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GEORGE ‘LITTLE HAT’ JONES

Blues musician George “Little Hat” Jones was born on a farm near the Sulphur River in Bowie County, Texas, on October 5, 1899, the only child of Felix Jones and his wife. The family farm was purchased by Jones’s grandfather, a former slave.

Jones was a talented, though little-known, blues musician. He quit school at the age of thirteen, after his father became ill and several crops were destroyed, in order to help out on the farm. During this period his mother bought him his first guitar. Between 1916 and 1929 he worked as a labourer. He acquired his nickname at a construction job in Garland. Because Jones came to work with a hat from which half the brim had been cut off, his boss called him “Little Hat” Jones and even made out his pay slips in this way.

In 1929 Jones was in San Antonio where he worked off and on as a street busker (me too, but not then in San Antonio) in the 1920s.

He first recorded on ‘78’*, for OKeh Records, on June 15 of that year, when he cut two records of his own, “New Two Sixteen Blues” and “Two String Blues,” and played the backing for Texas Alexander. Jones then made a contract with OKeh for three years and recorded “Rolled from Side to Side Blues,” “Hurry Blues,” “Little Hat Blues,” “Corpus Blues,” “Kentucky Blues,” “Bye Bye Baby Blues,” “Cross the Water Blues,” and “Cherry Street Blues.” He also played in such cities as New Orleans, Galveston, and Austin, and occasionally ventured into Mexico. He was influenced in his guitar playing by Blind Lemon Jefferson (which is immediately recognisable as soon as he starts playing ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’ with that familiar syncopated approach of thumbing the bass rhythm and picking the treble end with the fingers) and played with T. Texas Tyler and Jimmie Rodgers.

*‘78’ = 78 revolutions per minute, one of the earlier types of gramophone records for popular distribution, superseded by the 45rpm on which most ‘singles’ were distributed until cassette tapes and CDs took over.

Jones’s style is marked by his tendency to start off songs quickly and then slow down once he began to sing. He had in my view, a classic ‘shout’ timbre, jagged but impressive. Once a forgotten obscurity, Jones became better known later in the 20th century as historians began to explore the Okeh Records catalogue, and his posthumous fame was boosted by the appearance of his song “Bye Bye Baby Blues” in the movie, ‘Ghost World’ in 2001.

In 1937 Jones settled in Naples, Texas, with his second wife, Janie Traylor, and worked at odd jobs. In the years before his death he was employed at the Red River Army Depot. He died on March 7, 1981.

 

 

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