Personalities | Skip James | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

(Vocals, guitar, 1902–69)

Born in Bentonia, Mississippi and raised on a nearby plantation, Nehemiah ‘Skip’ James played the guitar professionally from a young age and also taught himself to play the piano. His distinctive E-minor guitar tuning, three-finger picking technique and melancholy, high-pitched vocals gave him a unique sound, and his recording session for Paramount in 1931 resulted in some of the most affecting and haunting country blues ever recorded. Songs such as ‘Devil Got My Woman’, ‘I’m So Glad’ and ‘22-20 Blues’ still stand out as masterpieces of their genre.

In the 1930s James drifted away from the music scene to concentrate on a career in the church, before being ‘rediscovered’ in the 1960s, along with Son House and various other blues artists. He performed at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and recorded a handful of albums for Takoma, Melodeon and Vanguard, while his ‘I’m So Glad’ was covered by the British blues-rock band Cream. Skip James’ revived career was unfortunately cut short by his death from cancer in 1969.

Styles & Forms | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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