Meet Rube Lacy, preacher, teacher and blues musician

By Susan Sliwicki

Historian and author Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity: He can never tell where his influence stops.”

Mississippi Jail House Groan by The Rev. Rube Lacy

Born Jan. 2, 1901, in MIssissippi, the Rev. Rube Lacy hoboed extensively, worked on a plantation in MIssissippi and became an ordained minister, in addition to his turn as a bluesman. Lacy played the guitar and mandolin. He is believed to have died circa 1972 in California. Photo courtesy Blues Images.

Of course, the names of some of those teachers — say, Rube Lacy, for instance — may not come to mind as quickly as those of their students. In terms of influence, though, Lacy’s at the head of the class.

“Rube Lacy was one of the people who taught Son House how to play guitar,” said John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. “They were friends; they were both from the same area, and there’s a connection there. He recorded a few years before Son House.”

Lacy is the bluesman behind “Mississippi Jail House Groan,” which was backed with “Ham Hound Crave” and released on Paramount 12629 in 1928.
“I think it’s a great record; it’s a masterpiece record,” Tefteller said. “It is a little bit different sounding; it does have a more haunting sound than some of the blues songs.”

Lacy’s record was one of many treasured by legendary Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax, who dedicated his life to preserving America’s musical culture from Delta blues to Appalachian folk.

“My copy came from Alan Lomax’s archives; it was there ’til after he died,” said Tefteller, who had asked for that record in lieu of payment for some appraisal work he had done. “The records that remained in his archives were his personal favorites.”

Lacy did more recording for Paramount — a recording ledger shows at least two more songs, possibly four, Tefteller said — but 12629 appears to be the only one the label ever released. He holds out hope that tests made for Lacy’s other songs may still be out there somewhere. “Anything is possible with those tests, because every once in awhile, a batch of Paramount tests will surface,” Tefteller said.

Unissued recordings turned up in 1987 and 1990 that included work by Charley Patton and Son House. Another large batch found eight years ago in Wisconsin had an unissued Tommy Johnson song, among others. Test pressings typically have white labels, which in some cases may be extra printed Paramount labels for other records that were flipped over and used, blank side out, Tefteller said. Tests also may have labels that say New York Recording Laboratories on them, or labels may be preprinted with spots for the song title, artist and run time to be penciled in once the test is pressed.

While a few copies of Lacy’s record have been up for sale, the ones Tefteller has seen aren’t in nearly as nice of condition as the one he owns. “There’ve been a few more that have gone for silly money — silly money because a lot of these blues records occasionally  make their way on to eBay, but you can see some pretty high prices for some of this kind of thing.”

Tefteller recalls a better-condition copy of Lacy’s “Mississippi Jail House Groan” selling for $3,000 and $4,000. A V++ copy of Paramount 12629 brought $1,725 on eBay in 2007, and a VG+ version sold for $1,285, according to popsike.com.

“Mississippi Jail House Groan” is a very collectible record, Tefteller said. He estimates no more than 20 copies remain in existence. The record was made at a time when Paramount made more copies of records than it did later on, when Charley Patton and Son House were recording.

“It’d be a lot easier to find a copy of this than a Son House,” Tefteller said. “Most of them are not in really nice condition.”

Son House became a revered musician; Lacy became The Rev. Rube Lacy, ordained via Missionary Baptist Church. He preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and California from 1932 through the 1960s, according to “Blues Who’s Who.”

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