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Big Bill Broonzy’s Guitar Teacher

Big Bill Broonzy\'s guitar teacher

“Papa” Charlie Jackson

Papa Charlie Jackson was a very sophisticated player of the six-string banjo-guitar (six stringed instrument, tuned like a guitar but with a banjo body, that gave it a lighter resonance) and ukulele, who was one of the earliest and most successful of the solo blues singer/instrumentalists (note that blues was considered a type of song back then, not a genre as it is today). He was the first bluesman to record, beginning in 1924 with the Paramount label.

Jackson was born in New Orleans around 1890. He spent his teen years as a singer/performer in minstrel and medicine shows, picking up a repertoire of bawdy but entertaining songs that would serve him well for decades. Around 1920 he settled in Chicago on the famed Maxwell Street, where he began earning a living by busking on street corners, playing house parties, as well as gigs in the city’s Westside clubs. Jackson was the first really successful ‘self accompanied’ performer, and he has the distinction of being one of the exponents of “Hokum”, a spicy, bawdy form of popular song, that made repeated and continual references to sex.

Jackson’s style as a soloist was unique and sophisticated for the period. He used a whole range of styles from hot chordal solos and single-note plectrum runs, to the ‘finger picking’ styles of the rural blues guitarist. He often used fast chordal runs behind his vocals following the melody closely, which gave his songs more bounce and swing. Whether he was strumming or finger-picking, his music was always of interest for its structure, content, and execution. Due to his early death Jackson seems to have fallen through the cracks and is all but forgotten today by critics and historians.

Big Bill Broonzy served in the US Army during World War I. After his discharge, he returned back to his home in Arkansas. This is when he decided that farming was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He decided that he wanted to make his living as a guitar player and singer, and in 1924 Broonzy moved to Chicago to start his music career. His decision was also partly due to all the racism that was happening in the South. Under the guidance of Papa Charlie Jackson, Broonzy learned how to play the guitar. Jackson was an important influence on Broonzy, who outlived his mentor by 20 years. They even did recordings together, but sadly these were never published. In the 1930’s Broonzy became known as one of the major artist on the Chicago Blues scene.

For more about Big Bill Broonzy, please see the seperate article.

‘Forgotten Blues’ MP3 by ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson

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