Lemon Henry "Blind Lemon" Jefferson (September 24, 1893 – December
19, 1929) was an American blues and gospel singer, songwriter, and
musician. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s
and has been called the "Father of the Texas Blues".
Jefferson's performances were distinctive because of his high-pitched
voice and the originality of his guitar playing. His recordings
sold well, but he was not a strong influence on younger blues singers
of his generation, who could not imitate him as easily as they could
other commercially successful artists. Later blues and rock and
roll musicians, however, did attempt to imitate both his songs and his
1.1 Early life
1.2 Beginning of recording career
1.3 Success with Paramount Records
1.4 Death and grave
2 Discography and awards
3 Cover versions
4 In popular culture
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Jefferson was born blind (or possibly partially blind), near
Coutchman, Texas. He was the youngest of seven (or possibly eight)
children born to Alex and Clarissa Jefferson, who were
sharecroppers. Disputes regarding the date of his birth derive from
contradictory census records and draft registration records. By 1900,
the family was farming southeast of Streetman, Texas, and his 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 that the family was farming northwest
of Wortham, near his 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 of barbershops and on
street corners. 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 the blues musician Lead Belly.
Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the
blues movement developing in the
Deep Ellum section of Dallas. It is
likely that he moved to
Deep Ellum on a more permanent basis by 1917,
where he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker.
Jefferson taught Walker the basics of playing 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 of
his marriage and children has not been found.
Beginning of recording career
Prior to Jefferson, few artists had recorded solo voice and blues
guitar, the first of which were the vocalist
Sara Martin and the
guitarist Sylvester Weaver, who recorded "Longing for Daddy Blues",
probably on October 24, 1923. The first self-accompanied solo
performer of a self-composed blues song was Lee Morse, whose "Mail Man
Blues" was recorded on October 7, 1924. 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 reflection of his interest in mechanical
objects and processes).
Jefferson did what few had ever done before him – he became a
successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial
recording world. Unlike many artists who were "discovered" and
recorded in their normal venues, Jefferson was taken to Chicago,
Illinois, in December 1925 or January 1926 to record his first tracks.
Uncharacteristically, his 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. A
second recording session was held in March 1926. His first
releases under his own name, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues",
were hits. Their popularity 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; 43 records were issued, all but one
for Paramount Records. Paramount's studio techniques and quality were
poor, and the recordings were released with poor sound quality. In May
1926, Paramount re-recorded Jefferson performing 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.
Success with Paramount Records
Label of one of Jefferson's Paramount records, 1926
Largely because of the popularity of artists such as Jefferson and his
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 (this
information has been disputed); he was given a Ford car "worth over
$700" by Mayo Williams, Paramount's connection with the black
community. This was a common 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 placing his music in a single regional
Jefferson's "old-fashioned" sound and confident musicianship made it
easy to market him. His skillful guitar playing and impressive vocal
range opened the door for a new generation of male solo blues
performers, such as Furry Lewis, Charlie Patton, and Barbecue Bob.
He stuck 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 the North
Carolina musician Walter Davis, Jefferson played on the streets in
Johnson City, Tennessee, during the early 1920s, at which time Davis
and the entertainer Clarence Greene learned the art of blues
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". It was his only Okeh
recording, probably because of contractual obligations with Paramount.
Jefferson's two songs released on Okeh have considerably better sound
quality than his Paramount records at the time. When he returned to
Paramount a few months later, "Matchbox Blues" had already become such
a hit that Paramount re-recorded and released two new versions, with
the producer Arthur Laibly. In 1927, Jefferson recorded another of his
classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (again
using the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates), and two other
uncharacteristically spiritual songs, "He Arose from the Dead" and
"Where Shall I Be". "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" was so
successful that it was re-recorded and re-released in 1928.[citation
Death and grave
Jefferson died in
Chicago at 10:00 a.m. on December 19, 1929, of
what his death certificate said was "probably acute myocarditis".
For many years, rumors circulated that a jealous lover had poisoned
his coffee, but a more likely explanation is that he died of a heart
attack after becoming disoriented during a snowstorm. Some have said
that he died of a heart attack after being attacked by a dog in the
middle of the night. 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 the pianist William Ezell.
Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black
Cemetery). Far from being kept clean, his grave was unmarked until
1967, when a Texas historical marker was erected in the general area
of his plot, the precise location of which is unknown. By 1996, the
cemetery and marker were in poor condition, and 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
Blind Lemon Jefferson
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
Lead Belly and Lightnin' Hopkins.
He was the author of many songs covered by later musicians, including
the classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". Another of his songs,
"Matchbox Blues", was recorded more than 30 years later by the
Beatles, in a rockabilly version credited to Carl Perkins, who did not
credit Jefferson on his 1955 recording.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected Jefferson's 1927 recording of
"Matchbox Blues" as 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.
Bukka White, "Jack o' Diamonds", on 1963 Isn't 1962, released in the
Bob Dylan, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", on Bob Dylan
Grateful Dead, "One Kind Favor" (a version of "See That My Grave Is
Kept Clean"), on Birth of the Dead
Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bil Vitt, "One Kind Favor", on
Keystone Encores Volume I
John Hammond, "One Kind Favor", on John Hammond Live
B.B. King, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", on One Kind Favor
Peter, Paul & Mary, "One Kind Favor", on In Concert
Kelly Joe Phelps, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", on Roll Away the
Counting Crows, "Mean Jumper Blues".
Counting Crows lead singer Adam
Duritz accidentally claimed credit for "Mean Jumper Blues" in the
liner notes of the deluxe edition reissue of the album August and
Everything After. The cover was featured as part of a selection of
early demo tracks. Immediately after the error was brought to his
attention, Duritz apologized in his personal blog.
Laibach, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", on SPECTRE
Pat Donohue, "One Kind Favor", live on Garrison Keillor's radio
program A Prairie Home Companion and later released on the CD Radio
Corey Harris, "Jack o' Diamonds", on Fish Ain't Bitin', released 1997
Diamanda Galás, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", on The Singer
Phish, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", live at Madison Square
Garden, New York, NY, 08/04/2017
In popular culture
In 2009, the Grammy-nominated R&B act
Yarbrough and Peoples
Yarbrough and Peoples were
featured in the off-Broadway play Blind Lemon Blues.
A tribute song, "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon", was recorded for
Paramount Records in 1932 by King Solomon Hill. The record was long
considered lost, but a copy was located by John Tefteller in 2002.
Geoff Muldaur refers to Jefferson in the song "Got to Find Blind
Lemon" on the album The Secret Handshake.
Art Evans portrayed Jefferson in the 1976 film Leadbelly, directed by
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded the song "Blind Lemon Jefferson"
on the album The Firstborn Is Dead.
The 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas, in one of its many
downloadable add-ons ("Old World Blues"), features an AI jukebox named
Blind Diode Jefferson. The AI claims to have been a blues musician
before his music hard drives were stripped from him. The voicing of
the AI can be characterized as a Southern drawl in homage to
In the 2003 movie Masked and Anonymous, Bobby Cupid (Luke Wilson)
gives his friend Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) Jefferson's guitar, which he
claims was used in recording "Matchbox Blues".
Cheech & Chong parodied Jefferson as "Blind Melon Chitlin'" on
their self-titled 1971 album Cheech and Chong, on their 1985 album Get
Out of My Room, and in a stage routine that can be seen in their 1983
film Still Smokin'.
Chet Atkins called Jefferson "one of my first finger-picking
influences" in the song "Nine Pound Hammer", on the album The
Atkins–Travis Traveling Show.
A practical joke played on Down Beat magazine editor Gene Lees in the
late 1950s took on a life of its own and became a long-running hoax
when one of his correspondents included a reference to the blues
legend "Blind Orange Adams" in an article published in the magazine,
an obvious parody of Jefferson's name. References to the nonexistent
Adams appeared in subsequent articles in Down Beat over the next few
The American dramatic film Black Snake Moan was named after one of his
only songs recorded for Okeh Records.
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup took the title of his classic song "That's All
Right," which launched the career of Elvis Presley, from a lyric in
Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan".
List of nicknames of blues musicians
^ Some sources indicate Jefferson was born on October 26, 1894.
^ a b c d e f g Dicaire, David (1999).
Blues Singers: Biographies of
50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 140–144.
^ Charters, Samuel (1977). The
Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo Press.
^ "Blind Lemon Jefferson: American Musician". Britannica.com.
^ 1900 US Census. Census place: Justice precinct 5, Freestone, Texas.
Roll T623 1636, p. 3A. Enumeration district 37.
^ 1910 US Census. Census place: Justice precinct 6, Navarro, Texas.
Roll T624_1580, p. 17B. Enumeration district 98. Image 982.
^ World War I Draft Registration records, Dallas County, Texas. Roll
1952850. Draft board 2.
^ 1920 US Census. Census place: Kirvin, Freestone, Texas. Roll
T625_1805, p. 3A. Enumeration district 24. Image 231.
^ Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012). Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926: An
Annotated Discography. McFarland & Company. p. 175.
^ Nyback, Dennis W. "Miss Lee Morse: The First Recorded
(PDF). Washingtonhistory.org. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
^ Specht, Joe W. (2010). "Oil Well Blues: African-American Oil Patch
Songs". Paper presented at joint annual meeting of East Texas
Historical Association and West Texas Historical Association, Fort
Worth, February 27, 2010.
^ a b Evans, David (2000). "Music Innovation in the
Blues of Blind
Lemon Jefferson". Black Music Research Journal. 20 (1): 83–116.
^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert
Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
^ Dixon, R. M. W.; Godrich, J. (1970). "Recording the Blues".
Reprinted in Oliver, Paul; Russell, Tony; Dixon, Robert M. W.;
Godrich, John; Rye, Howard (2001). Yonder Come the Blues. Cambridge.
p. 288. ISBN 0-521-78777-7.
^ Erbsen, Wayne (1981). "Walter Davis: Fist and Skull Banjo".
Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1981. pp. 22–26.
^ The Frog
Jazz Annual No. 1: The Musicians, the Records
& the Music of the 78 Era. Frog Records. 2010.
^ "Jefferson, Blind Lemon". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State
Historical Association. May 30, 2010. Texas State Historical
Association. "In 2007 the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind
Lemon Memorial Cemetery."
^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Infoplease.com. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 6, 2007.
^ "Laibach Spectre". Spectre.laibach.org. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
^ "Blind Diode Jefferson". Falloutwiki.com. Retrieved November 10,
^ Crow, Bill (1990).
Jazz Anecdotes. Oxford University Press. pp.
175–176, ISBN 9780195071337.
^ "Big Boy's "That's All Right"". Scotty Moore. 2005-01-16. Retrieved
Govenar, Alan; Brakefield, Jay F. (1998).
Deep Ellum and Central
Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged. Denton:
University of North Texas Press. ISBN 1-57441-051-2.
Evans, David (2000). "Musical Innovation in the
Blues of Blind Lemon
Jefferson". Black Music Research Journal. Vol. 20, no. 1, Blind Lemon
Jefferson (Spring 2000). pp. 83–116.
Monge, Luigi (2000). "The Language of Blind Lemon Jefferson: The
Covert Theme of Blindness". Black Music Research Journal. Vol. 20, no.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson (Spring 2000). pp. 35–81.
Monge, Luigi; Evans, David (2003). "New Songs of Blind Lemon
Jefferson". Journal of Texas Music History. Vol. 3, no. 2 (Fall 2003).
Pisigin, Valeriy (2013). The Coming of the
блюза). Vol. 4. Country Blues. Blind Lemon Jefferson. — M.:
2013. — C.320. ISBN 978-5-9902482-7-4.
Uzzel, Robert L. (2002). Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, His Death,
and His Legacy. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press. ISBN 9781571686565.
Blues Foundation Hall of Fame induction
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson at AllMusic
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson on IMDb
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson discography
The lyrics of his songs
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson at Find a Grave
Call and response
Traditional blues verses
American folk music
Hill country blues
Kansas City blues
New Orleans blues
St. Louis blues
West Coast blues
Classic female blues
Fife and drum blues
Rhythm and blues
Rock and roll
Blues musicians by genre
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