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Story and photos by Lindsey Chester.
Cary, NC- PineCone, the group that promotes traditional music in the Piedmont, had a last minute hole to fill this past Saturday night. The scheduled act, Blind Boy Chocolate & The Milk Sheiks had broken up and William Lewis from PineCone was able save the evening by booking Jerron “Blind Boy ” Paxton as a last minute save. A colleague had recommended Paxton to William after hearing Paxton play at FolkAlliance.
This young man charmed the crowd who came out to Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park despite the dire forecast of increment weather. With thunderstorms in the area, the concert was quickly moved to the Kiwanis shelter, and was played to a packed and appreciative crowd.
With his Louisiana blues style, Paxton picked up his banjo to start the evening off and all could see he knew his stuff. His humorous banter kept the crowd engaged, and he was willing to take old favorite requests from the audience. Not being a blues aficionado, I just soaked up the sound and enjoyed the crowd and the cool breeze blowing under the roof. Folks nibbled on picnics and petted their dogs. It was that kind of relaxed crowd with plenty of hiking clothes sprinkled amongst the hippie gear, and not many kids.
From the PineCone website: He is witty, fast rhyming, poetic, fun, exciting, skilled as a musician and a fine singer. He is the son of Robert Johnson’s cousin, so you could say it’s “in the blood.”…Louisiana blues developed in the period after World War II. It is generally divided into two sub-genres: the jazz-influenced New Orleans blues based around the city, and the slower tempo swamp blues, which incorporated influences from zydeco and Cajun music from around Baton Rouge. Paxton currently lives in New York, where he is in school. Paxton plays a lot of old Cajun songs, old blues and hillbilly tunes, and old jazz numbers.
A few of the crowd favorites were familiar to me, such as “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” which was covered by Led Zeppelin. Paxton’s version was considerably more laid back and the listeners loved it. Another request from one fan up front whom Paxton kidded occasionally for her depth of blues knowledge, “Bill Bailey”. He picked up a violin (or fiddle) part way through and also worked songs with someone’s borrowed guitar.
The type of blues he plays has a long black American history, and in one intro to “Shady Grove” he discussed the song’s lineage as having been performed since the mid-17th century by black banjo players.
Much of the evening was interspersed with humor, “Lazy Bones” with its message of non-motivation was particularly funny. The music that evening was all about living and breathing and being of the South. The heat, the sounds, the humor, and much is steeped in Paxton’s roots from Louisana. He even mixed in some Cajun patois in one song and had the audience learn a phrase or two along the way.
He is often cited to have said that at the age of fifteen–about the time he started to go blind–that he just didn’t like anything written after 1934. He raised himself on 78s. He is a joyous entertainer, humorous with a dazzling wit, and a terrific storyteller who exudes an affable excitement.
Recently my brother took a trip to Georgia from his home in Oregon. He really couldn’t handle the heat and humidity, and as one particular song played I thought of him. The lyrics went something like this “If you don’t like milk and honey.. stay outta the South”. The sounds of “Blind Boy” Paxton made me realize I do like the land of Milk and Honey and love the sounds of the South.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, before the thunder began to roll in and cut the concert a few minutes short. Thank you PineCone for bringing this traditional music to Cary, rain or shine!
Check out this video of Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton: