You can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia, that’s for sure. While preparing for an interview with acoustic bluesman Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, I read that he was “the son of one of the cousins of famed blues guitarist Robert Johnson”. That got me thinking that a fun question might be whether he had any plans for a midnight rendezvous at the crossroads with you-know-who.
But as far as Paxton knows, there’s no blood connection between him and the mythmaking blues legend from Mississippi.
“Uh, I don’t think that’s true,” he explains on the line from his native L.A., “but leave it up there, I like it. Yeah, the more bullshit, the better. Long as they know I didn’t write it, I’m fine.”
Wikipedia isn’t the only source relaying sketchy info about Paxton. In the publicity material I received from the promoter of his upcoming Vancouver show, the singer and multi-instrumentalist—who specializes in traditional, pre–World War II music—is quoted as saying that, by the age of 15, he “just didn’t like anything written after 1934”.
“No, that’s not true either,” he points out. “You know, it’s a corruption of the truth. People tend to turn these things into negatives, like, ‘Well, I’m glad you don’t like such and such.’ You know, modern music isn’t gonna get any better whether I like hip-hop or not, and if the only reason somebody likes my music is because of their aversion to another style, well, that ain’t what I’m after.
“I didn’t say, ‘I’m not listening to nothing after 19-whatever-the-fuck,’ ” he continues. “I said, ‘Well, it just so happens that everything I like listening to and play regularly happened before this date.’ But it’s y’all people’s job to make our lives more excitin’ than they actually are. If somebody said I’m some spook from South Central who plays guitar, I don’t think too many people would be interested. But when people start to bring shit that doesn’t have anything to do with music, like my vision or my religion or my skin colour, into it, it tends to cheapen the music.”
Paxton, who turned 25 on January 26 (Wikipedia got his birthday wrong, too), has suffered from two eye diseases since he was a teenager, but as he says, that has nothing to do with his music. He can see well enough to pick up his guitar—or fiddle, or banjo—and play the type of music he heard being sung around his house when he was a kid. He’ll be doing it at Vancouver’s CBC Studio 700 this Saturday (February 1).
“My grandmother used to sing—just like I do—any type of music that came to hand. She sang blues and religious material and popular material and all sorts of things.”
On his only CD to date, Live at the Snail Pie Lounge, Paxton performs the odd original; covers of Furry Lewis, the Reverend Gary Davis, and Blind Willie McTell; and traditional gems like “Candyman”, “Samson and Delilah”, and “Cocaine Blues”.
“I play traditional American music of all kinds,” he says. “They’re my songs after a while.”