John Jackson

John H. Jackson, b. February 25, 1924 in Woodville, VA, d. January 20, 2002 in Fairfax Station, VA, Piedmont blues musician, active 1960s - 1990s. Music was not his primary activity until his accidental "discovery" by the folklorist Chuck Perdue in the 1960s. Jackson had effectively given up playing in his community in 1949.

Born into a musical family, Jackson began to play guitar at around five years old, learning from a convict who worked on a chain gang. He played at parties and dances on the farm where he worked, but in 1946 gave up music to concentrate on family life in the town of Fairfax, working on a dairy farm and later as a gravedigger. He started playing guitar again in the 60s, reaping the benefits of the folk/blues revival. Jackson's music, at least some of which was learned from records, covered a wide range of traditional southern material, including blues, rags, country dance tunes and ballads (which earned him the description of songster rather than blues singer), and he played in a style related to other black guitarists from the eastern states, such as Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller.

Jackson made his recording debut on Arhoolie Records in 1965 with Blues And Country Dance Tunes From Virginia. He subsequently released many records, including one where he played second guitar to Buddy Moss, and maintained a busy schedule of concert and festival appearances, both in the USA and overseas. In 1986 Jackson was recognized as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. In the late 90s he was still going strong, releasing the acclaimed Front Porch Blues on Alligator Records and maintaining a full performance schedule. He died of complications from liver cancer in January 2002.

John Jackson Biography by Barry Lee Pearson

For much of his life, John Jackson played for country house parties in Virginia, or around the house for his own amusement. Then in the '60s he encountered the folk revival, becoming the Washington, D.C. area's best-loved blues artist. Undoubtedly one of the finest of traditional Piedmont guitarists, Jackson exemplified the songster tradition at its best. His eclectic repertoire embraced the music of his guitar heroes Willie Walker (who once visited his father's house), Blind Boy Fuller, and -- most notably -- Blind Blake. Besides the blues, rags, and dance tunes associated with these masters, Jackson played ballads, country songs, and what he termed "old folk songs," such as "The Midnight Special." His confident fingerpicking, down-home Virginia accent, and contagious good humor marked his performances, live or on record, as something special. A world-class storyteller and party-thrower as well as a National Heritage Award-winning musician, Jackson recorded a half-dozen albums and toured the world as often as he wanted to. He died of liver cancer on January 20, 2002.