William Henry "Papa Charlie" Jackson PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 April 2006 00:00
William Henry "Papa Charlie" Jackson
by Michael Agresti

J.M.J.[reprint]---Tell it Like it Is---An intermittent publication
of the Wisconsin Blues Society, Ltd.[ A Non-Profit Arts Organization ],
Volume 1: Number 2, Winter 1990, page 2.

William Henry "Papa Charlie" Jackson

by Michael Agresti

An advertisement for Papa Charlie Jackson's June 1929 Paramount
recording " Hot Papa Blues # 2 " states: " No wonder they all fall for
him! He's just a red hot papa in a class by himself and it takes a cop
or two to hold the mamas back when he struts down the avenue. Papa
Charlie sure knows how to sing this kind of Blues "( Oliver ). Prior to
this description, a 1927 promotional publication entitled Paramount Book
Of Blues described Papa Charlie as a "witty, cheerful, and kind hearted
man, who with his joyous sounding voice and his banjo, sang and strummed
his way into the hearts of thousands" ( Calt & Wardlow ).

According to most sources, very little information is available on the
life of Papa Charlie. His birth date is unknown, however, he most likely
was born in New Orleans. During the 'teens he played in medicine and
vaudeville shows in New York, Memphis, and in the midwest. He moved to
Chicago in the early 20s and reportedly lived at 624 Maxwell Street. He
played the Maxwell Street Market in 1924-25 and the West Side club
circuit through the 1930s.

Although Ed Andrews was actually the first male country Blues singer to
be recorded, in April 1924 by Okeh Records in Atlanta " Barrelhouse
Blues ", Papa Charlie was the first commercially successful
self-accompanied Bluesman. This meant that "he was the first recorded
artist to depart from the traditional orchestral style Blues, sung by
women like Bessie Smith, which dominated RACE music from 1920 to 1926" (
Calt, et. al. ).

He recorded " Salt Lake City Blues ", " Airy Man Blues ", and " Salty
Dog Blues " in Chicago in the fall of 1924 for Paramount Records, and he
continued to record for them until 1930. He also recorded two sides with
Gertude " Ma" Rainey for Paramount in 1928. All of his recordings for
Paramount were made in either Chicago or Grafton, Wisconsin. He moved to
Okeh Records and recorded several sides for them elsewhere from 1930 to

Papa Charlies' immense popularity was due to his ability to sing and
play for his audience in a lively and cheerful manner. His style with
quick tempos was very different from that of the slow sorrowful Blues of
his contemporaries. Papa Charlie sang of the misfortunes and
predicaments in life, but with amusement and a sarcastic sense of humor.
" Shake That Thing ", which is about a popular dance of the time, was a
prototype of a genre called hokum/blues. Several of the songs he
recorded "Salt Lake City Blues", "Mama Don't Allow It ", "The Fakin'
Blues", Salty Dog Blues", and "4-11-44" contain sexual innuendos. Along
with the Mississippi Shieks, Papa Charlie had a great propensity for
non-blues music, which may have helped account for his large record
sales since most people bought records at that time to make themselves
feel good. However, Papa Charlie also recorded a few traditional
sounding Blues songs like "Up That Way Bound", "Red Hot Papa # 2",
"Tailor Made Lover", and "Take Me Back Blues # 2" . Incidentally. he
played a guitar on these songs, not his banjo.

He played a 4 string banjo like jazz and minstrel musicians and a 5
string banjo like few other Bluesmen, but he preferred the 6 string
banjo. Papa Charlie was the only musician to play a 6 string banjo,
which was tuned and fretted like a guitar, although its sound was much
lighter. He did not play in the bluegrass clawhammer or jazz flat
picking styles. Instead, he used a combination of 2 fingered picking and
single strumming with free and very quick rhythms played with his thumb.

His importance in the history of the Blues has been lessened by several
factors. His flair for unique and irreverent material, similar to that
of Charley Patton, along with his fast upbeat tempo which made his
records sell, did not fit into the traditional Blues category. His
records were of poor quality since about half of his 66 sides were
recorded with an acoustic horn, not a microphone.The rest contained a
lot of "hiss" since Paramount used inferior quality materials in their
pressing of records. Also, his banjo was not viewed as a traditional
Blues instrument. However, no one has duplicated his unique
performances. William Henry "Papa Charlie" Jackson died on the West Side
of Chicago in May, 1938.

Paramount Records ( 1922-1932 ), which had corporate offices in Port
Washington, and a record plant and a recording studio in Grafton,
dominated RACE record sales during the 1920s. There will be a historical
review of Paramount, along with the names of the Blues artist who
recorded for this company in the next issue of Tell it Like it Is.

Works Cited and/or Consulted:

Barlow, William "Looking Up At Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture,
Philidelphia, 1989
Calt, Stephen and Pearls, Nick "Fat Mouth 1924-1927" Yazoo L-1029
Calt, Stephen and Wardlow, Gayle Dean "The Buying and Selling of
Paramount, part 3", 78 Quarterly, Vol.1 # 5, 1990, ( p.7-24 )
Harris, Sheldon "Blues Who's Who", New York: DaCapo Press 1970
Oakley, Giles "The Devil's Music": A History of the Blues, New York:
Taplinger 1976
Oliver, Paul "Mostly New to LP 1924-1929", Matchbox 1007

By Michael Agresti

[Submitted by James VanDrisse, Associate Editor, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ,
phone (920) 849-3279, pray while listening to "High Water Everywhere" by
Charley Patton]
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