John Jackson is a 75 year old songster in the Piedmont guitar-picking tradition; I.E., lots of single note melodic fills and ragtime chord changes. Born the 7th son of 14 kids, he grew up in a musical family. His father played guitar, mandolin, fife and banjo, and several brothers formed a black string band for weekend dance parties, with banjo, fiddle and guitars. Throw in some open-tuning slide guitar tutoring by a nearby chain-gang convict, 78's heard on the family Victrola, and you've got a diverse background in musical styles.
When he was 25, Jackson moved to near Washington DC, worked on a dairy farm and dug graves, all the while continuing his picking. When he was heard by a folk-lorist he wound up on the blues revival circuit, and recorded several LP's for Arhoolie from 1965 on. Eventually he toured widely, playing across Europe, South America and Thailand. He made several appearances at the Carter White House, and received a 1986 National Heritage Fellowship.
This album is a pleasant combination of his influences, ranging from Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell to Rev Gary Davis to Josh White. Jackson's vocals are a bit cracked and raspy, but his picking is deft, sometimes with a quirky hesitation that's a deliberate syncopation style of his. "Railroad Bill" is a folkie favorite, and "Just Because" is the same number Elvis covered on his first album. There are several old standbys "C.C. Rider" and "Red River," a couple of gospel numbers and several originals. One of these, "Chesterfield," is Jackson looking for payback for all the
money he spent in his life for their cigarettes. Another is a brief, evocative guitar piece, "Rappahannock Blues." The album closes with John playing second guitar behind his son, who sings and picks in the family tradition.
The title sums it up: pleasant and laid back acoustic blues.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.