This article will focus upon two of the most important earlier blues singers, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson, whose styles represent successive stages in the development of this musical form.

Lemon Jefferson was born into a poor farming family in Couchman, Texas in 1897; he was born blind and was given his first name by his parents. He started to play and sing in his early adolescence, and, in 1917, he left home and went to Dallas to work as a singer. During the next few years, he seems to have travelled sporadically through the Southern states, and in this way he came to influence many other singers. Artists as diverse as T-Bone Walker, an aggressive urban blues singer and Josh White, a polite, diluted entertainer and folk singer claim him as part of their inspiration. However, only one contemporary singer, Lightning Hopkins, who grew up in the area where Lemon worked, shows his influence to any considerable extent.

In 1925, Lemon made his first records for the Paramount company, and from this time onwards, his life was centred around Chicago. He made many records during the next few years, but, although they sold well, he was never paid very much. One morning during the winter of 1930 he was found dead and frozen on the street, and it was announced later that he had died of a heart attack.

The record under consideration (Riverside rlp 12–136) is the first collection of this singer’s work that has been made available in Britain in recent years. It is a very consistent album which demonstrates all the virtues which set this singer apart from so many others.

Lemon was very fat, unattractive, and dissolute. His interaction with the world was conducted on a very primitive level. The themes on this record, which are mainly concerned with his relationships with women, tend to reveal his personality in these terms. He does not show a genuine concern for other people, or a genuine sense of loss. Thus, in Broke and Hungry, one of his most famous blues, he cannot accept his feelings of responsibility and dependence in relation to a woman as his own; when he cannot move out he feels that he has been out-magicked.

You miss me woman, count the days I’m gone (repeat)
I’m going away to build a railroad of my own.

I feel like jumping through the keyhole in your door
If you jump this time, baby, you won’t jump no more.