DARKNESS AND THE BLUES
Why were so many early Blues musicians blind?
Was it simply because, if you were afflicted with blindness in the Depression-Era US, there weren't many ways other than music to make some money?
Or does being blind make you that much more "in touch" with what the Blues is all about?
Or is it the fact that people who lose one sense often compensate with other senses, meaning these blind musicians had particularly good ears?
I don't know, but here are a few of the more famous Blind Blues Musicians:Blind Willie Johnson
- blinded when his stepmother threw a pot of boiling lye in his face.Blind Blake
- the "King of Ragtime Guitar." Recorded some 80 odd tracks for Paramount Records in the 20's and 30's. Probably blind at birth. Nothing is known about his death.Blind Gary Davis
- partially blind since birth, he lost his sight completely in his late 20's. Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder were influenced by this Baptist minister.Blind Lemon Jefferson
- originator of Texas Blues. Also recorded for Paramount; one of the most popular Blues musicians of the 20's. Blind Melon (you know, the ones with the bee in their video) is a play on his name. Blind from childhood, maybe even from birth.Blind Willie McTell
- lost his sight in early childhood. His songs have been covered by the Allman brothers and Taj Mahal. As immortalized by Dylan:
"Seen the arrow on the door post saying 'This land is condemned'
All the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem.
I traveled through East Texas where many martyrs fell
And I know one thing, nobody can sing them blues like Blind Willie McTell."
(Incidentally, this song was covered by the Dream Syndicate
, one of my favorite Paisley Underground bands.)Blind Joe Taggart
- also recorded under the names Blind Joe Amos, Blind Jeremiah Taylor, Blind Tim Russell, and Blind Joe Donnel. Known for being mean and nasty; largely undiscovered until the 60's. Not entirely blind - had cataracts and could "see a little."Blind John Davis
- piano player. First pianist to do a European Blues tour (with Big Bill Broonzy in 1952).Blind Boy Fuller
- lost his sight at age 19, was "discovered" and started recording in 1935.
Many of the details of these musicians' lives and deaths are sketchy - very little is known about some of them, which is odd considering they sold a lot of records and influenced a lot of people. But Blues was called "Race Music" in the early days, and the artists weren't given much thought or respect by those writing history.
If you're interested in influential Bluesmen, check this out
. Also suitable for R. Crumb fans.