Bo Weavil Jackson

Despite the presence of many well-documented country blues performers with rich, elaborate recording catalogs, blues fans have always searched the nooks and crannies for shadowy characters who appear out of nowhere and then vanish off the face of the Earth, leaving behind a dozen sides, maybe less. It could be a bit of an insane compulsion researching a Bo Weavil Jackson, who could have been a man named Sam Butler, or was it James Butler? Sometimes a listener confronted with a recording by such an artist begins to wonder if a player such as this was actually superior to others who acquired much more fame. It certainly seems like it, when one listens to Jackson's fingers shimmying across the strings on the recordings he did during several sessions in Chicago in 1926. These recordings, done apparently just weeks apart, are mostly blues numbers, but also include several traditional gospel songs as well as an arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Jackson was clearly an original. A record salesman of the time named Harry Charles recalls the bluesman as basically being a bum out on the street, playing for nickels when these sessions were done. Charles said the man behind the Bo Weavil Jackson sides was named James. But when Jackson cut some sides for a competing record label, Vocalion, he used the name Sam Butler, which is more commonly how he is identified and tends also to be the name under which his original songs with colorful titles such as "Some Scream High Yellow" and "You Can't Keep No Brown" are copyrighted. The Paramount label promoted the Bo Weavil man has having "come down from the Carolinas," but it has been widely believed that this artist is actually from Birmingham, AL, based on references to the area in his lyrics as well as the fact that this is where the talent scouts apparently found him. If this was an example of the kind of musicians playing on the streets for spare change in Birmingham, then the situation has deteriorated over the years, to be sure. Jackson was a really brilliant, unusual guitarist who got around on the fingerboard faster than most country bluesmen. Some of his slow blues material actually brings to mind the acoustic blues recordings of Jimi Hendrix, of which Jackson can be considered a foreshadowing. Some of his recordings have been published in notation and tablature in various country and slide blues instruction books, allowing for more detailed study of his style. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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