In 1995 Mojo Magazine ran a feature called The Greatest Thing I've Heard All Year where well-known artists were invited to rhapsodise about a favourite artist or piece of music. Many of these musicians took it as an opportunity to delve into the esoteric, and for readers it became a fine way to discover previously unknown artists or albums. Captain Beefheart used his chance to introduce the vast majority of the listening public to Eddie "One-String" Jones (aka "One-String" Sam, apparently variable according to territory). Beefheart's description was as rudimentary as Jones' s music, but managed to convey such enthusiasm for the music as to make it a prime example of the worth of such a magazine piece.
The one-stringed instrument seems to have its origins in West Africa, but the more recent usage could be found with some delta blues players in the thirties and forties. Many well known players, from Muddy Waters down, have spoken about initially making their own simple instruments, but with Eddie Jones it seems that he stayed with his home made one-string (aka unitar). The original notes for this album showed a drawing (still reproduced here) of his simple instrument, a basic piece of wood with a neck at one end and a split tin can at the other to serve as a soundbox for the single metal string. Jones played it by hitting it with a whittled stick and used a small bottle to change tone. It was about as basic as you could get, yet from the evidence here it allowed him to perform his particular brand of blues. Jones had a positive view of his abilities, as evidenced by his enthusiastic explanatory introduction on ‘One-String Three-Quarter Banjo Picker’ which opens this CD, and indeed his talents are quickly evident as he delivers favourites like ‘John Henry’, ‘Baby Please Don't Go’ and ‘The Dozens’. The original vinyl issue included three tracks from harmonica player and singer Eddie Hazelton, and this CD adds extra tracks from both the Eddies taken from two sessions in February and March 1960. Both men led hobo existences and had to be sought out on Los Angeles' Skid Row to be recorded. They sometimes would play together, although musicians of very different temperaments, with the more outgoing and flamboyant Jones sometimes taking over songs and tunes from Hazelton and finishing them.
Whatever their differences were, and whatever was the truth of their histories, the two men's playing carries this album, making it one of the most fascinating 'back to basics' examples in recorded music. Perhaps their nearest modern equivalent would be Seasick Steve, but even his output is polished compared to the two Eddies. Their output is rooted in direct experience of a travelling existence and has all the gutsy and earthy feeling that the music demands. It would make a fine starting point for any serious study of America's blues history, but can be more than appreciated in its own right too.