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Interview with John Tefteller of Blues Images

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Blues Images 2010 calendar

Blues Images 2010 calendar

Photo courtesy of John Tefteller and Blues Images

Maybe you've seen an advertisement in the back of publications like Blues Revue, or maybe you've run across the company's website while surfing the 'net looking for blues-related information. Maybe you've been curious, but just haven't taken the plunge and purchased a Blues Images calendar. Whether you've seen this ridiculously cool calendar or not, it remains an interesting, fascinating curio of blues music history.

Record collector and blues aficionado John Tefteller has been publishing the annual Blues Images calendar for seven years now, each years' calendar featuring twelve gorgeous, one-of-a-kind pieces of historical art rescued from obscurity by Tefteller. The art that accompanies each month's page dates back to the 1920s and '30s, and was originally used to advertise the blues songs and artists portrayed. Each Blues Image calendar also includes a full-length CD chock full of bluesy goodness from period artists; the 2010 edition, for instance, includes tunes from Blind Blake, Skip James, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Ma Rainey, among many others.

Where Does He Find The Pictures?

One of the first things that blues fans ask Tefteller is "where did you find the pictures?" It's a long story, but an interesting one. "In 2002," he remembers, "I was away in Los Angeles and a friend of mine called me on my cell phone and said 'did you see that really neat looking Blind Lemon Jefferson advertising piece that was for sale the Internet?' Where I was, I had no Internet, so I had no way to check this, no idea what he was talking about. It sounded intriguing, but I had no idea."

"When I got back to Oregon a week later, I called him up and I said 'what was that message you left me about this Blind Lemon Jefferson thing?' and he says 'you need to see this, this is a unique advertising piece, you might want to go look at this.' The person that was selling it was located in Port Washington, Wisconsin...maybe this guy has more."

Tefteller contacted the seller about the advertising piece, and when he spoke to him he stated, 'yeah, I have a whole lot more. Are there any particular songs or singers that you're looking for?' Says Tefteller, "the story was, basically, he worked for the local newspaper as a reporter in Port Washington, and the owner of the paper was moving their offices from one building to the next. The new building that they were moving into was the old building of a newspaper called the Port Washington Herald."

The Port Washington Herald

In speaking with the reporter, Tefteller found that the former newspaper had a connection with early blues label Paramount Records. "The Port Washington Herald, apparently, did all of the printing of the advertising posters and handbills and flyers and stationary and anything that was printed that Paramount Records needed to have. In that building, there was this big old filing cabinet that was filled with Paramount advertising material, photographs related to the label, stationary, contracts, etc all related to Paramount. It had all been abandoned there when the newspaper had gone out of business, because Paramount had been out of business for years and years. The filing cabinet had just sat there," he remembers.

Continuing, Tefteller says "this reporter, along with his partner at the time, who was a photographer, they were told to help clear out the building and to take all this stuff out of the file cabinet and throw it away. As they were taking it out to throw it in the dumpster, they realized that there was something cool about it and why throw this stuff away, why not take it home? They literally sat there and divided the material in half - he took half of it and she took the other half and they took it home." This occurred during the late 1980s, and just came to light in 2002. Tefteller quickly got the two owners of the material together and arranged to buy the collection in its entirety.

The Blues Images Calendar

"Having spent enough money between the two of them that I had to mortgage my house," says Tefteller, "I thought that there must be some way of taking this material and making it available to the public so that it doesn't just sit in my house, and I'm the only that can enjoy it. Maybe there's a way to help get some of my money back by selling some reproductions of some of these things."

"The first thing that hit me as I was looking at it from that angle," he remembers, "among the advertising materials that were in there were a couple of flyers advertising for people to send in twenty-five cents and get a blues calendar for 1927 or a blues calendar for 1928. I had no idea what they looked like, because there were no copies of the calendars in there, except there was...as I kept going, I found a 1930 Paramount blues calendar with a full-length photo of Charlie Patton on the front cover."

"When I saw that," says Tefteller, "I thought, this would be perfect...all I have to do is update this for 2004 and so I modeled my first calendar on 2004 after the concept of that original 1930 Paramount blues calendar. Apparently, according to the literature that printed, they did a blues calendar, put out by Paramount, from 1927 to 1930, perhaps into '31, I don't know. I haven't been able to find any reference to a 1931 one. So I thought that would be a great thing to do, and out of that came the idea of putting some images on t-shirts, making actual posters for people to hang on their walls, anything that I could do to share the images with people so they could see this great artwork."

Rescuing The Images

Historic blues artwork, like that used in the Blues Images calendar, has been hard to come by and remain highly collectible. Tefteller has been lucky to rescue images of such a high graphic quality. "Prior to this," he says, "there was some of that stuff floating around in small, grainy images that had been taken from microfilm of The Chicago Defender and a couple of other African-American newspapers where they had been advertised. But they were not really crisp or clear, they were usually blurred, and the photographs weren't real clear and you couldn't make anything out."

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