New Jesse Thomas on Black Top
Mon Feb 5 06:17:27 EST 1996
>Just received the new release of Jesse Thomas on Black Top and happy
>to report it is WONDERFUL. This is all new recordings (save a 1929
>recording of Blue Goose Blues) by one of the MAJOR remaining blues
>artists of this century.
Sadly, no longer...he died a few months ago.
Anyone interested in Jesse Thomas needs to get the Document release of
"The Complete Jesse Thomas 1948-1958"; 20-something otherwise VERY hard
to find tracks that show the amazing breadth of his talents, from serious
down-home Blind Lemon-style solo stuff through swinging, blaring West
Coast R&B a la Lowell Fulson's early sides, and some always interesting
musical side trips in between. Jesse was a major talent and an
incredibly sweet and humble guy.
A few years ago some regulars on the Prodigy blues bb got together and
chipped in to buy Jesse a new electric guitar to replace the piece of
crap he was then fighting with. Jim Bardsley, who is a sometime
contributor here on the blues-l, was the person who lived nearest Jesse,
and became friends with him. I don't think Jim will mind my telling this
story (maybe he'll jump in and fill in the blanks or straighten me out if
I get it wrong): Once they were talking about Jesse's potential
recording opportunities, and Jim, making a subtle reference to the fact
that Jesse was then 80+ years old, said that Jesse shouldn't waste any
time. Jesse agreed, saying that he wanted to get something out before
the blues went out of style again. I smile when I think about this,
because he always remained such a pragmatic optimist.
I live in Chicago, and he lived in Louisiana. We corresponded a bit, and
I told him that I was going to be at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
Festival when he was playing (he was a regular there), and wanted to hook
up with him. When I got to his hotel room, he said he wasn't feeling
well, and he looked terrible. I suggested that he cancel out of his
festival gig, but he refused, saying that he'd signed a contract, and
he'd never backed out of a commitment yet. He asked if I could help him
out by playing harp with him at the fest. I did, but he really struggled
that day. He went home, saw his doctor the next day, and it turned out
that he'd had several minor strokes the day before the fest. He was in
the hospital for a while, but recovered well enough to play the Chicago
Blues Fest that year, and a few more N.O. J&H fests too.
Coincidently, the first time I met him in person was at the University of
Chicago Folk Festival in '92...I was just at the '96 edition of that fest
yesterday, which is what stirred up my memories of Jesse.
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