Skip James

Real Name:
Nehemiah Curtis James
Profile:
Blues and gospel singer and songwriter, accomplished on guitar and piano. James frequently refused offers to be recorded and embraced his rediscovery in the 1960s only halfheartedly, but his otherworldly voice, haunting guitar, and staccato piano playing contributed to some of the greatest blues sides ever recorded.

James was born on June 21, 1902, in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Raised on the Woodbine plantation just outside Betonia, Mississippi, James was drawn to music from an early age. As a child he was inspired to be a musician after he heard Henry Stuckey and Rich Griffin play a Saturday night dance party. He taught himself piano after watching a rural pianist, and developed his guitar style after Stuckey showed him how to tune his guitar to an open E minor chord.

In 1927, Okeh Records approached him about making some records, but James refused. James was finally persuaded to see H.C. Spier in February of 1931, a master talent scout who had discovered most of the greatest Mississippi bluesmen of the 1920s and early 1930s. James played a little bit of "Devil Got My Woman," and Spier was convinced. The next day he presented the singer with a contract and a train ticket to Grafton, Wisconsin, where Paramount Records had a studio. James apparently recorded 18 tunes, though he would later remember performing 26 songs.

Not long after his recording session, James met his father again for the first time since his childhood. The senior James was a Baptist minister, and asked Skip to go to Dallas to attend his divinity school and study for the ministry. James accepted the invitation. The most serious implication of his new-found religion was relinquishing the blues, which was considered the Devil's music. H.C. Spier again approached James in 1932 about recording for Victor Records, but James refused.

In 1948 James quit a job with a mining company in Birmingham and returned to Betonia, planning to resume his blues career, but the African American population in Mississippi was dwindling and tastes in blues had changed, as well. He was only able to play an occasional party in town, and eventually vanished. Biographer Stephen Calt speculated that James' nickname may have had its roots in his criminal activities as he claimed that James often had to "skip" town in a hurry.

It was not until 1964 that blues enthusiasts Bill Barth, John Fahey, and Henry Vestine located James in Tunica, Arkansas, where he lay in a hospital suffering from cancer. Finally coaxed back to performing, his first public appearance was the Newport Folk Festival that year.

In constant pain from cancer, James was unable to record at first, despite interest from various record companies. In July of 1965, he received $200 for a session for Melodeon, which later that year resulted in his first album Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers. He would later record two LPs for Vanguard, Skip James Today! and Devil Got My Woman.

During the last four years of his life he occasionally played gigs at coffeehouses up and down the northeast coast. But his unrelentingly depressing music made the clubs loathe to book him, and his records were not particularly successful.

Living in Philadelphia with his third wife, James was chronically broke during his last years, until the group Cream (2) recorded "I'm So Glad" and included James' songwriter's credit.

Skip James died of cancer on October 3, 1969, in Philadelphia. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1992.
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Albums

MLP 7321 Skip James - Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers album art Skip James Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers (Album) Melodeon MLP 7321 US 1965 Sell This Version
FT 3010 Skip James - Living Legends album art Son HouseSkip JamesBukka WhiteBig Joe Williams Son HouseSkip JamesBukka WhiteBig Joe Williams - Living Legends (Album) Verve Folkways, Verve Folkways FT 3010 US 1966 Sell This Version
VRS-9219 Skip James - Skip James Today! album art Skip James Skip James Today! (Album) Vanguard VRS-9219 US 1966 Sell This Version
VSD 79273 Skip James - Devil Got My Woman album art Skip James Devil Got My Woman (Album) Vanguard VSD 79273 US 1968 Sell This Version
BLP-12016 Skip James - 'A Tribute To Skip James'  Volume One album art Skip James 'A Tribute To Skip James' Volume One (Album) Biograph BLP-12016 US 1970 Sell This Version
VPD 20001 Skip James - I'm So Glad album art Skip James I'm So Glad(2xLP, Album) Vanguard, Pye Records (Sales) Ltd. VPD 20001 UK 1978 Sell This Version
MSE 207 Skip James - The Complete 1931 Session album art Skip James The Complete 1931 Session (Comp, Album) Yazoo MSE 207 UK 1982 Sell This Version
DLP 523 Skip James - Live At "The Second Fret", Philadelphia, 1966 album art Skip James Live At "The Second Fret", Philadelphia, 1966(LP, Album, Mono, Ltd) Document Records (2) DLP 523 Austria 1988 Sell This Version
EDCD 379 Skip James - She Lyin' album art Skip James She Lyin' (Album, Comp) Genes Records EDCD 379 UK 1993 Sell This Version
EDCD 481 Skip James - Skip's Piano Blues album art Skip James Skip's Piano Blues (Album) Genes Records EDCD 481 UK 1996 Sell This Version
WIS CD 687 Skip James - Jazz & Blues Collection album art Skip James Jazz & Blues Collection(CD, RM) Editions Atlas WIS CD 687 France 1996 Sell This Version
DOCD-5633 Skip James - The Complete Bloomington, Indiana, Concert, March 30, 1968, Part I album art Skip James The Complete Bloomington, Indiana, Concert, March 30, 1968, Part I (Album) Document Records (2) DOCD-5633 Austria 1999 Sell This Version
DOCD-5634 Skip James - The Complete Bloomington, Indiana, Concert, March 30, 1968, Part II album art Skip James The Complete Bloomington, Indiana, Concert, March 30, 1968, Part II (Album) Document Records (2) DOCD-5634 Austria 1999 Sell This Version
VCD 79705-2 Skip James - Studio Sessions: Rare And Unreleased album art Skip James Studio Sessions: Rare And Unreleased Vanguard VCD 79705-2 Europe 2003 Sell This Version
SHO 519245 2 Skip James - Hard Time Killing Floor Blues album art Skip James Hard Time Killing Floor Blues(CD, Album, RE) Biograph SHO 519245 2 Europe 2003 Sell This Version
ROC-CD-3251 Skip James - Live Cafe Au Go Go 1965 album art Bukka White & Skip James Bukka White & Skip James - Live Cafe Au Go Go 1965(CD) RockBeat Records ROC-CD-3251 US 2014 Sell This Version
DOR2084H Skip James - Live At Wtbs-fm In Cambridge. Ma October 1964 album art Mississippi John Hurt & Skip James Mississippi John Hurt & Skip James - Live At Wtbs-fm In Cambridge. Ma October 1964(LP, RE, 180) DOL DOR2084H Europe 2015 Sell This Version

Singles & EPs

13066 Skip James - 22-20 Blues / If You Haven't Got Any Hay, Get On Down The Road album art Skip James 22-20 Blues / If You Haven't Got Any Hay, Get On Down The Road Paramount 13066 US 1931 Sell This Version
13098 Skip James - I'm So Glad / Special Rider Blues album art Skip James I'm So Glad / Special Rider Blues(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13098 US 1931 Sell This Version
13106 Skip James - Hard Luck Child / 4 O'Clock Blues album art Skip James Hard Luck Child / 4 O'Clock Blues(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13106 US 1931 Sell This Version
13111 Skip James Drunken Spree / What Am I To Do(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13111 US 1931 Sell This Version
13072 Skip James - Illinois Blues / Yola My Blues Away album art Skip James Illinois Blues / Yola My Blues Away(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13072 US 1931 Sell This Version
13108 Skip James - Be Ready When He Comes / Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader album art Skip James Be Ready When He Comes / Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13108 US 1931 Sell This Version
13065 Skip James - Cherry Ball Blues / Hard Time Killing Floor Blues album art Skip James Cherry Ball Blues / Hard Time Killing Floor Blues(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13065 US 1931 Sell This Version
13085 Skip James How Long "Buck" / Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die Blues(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13085 US 1931 Sell This Version