Skip James

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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Skip James Discography

Albums

Skip James Greatest Of The Delta Blues Singers (Album) Melodeon UK 1965 Sell This Version
Son HouseSkip JamesBukka WhiteBig Joe Williams Son HouseSkip JamesBukka WhiteBig Joe Williams - Living Legends (Album) Verve Folkways Germany 1966 Sell This Version
Skip James Skip James Today! (Album) Vanguard US 1966 Sell This Version
Skip James Devil Got My Woman (Album) Vanguard New Zealand 1968 Sell This Version
BLP-12016 Skip James 'A Tribute To Skip James' Volume One(LP, Album) Biograph Records BLP-12016 US 1970 Sell This Version
VPD20001 Skip James I'm So Glad(LP, Album) Vanguard, Pye Records (Sales) Ltd. VPD20001 UK 1978 Sell This Version
DLP 523 Skip James Live At "The Second Fret", Philadelphia, 1966(LP, Album, Mono, Ltd) Document Records (2) DLP 523 Austria 1988 Sell This Version
Skip James Hard Time Killing Floor Blues Biograph Records US 1992 Sell This Version
Skip James She Lyin' (Album) Genes Records UK 1993 Sell This Version
Skip James Skip's Piano Blues (Album) Genes Records UK 1996 Sell This Version
DOCD-5633 Skip James The Complete Bloomington, Indiana, Concert, March 30, 1968, Part I(CD, 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(CD, Album) Document Records (2) DOCD-5634 Austria 1999 Sell This Version
Skip James Studio Sessions: Rare And Unreleased Vanguard Europe 2003 Sell This Version
ROC-CD-3251 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

Singles & EPs

13066 Skip James 22-20 Blues / If You Haven't Got Any Hay, Get On Down The Road(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13066 US 1931 Sell This Version
13108 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(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13065 US 1931 Sell This Version
13088 Skip James Devil Got My Woman / Cypress Grove Blues(Shellac, 10") Paramount 13088 US 1931 Sell This Version

Compilations

RL-339 Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, Son House Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, Son House - Delta Blues(LP, Comp, Mono, Ltd, RM) Roots (2) RL-339 Austria 1971 Sell This Version
SPL 1003, 901 Skip James Skip James: In The Beginning. The Original 1930-31 Recordings(LP, Comp, Ltd) Spokane Records (2), Spokane Records (2) SPL 1003, 901 UK 1971 Sell This Version
Herwin 214 William Harris (2), Blind Joe Reynolds, Skip James William Harris (2), Blind Joe Reynolds, Skip James - Delta Blues Heavy Hitters 1927-1931(LP, Comp, Mono) Herwin Records Herwin 214 US 1979 Sell This Version
MSE 207 Skip James Complete Recordings In Chronological Order (1931)(LP, Comp, Mono, RM) Matchbox Records MSE 207 UK 1983 Sell This Version
Skip James The Complete 1931 Session (Comp) Yazoo US 1986 Sell This Version
Skip James I'm So Glad - The Complete 1931 Paramount Recordings (Comp) Document Records (2) Europe 1990 Sell This Version
Skip James "Live" Boston 1964 & Philadelphia 1966 (Comp) Document Records (2) Austria 1992 Sell This Version