Skip James shares something of the same story as Mississippi John Hurt in that they were both re-discovered by blues enthusiasts in the sixties and taken to the Newport Folk Festival and to Vanguard Records. This CD of Skip's work is compiled from the two albums he cut for Vanguard in 1966 and 1968, shortly before his death in 1969. Nine tracks come from the 1966 work “Today!”, and a further nine from 1968's “Devil Got My Woman”, with the remaining two songs ‘She's All The World To Me’ and ‘Everybody Leaving Here’ being previously unreleased. The collection features both his piano playing and his unusual open D-minor guitar tunings, with his vocals varying from a regular mid range to an arresting semi-falsetto.
Skip had been born in 1902 in Bentonia in the Mississippi Delta, and spent much of his earlier life attempting to decide between music and the church as his main activity, and at times combining both. He learnt much of his guitar playing and tuning from an older friend, Henry Stuckey, and learnt piano at high school. In his late twenties, he was heard by a talent scout who pointed him towards Paramount Records in Wisconsin. Paramount, mainly a furniture sales company, was regarded at the time as a really cheap operation, existing only to provide any product to sell alongside radiograms. They paid artists a meagre fee, and pressed the results on poor quality shellac, meaning that very few examples of Skip's early work have survived. However the B-side of his first Paramount 78rpm single, ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’, has proved to be one of his best-known songs, particularly through its use in cover form in the O Brother Where Art Thou? film. Of the 26 sides he recorded for Paramount in 1931, 18 of them were issued at the time on a string of nine obscure singles that did not sell in any sort of quantity. Of these over half were revisited on the two Vanguard albums, with the best known being ‘I'm So Glad’, ‘22-20 Blues’ and ‘Devil Got My Woman’, all of which have proved to be influential, attracting covers from Cream, Deep Purple and Dion amongst others.
Skip James' re-discovery occurred when three then record collectors, John Fahey, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine (later of Canned Heat), tracked him down and eventually managed to convince him to play at Newport. He was far from enamoured with the folk and blues music business, and remained quite detached from it while retaining great faith in his own abilities. Royalties from the Vanguard albums and Eric Clapton's Cream cover did mean that Skip was able, for the first time in his life, to enjoy some brief fruits from his music making before cancer took him. Various CDs exist of the earlier Paramount recordings, but better by far is this compilation that shows off his unique talents to their best advantage.