J. B. Lenoir
born on 5/3/1929 in Monticello, MS, United States
died on 29/4/1967 in Urbana, IL, United States
J. B. Lenoir
|J. B. Lenoir|
J. B. Lenoir /lnr/ (March 5, 1929 – April 29, 1967) was an African American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter, active in the 1950s and 1960s Chicago blues scene.
Although his name is sometimes pronounced as French "Len WAH", Lenoir himself pronounced it "La NOR". The initials "J.B." had no specific meaning, his given name was simply "JB"
Life and career
Lenoir's guitar-playing father introduced him to the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose music became a major influence. During the early 1940s, Lenoir worked with blues artists Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James in New Orleans. Lenoir would eventually find musical influence in Arthur Crudup and Lightnin' Hopkins.
In 1949, he moved to Chicago and Big Bill Broonzy helped introduce him to the local blues community. He began to perform at local nightclubs with musicians such as Memphis Minnie, Big Maceo Merriweather, and Muddy Waters, and became an important part of the city's blues scene. He began recording in 1951 the J.O.B. and Chess Records labels. His recording of "Korea Blues" was licensed to and released by Chess, as having been performed by 'J. B. and his Bayou Boys'. His band included pianist Sunnyland Slim, guitarist Leroy Foster, and drummer Alfred Wallace.
During the 1950s Lenoir recorded on various record labels in the Chicago area including J.O.B., Chess, Parrot, and Checker. His more successful songs included "Let's Roll", "The Mojo" featuring saxophonist J. T. Brown, and the controversial "Eisenhower Blues" which his record company, Parrot, forced him to re-record as "Tax Paying Blues."
Lenoir was known in the 1950s for his showmanship - in particular his zebra-patterned costumes - and his high-pitched vocals. He became an influential electric guitarist and songwriter, and his penchant for social commentary distinguished him from many other bluesmen of the time. His most commercially successful and enduring release was "Mamma Talk To Your Daughter", recorded for Parrot in 1954 which reached #11 on the Billboard R&B chart and was later recorded by many other blues and rock musicians. In the later 1950s (recording on the Checker label), he wrote several more blues standards including; "Don't Dog Your Woman", and "Don't Touch My Head!!!" (1956).
In 1963, Lenoir recorded for USA Records as 'J. B. Lenoir and his African Hunch Rhythm', developing an interest in African percussion. However, he struggled to work as a professional musician and for a time took menial jobs, including working in the kitchen at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Lenoir was rediscovered by Willie Dixon, who recorded him with drummer Fred Below on the albums Alabama Blues and Down In Mississippi (inspired by the Civil Rights and Free Speech movements). Lenoir toured Europe, and performed in 1965 with the American Folk Blues Festival in the United Kingdom.
Lenoir's work had direct political content relating to racism and the Vietnam War.
| I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me,
I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me,
—"Alabama Blues", by J. B. Lenoir
He died on April 29, 1967 in Urbana, Illinois, aged 38, from a heart attack related to injuries he suffered in a car accident three weeks earlier.
The 2003 documentary film The Soul of a Man, directed by Wim Wenders as the second instalment of Martin Scorsese's series The Blues, explored Lenoir's career, together with those of Skip James and Blind Willie Johnson.
In 2011, Lenoir was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.
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- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, p. 133134, Dubai: Carlton Books Limited.
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