Jim Jackson

Jim Jackson was a singing guitarist with a folk and blues repertoire as vast as Huddie Ledbetter's and a pre- to early-20th century minstrel-like manner similar to that of Henry Thomas. Enormously popular for a short while thanks to the competitive efforts of agents working for the Victor and Vocalion record companies, Jackson became regionally famous in Memphis and Chicago during the '20s, then went back home during the Great Depression and died in 1937. Home was the town of Hernando in northwestern Mississippi (twenty miles to the south of Memphis) where Jackson was born on a farm in 1884. Hernando's other famous son was bluesman Robert Wilkins, best known for having one of his songs covered decades later by the Rolling Stones. Guitarist Elijah Avery of Cannon's Jug Stompers lived in Hernando too, as did Frank Stokes, a rough-voiced blacksmith and minstrel who later achieved modest fame after teaming up with Dan Sane to form the Beale Street Sheiks. It was Stokes who had the greatest influence upon the young Jim Jackson, who was initially taught to handle a guitar by his father and was singing, dancing, and strumming the strings to attract crowds for peddlers of patent medicine as early as 1905. Soon young Jackson was entertaining at social gatherings throughout the area, sometimes gigging with Wilkins and a banjoist from Red Banks, MS named Gus Cannon. By 1915, Jackson was spending more and more time on the road with minstrel shows. Grown tall and weighing in at 235 lbs, he commanded attention with his booming voice, a knack for telling jokes, and his friendly, dignified way of putting a song across. He toured with the Red Rose, Silas Green, and Rabbit's Foot Minstrel companies, sometimes in the company of Cannon, guitarists Furry Lewis, and Will Shade, and pianist Speckled Red. Lewis recalled meeting him in a jug band while on tour with the Dr. Willie Lewis Show, a movable enterprise centered upon the sale and distribution of Jack Rabbit Salve. Jim Jackson was very much a creation of the minstrel and medicine show environment in which he thrived for some 15 years. During that time he performed extensively in Memphis, and traveled to Chicago in October 1927 to make his first phonograph record. "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues," issued in two parts on flipsides of a 78 rpm platter, sold uncommonly well, so well, in fact, that Vocalion had him back a few months later to record parts 3 and 4! Jackson would revisit, retool, and retitle his most popular song on several occasions, most importantly as "I'm Gonna Move to Louisiana Pts. 1 & 2," recorded for Victor during the summer of 1928. By then he had gotten himself a nice abode on Grant Street on the north side of Memphis and was enjoying a brief but rewarding period of popularity and more than modest material reward. Jackson's discography is nicely packed with titles like his own "My Dog Blue," "He's in the Jailhouse Now," "This Ain't No Place for Me," "I'm Gonna Start Me a Graveyard of My Own," and "I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop." In 1929 he recorded with Speckled Red (these were the very first recordings the aspiring pianist ever made), Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, and a pair of rowdy female comediennes billed as Liza Brown and Ann Johnson; one of these is believed to have actually been Leola "Coot" Grant. The recordings featuring these guest artists were made in New York City and at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis during the autumn of 1929; they were party records with lots of cutting up and showing off, particularly the two-sided promotional platter labeled "Jim Jackson's Jamboree." Jackson's final recordings were a pair of W.C. Handy tunes committed to wax in Memphis in February 1930. He then retired from the entertainment business, returned to Hernando, and passed away there during the year 1937. All of his known recordings were compiled and reissued by Document on two compact discs during the early '90s. ~ arwulf arwulf

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