One of many things Blind Lemon had in common with his junior the great Blues legend Robert Johnson – although in this instance nothing to do with music – is the shortage of photographs! Only two photographs of Robert Johnson are known to exist; Blind Lemon has only one – this one.
Although surprisingly little is known about his life given his enormous and enduring impact on the music world, this man is so huge as far as blues and country blues are concerned I can only just skim the surface here, but not including this genius would be like writing an article about theatre and neglecting to mention Shakespeare.
Born Lemmon B. Jefferson, July 11, 1897 (some say up to 17 years earlier), in Couchman, TX; died of a heart attack in 1929 in Chicago, IL. I’m inclined to think he may have been born before 1897 as this would make him only 32 when he died, given what little we know about his travels and his later association with Leadbelly, I’d guess he was nearer 40 when he died, but of course it is only a guess. He was the son of Alec Jefferson (a farmer) and Classie Banks. He married in 1922 to a lady named Roberta.
Began playing guitar at functions around Wortham, TX; worked in East Dallas, Silver City, and Galveston, TX, 1914; performed on the streets of Dallas, 1915. He travelled extensively from 1917 until the early 1920s; recorded for Paramount in Chicago 1926-29; in mid-1920s, performed at Booker T. Washington Theatre in St. Louis; recorded for Okeh label (didn’t everyone?) in Atlanta, GA, 1927; took part in his last recording session at Gennett studio in Richmond, IN, 1929
Blind Lemon Jefferson emerged in the 1920s as one of the most popular and imitated blues guitarists of the decade. As an early exponent of the Texas blues style, Jefferson’s recorded performances exhibited an array of unique and inventive musical ideas. His recordings for Paramount found their way into the repertoires of numerous bluesmen, influencing both country and urban blues stylists throughout the 1930s and 1940s and after a gap of a couple of decades into the 1960s and onwards.
Believed to be blind at birth, Jefferson was able to offer little help to his farming family. Without an education he took up music and worked as an itinerant musician, performing on the streets (me too dudes, but not in Texas!) and local functions outside Wortham, Texas. Street busking – Blind Lemon and me!! – (but not at the same time of course).
While in Dallas in 1912, Jefferson joined up and became great buddies with an older musician, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. While Jefferson sang and played slide, Leadbelly accompanied his younger buddy on accordion, guitar, or mandolin.