On this day, we celebrate the probable birthday of the great blues man Blind Lemon Jefferson, so for this momentous occasion, I present to you a great treasure of the Old Time Blues collection, which happened to have been recorded on Lemon’s thirty-sixth birthday.
Lemon Henry Jefferson was born most likely on September 24, 1893 (though, as is so often the case with early blues people, this date is disputed), one of seven children born to a family of poor sharecroppers in Coutchman, Texas (or “Couchman” as the locals seem to spell it, though the former is correct according to the Texas Almanac), near Tehuacana Creek and about five miles west of Streetman, in Freestone County. He was blind from infancy, though the full extent of his visual impairment is debatable—some, including Victoria Spivey, have suggested that he may have had limited sight, and he was reputed to have been able to fire a gun with considerable accuracy. Lemon took up the guitar in his teens and played at picnics and rent parties, or “booger roogers” as he called them, in East Texas. He later took up in Dallas, and in the 1910s worked frequently in Deep Ellum, often playing with fellow musicians such as Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Alger “Texas” Alexander. In late 1925 or early ’26, a time when most of recorded blues consisted of the vaudevillian variety of women singing with a jazz band backing, Blind Lemon traveled to Chicago to record for Paramount records. Between 1926 and 1929, Jefferson recorded around a hundred songs for Paramount, and made one additional record with Okeh. In addition to recording, Lemon also gigged all around the southeastern United States, along the way meeting other blues musicians like King Solomon Hill, who would later record as “Blind Lemon’s Buddy”. Blind Lemon Jefferson died under mysterious circumstances in Chicago at 10:00 AM on December 19, 1929, Paramount paid for his body to be shipped back to Texas, where he was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery.
Paramount 12872, featuring “Bed Springs Blues” and “Yo Yo Blues”, was recorded September 24, 1929—Lemon’s birthday—in either Chicago, Illinois, or Richmond, Indiana. This proved to be Blind Lemon Jefferson’s final recording session. The condition’s pretty rough on this one, but I think the music still comes through. Now, two years after my original posting, a new Grado cartridge has facilitated a much finer quality of transfers than my originals. Though still plagued by some groove stripping and plenty of pops and clicks, they are now much crisper and clearer, and those pesky skips have been all-but-eliminated.
First, Lemon’s “Bed Springs Blues” provides an excellent demonstration of Lemon’s unique style of playing guitar.
On the flip, Lemon performs his own “Yo Yo Blues”. A number of songs carrying the same title were recorded around the same period—most notably by Barbecue Bob—opening with “got up this morning, my yo-yo mama was gone,” but Lemon’s is a different song, instead starting with “I would go yo-yoin’, but I broke my yo-yo string.”
Updated with improved audio on July 28, 2017.