SKIP JAMES (By Phil Davies)
Born Nehemiah Curtis James, 9 June 1902, in the Woodbine Plantation outside Bentonia, Mississippi .
Died 3 October 1969, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Raised on the plantation Skip was interested in music from an early age, his father was a minister. Skip learnt to play piano in school and a friend, Henry Stuckey, taught him the guitar.They performed together in the 20s/early 30s, playing at picnics and dances.
In 1930 he was discovered by H P Speir, a Jackson Mississippi record store owner. Speir sent James north to Grafton ,Winsconsin, where he apparently recorded 26 sides in two days for Paramount Records in 1931. His works of this time demonstrate a masterful and unique style on both guitar and piano. Skip's haunting delivery was created by his high falsetto singing, whilst his guitar style was based on a complex picking technique(with eerie sounding minor chords and tunings). He became the most famous of the "Bentonia" school of Mississippi blues.
The Depression and his intense style lead to very poor record sales. Disillusioned, he quit the blues and moved to Dallas forming a gospel group, the Dallas Texas Jubilee Singers. The group sang at his father's churches. As a contrast to the "devil's music" he attended divinity school and later became active in ministry work Ironically, his unique blues style was an influence on Robert Johnson, who snuck on down to the crossroads one day - - - - - - -
Skip was ordained a Baptist minister in 1932 supporting himself preaching and playing churches and concerts in the forties. James was ordained a Methodist minister in 1946 and worked outside music preaching until 1964 when he started working the folk festival and college circuit riding the blues revival wave. He had been rediscovered by blues/folk guitarist John Fahey and friends, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine (later of Canned Heat) . Skip's triumphant return to the stage at the 64 Newport Folk festival guaranteed him work and recording deals. He often toured with Mississippi John Hurt. Some of his best songs include All Night Long, Crow Jane, Cypress Grove Blues, Drunken Spree, Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues, I'm So Glad, My Gal, Special Rider Blues, and 22-20 Blues.
He moved to Philadelphia but serious illness curtailed Skip James' performing career in 1968 and he died of cancer on October 3, 1969. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall Of Fame in 1992.
1931 Sessions - Yazoo, lot of background hiss from the old 78s
Skip James Today/Devil Got My Woman - Vanguard (the mid 60s lps)
Rare and Unreleased (Vanguard, released 2003)
Tracks can be found on Vanguard cds.
There are cds of live recordings from the 60s too.
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