Most people who follow jazz know that this musical art form is indigenous to America-in other words it was born and nurtured here. But a lot of jazz fans, as well as others, don’t know that jazz is the amalgamation of three types of music heavily influenced by blacks: Spirituals, Ragtime, and the Blues. Over the course of these blogs, we’ll discuss each one and how they are related to jazz. But today, let’s talk about one of the main contributors to the blues-Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Henry “Lemon” Jefferson, who was born in Texas in 1893, was an American blues and gospel singer-songwriter. He was so popular during his time that he was often referred to as the “Father of the Texas Blues.” He had a unique way of playing the guitar, and his high-pitched voice complemented his playing. Early on he was a street musician. During his career he often played with many notables in blues including Lead Belly, as well as T-Bone Walker, who he taught the basics of playing blues guitar. Jefferson was successful in the commercial recording world. When he initially started recording in Chicago, his first few records were gospel in nature. “All I Want is That Pure Religion,” and “I Want To Be Like Jesus in My Heart,” were some of his original recordings. They were released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. But later he released blues songs under his own name. These include “Dry Southern Blues,” “Got the Blues,” and “Long Lonesome Blues.” For most of his life he recorded on the Paramount Record label, but recorded “Matchbox Blues” and “Black Snake Moan” on the Okeh record label (for movie fans you know that the last song mentioned was a 2006 movie starring Samual L. Jackson, Christian Ricci, and Justin Timberlake.
In the movie, Samual L. Jackson even sings Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ode to the black snake).
Another song that Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded under the name Deacon L. J. Bates was “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” It’s ironic that after he died and was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery in Texas, his grave remained unmarked until 1967. But by 1996 the cemetery marker was in poor condition. A new granite headstone was erected in 1997, and the inscription read: “Lord, its one kind favor I’ll ask you, see that my grave is kept clean.” The words came from the lyrics of his song, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”
In Book four of the JassOdyssey series, Roland and Miles travel through Richmond, Indiana, where they see a mural dedicated to Lemon. Read about it, and enjoy the journey.
J. A. Rollins