Savage Roads

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Papa Charlie Jackson Blues Picker 1885 – 1938

                                              Have you ever seen this picture, it's from the late 1890's 

Yep! When we think of the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s or even the 50’s!!! We may admire an album cover from the 70's or 60's...Well! How about.. Papa Charlie Jackson 1885 – 1938) was an early American blues-man and songster who accompanied himself variously with a hybrid banjo guitar, a guitar, or a ukulele. His recording career began in 1924. Much of his life remains a mystery, but he was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and died in Chicago, Illinois in 1938.

Born William Henry Jackson, he originally performed in minstrel and medicine shows. From the early 1920s into the 1930s, Jackson played frequent club dates in Chicago, and was noted for busking at Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. In August 1924, for Paramount Records, he recorded "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues", the first commercially successful, self-accompanied recordings by a male singer of the blues. One of his following tracks, "Salty Dog Blues", became his most famous song. Among his recordings are several in which he accompanied classic female blues singers such as Ida Cox, Hattie McDaniel, and Ma Rainey. Blues writer Bruce Eder says that Jackson achieved "a musical peak of sorts in September of 1929 when he got to record with his long-time idol, Blind (Arthur) Blake, often known as the king of ragtime guitar during this period. 'Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It' parts one and two are among the most unusual sides of the late '20s, containing elements of blues jam session, hokum recording, and ragtime". A few more recordings for the Paramount label followed in 1929 and 1930. In 1934 he recorded for Okeh Records, and the following year he recorded with Big Bill Broonzy. Altogether, Jackson recorded 66 sides during his career. Jackson was an influential figure in the history of the blues, notable as "the first male singer/guitarist who played the blues to get to record and as "one of the creators of 'Hokum'" a song genre featuring comic, often sexually suggestive lyrics and lively, danceable rhythms. He wrote, or was the first to record, several songs that became blues standards, including "Spoonful" and "Salty Dog". Nonetheless, he has received little attention from blues historians, perhaps because the fast tempos and humorous lyrics he usually favoured lie outside the category of the traditional blues, and because the banjo is not generally regarded a blues instrument.

When it comes to the discussion of blues and jazz throughout the early part of the twentieth century, there are bound to be crossovers, musicians who played and recorded as both solo blues acts and as ensemble players in the early hot jazz bands. Let's not forget that blues was considered a type of song, not a genre as it is today. One such person was “Papa” Charlie Jackson, a very sophisticated player of the six-string banjo who was one of the earliest and most successful of the solo blues singer/instrumentalists.
Little to nothing is known about Jackson’s personal life, other than that he was born in New Orleans around 1890 where it is presumed that he began playing a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar, similar to the instrument used by Johnny St. Cyr. Jackson settled in Chicago on the famed Maxwell Street around 1920 where he began earning a living by playing on street corners and at house parties. In 1924 he cut his first solo sides "Papa's Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues" for the Paramount label. 

Jackson's "Shake That Thing" was covered by Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in 1964. "Loan Me Your Heart" appeared on The Wild party Sheiks eponymous album in 2002. The Carolina Chocolate Drops recorded "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine" on their Grammy Award winning 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, and often played the song in interviews after its release.

In 1973 Jackson's song "Shake That Thing" was briefly featured in the Sanford and Son episode, "The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection". Fred, played by Redd Foxx, could be seen dancing and singing to it at the beginning of the episode.

It was common practice in the early part of the twentieth century for musicians to play and record as both solo blues acts and as ensemble players in the early jazz bands since the distinctions of musical “genres” did not exist as they do today. During the period of the 1920’s Jackson became a member of many of the hot groups of the time in and around Chicago. Significantly in 1926 Jackson played the banjo on “Salty Dog” and “Stockyard Strut” when it was recorded by ‘Freddie Keppard and his Jazz Cardinals’, and which also featured New Orleans stalwart Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Jackson also recorded with ‘Tiny Parham and his Musicians’ with whom he recorded between 1927 and 1930, the band featuring Punch Miller, Kid Ory and a young Milt Hinton. In 1929 Jackson recorded for Paramount with "Blind" Arthur Blake, but left the label the following year and didn’t record again until 1934, when he had a session with Okey that included his ex-pupil and friend Big Bill Broonzy. He didn’t record again and it is very likely that he died in Chicago around 1938 although the exact circumstances and detail have never been established.

Jackson’s style as a soloist was unique and sophisticated for the period. It ran the gamut from hot chordal solos and single-note plectrum runs a la Lonnie Johnson or Eddie Lang, to the finger picking styles of the rural blues guitarist. He often used fast chordal runs behind his vocals following the melody closely, which gave his songs more bounce and swing. Due to his early death Jackson seems to have fallen through the cracks and is all but forgotten today by critics and historians. Instrumentally he resides on the same plateau with Lonnie Johnson and Teddy Bunn and is one pioneer who deserves wider recognition… We owe gratitude to Papa Charlie Jackson 1885 – 1938) Long Live The Blues....ॐ

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