Blind Lemon Jefferson Profile:
Born: September 1893 in Couchman TX
Died: December 1929 in Chicago IL
Arguably the founding father of Texas blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most commercially-successful artists of the 1920s and a major influence on younger players like Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker. Born blind, Jefferson taught himself to play the guitar, and was a familiar figure busking on the streets of Dallas, earning enough to support a wife and child. Jefferson played for awhile with Leadbelly, and is said to have traveled to the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Chicago to perform.
The Early Years
The date of Jefferson's birth has often been attributed to July 1897, although a state census places it earlier, in 1893. What is known is that Jefferson began performing at parties and picnics in Central Texas around 1912, showcasing a unique guitar style that was influenced by local performers but also by the Mexican workers in the region. By 1917, he had moved to Dallas, where he eventually became friends with Leadbelly.
Paramount talent scout Sammy Price helped get Jefferson signed to the label in 1925. Although Jefferson’s recording career was brief (1926-29), during that time he recorded over 100 songs, including such blues classics as "Matchbox Blues" and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Jefferson's guitar style is notable in its phrasing, and his memorable voice had a two-octave range. During his career, Jefferson also recorded Gospel songs under the name Deacon L.J. Bates.
Life Of Mystery
Just as the exact date of Jefferson's birth is subject to question, the specifics of the bluesman’s death are equally unknown. He is believed to have died in late-December 1929, either of a heart attack or of injuries from a car accident. No death certificate was ever issued, so it is unlikely that the details will ever be known.
Aside from his music, much of Jefferson's life is shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, Jefferson remains a favorite among modern musicians that appreciate the artist’s simple country blues, and his songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Peter Case, and John Hammond, Jr., among others.
Recommended Albums: Many of Jefferson’s essential early recordings have been collected on the The Best Of Blind Lemon Jefferson but for the blues collector, the Document label has released a four-CD set of the artist's complete recorded works.