Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40181)
Rocks And Gravel, Too Tight Rag, Candy Man, Truckin' Little Baby, Railroad Bill, Nobody's Business, Don't You Want To Go Up There? The Year Clayton Delaney Died, John Jackson's Breakdown, Red River Blues, Brown's Ferry Blues, Cindy, You Ain't No Woman, John Henry, Diddy Wah Diddy, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Frankie And Johnnie, Don't Let Your Deal Go Down, Step It Up And Go, West Coast Rag.
In 1964 John Jackson was teaching guitar licks to a friend working at an Esso gas station in Fairfax Station, Virginia when, as chance would have it, Chuck Perdue, a college professor with a great interest in music, called in and heard what he rightly considered to be a rare talent. A life-long friendship was started that day with Perdue becoming his confidant and manager locking John into the folk boom of the sixties performing from New York to California, meeting John Hurt, Skip James and Elizabeth Cotton and jamming with Mance Lipscomb and Son House. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records was so impressed he signed him up to make his first LP record.
Considering he was one of the best, John Jackson didn't actually do very much recording. His discography amounts to three LPs made for Arhoolie, two for Rounder, a later release on Alligator and a track or two on the occasional anthology - but they are all treasured by blues connoisseurs.
When he stepped on stage, he simply enthralled his audiences playing brilliant traditional Piedmont blues and tunes he'd picked up from the 78 rpm records of Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, the Carter Family, Roy Acuff and Mississippi John Hurt. He seems to have preferred working in front of audiences, feeding off their appreciation, playing music from many sources; black and white string bands from the mountains, country blues from the eastern seaboard, tough blues from Memphis and Mississippi, old-time tunes, reels, ragtime, railroad songs and murder ballads and was just as at home playing to blues buffs and country music lovers as rock fans on University campuses. He toured with country stars Ricky Skaggs, Buck White and Jerry Douglas in the early eighties as well as doing European tours with bluesmen Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, Clifton Chenier and Alex Moore in the sixties.
This CD demonstrates his huge talent with twenty tracks selected from hundreds of live performances at the famous Smithsonian Folklife Festivals in the 70s and 80s where he was much appreciated. The traditional material is beefed up with songs written by Blind Blake, John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Bill Jackson and the Delmore Brothers but then you get a ragtime original like John Jackson's Breakdown which features some fast and furious picking that delights the audience! The whole CD is a real treat for acoustic blues guitar fans - Jackson's playing is amazing especially on his version of Nobody's Business which seems to be a tribute to both John Hurt and Frank Stokes. There's more solid guitar on the story-telling ballads Railroad Bill and John Henry but Jackson seems to really take off on Blind Blake material like Too Tight Rag which heaves with dynamic pyrotechnic displays and Diddy Wah Diddy which features mighty intricate picking underlaying Jackson's rich baritone that revels in the lyrics of this good-time double entendre blues.
The music on this CD is sheer bliss enhanced by a booklet filled with excellent notes on the man, his songs and his legacy. Producers Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place have treated this whole enterprise as an opportunity to pay respect to an important musical virtuoso and giant of the blues world - and they've done an excellent job! Essential.
Review Date: July 2010