Front Porch Blues
Hailing from Rappahannock County, Virginia, John Jackson is truly from the Old Country, and his treatment of the blues is as Old School as it gets. This region of Virginia has a history far older than that of Mississippi and the later plantations that birthed what we generally know as the blues. This is Colonial Virginia, where the African Banjo and the European fiddle were first combined to create the original American musical ensemble. Jackson’s style is born of the ancient black string band style, which is a musical form much older than the blues. The music created by ancestors of Jackson’s is the music that later had an influence on much of what we know as Appalachian Folk. Doc Watson would be among those whose style owes a great deal to the influence of these pre-Civil War era black musicians, as would many of the very early country musicians.
Jackson is one of those old guys with all the right stories behind his career. Taught open-tunings by a chain-gang trusty and waterboy named Happy, raised in a musical family headed by his father Sutte Jackson, John learned to play on a $3.75 mail-order guitar, which was later destroyed when his brother used it to defend himself in a house party brawl. John later learned banjo from his mother’s sister’s Indian husband. John Jackson’s first mainstream influences came in the form of 78 R.P.M. recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family, Blind-Boy Fuller, and Blind Blake. Folklorist Dr. Charles “Chuck” Perdue discovered Jackson in 1964, when Perdue happened upon him while he was holding forth at a Fairfax, Virginia Amoco Station. The Jackson and Perdue families became fast friends, and Chuck and his wife Nan Perdue introduced Jackson to blues revival of the ’60s and the Ontario Club in Washington D.C., where the heroes of the blues performed. John became friends with Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James, who literally lived at the Ontario for awhile. Jackson was a favorite of President Jimmy Carter, and performed a memorable concert on the White House lawn. In 1986, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Jackson its National Heritage Fellowship, a “living treasure” award and the highest honor the nation offers a traditional artist.
Most of the songs on this release are old traditional blues numbers that Jackson has learned over his many years and through his various associations with some of the blues greats and unknowns. He weighs in with a few of his own songs or arrangements, including “Chesterfield” (about the cigarettes), “Rappahannock Blues,” and “Fairfax Station Rag.” His son James helps out on a very competent rendition of the old public domain number “Have it Your Own Way.” Other highlights include “C.C. Rider,” “Railroad Bill,” “Louisiana Blues,” “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” and “The Devil He Wore a Hickory Shoe.” This is basically good old-time traditional blues that could’ve easily come from another decade long past. It’s a style that won’t appeal to everyone, but it is definitely a good addition to any serious blues, or traditional music lover’s library.
Alligator Records, Box 60234, Chicago, IL 60660; http://www.alligator.com