Monday, 29 August 2011

Skip James - A Delta Blues Legend

During the 1930s the best music to ever grace the airwaves was recorded and captured on very primitive recording equipment and luckily a great deal of these highly important recordings were released on 78rpm records and recently have been graced release on many LP's and Cd's. The foundation of all great music began during these times in the America south, the 1930s black musicians of the day all came from hardship lives and poor backgrounds, the majority of these musicians came from the Mississippi delta regions and lived very vagrant based life styles through their early to adult lives.

The biggest hardship facing these musicians at the time was that their skin colour was Black, it was hard being a Black person in America during these poverty stricken times particularly in the Deep South, America was politically leaning to the right and many horrific things were happening to Black people during this period of history.

The implications of society had an extreme influence on the wandering 'Blues' musicians who drifted from town to town playing their music like the troubadours of truth and reality, expressing their souls and having people who also led similar lives listening and taking inspiration and comfort from their music.

Fortunately a great deal of these musicians were recorded and their music is still available for us to enjoy today, this music IS the most important music which mankind has, it is the most truthful account of the human soul in music form and should be highly praised and respected as being of such great importance.

My personal favourite of all the Blues Musicians from this period is Skip James.

Nehemiah 'Skip' James was born in 1902 in Yazoo City based the heart of The Mississippi delta, leading a somewhat fragmented child and teen hood, Skip found a love for music and adopted the guitar whilst working a number of different jobs playing only for the odd tip here and there. During these times Skip likely was in contact with other older musicians such as Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson who influenced Skip's music tremendously. In 1921 Skip left Mississippi for Arkansas and then further onto Memphis, TN, until such a time whereby he returned back down to the Delta.

In 1930 Skip auditioned for H.C Spier who was thankfully responsible for recording so many of the great black artists of the day and in February 1931 Skip travelled all the way up to Wisconsin by train where he recorded 18 classic and genius recordings, these were his only recordings and each recording is a piece of art.

From these recording sessions Skip managed to have Paramount release a few of the cuts on 78rpm records, however with the depression about to hit America, the records never sold and only very few sold meaning that originals of these records sell for astronomically high prices. As the depression made Skip's music disappear it so too meant he himself faded into obscurity.

Shortly after his 1931 recording session, Skip re-established a relationship with his bootlegger father whom neglected him when he was young, his father had found God and began a life as a Baptist preacher, he suggested to his son to do the same and join him spreading the word of God... Skip decided to do so and turned his back on music and the Blues and began a life preaching the gospel, this kind of thing is typical in relation to the psyche of The Blues musician and of the tormented internal demons many of The Blues guys suffered, the Devil/Angel complex, which all great creative folks have, I too have this in the most disastrous of fashions hence why I relate heavily to this type of music.

Thirty years after his original 1931 recording session in Grafton, Wisconsin, Skip James was re-found leading a quiet life, his music had been unearthed and a new generation of Young Americans who were searching for America's folk music delved deep into his recordings and finally the man had an audience to play too again.

What audiences found in Skip James, a good thirty years after he had been involved in music was not an everyday musician, but an artist of the highest order. His original music was classed as genius and during the reformation of his popularity he didn't stray too far from the original basis of his music, he stayed true to himself and didn't compromise his belief in himself or his artistry.

Skip sadly passed away in 1969, having during the last five years of his life, re-established himself as an artist to a much more younger and much more appreciative audience, he also financially gained more than he did back in the 30s too which proves that genius no matter how long it may be  ignored during it's time eventually gets found out about and given it's due.... this precedence is what gives me hope in regards to my own music for future generations to come.

For me as a fan of the Blues, I really relate to Skip James' work and art, he communicated his feelings well in his music and I have a lot of influence from that, he sang about his troubles and laid it bare on the table for the world to see and hear and you can only have great respect for someone who is that emotionally brave to lay themselves that bare to a listening audience and for me is a mark of a true artist and genius.

The themes in Skip's songs also hold a great influence over me, although they are mainly dark, macabre and have an raw honesty in dealing with the mindset of a 'troubled' outlook in life, they portray a realness which you cannot beat or ever come close too, and that's what I really DIG!

Here are clips from Skip's original 1931 recording session and are also my personal favourites from his catalogue.

Devil Got My Woman

Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues

Yola My Blues Away

Cypress Grove Blues 

If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The Road



No comments:

Post a Comment