Skillet Jefferson and "The Blues"

23 Jun

May 31, 2019

Music plays a crucial role in the daily life of a prison convict. During my 20 years of incarceration within the Texas prison system, a passion for the genre known as "The Blues" was born. While assigned to the Eastham prison, I had the honor of coming to know an elderly black convict who everyone knew by the name of "Skillet Jefferson." Skillet was well into his fifth decade of incarceration when I met him in 1997.

Before they tossed Skillet in prison for killing a man, he was an accomplished, albeit relatively unknown blues musician, and primarily playing what we refer to today as "Delta Blues." We must consider this form of blues as the womb which gave birth to rock music. Artist like Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Bukka White, and Lead Belly live on in their immortal work, the work which is forever evolving within the gene pool of its offspring rock music.

Skillet introduced me to the previously unknown Cigar Box guitar (CBG). Many of the early musicians could not afford to purchase instruments. Out of necessity, they fabricated instruments from discarded cigar boxes, old biscuit tins, and wooden crates. The idea fascinated me to the point of vowing to build these instruments after my release from prison. That vow has been honored and is a passionate hobby. Today, CBG's are used by many recording artists such as Kid Rock, Samantha Fish, Steven Tyler, Steve Arvey, Justin Johnson and even Sir Paul McCartney.

While the early artists did not have electric guitars, CBG's have kept the guts and spirit of the original masters while using modern electronics to create a living-breathing shit storm of in-your-face music seldom found in the plastic corporate wasteland of today's contemporary "music." I know that Skillet Jefferson and all those who came before him are raising shot glasses of cheap bourbon as a salute to their offspring. An example is the song "Statesboro Blues" by Blind Willie McTell, which has been "covered" by many artists, including the incredible version by The Allman Brothers Band.

I feel the need to write about these things, and perhaps the first step is making the130 mile drive to visit the grave of Blind Willie McTell in Thomson, Georgia.

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