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Blind Lemon Jefferson, Texas blues singer and guitarist, was born 130 years ago today
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Painting by Jefferson Ross
Blind Lemon Jefferson, Texas-born blues singer and guitarist, was born 130 years ago today.
Jefferson was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s, and has been titled "Father of the Texas Blues." His singing and self-accompaniment were distinctive as a result of his high-pitched voice and originality on the guitar.
Though his recordings sold well, he was not so influential on some younger blues singers of his generation, who could not imitate him as they could other commercially successful artists.
However, later blues and rock and roll musicians attempted to imitate both his songs and his musical style. His recordings would later influence such legends as B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Son House and Robert Johnson.
Lemon Henry Jefferson was born blind near Coutchman, Texas in Freestone County, near present-day Wortham, Texas. He was one of eight children born to sharecroppers Alex and Clarissa Jefferson.
Jefferson began playing the guitar in his early teens, and soon after he began performing at picnics and parties. He became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns in front of barbershops and on corners.
According to his cousin, Alec Jefferson, quoted in the notes for Blind Lemon Jefferson, Classic Sides: “They were rough (times). Men were hustling women and selling bootleg and Lemon was singing for them all night... he'd start singing about eight and go on until four in the morning... mostly it would be just him sitting there and playing and singing all night.”
By the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with fellow blues musician, Lead Belly.
In Dallas, Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas. He likely moved to Deep Ellum in a more permanent fashion by 1917, where he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of blues guitar, in exchange for Walker's occasional services as a guide.
Until Jefferson, very few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar, the first of which was vocalist Sara Martin and guitarist Sylvester Weaver. Jefferson's music is uninhibited and represented the classic sounds of everyday life from a honky-tonk to a country picnic to street corner blues to work in the burgeoning oil fields, a further reflection of his interest in mechanical objects and processes.
Jefferson did what very few had ever done — he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world. Unlike many artists who were "discovered" and recorded in their normal venues, in December, 1925 or January, 1926, he was taken to Chicago, Illinois, to record his first tracks.
Uncharacteristically, Jefferson's first two recordings from this session were gospel songs ("I Want to be like Jesus in my Heart" and "All I Want is that Pure Religion"), released under the name, Deacon L. J. Bates. This led to a second recording session in March, 1926.
His first releases under his own name — "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues" — were hits. This led to the release of the other two songs from that session, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues," which became a runaway success, with sales in six figures.
He recorded about 100 tracks between 1926 and 1929. Forty-three records were issued, all but one for Paramount Records. Unfortunately, Paramount Records' studio techniques and quality were bad, and the resulting recordings sound no better than if they had been recorded in a hotel room.
In fact, in May, 1926, Paramount had Jefferson re-record his hits, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues," in the superior facilities at Marsh Laboratories, and subsequent releases used that version. Both versions appear on compilation albums and may be compared.
It was largely due to the popularity of artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and contemporaries such as Blind Blake and Ma Rainey that Paramount became the leading recording company for the blues in the 1920s.
Jefferson's earnings reputedly enabled him to buy a car and employ chauffeurs. He was given a Ford car "worth over $700" by Mayo Williams, Paramount's connection with the black community. This was a frequently seen compensation for recording rights in that market.
Jefferson is known to have done an unusual amount of traveling for the time in the American South, which is reflected in the difficulty of pigeonholing his music into one regional category. It was Jefferson's old-fashioned sound and confident musicianship that made him easy to market. His skillful guitar playing and impressive vocal ranges opened the door for a new generation of male solo blues performers, including Furry Lewis, Charlie Patton and Barbecue Bob.
Jefferson died in Chicago on December 19, 1929 of what his death certificate called "probably acute myocarditis." For many years, apocryphal rumors circulated that a jealous lover had poisoned his coffee, but a more likely scenario is that he died of a heart attack after becoming disoriented during a snowstorm.
Some have said that Jefferson died from a heart attack after being attacked by a dog in the middle of the night. More recently, the book, Tolbert's Texas, claimed that he was killed while being robbed of a large royalty payment by a guide escorting him to Union Station to catch a train home to Texas.
Jefferson was buried at Wortham Negro Cemetery (later Wortham Black Cemetery). Far from his grave being kept clean, it was unmarked until 1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was erected in the general area of his plot, the precise location being unknown.
By 1996, the cemetery and marker were in poor condition, but a new granite headstone was erected in 1997. In 2007, the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and his gravesite is kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas.
Here, Jefferson performs “Black Snake Moan.”
Photo by Richard Avedon
The trial for eight antiwar activists charged with the responsibility for the violent demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago on this day in 1969 — 54 years ago today.
The defendants included David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee (NMC); Rennie Davis and Thomas Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, founders of the Youth International Party ("Yippies"); and two lesser known activists, Lee Weiner and John Froines.
Bobby Seale, the eighth man charged, had his trial severed during the proceedings, lowering the number of defendants from eight to seven. The group was charged with conspiracy to cross state lines with intent to incite a riot. All but Seale were represented by attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass.
The trial, presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman, turned into a circus as the defendants and their attorneys used the court as a platform to attack Nixon, the war, racism and oppression. Their tactics were so disruptive that at one point, Judge Hoffman ordered Seale gagged and strapped to his chair.
The Chicago Seven were indicted for violating the Rap Brown law, which had been tagged onto the Civil Rights Bill earlier that year by conservative senators. The law made it illegal to cross state lines in order to riot or to conspire to use interstate commerce to incite rioting. President Johnson's attorney general, Ramsey Clark, refused to prosecute the case.
When the trial ended in February, 1970, Hoffman found the defendants and their attorneys guilty of 175 counts of contempt of court and sentenced them to terms between two to four years. Although declaring the defendants not guilty of conspiracy, the jury found all but Froines and Weiner guilty of intent to riot. The others were each sentenced to five years and fined $5,000.
However, none served time because in 1972, a Court of Appeal overturned the criminal convictions and eventually most of the contempt charges were dropped as well.
In 1966 — 57 years ago today — Jimi Hendrix arrived in London with his new manager, Chas Chandler, on a flight from New York City.
With only the clothes he was wearing, Hendrix had sold his other belongings to pay a hotel bill in New York. He left the United States because he felt no one there understood his music.
One of the first things he did after arriving in England was to legally change his name from James to Jimi.
Shortly after that, he would became a major star.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born 127 years ago today.
An author of novels and short stories, Fitzgerald’s works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost Generation" of the 1920s. He finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and his most famous, The Great Gatsby. A fifth unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, was published posthumously.
Fitzgerald also wrote many short stories that treat themes of youth and promise along with despair and age.
The Great Gatsby has been the basis for numerous films of the same name, spanning nearly 90 years; 1926, 1949, 1974, 2000 and 2013. In 1958, his life from 1937–1940 was dramatized in Beloved Infidel.
While at a country club, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre (1900–1948), the "golden girl," in Fitzgerald's terms, of Montgomery, Alabama youth society. Fitzgerald attempted to lay a foundation for his life with Zelda. Despite working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement.
Scott returned to his parents' house at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill, in St. Paul, to revise The Romantic Egoist. Recast as This Side of Paradise, about the post-WWI flapper generation, it was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919 and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement. The novel was published on March 26, 1920, and became one of the most popular books of the year.
Scott and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921 and died on June 16, 1986.
Paris in the 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, considered his masterpiece, was published in 1925.
Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, mostly Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway was quite vigorous, as many of Fitzgerald’s relationships would prove to be.
Hemingway, however, did not get on well with Zelda. In addition to describing her as "insane," he claimed that she “encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Scott from his work on his novel."
As did most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly and Esquire.
Fitzgerald also sold his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. This “whoring,” as Fitzgerald and, subsequently, Hemingway called these sales, was a sore point in the authors’ friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an authentic manner but then put in “twists that made them into salable magazine stories.”
Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. He suffered two heart attacks in late 1930. After the first, in Schwab's Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion.
He moved in with Sheilah Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Ave., one block east of Fitzgerald's apartment on North Laurel Ave. Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to climb to his apartment. Graham's was on the ground floor.
On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. As the two were leaving the Pantages Theater, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving the theater. He said to Graham: "They think I am drunk, don't they?"
The following day, as Fitzgerald ate a candy bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, gasp and fall to the floor.
She ran to the manager of the building, Harry Culver, founder of Culver City. Upon entering the apartment to assist Fitzgerald, Culver said, "I'm afraid he's dead."
Fitzgerald had died of a massive heart attack. He was 44.
Gerard "Gerry" Marsden, leader of Gerry and the Pacemakers, was born 81 years ago today.
An English musician and television personality, Marsden was born at 8 Menzies Street, Toxteth, Liverpool, and his interest in music began at an early age. He remembered standing on top of an air raid shelter singing "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" and getting a great reception from onlookers. He said to himself then, "This is what I want to do.”
Gerry and the Pacemakers was the second group signed by Brian Epstein and remained among his favorite artists. Their first single was "How Do You Do It," recommended by George Martin after it was initially given to The Beatles. This was the first #1 hit for the Pacemakers. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and was released on EMI's Columbia label.
The band's second #1 was "I Like It," followed by "You'll Never Walk Alone." Other singles included "It's Gonna Be Alright," "I'm the One," "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "Ferry Cross the Mersey."
After leaving the Pacemakers — made up of his brother, Fred Marsden, Les Maguire and Les Chadwick — Marsden maintained a low-key career on television, and starred in the West End musical, Charlie Girl, alongside Derek Nimmo and Anna Neagle.
Marsden returned to #1 in the charts twice during the 1980s with re-recordings of two of his old hits, with all profits going to charity.
In 1993, Marsden published his autobiography — I'll Never Walk Alone — co-written with former Melody Maker editor, Ray Coleman.
In September, 2003, Marsden had triple bypass heart surgery at Broad Green Hospital in Liverpool. He had a second heart operation in 2016, and announced his retirement in November, 2018 (nevertheless, he appeared with Take That at their concert at Anfield in June, 2019).
Marsden died on January 3, 2021 at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside, after being diagnosed with a blood infection in his heart. He was 78 years old.
Here, Gerry and the Pacemakers perform “How Do You Do.”
Paul and Linda McCartney
Photo by Bill Bernstein
Linda Eastman McCartney was born 82 years ago today.
McCartney was a musician, photographer and animal rights activist. She was married to Paul McCartney, a founding member of the Beatles.
Her father, Lee Eastman, practiced entertainment law in New York for well-known clients, including bandleader Tommy Dorsey, songwriters Harold Arlen and Jack Lawrence, and fine artists such as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.
In 1969, Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman, and their marriage was blessed at St John's Wood Church. Later, they formed McCartney's band, Wings.
In the same year, Paul adopted Heather Louise, Linda's daughter from her first marriage to Joseph Melville See. The McCartneys had three children: Mary Anna, Stella Nina and James Louis.
She wrote several vegetarian cookbooks, became a business entrepreneur (starting the Linda McCartney Foods company with her husband) and was a professional photographer, publishing Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era.
McCartney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, and died at the age of 56 on April 17, 1998, in Tucson, Arizona, where the McCartneys had a ranch.
John Goodman at the Washington Square Folk Reunion at Washington Square Park in New York City, September, 2009.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan cited Goodman’s excellent acting performance as “Uncle Sweetheart” in his 2003 film, Masked and Anonymous.
“There’s some performances in there,” Dylan said. “John Goodman. Isn’t he great? And Jessica Lange. Everybody was really good in it. Everybody except me. Ha-ha!”
Both Goodman and Lange are folk music fans in real life, and both have been to the yearly reunion each September at Washington Square Park.
Photo by Frank Beacham