J.B. Lenoir “Alabama Blues”
J.B. Lenoir started his career with a slicked back ‘do and a zebra print suit. He tore up the stage with his high-falsetto vocals and some mean chording on his axe. All that made him a commercial success in the forties and early fifties. Even had a hit with a song about his signature hair.
But for all his playfulness, J.B. Lenoir had a sense of social responsibility. It wasn’t fame or money, but social change he was after.
Soon he dropped the fake zebra suit, and came out with some of the most biting social commentary on vinyl. His song Eisenhower Blues caused so much commotion that the record label had to rename it Tax Payer’s Blues, so as not to offend the president.
Lenoir’s songs touched on the wars in Korea and Vietnam, segregation and inequality. By the mid-sixties, his music became so controversial, you couldn’t get his two best albums in the US until decades after their release.
Here’s the title track off one of those banned albums. From 1965, J.B. Lenoir Alabama Blues.
JB Lenoir was born March 5, 1929 near Monticello, Mississippi. The initials JB actually weren’t initials at all—simply JB was his given name.
Lenoir’s father taught him to play guitar at a young age, instructing him to listen carefully to the records of Texas bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson.
In 1949, JB Lenoir moved to Chicago, guided by Big Bill Broonzy who considered him a surrogate son, where he began to play local clubs. He began his recording career in the 1950’s, waxing high-octane r&b records for Chess, among other labels, under the name J.B. and the Bayou Boys, with Sunnyland Slim on piano. In these early days he was known for his showmanship—for zebra print suits, slicked back hair and high falsetto vocals. He became an influential electric guitarist before abandoning the flashy antics for a down home style of socially conscious acoustic blues.
By the 1960’s, Lenoir had developed a penchant for African rhythms, and had begun to tour Europe, largely forced out of the States for his acerbic no-holds-barred commentary on Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. Working with Willie Dixon and Fred Below, Lenoir recorded his seminal works Alabama Blues and Down in Mississippi. Both were deemed to controversial for release in the United States
Lenoir died on April 29, 1967, from complications sustained after a car accident.