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The classic blues man par excellence, Skip James ticks almost all the boxes. Only killed one man (possibly more, not authenticated). Didn’t die as a result of a brawl. However… These 18 tracks are all that survive of 26 recorded for H.C. Speir of Paramount Records in Feb 1931. When, later in the year, Speir asked for more, Skip refused; he had found Jesus and gone to join his reformed father, who was now a Baptist minister, in Texas. And so, the reputation as one of the greatest singers in the history of the blues, rests almost entirely on these 18 sides. Nothing more was heard from him for thirty-three years. However, it’s not the whole story. In 1964, blues collector John Fahey traced James in a Mississippi hospital and persuaded him to sing once more. Curiously, the great Son House was ‘rediscovered’ on the very same day. Both appeared at the famous Newport Folk Festival the same year.
The only parallel one can imagine is that of the young Presley leaving just the twenty-odd tracks he cut for Sam Phillips at Sun. No Heartbreak Hotel. No Blue Suede Shoes. No Hound Dog. No Jailhouse Rock. No Suspicious Minds. No Burning Love. No ’68 Special. No Aloha from Hawaii. No jump suits. No Cadillacs. No private jets. No Gracelands. Maybe young Lisa Marie doesn’t even know her pappy ever cut any discs, he just sings in the church.
Then one day in 1988, a man comes along and persuades the 53-year-old Elvis to sing again….
But it didn’t quite happen like that. Skip was a huge influence on Robert Johnson and was feted by Eric Clapton He made more recordings and continued to play concerts until his death in October 1969. He had no time for any other Bluesman, he thought they were a “barrel of crabs” and would disguise his technique of playing if he thought any other players were watching.
His I’m So Glad was covered by Cream and (as you know) Devil Got My Woman was the pivotal track that so hooks Thora Birch’s character in the marvelous film Ghost World. Not a happy soul by any means, but a true giant of Blues.
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