Blind Lemon Jefferson / Blind Blake
"Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson / Best of Blind Blake"
Yazoo (2057 & 2058)
by Tony Glover
Review date: November 2000
1999 KBA Award Winner|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by the Blues Foundation
These releases are technically updated compilations of many of the best tunes of these two influential bluesmen from the 1920's. Blind Blake was a ragtime picker, who has a lot of proficiency if not a strong emotional effect. Little is known about his life, though Paramount, when they first
recorded him in 1926 said he hailed from Florida. Over six years he recorded some 79 titles on his own, and also backing various female blues singers. His best known number was probably "Diddy Wah Diddy", he also cut favorites like "He's In The Jailhouse Now" and "Guitar Chimes". There are 23 tracks here which focus on his solo work; he's accompanied on a tune apiece by banjo, bones and believe it or not, even xylophone. Blake used a "rolling thumb" picking style, where he'd strike two bass strings while picking the melody on the top strings--this gave a bouncy syncopation to numbers like "Skeedle Loo Doo" and "Southern Rag". Blakes vocals are average, his picking stands out for flash--"Blind Arthurs Breakdown" runs through three different keys in 3 minutes. There's a bit of surface noise here, but overall the quality is quite good considering the sources are 80 year old 78's.
Blind Lemon Jefferson is a bit more of a mythical figure. Born and raised around Texas, he became a street player of some repute. The folkie favorite Lead Belly said they were running partners, the legendary Lightning Hopkins claimed to have been his lead boy for a spell when he was a child. Jefferson recorded also for Paramount in the mid-twenties in Chicago. According to legend he died there during a snowstorm, freezing to death on the street in December of 1929. However no real proof has been found. He was a much more varied picker and singer than Blake, spanning several different styles. Much of his music is almost free-form rhythmically, designed more for listening than dancing. He often seems to follow his vocal lines with the guitar--if a lyric runs long so does his accompaniment, which makes for some oddly structured pieces. It also makes working with
others problematical, notable here on "How Long Blues" where he and a piano player don't always get to the end of a verse at the same time. Jefferson covered spirituals, he also did traditional numbers including "Easy Rider", played on a rarely used slide guitar. One of the standouts is his classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"--his guitar imitates the tolling of a church bell at one point, his voice is a high lonesome keen. Which points out one of the real differences between him and Blake--if Blake was a technician, Jefferson was a soul singer, he can move your emotions where
Blake inspires appreciation. Sound quality here is a bit rougher--many of the tunes were cut before electric recording was used widely--a needle driven by a megaphone cut directly into wax--so quality is a bit thin. But the music is rich. These are welcome collections.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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