Skip James was one of the most influential early Bluesmen, but his importance as a stylist remained undiscovered until he was brought out of a long retirement by the Folk/Blues revival of the early 1960's. Born in 1902 and raised in Bentonia, Nehemiah Curtis James was brought up in a religious family: his father was a bootlegger who reformed and became a Baptist preacher. Skip learned piano in school but picked up guitar from his friend Henry Stuckey. In 1931 Skip was picked up by a scout for Paramount Records and he cut 26 tracks, of which 18 were released in a two day session at their Grafton, Wisconsin studios. These recordings presented a unique and haunting genius that influenced legendary bluesmen as Robert Johnson, Kansas Joe McCoy and Johnny Temple. But the recordings sold poorly, having been released during the Great Depression, and he drifted into obscurity.
We have included as online downloads Skip's 1931 recordings. The crackling sound of these rare recordings cannot obscure the brilliance of this seminal Blues master
After over 30 years retirement from music, Skip was rediscovered by blues enthusiasts Bill Barth, John Fahey and Henry Vestine. They persuaded Skip to appear at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, where his renditions of his old songs were still powerful and moving. His performances as well as his old and new recordings influenced a generation of new musicians: Eric Clapton, Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, Cream, Deep Purple, Chris Thomas King, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Derek Trucks, Beck, Big Sugar, John Martyn, Lucinda Williams and Rory Block to name a few.
Books on legendary Blues musicians written by White musicologists tend to offer a subjective perspective on how the artists felt, thought or reacted. A tainted picture is captured that has more to do with the writer's social and musical experiences. This autobiography is different. The words, thoughts and feelings come directly from the artist's lips. This is the story of Nehemiah "Skip" James told by Nehemiah "Skip" James.
Level 1 • 128 pages • Download Audio Files
Review: Skip James was the epitome of a bad day. His Mississippi blues, the model of brooding intensity, could grow so dark and haunted as to fade into black, stringing together famously gloomy strands like “I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman’s man” or “people are driftin’ from door to door, can’t find no heaven, I don’t care where they go.” Robert Johnson mirrored “him” as “Hellhound on My Trail.” This came later from the same cauldron as did “Devil Got My Woman.” Skip had already landed on the “Killin’ Floor” decades before Howlin’ Wolf ever did.
“Blues and the Soul of Man’s” 130 jumbo pages rise to the challenge of James’ mystique. Unlike Stephen Calt’s 1994 biographical “I’d Rather Be the Devil”, this autobiography lets James tell his own tale. No poetic embellishment; no outsider spin; only raw dialogue transcribed from hours of interviews. Here, music journalist Eddie Dean’s introduction admirably does its job by first encapsulating Skip’s history as well as embedding the hook for what follows.
James – himself - then picks it up from there. His stream-of-consciousness rambles from dead jaybirds, rolling-the-belly, poisoned whiskey, hoodoo root doctors, pickled pork, and barrelhouses to minor chords, God, Satan, grappling over what exactly the soul of a man is, and, of course, his famed 1931 Paramount sessions. Life philosophy spills over the edges. Switchblades get drawn, pistols fired, and personal tours given of violent levee and lumber camps. “Cherry Ball Blues,” “Cypress Grove Blues,” “Illinois Blues,” “If You Haven’t Any Hay Get on Down the Road” and “Devil Got My Woman” get (partly) deciphered. To round out the experience are music/tab roadmaps to a few choice songs and, better still, online downloads of James’ 1931 recordings. Best of luck trying to put this down.– Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag