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Presented by The Blues Foundation
The Video Collection 1970-99
Review Date: Dec, 2008
Reviewed by Tony Glover
John Jackson was a Piedmont styled guitar picking songster -- meaning most of his tunes are finger-picked in a rippling melodic ornamentation. Many of them have ragtime chord changes--more complex than the usual 3 chord blues structures. Jackson tells of learning his style by playing along with 78 RPM records that he bought in the 30's from peddlers selling furniture and victrolas from the back of a wagon--one of his earliest influences was Mississippi John Hurt, along with Blind Boy Fuller.
This hour and a half DVD collects video from three different sources. The first is a 30 minute documentary AN AMERICAN SONGSTER from 1986. It follows Jackson from various folk festivals to his day gig of grave digging (not by hand--he uses a backhoe). One section takes place backstage in NY, where he's joined by folk-bluesmen Larry Johnson and Cephas & Wiggins for conversation and trading Rev Gary Davis licks. Its an affectionate portrait.
The second batch comes from two 1999 half-hour TV shows called Horses Sing None Of It. Mostly performance, Jackson does tunes by Blind Blake, Jazz Gillum, Leroy Carr and Jesse Fuller, with a few of his own numbers interspersed. The setting is a coffee-house stage where he talks with host Ralph Litwin, who plays harp with Jackson on the closing numbers. Besides his six-string picking, he also uses a steel-bodied national, played lap style, fretted with a knife--and does a few as well as on banjo. Tho he says he doesn't know if he can really can play banjo, he acquits himself well--using both claw-hammer and frailing strums. He tosses in a few tall tales, and comes off as a well rounded entertainer. The DVD closes with a couple of performances shot by the folklorists at the U of Washington, ending with a furiously paced instrumental "John's Rag".
Jackson, who died in 2002, comes across a genuinely nice guy rather than an intense bluesman. and all-in-all its a pleasant time.
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