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Read between the lines with Blind Lemon Jefferson's 'Peach Orchard Mama'

Bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson heads out in search of the perfect peach, only to find three others have tumbled the fruit from his favored tree. Or, for those of you who aren’t farmers: His woman done him wrong.

By Mike Greenblatt

the folk blues of blind lemon jefferson, especially on “Peach Orchard Mama,” incorporates beautiful acoustic guitar stylings behind his authoritative masculinity — a voice that means business.

“Peach orchard mama, you swore no one pick your fruit but me
But you had three kidmen, shakin’ down your peaches tree
I went to the station, begged the police to put me in jail
I don’t want to kill that woman, I hate to see her peaches tree fail
Aah, peach orchard mama, please don’t treat me so mean
Wanna chase out all the kidmen, and let me keep your orchard clean.”

Blind Lemon Jefferson Peach Orchard Mama

"Peach Orchard Mama" (Paramount 12801) was recorded at Blind Lemon Jefferson's penultimate session before his death. Image courtesy Blues Images.

This gem, recorded in August 1929 at Blind Lemon Jefferson’s penultimate recording session, is only one of two songs that came out of the Paramount Chicago studio that day. The other is the flip side of Paramount 12801, “Big Night Blues.”

“‘Peach Orchard Mama,’ if you can find a clean one, would go for over $2,000,” says John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. “But you won’t find one.”

“The labels at that time did not even keep studio logs, so no information is available on a lot of these rare recordings,” he continues. “None of these labels even thought this music was important enough to keep records on. Part of that stems from racial stigmas of the time. These records were made for the ‘race market,’ and the idea of actual documentation, preservation of masters or anything to make it easier for people generations later, that all went out the window. They just didn’t even consider that anybody outside of their current market for the next few months would even give a hoot about this stuff. It was always about who’s the latest and the newest, and it never went beyond that.”

Jefferson’s September 1929 session at Gennett Studios in Richmond, Ind., was more productive. He recorded at least 12 more tunes. By Christmas, the bluesman was dead, found on the cold streets of Chicago during one of that city’s worst winters. But like many other facets of Jefferson’s life, the exact cause of his death is unknown.

Jefferson, who was born blind on a farm in Couchman, Texas, grew to become the first truly successful male blues star and an influence on future generations that remains strong today.

His “Match Box Blues” has been covered by dozens of artists across multiple genres. His “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” is the last song on Bob Dylan’s 1962 self-titled debut album. It has also been covered by The Grateful Dead, John Hammond Jr., B.B. King and Peter, Paul & Mary.

Jefferson was portrayed by Art Evans in the 1976 film “Leadbelly.” A lyric in “Nine Pound Hammer” by Nashville guitar master Chet Atkins [1924-2001] called Jefferson “one of my first guitar-picking influences.” His “Black Snake Moan” was used as the title of a 2006 Samuel L. Jackson film.

“Blind Lemon Blues” was an off-Broadway theatrical production in 2009. He was also the first subject of a tribute record. The 1932 recording “My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon” by King Solomon Hill had been lost until Tefteller discovered it in 2002. GM