Born: May 5, 1929 | Died: 1966 Primary Instrument: Guitar
J.B. Lenoir probably picked up his solid boogie woogie influence in New Orleans, where he spent some time performing before he settled into Chicago's blues scene during the fifties and sixties. Lenoir had one of the most beautiful voices in postwar blues, and on his recordings his musicians gave him sparse, skeletal accompaniment, which framed his vocals perfectly. He was certainly one of the most original sounding of the blues singers.
While in New Orleans he played with blues greats Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James. Once Lenoir made it to Chicago, Big Bill Broonzy helped introduce him to the local blues community, and he became an important part of the city's blues scene.
He was a talented songwriter and bluesman with an obvious political awareness. Examples of his outspoken views can be found in Korea Blues, and Eisenhower Blues, the latter reportedly caused enough controversy that his record label forced him to remake the tune under the title Tax Paying Blues. His penchant for social commentary and his high-pitched vocals distinguish him from other bluesmen of that time.
Lenoir recorded his most enduring number, Mama Talk to Your Daughter, in 1954 for the Parrot label. He was quite prolific between ’54 and ’58 for both the Parrot and Chess labels. Lenoir's recordings are also distinctive for their excellent saxophone arrangements and unconventional drumming (Alex Atkins and Ernest Cotton were often on sax with Al Gavin on drums).
By 1965 and’ 66 he did two acoustic albums “Alabama Blues,” and “Down in Mississippi,” these were done in Chicago under Willie Dixon's supervision. These have been reissued jointly as “Vietnam Blues,” and are quite astonishing given the social turmoil of the period as racism, Civil Rights, poverty, and the war. Lenoir seemed to vocalize the intense situations. No blues singer had ever or since covered such poignant themes.
Lenoir had successfully toured Europe and was likely about to achieve greater fame when he died in 1966 due to complications from a car accident.
Source: James Nadal