Papa Charlie JacksonPapa Charlie Jackson’s ‘Lawdy, Lawdy Blues’ was the first commercially successful Blues song recorded by a man. In an age when ‘Race Music‘ was a new phenomenon, dozens of Blues Divas were recording for the major companies, but the idea of a black man singing about the hardships of his life was a politically sensitive matter. The Ivy-League graduate and football star ‘Ink’ Williams was producing records for the Paramount label, and he took the bold step of inviting Papa Charlie into the studio.

William Henry Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1887, but little else is known about his early life. He made a living as a musician in various travelling circus, vaudeville and medicine shows, and by the early 20s, he had settled in Chicago. He was well known around the Market Street area, as he played for tips on a six-string guitar which had a banjo body, and he sang in a strong, mellifluous voice. ‘Ink’ Williams got to hear about him, and cut four tracks with Papa Charlie at that same historic session, including his best known song, ‘Salty Dog Blues’ which was issued after the success of ‘Lawdy, Lawdy’.

Papa Charlie’s ‘Maxwell Street Blues’ was recorded in 1925 (amazing quality for a horn recording too);

The unusually light sound of Papa Charlie’s banjo/guitar got him session work on ‘Ink’s recordings of Lottie Beaman and Jennie Brooks, and in the new year he was back in the Paramount studio making more of his own records. He cut a version of Ma Rainey‘s rude hokum Blues, ‘Shave ‘Em Dry’ and duetted on ‘Mister Man’ with Ida Cox, and with Ma herself on ‘Ma and Pa’s Poorhouse Blues’. Papa Charlie had released 30 solo singles by 1929, and contributed his four and six-string banjo playing to many more, when he was teamed up with Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake and The Hokum Boys ( Tampa Red and Georgia Tom) to record a session that was issued as ‘Hometown Skiffle’. ‘Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It’ also came out as a double-sided disc that was probably recorded at the same time.

Blind Blake and Papa Charlie fooling around;

Papa Charlie Jackson Discography
Some great stuff on here. Papa Charlie was a soulful singer, and this CD has his duets with Ma Rainey, Hattie McDaniel and that Blind Blake session.


Pretty soon record sales were badly hit by the economic depression, and Papa Charlie fell silent for four years, although there were rumours that he did some jail-time around then. In 1934, he recorded for the Okeh label, resulting in two good records, and later that year he cut some tracks with Big Bill Broonzy, who was a fan of Papa Charlie’s quick, two-finger-picking style. Those recordings were never issued, and nothing further was heard from Papa Charlie, who passed away in Chicago in 1938.