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Skip James
Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James (June 9, 1902 – October 3, 1969) was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter. His guitar playing

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For the baseball player, see Skip James (baseball). This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) Skip James Birth name Nehemiah Curtis James Born (1902-06-09)June 9, 1902
Bentonia, Mississippi, United States Died October 3, 1969(1969-10-03) (aged 67)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States Genres Delta blues Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, preacher Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano Years active 1931
1964–1969 Labels Paramount, Vanguard, Biograph, Adelphi, Document, Snapper Music Group, Universe, Body & Soul, Yazoo, Genes

Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James (June 9, 1902 – October 3, 1969) was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.

His guitar playing is noted for its dark, minor-key sound, played in an open D-minor tuning with an intricate fingerpicking technique. James first recorded for Paramount Records in 1931, but these recordings sold poorly, having been released during the Great Depression, and he drifted into obscurity. After a long absence from the public eye, James was "rediscovered" in 1964 by three blues enthusiasts - John Fahey, Bill Barth, and Henry Vestine - helping further the blues and folk music revival of the 1950s and early 1960s. During this period, James appeared at folk and blues festivals, gave concerts around the country and recorded several albums for various record labels.

His songs have influenced generations of musicians, having been adapted or covered by Kansas Joe McCoy, Robert Johnson, Alan Wilson, Cream, Deep Purple, Chris Thomas King, Alvin Youngblood Hart, the Derek Trucks Band, Beck, Big Sugar, Eric Clapton, John Martyn, Lucinda Williams and Rory Block. He has been hailed as "one of the seminal figures of the blues."

  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Early years
    • 1.2 1920s and 1930s
    • 1.3 Rediscovery and legacy
    • 1.4 Personality
  • 2 Musical style
    • 2.1 James as guitarist
    • 2.2 The "Bentonia School"
  • 3 Discography
    • 3.1 Paramount 78-RPM records, 1931
    • 3.2 Later recordings, 1964–1969
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links

Biography Early years

James was born near Bentonia, Mississippi. His father was a bootlegger who reformed and became a preacher. As a youth, James heard local musicians, such as Henry Stuckey, from whom he learned to play the guitar, and the brothers Charlie and Jesse Sims. James began playing the organ in his teens. He worked on road construction and levee-building crews in Mississippi in the early 1920s and wrote what is perhaps his earliest song, "Illinois Blues", about his experiences as a laborer. He began playing the guitar in open D-minor tuning.

1920s and 1930s

In early 1931, James auditioned for the record shop owner and talent scout H. C. Speir in Jackson, Mississippi. Speir placed blues performers with various record labels, including Paramount Records. On the strength of this audition, James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record for Paramount. His 1931 records are considered idiosyncratic among prewar blues recordings and formed the basis of his reputation as a musician.

As was typical of his era, James recorded various styles of music – blues, spirituals, cover versions and original compositions – frequently blurring the lines between genres and sources. For example, "I'm So Glad" was derived from a 1927 song, "So Tired", by Art Sizemore and George A. Little, recorded in 1928 by Gene Austin and by Lonnie Johnson (Johnson's version was entitled "I'm So Tired of Livin' All Alone"). James's biographer Stephen Calt, echoing the opinion of several music critics, considered the finished product totally original, "one of the most extraordinary examples of fingerpicking found in guitar music". Several other recordings from the Grafton session, such as "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues", "Devil Got My Woman", "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader", and "22-20 Blues" (the basis of Robert Johnson's better-known "32-20 Blues" and the inspiration for the name for the English group 22-20s), have been similarly influential. Very few original copies of James's Paramount 78-RPM records have survived.

The Great Depression struck just as James's recordings were hitting the market. Sales were poor as a result, and he gave up performing the blues to become the choir director in his father's church. James was later an ordained minister in Baptist and Methodist churches, but the extent of his involvement in religious activities is unknown.

Rediscovery and legacy

For the next thirty years, James recorded nothing and performed sporadically. He was virtually unknown to listeners until about 1960. In 1964, blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Bill Barth, and Henry Vestine found him in a hospital in Tunica, Mississippi. According to Calt, the "rediscovery" of both James and Son House at virtually the same time was the start of the blues revival in the United States. In July 1964 James and other rediscovered musicians appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. Several photographs by the blues promoter Dick Waterman captured this performance, James's first in over 30 years. After that James recorded for Takoma Records, Melodeon Records, and Vanguard Records and performed at various engagements until his death in 1969.

More of James's recordings have been available since his death than were available during his lifetime. His 1931 recordings and several of his recordings and concerts from the 1960s have been reissued on numerous compact discs, in and out of print.

James's songs were not initially covered as frequently as those of other rediscovered blues musicians. The British rock band Cream recorded "I'm So Glad" (a studio version and a live version), providing James with the only windfall of his career. Deep Purple also covered "I'm So Glad," on Shades of Deep Purple. John Martyn covered "Devil Got My Woman", retitled "I'd Rather Be the Devil", on his album Solid Air and performed it in live shows throughout his career. Bill Barth's band The Insect Trust recorded Special Rider Blues in 1968. "He's a Mighty Good Leader" was covered by Beck on his 1994 album One Foot in the Grave. James's influence is still felt among contemporary bluesmen. Gregg Allman recorded "Devil Got My Woman" on his 2011 album Low Country Blues.

The English blues rock band 22-20s was named after "22-20 Blues." The British post-rock band Hope of the States released a song partially about the life of James, entitled "Nehemiah", which reached number 30 on the UK Singles Chart.

James also left a mark on Hollywood. Chris Thomas King's cover of "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" was used in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the 1931 "Devil Got My Woman" was featured in the plot and soundtrack of the film Ghost World.

In 2004, Wim Wenders directed the film The Soul of a Man (the second part of The Blues, a series produced by Martin Scorsese), focusing on the music of Blind Willie Johnson, J.B. Lenoir and James. Because James had not been not filmed before the 1960s, Keith B. Brown played the part of the young James in the documentary. Wenders used many songs recorded by James, some performed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Beck, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, James "Blood" Ulmer, T-Bone Burnett, Eagle Eye Cherry, Shemekia Copeland, Garland Jeffreys, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Marc Ribot, Lucinda Williams, and Cassandra Wilson.

In 2016, the scenarist Maël Rannou and the cartoonist Jean Bourguignon published the first graphic novel, dedicated to James (Paris, BDMusic, coll. BDBlues).


James was described as aloof and moody. The musicologist Dick Spottswood commented, "Skip James, you never knew. Skip could be sunshine, or thunder and lightning depending on his whim of the moment".

Musical style James as guitarist

James often played guitar with an open D-minor tuning (D-A-D-F-A-D), resulting in the "deep" sound of the 1931 recordings. He reportedly learned this tuning from his musical mentor, the unrecorded bluesman Henry Stuckey, who in turn was said to have acquired it from Bahamian soldiers during the First World War, despite the fact that his service card shows he did not serve overseas. Robert Johnson also recorded in this tuning, his "Hell Hound on My Trail" being based on James's "Devil Got My Woman." James's classically informed fingerpicking style was fast and clean, using the entire register of the guitar, with heavy, hypnotic bass lines. His style of playing had more in common with the Piedmont blues of the East Coast than with the Delta blues of his native Mississippi.

The "Bentonia School"

James is sometimes associated with the Bentonia School, which is either a subgenre of blues music or a style of playing it. Calt, in his 1994 biography of James, I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues, maintained that no style of blues originated in Bentonia and that the "Bentonia School" is simply a notion of later blues writers who overestimated the provinciality of Mississippi during the early 20th century, when railways linked small towns, and who failed to see that in the case of Jack Owens, "the 'tradition' he bore primarily consisted of musical scraps from James' table". Owens and other musicians who may have been contemporaries of James were not recorded until the revival of interest in blues music in the 1960s. Whether the work of these musicians constituted a "school" and whether James originated it or was a member of it remain open questions.

Discography Paramount 78-RPM records, 1931 A-side B-side "Cherry Ball Blues" "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" "22-20 Blues" "If You Haven't Any Hay Get on Down the Road" "Illinois Blues" "Yola My Blues Away" "How Long 'Buck'" "Little Cow and Calf Is Gonna Die Blues" "Devil Got My Woman" "Cypress Grove Blues" "I'm So Glad" "Special Rider Blues" "Four O'Clock Blues" "Hard Luck Child" "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader" "Be Ready When He Comes" "Drunken Spree" "What Am I to Do" Later recordings, 1964–1969

Despite poor health, James recorded several LPs from 1964 to 1969, mostly revisiting his 1931 sides, traditional music, and spirituals, but also including a handful of newly written blues meditating on his illness and convalescence. These five prolific years have not been thoroughly documented: recordings, outtakes, and interviews not released on James's LPs (which have been repeatedly cannibalized and reissued) are scattered among many compilations released by small labels. Previously unreleased performances continue to be found and released but have been left largely unexplained—sometimes hours' worth at a time. Original recordings and reissues are listed below.

  • Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers (Melodeon, Biograph, 1964)
  • She Lyin' (Adelphi, 1964; first released by Genes, 1996)
  • Today! (Vanguard, 1966)
  • Devil Got My Woman (Vanguard, 1968)
  • I'm So Glad (Vanguard, 1978)
  • Live: Boston, 1964 & Philadelphia, 1966 (Document, 1994)
  • Skip's Piano Blues, 1964 (Genes, 1998)
  • Blues from the Delta, with two previously unreleased recordings (Vanguard, 1998)
  • The Complete Early Recordings of Skip James – 1930 (Yazoo, 1994)
  • The Complete Bloomington, Indiana Concert, March 30, 1968 (Document, 1999)
  • Skip's Guitar Blues, 1964(?), (Genes, 1999)
  • Studio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased, 1967 (Vanguard, 2003)
  • Hard Time Killing Floor Blues (Biograph, 2003†)
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Skip James (Shout!, 2003)
  • Hard Time (Universe, 2003†)
  • Cypress Grove Blues (2004)
  • Hard Time Killin' Floor (Yazoo 2075, 2005)
  1. ^ "RootsWeb: Database Index". Retrieved 2014-01-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Koda, Cub. "Skip James: Biography". Retrieved 2014-01-29. 
  3. ^ a b "'Blues' Out of Rhythm: Infinitely Rich Subject Matter Suffers from a Lack of a Thematic Line in the Hands of Seven Directors – Though Wim Wenders Gets It Right". September 28, 2003. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 123. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  5. ^ Calt, Stephen (2008). I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. p. 88. ISBN 9781569769980. his basic guitar tuning, open D minor .
  6. ^ a b Calt, Stephen (1994). I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80579-0. 
  7. ^ Doc Rock. "The 1960s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2014-01-29. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records. p. 259. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Soul of a Man". Retrieved March 20, 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Soul of a Man". Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  12. ^ a b Dahl, Bill (1997). Liner notes to D.C. Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 1. Fuel 2000 Records.
External links
  • Illustrated Skip James discography
  • Interview with Skip James' surviving cousin
  • Works by or about Skip James in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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Blues Musical form
  • Blue note
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  • Eight-bar blues
  • Musical improvisation
  • Shuffles
  • Traditional blues verses
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  • Origins
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  • Work songs
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Authority control
  • WorldCat Identities
  • VIAF: 12494274
  • LCCN: n87823750
  • ISNI: 0000 0000 6308 7597
  • GND: 119262959
  • SUDOC: 087932547
  • BNF: cb139286364 (data)
  • MusicBrainz: f205743d-4441-471d-a3af-66f584738e29
  • IATH: w6d379qc

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"Grateful for Everything" uses the power of gratitude as a cornerstone in developing the skills needed to see the fun and adventure in life--regardless of the challenges we face. Using ideas that can be quickly implemented, you will find: How to successfully see the game in life, as opposed to seeing life as a daily battle we must endure; How developing a spirit of gratitude can open doors you never thought possible and make a difference in the world; Which personality traits are keys to success and which are landmines to avoid in your journey; Which types of words reinforce your optimistic view of the world; Why some people have a powerful and attractive presence--and how you can too; How to feel more fulfilled by using your gifts to help others feel more fulfilled; How to put it all together in a way that is easy and effective.

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Charleston: The Brief History of a Remarkable City
Charleston: The Brief History of a Remarkable City
The little book recounts the remarkable, although little-known, history of Charleston, South Carolina. It was written especially for those persons who want to learn that history in one or two easy sittings. From her earliest beginnings, Charleston has experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. She has known extreme shame and extreme glory. She has been one of the world's most hated cities and one of its most beloved. She has been attacked by the militaries of four nations, including the United States, which put her under the longest siege in modern military history. A major earthquake almost destroyed her, massive hurricanes have battered her, monster fires have ripped through her streets, and the Civil War -- which she started and lost -- left her destitute and helpless as thousands of visitors danced on her grave. But today Charleston is considered one of America's jewels. Readers of major travel magazines consistently name Charleston the friendliest, most gracious, even Best City in the United States and one of the best in the world. This primer clearly answers the question; What IS it about Charleston?

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River on the Rocks
River on the Rocks
The title of the book reflects the geologic gift that makes West Virginia's Birch River unique. Color photos.

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Upper River: Elk's Origins and Beyond
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A Charleston Primer for Yankees; History with a Southern Accent
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"A Charleston Primer for Yankees" relates the dramatic story of Charleston, S.C., from its beginning to today. It focuses on Charleston's crucial role in the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Three maps help guide the reader's understanding of the city's incredible history.

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The Gospel of Yeshua : A Fresh Look at the Life and Teaching of Jesus
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First, there was Jesus (Yeshua), the baby born in Bethlehem. Then the baby grew up and, for one year, led an itinerant, mostly rural ministry. Fast-forward 2,000 years. Jesus' teaching has become one of the world's great religions, but it also has fragmented into countless schools of thought. Somewhere along the way, the teaching was obscured by a wide variety of conflicting religious, political, and theological forces. Who was Jesus the man, and what did he actually teach? In The Gospel of Yeshua: A Fresh Look at the Life and Teaching of Jesus, veteran journalist Skip Johnson combines ancient testimony with modern Bible research to produce a richly detailed portrait of the life and teaching of Jesus. This biography presents Jesus' teaching as his disciples would have heard and understood it, and it focuses on how anyone can attain happiness beyond human imagination, regardless of present circumstances.

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West Virginia Mountain Lions
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The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future
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A Charleston Primer for Yankees
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"A Charleston Primer for Yankees" relates Charleston's (S.C.) incredible history in a format that can be absorbed in one or two sittings. It is a straighforward telling that focuses on Charleston's central role in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

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Woods and Waters: A Collection of Outdoor Stories From West Virginia and Beyond
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Author Skip Johnson retired in 1992 after three decades as the outdoor columnist for The Charleston Gazette. This book is a collection of his best, and best-loved, Woods & Waters columns. Johnson, remembered for his dry sense of humor and extensive knowledge of the outdoors, regales readers with tall tales and fish stories – covering fishing and hunting trips from Charleston to Canada. Read about West Virginia black bears, traveling over a hundred miles to return to their homeplace. Travel along as Johnson explores the mystery of the West Virginia cougar and other beasts.

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