Ode to Blues:
Blind Lemon Jefferson

(aka Deacon L.J. Bates)

Excerpts from:
Eyeneer Music Archives
The Blue Flame Cafe

Birthplace: Couchman, Texas, July, 1897. Died: December, 1929

Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most influential country bluesmen the genre has known, as well as one of its first commercially successful recording artists.

[He] had 43 records issued... Between 1925 and 1929, he made at least 100 recordings, including alternate versions of some songs. [He] inspired a generation of male bluesmen, but had few imitators due to the complexity of his guitar playing and the distinctiveness of his high, clear voice. His success enabled other male blues artists to secure recording contracts in an era that was dominated by female classic blues singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox.

Portrait of Jefferson (20k): A large man of African decent with tiny round glasses Little of substance is known about Jefferson's personal life. One of seven children, he was born blind in the late 1800s in East Texas and, most likely, learned to play guitar as a means of scraping out a meager living.

In the early 1920s, he played in most Southern states, if all reports are to be believed. (The lyrics to some of his songs certainly seem to suggest a familiarity with many different musical locales.) He most certainly penetrated the Mississippi Delta/Memphis region, where there was lucrative work for an itinerant bluesman. How did he travel so widely? Presumably by train, riding boxcars or sometimes paying his fare.

It was Jefferson's guitar style that had the biggest impact on his contemporaries and future generations of bluesmen. Jefferson constructed intricate melodic structures punctuated with irregular phrasing that often expanded standard tempo patterns. He also used, to great effect, single-string arpeggios, repeating bass runs on the lower guitar strings, and interesting jazz-like improvisations, which gave his style wonderful color and charisma.

Before Jefferson, nearly all of the female classic blues singers relied on songs written by outsiders. Jefferson recorded many of his own songs. Some were admittedly take-offs on traditional folk-blues songs, but at his composing best, Jefferson artfully penned vivid lyrical accounts of early l900s black culture in the South, especially Texas. Jefferson display[s] vivid visual imagery in [his] lyrics, perhaps stemming from, to borrow a phrase from Stevie Wonder, "inner visions."

Jefferson recorded a number of self-penned classics. "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" was an early blues spiritual tune that has been interpreted by countless blues musicians and has since become a permanent fixture in the country blues songbook. Jefferson also cut a number of East Texas folk-blues standards, including "Jack O'Diamonds", "Boll Weevil Blues", and a revamped "See See Rider," which Jefferson called "Corrina Blues."

Many artists were influenced by his striking style, including a young T-Bone Walker, who would walk with Jefferson to his favorite Dallas street corner in his Deep Ellum days, and who carried elements of the Jefferson style of blues guitar into electric blues in the late '30s and '40s. Other Jefferson disciples include Lightnin Hopkins, and B.B. King.


Couchman, Texas is really considered Central Texas and is a couple of miles east of Wortham. Wortham became an oil boom town and quickly had some 20,000 residents during the twenties. It was first on the streets of Wortham that Blind Lemon first played his early songs. He is buried in Wortham "the true heart of Texas".

On Sept 13th 1997, the first annual Blind Lemon Jefferson Festival was a reasonable success as over $3,000.00 was raised to go towards the renovation of his grave site and make sure that in the future all the graves at the cemetery are swept clean.

Brent Jones or Amy Miller in Wortham are the official contacts for the Chamber in Wortham if you have any information you think that could further this worth while cause.

Send inquiries to:
Chamber of Commerce
Groesbeck, Wortham, Texas

Norris Buchmeyer


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