When Blind Lemon Jefferson was discovered on a Texas street corner in 1925, women ruled the blues. The divas’ big backing bands and polished urban sound, singing mostly songs written by other people. It took the unmatched talent of a young country blues man to change all that. Thanks to Blind Lemon Jefferson, for the first time ever a singer-songwriter could be famous.
Jefferson’s incredible guitar playing made it nearly impossible for anyone else to imitate—or steal—his songs. His imaginative song writing and haunting voice was like nothing that had ever been recorded before. The public went wild. Blind Lemon went from singing all night on the street and wrestling—blind—for extra cash, to traveling the country in his own chauffeured cars.
Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded almost a hundred songs in only four years, sold more records than anyone that came before him, and single-handedly changed the face of popular music. Tragically, his career was cut short by his mysterious death. There’re a lot of stories, but it’s said he died of a heart attack after becoming disoriented in a Chicago snowstorm. Legend has it that he was found frozen, his hand gripping the neck of his beloved guitar.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
(September 24, 1893 – December 19, 1929)
Lemon Henry Jefferson was born September 24, 1893 in Coutchman, Texas.
A gospel, blues and ragtime guitarist and songwriter, he’s known as the “Father of the Texas Blues” and the first singer-songwriter to make it big.
The youngest of seven children, Lemon was born blind, to a sharecropping family near Wortham, Texas.
He began playing guitar in his early teens at picnics and parties, singing all night long, and soon becoming a full time songster.
He began traveling frequently around 1910, meeting up with–and teaching a few tricks to–young men who’d grow up to be Leadbelly and T-Bone Walker. By the early 20′s, Lemon was making a solid living as a street performer.
In December 1925, Jefferson travelled to Chicago, to record for the first time under the pseudonym Deacon L.J. Bates. His first releases under his own name took off, and Jefferson suddenly did what no man had done before–became a wildly successful solo singer-songwriter in the commercial record industry. Between ’26 and ’29 he recorded over 100 tracks for Paramount records.
Jefferson was so successful he soon had enough money for two cars and a chauffeur, enabling him to travel farther and wider with his music.
In December of 1929, Blind Lemon became disoriented in a snowstorm, and died of a heart attack. Paramount records paid for his body to be returned to Texas by train. Despite his beloved status, his grave remained unmarked until 1967.