As part of National Black History Month the man above John Jackson should be remembered with fondness and affection. John throughout his long 77 year life endeared himself to so many and moved the art of true blues guitar and song to new levels for anyone who sat and listened to him.
I had the pleasure of meeting John and his agent Trish while I was one of the organizers at the Gloucester International Blues Festival in England. I watched from the wings of the stage at John with Trish sitting next to him play to his audience, some of whom had never heard of him before. Little did they know this man had just been diagnosed with liver cancer and little did they know that this would probably be the last time they would see him. As he played seasoned blues players standing behind me listened as well and there comments were only to clear to hear. Look at his thumb move one whispered as John played Lay me Down, how does he do that. It was a performance I will always remember and find myself lucky I was there to share in one of his final performances he will be missed.
John Jackson was born in Woodville Virginia just below his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains on the 25th February 1924 he also had 13 other brothers and sisters. Born to farmer parents who also played music to earn a bit of cash life was quite hard but you wouldn’t know that today, for in the short time I new him I never heard a bad word from him. On the contrary he was a great story teller and had us enthralled over lunch, with my wife becoming a fan immediately.
John first picked up a guitar when he was 4 years of age, his fathers it is said, after that one of his siblings purchased one for him when he was about five. But times were hard so it wasn’t long before John had to put his guitar down and head for work. He had very little formal education and left school after only a few months of 1st grade then going to work on his fathers farm never learning how to read and write. He kept playing though with his Mother and Father at parties but gave up the guitar just walked away from it. When pressed for his reasons he would say in those days it sometimes led to violence and would not pick up the guitar again until the 1950’s when he moved to Fairfax County near Washington D.C. Here he met his beloved wife Cora and started working on a dairy farm and started his favorite job that of a grave digger. It is here that he now began to play again learning his trade from an immense list of people. John learnt from members of a chain gang constructing roads near by and anyone he could find. He continued this life style until the mid sixties where he was spotted by Chuck Perdue. He went onto perform at various local venues in the Washington D.C. area and recorded his first album in 1965 called Blues and Country dance songs from Virginia. The rest is history and this article is for one of the most unassuming people I have met John Jackson and to prove this point if we go back to that lunch we had with him and Trish on that warm Saturday in Gloucester England, he didn’t even mention that he played at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts
Thanks John and Thanks Trish for keeping an eye on him