Freedom Blues : Lil' Son Jackson©2005JCMarion


Melvin Jackson was born near Tyler, Texas in August of 1915. His father Johnny Jackson was a singer and musician and it was from him that young Melvin learned the foundation of guitar playing. He also often sang in the choir of the local Holiness Baptist Church. At about the age of sixteen apparently developing a strong dislike for the rural small town existence ahead of him, Melvin left home without his parents blessing and settled in Dallas. He worked at odd jobs in the area and kept his musical interests honed with frequent appearances with a local gospel group singing spirituals at local church gatherings. Things continued in this manner into the early nineteen forties. Then Jackson began to concentrate once again on secular music and the blues developing his own style of guitar playing and singing.

Melvin Jackson was almost thirty years old when he enlisted his services in the U.S. Army. He served in Europe for two years during the war and in early 1946 returned to Dallas, Texas. Once again he looked for work as a handy man doing odd jobs in the area but always thinking about his efforts in music. In 1948 Jackson finally got serious about music as his vocation and searched around for opportunities to present himself to record companies that might be interested in his talent. He found such a place in the Quinn Recording Company in Houston, Texas, run by Bill Quinn. The company was interested in recording Texas blues and rhythm performers for its Gold Star label, and it was here that Melvin Jackson made his debut in the summer of 1948. He was called "Lil' Son" Jackson by the label and the name would stick for the rest of his life. His very first recording was "Roberta Blues" / "Freedom Blues" on Gold Star # 638. That initial side was followed by "Ground Hog Blues" / "Bad Whiskey-Bad Women" on # 642. Lil' Son Jackson was a new rising star on the Texas blues scene.

In 1949 "Gone With The Wind She's Gone" and "No Money No Love" was released by Gold Star on #653, and "Cairo Blues" / "Evil Blues" on # 663. In late 1949 Jackson did his last side for Gold Star "Gambling Blues" on # 668, also "Homeless Blues" on Sittin In With # 643 as the West Coast record companies began to show interest. Jackson had one release for Modern Records with "Talking Blues" and "Milford Blues" on # 840. In mid 1950 Lil' Son Jackson made the move to California's major independent label Imperial Records. He would remain with them for most of the decade. His initial recording for the label was "Ticket Agent Blues" and "True Love Blues" on # 5100. By late October "Ticket Agent Blues" is a top R & B seller in the city of Dallas and also does well in Oklahoma City. "Evening Blues" and "Tough Luck Blues" was next on Imperial # 5108.

In early 1951 Jackson foretells the future (musically speaking) with the release of the song "Rockin' And Rollin'", with the flip side called "Peace Bringing People". The side "Rockin'" becomes a good seller in the Dallas area in March. In May with Jackson getting good airplay and sales Dot Records in Tennessee re-releases "Gambling Blues" and "Homesick Blues" on # 1051 in an effort to cash in on the popularity of Lil' Son . "Two Timing Woman" and "Rocky Road" was issued on # 5119 followed by "Traveling Alone" and "and "Young Woman Blues" on # 5125. In July, Imperial records Jackson's group as Lil' Son Jackson & His Rockin & Rollers with the tunes "Mr. Blues" and "Time Changes Things" on # 5131. The combo includes Boston Smith on piano, Booker T. Everhart on bass, Be Bop McKinley on drums, and possibly Maxwell Davis on tenor sax. The record does well in Dallas once again. It is soon followed by "Wondering Blues" and "Restless Blues" on # 5137.

On September 22 of 1951, Bill Quinn folded Gold Star Records and sold off his masters to Modern Records which included a number of sides by Lil' Son Jackson. Jackson now records with a combo that includes Henry Jenkins on alto sax, Al Calloway on piano, with Everhart and McKinley remaining from the earlier group. They record "Red Light" and "Aching Heart" on # 5144, and "Traveling Woman" and "Everybody's Blues" on # 5156. Again recording as Lil' Son Jackson & His Rockin & Rollers, they release "Upstairs Boogie" and "All My Love" on # 5165, and "Big Gun Blues" and "My Little Girl" on # 5175 in May of 1952. Imperial re-releases "Traveling Alone" and "Young Woman Blues" on # 5192. As with most of Jackson's records, they get a good reception in Dallas. Imperial thinks about this and soon decides to record Jackson in the lone star state and so sets up a session in nearby Fort Worth. In June and again in October, Lil' Son Jackson records a number of tunes for Imperial. In November Imperial releases "Rockin And Rollin # 2" and "Journey Back Home" on # 5204.

"Sad Letter Blues" and "Black And Brown" on # 5218 are issued in January of 1953. Behind Jackson on the session are Al Calloway on piano, Booker Everhart on bass, and Be-Bop McKinley on drums. "Spending Money Blues" and "All Alone" on # 5237 is out in May followed by "Movin To The Country" and "Confession" on # 5248 in September as Imperial moves its Jackson sessions to Dallas. "Little Girl" and "Dirty Work" on # 5259 is issued by Imperial in November. In January of 1954 "Thrill Me Baby" and "Doctor Doctor" on # 5267 is the first sides of the year for Lil Son Jackson, followed by "Big Rat" and "Piggly Wiggly" on # 5276. In June "Blues By The Hour" and "Troubles Don't Last" on Imperial # 5286 is the newest by Jackson. In October "Good Old Wagon" and "How Long" on # 5312 is released, and late in the year four tunes recorded from the first Fort Worth session back in June of 1952 are issued by Imperial. The backing band on these cuts are Junior Williams and Henry Jenkins on saxes, Boston Smith on piano, the ever present Booker Everhart on bass, and Johnny Shields on drums. "Let Me Down Easy" and " Get High Everybody" on # 5300, and "My Younger Days" and "I Wish To Go Home" on # 5319 close out the year for Lil' Son.

Early in 1955 "Sugar Mama" and "Messing Up" is released by Imperial on # 5339. There was one last record for Jackson on the label - "Prison Bound" and "Rolling Mill", and the new wave of music that made R & B an outlet for teenagers across the country made blues performers such as Lil' Son Jackson suddenly obsolete as far as most of the recording companies were concerned. Rather than face meager bookings on the road when he could, Jackson left the music scene in late 1955 and once again worked odd jobs in the Dallas area. The late 50s early 60s boom in folk and blues on college campuses, led to an LP album of blues done solo for the Arhoolie label in 1960. Jackson drifted out of music and by the late 1960s his health began to suffer and during the early seventies he was hospitalized and in May of 1976 he passed away.

Lil' Son Jackson, another of the many outstanding blues practitioners from the state of Texas, should be remembered for his style and his prolific output in the early nineteen fifties for Imperial. They stand as a testament for this most original American music. Two CDs contain most of Jackson's output - The 55 track "Complete Imperial Recordings" from 1995 on Capitol, and the remastered folk blues album originally recorded in 1960 on Arhoolie. Lil' Son's recorded legacy in this way can be preserved and listened to for years to come.

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