One thing you really hear in the earliest blues recordings — which you don’t much just a few years later — is the field holler from the slavery days through the sharecropping days. It’s a bit offensive that Hollywood has made so many movies about the Jews persevering through what are almost certainly mythical acts of oppression thousands of years ago, but so few movies about African Americans somehow surviving through our dark recent past. (And that’s not even to get into our modern outrages like the murder of Tamir Rice.)
Blind Lemon Jefferson was the youngest son of Texas sharecroppers in 1893. Given the date, his parents must certainly have been former slaves. He started playing the guitar in his early teens and before long was a street performer. From there he worked his way up to playing dives. According to his cousin, he would start performing at 8:00 in the evening and sing and play until 4:00 in the morning — just him and his guitar.
One great thing about Blind Lemon Jefferson is that he was well recorded. He recorded roughly 80 sides over the course of five years: 1925 through 1929. His records sold well, and he did all right financially — although certainly not to the level that he deserved. He died in late 1929 of myocarditis. He was just 36 years old.
It’s hard to know what song to pick. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s work is really quite varied. And the way I’m feeling right now, it would be appropriate to listen to, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” But I want to push against that and listen to something a bit more upbeat. So here is, “Match Box Blues.”