The Complete Paramount Recordings 1931
02. Cypress grove blues
03. Cherry ball blues
04. Illinois blues
05. Four o`clock blues
06. Hard-luck child
07. Hard time killin` floor blues
08. Yola my blues away
09. Jesus is a mighty good leader
10. Be ready when he comes
11. Drunken spree
12. I`m so glad
13. Special rider blues
14. How long buck
15. Little cow and calf is gonna die blues
16. What am I to do blues
17. 22-20 blues
18. If you haven`t any hay get on down the road
Skip James; vocal, guitar, piano.
In early 1931 James auditioned for the Jackson, Mississippi record-shop owner and talent scout H. C. Speir, who placed blues performers with a variety of record labels, including Paramount Records. On the strength of this audition, Skip James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin to record for Paramount. These recordings are among the most famous and idiosyncratic ever made in the blues idiom. "I'm So Glad" was derived from a 1927 song by Art Sizemore and George A. Little entitled "So Tired," which had been recorded by both Gene Austin and, as "I'm Tired of Livin' All Alone," by Lonnie Johnson. But, as James' biographer, Stephen Calt, maintains, the finished product was totally original, "one of the most extraordinary examples of fingerpicking found in guitar music." The other pieces recorded at Grafton, such as "Devil Got My Woman," "Special Rider Blues," and "22-20," were of similarly high quality both vocally and instrumentally, and are the recordings upon which James' subsequent reputation lay. There are only a very few copies known to exist of James' Paramount 78s.
For the next thirty years James recorded nothing, and drifted in and out of music. He was virtually unknown to listeners until about 1960. In 1964 blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Bill Barth and Harry Vestine found him in Tunica, Mississippi. According to Calt, the "rediscovery" of both Skip James and of Son House at virtually the same moment was the start of the "blues revival" in America. In July 1964 James, along with other blues performers, appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. He recorded for the Takoma, Melodeon and Vanguard labels, and played engagements throughout the remainder of the decade. Cream recorded a version of "I'm So Glad," providing James the only windfall of his career. (Cream based their version on James' simplifed '60s recording, not on the original 1931 recording.)
Skip James has often been called one of the exponents of the Bentonia School of blues playing, which was later carried on by a guitarist and singer named Jack Owens. Calt, in his 1994 biography of James, I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues, maintains that there was indeed no style of blues that originated in Bentonia, and that this is simply a notion of later blues writers who overestimated the provinciality of Mississippi during the early twentieth century, when railways linked small towns, and who failed to see that, in the case of Owens, "the 'tradition' he bore primarily consisted of musical scraps from James' table." Whatever the truth is regarding the origins of James' style, or of the "Bentonia School," he certainly stands as one of the most original of all blues performers.
This collection duplicates what is found on both the Document and Yazoo releases, and it matters little which one you pick up. All three come from the same sources, and all have the same amount of snaps, cracks, and hailstone hiss in all the same places. Don't let that stop you, though, because these are beautiful and maverick performances, and essential for a good blues collection.