.
This house is lonesome, my baby left me all alone: (repeat)
If your heart ain’t rock, sugar, must e marble stone.
I got the blues so bad, it hurts my feet to walk; (repeat)
It has settled in my brain and it hurts my tongue to talk.
- From Lonesome House Blues
… These are some of the words Blind Lemon Jefferson sings on this LP, accompanying himself on the steel guitar. These are the blues, the way they were in the early days, when Lemon and other wandering Negro folk-singers carried them out of Texas, through the Southwest and sometimes on up to Chicago.
Lemon’s blues are rugged and unpolished, and far removed from the diluted latter-day music so often served up for the entertainment of big-city audiences under the name of “folk song.” He, and men like him, played them on the streets and in the brothels and saloons. Sometimes they could make a living at it, and occasionally might reach the respectability of being invited into a recording studio. But perhaps more often they were, as Lemon sings it, “broke and hungry, ragged, dirty, too,”
These records of Lemon’s supply considerable evidence in support of the claim that jazz in general, and the blues in particular, is a folk art in the full and true meaning of the word. It stems from the life and the heart of a people, and it must have begun as something not very different from what Lemon sings here; a holler or moan to tell about his good fortune or his bad, with women or with whiskey or with the other facts of his life. These blues belonged for the most part to a great storehouse of folk material of all sorts, and there are in Lemon’s songs traces of even earlier forms: the repeated break in Shuckin’ Sugar suggests that it derives from a work song; the strange and haunting Jack o’ Diamonds is a chant rather than a formal 12-bar blues.
Any man who understood this music, and could convey its basic range of emotions, was free to make use of it – crating his own song or borrowing and improving on a phrase he’d heard someone else sing. But, naturally enough, some used it to greater advantage than others. And certainly no singer drew more impact, more beauty, more tragic accuracy from the folk-blues than Blind Lemon Jefferson. He had more than a little fame in his own time, but he recorded primarily for the Paramount company, in Chicago, in the 1920s. Their records sold almost entirely to the Negroes of Chicago and the South, and have long been rarely-seen and rarely-placed collectors’ items. And he sang long before the time white audiences got around to making something of a night-club fad of the appreciation of this sort of music (in something more or less like its pure form).
Thus it has happened that two men who were really Lemon’s “pupils” have become known to far more people than ever heard him. The late Huddie Ledbetter – best known as “Lead Belly” – came first, being a good deal older than Josh White; but both served for a time as “lead man” to Jefferson. So, on first hearing the teacher, you may find much that is familiar – in subject matter as well as in vocal and instrumental style.
Both men have acknowledged their great debt to Lemon. When the folklore authorities, John and Allan Lomax, wrote the story of Lead Belly, they noted that, before 1920: “… they joined forces, and with Huddie’s mandolin and Blind Lemon’s Hawaiian guitar, they made a good living in the saloons and red-light district of East Dallas (Texas). Certainly Lead Belly learned a lot about music from Blind Lemon.” (Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly; Macmillan; 1936) Huddie, incidentally, is known to have been with Lemon during at least one Chicago recording session, and there is reason to believe that it may be Lead Belly who is being told to “Play that thing” during Lonesome House.
And Josh White has often told his audiences that he, too, learned much from this great folk artist in the days when Josh’s own style was first being formed.
This LP will serve to introduce Blind Lemon Jefferson to many who known his form of American folk music only in somewhat politer and more sophisticated versions. Here it is in all its original vitality, sometimes harsh and sung in tones that may be difficult to understand, but always immensely moving and touched with genuine poetry.
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’ 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 Shuckin’ Sugar Blues
I’ve got your picture, and I’m gonna put it in a frame;
I’ve got your picture, I’ll put it in a frame – Shuckin’ Sugar –
And then if you leave town, we’ll find you just the same.
Now if you don’t love me, please don’t dog me ‘round; (repeat) –Suckin’ Sugar –
If you dog me ‘round, I know you’ll put me down.
OH, listen Sarah Brown, don’t ya wanna go; (repeat) – Suckin’ Sugar –
Want to take you cross the water, where at brown skin man can’t go.
I’m tired of marryin’, tired of this settlin’ down;
Tired of bein’ married, tired of this settlin’ down – Shuckin’ Sugar –
I only want to stay like I am, slip from town to town.
A note for discographers: These selections were recorded in Chicago, and originally appeared on the Paramount label, with the following label numbers.
In 1926-27 – Jack o’ Diamonds Blues (12373); Broke and Hungry (12442); Shuckin’ Sugar Blues (12454).
In 1928 – Lonesome House Blues (12593); Balky Mule Blues (12631).
In 1929 – Black Snake Moan #2 (12756); Southern Woman Blues/ Mosquito Moan (12899). Blind Lemon Jefferson is credited as composer in all cases.
This material is reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recoding processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York