JOHN JACKSON Rappahannock Blues Smithsonian/Folkways SFW CD 40181
John Jackson was a man of marvelous abilities as a guitarist, banjo player, and singer/raconteur; Dom Turner will vouch for that any day of the week! He was eastern Virginia born and raised in a community full of music and musicians; a combination of family members, phonograph records, and other local musicians (with occasional outlanders who passed through). Same as it always was, back in the day. These songs were recorded between 1970 and 1997 (he died in 2002), mainly for the Smithsonian Archives at their annual festival on the Mall – John lived nearby and was often called on to fill in for someone who had cancelled, so he appeared a lot! I met John a number of times and found him to be congenial with a good memory, and willing to answer any and all questions put to him. This CD is 56 minutes of “live” Piedmont blues at its best, even though no longer being produced for its original African American audience. This release is one in the Smithsonian’s African American Legacy series supervised by the nascent National Museum of African American History and Culture and it comes with a well researched 30 page booklet/insert with a bio, remembrances, and song notes.
“Discovered” accidentally by folklorist Chuck Perdue in 1964 at a local rural VA petrol station, John Jackson was a superb guitarist with a wide and deep repertoire of tunes from many traditions. His magnificent ragtime-based Piedmont guitar stylings are replete with the swing that that approach carries with it; dance music, par excellence! I am currently unable to compare the song titles with any of my reference books (in storage), but this is a reasonably broad and representational collection of his work – there’s even one banjo piece (“Cindy”), and two sacred one (“Don’t You Want to Go Up There [To My Father’s House]” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”) in here! The best of rags and blues from the territory, and each selection is properly dated, with their Smithsonian archive master number given as well.
While his localized Rappahannock County speaking voice/accent were difficult at times to understand in conversation, his singing comes through loud and clear, and well within the idiom. There are some surprises (country tune “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”), but most “fit” the tradition hand in glove. Two real oldies, “Railroad Bill” and “John Henry”, were recorded at Wolf Trap Farm Park during a concert that celebrated the famous Harry Smith “Anthology of American Folk Music”, but the rest came from various Smithsonian festivals – in all cases, the sound is superb. Got some of his work? You need to get this, too. Got none of his work? By all means, get yer mitts on this album; you won’t regret it one iota. It’s twenty of the finest pieces of blues from the US Piedmont region you’ll come upon.
PETER B. LOWRY
pub: THE BLUES TIMES; No. 225 – Dec 2011; p. 9.