Wesley Jefferson (1944-2009)

Blues Bassist and Vocalist, Clarksdale

Bassist, vocalist, and bandleader Wesley Jefferson has been a stalwart of the Clarksdale blues scene since the mid-1960s. He was born in Roundaway in Coahoma County on March 23, 1944, the oldest boy of thirteen children. As a youth, he picked and chopped cotton, plowed with mules and later with a tractor, and lived in extreme poverty.

He recalls being influenced by his grandfather, Claude Jefferson, who played guitar at his home in Clarksdale. He also furtively listened to records by “deep blues” artists at a juke joint run by his mother “way out in the field,” where they sold catfish and moonshine made by his stepfather. Local musicians who he saw playing at small venues in the country included the one-man-band “Popeye,” guitarist Ernest Roy—“the best guitarist I ever seen,” and the band led by Tutwiler’s Lee Kizart, who hauled his piano from gig to gig.

Jefferson first played blues on a diddley bow on the wall of his house and was first able to buy a guitar after he moved to Memphis to work around age 18. He soon moved on to drums and began playing in Memphis juke joints and house parties. After several years he returned to the Clarksdale region, where he found work as a mechanic on Hopson Plantation, a job he held for 22 years. He soon formed his first band, playing drums behind guitarist/vocalist David Porter and bassist “A.C.” at Smitty’s Red Top Lounge in Clarksdale. The band lasted for about three or four years, and Jefferson then formed a new band—now having switched to the bass—with guitarist J.C. Holmes, drummer C.V. Veal, and Veal’s wife Marian on vocals, a grouping that lasted seven or eight years.

For about a decade Jefferson worked regularly across the Delta with drummer Sam Carr and guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player Frank Frost. He also played with Big Jack Johnson, Little Jeno Tucker, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, and Willie Foster. “I kind of was with all of them for a while,” he says and explains that he was the organizer of these groups, doing the booking and providing much of the equipment.

He also played in groups called the Scalpers and Creative Funk, which performed more modern soul-blues. In the ‘90s the Wesley Jefferson band featured guitarist/vocalist James “Super Chikan” Johnson, and more recently Willie “Rip” Butler, Michael “Dr. Mike” James, and Gladys Kyles. The group also features Earnest Boone on double trumpet and drummer Joe Williams. In the late ‘90s, Jefferson was involved in a serious automobile accident and also had heart problems, which resulted in a temporary hiatus from performing. Since returning he has performed regularly in the Clarksdale area and has traveled to a festival in Canada.

Jefferson’s first recordings appeared on the Clarksdale-based Rooster Blues’ 1990 cassette-only compilation, Clarksdale, Mississippi—Coahoma The Blues. As Wesley “Mississippi Junebug” Jefferson he sings the song “(Hey Theresa) Don’t Throw Your Love on me so Hard (Strong).” and backs fellow band members Willie “Rip” Butler, Lorenzo Nicholson, and C.V. Veal on five other songs.

In 1996 the Repap paper company underwrote the cost for the CD, The Wesley Jefferson Band: Delta Blues Live from the Do Drop Inn. Over half the songs are originals by vocalist James “Super Chikan” Johnson, who recorded his debut CD the following year. Jefferson’s most recent recording is Meet Me in the Cotton Field, a collaboration with Clarksdale guitarist Terry “Big T” Williams, released in Spring 2007 on St. Louis-based Broke & Hungry Records.

Jefferson died on July 22, 2009, from complications due to lung cancer.

-Scott Barretta

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