Jimmy Blythe

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Jimmy Blythe
Birth name James Louis Blythe
Also known as Duke Owens, George Jefferson
Born May 20, 1901
South Keene, Kentucky, United States
Died June 14, 1931(1931-06-14) (aged 30)
Genres Jazz, boogie-woogie
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Piano

James Louis "Jimmy" Blythe (May 20, 1901 – June 14, 1931) was an American jazz and boogie-woogie pianist and composer. Blythe is known to have recorded as many as 300 piano rolls, and his song "Chicago Stomp" is considered one of the earliest examples of boogie-woogie music to be recorded.


Blythe was born in South Keene, Kentucky to former slaves turned-sharecroppers Richard and Rena Blythe. He was the youngest of five children to survive birth, and initially had become interested in the piano after observing local ragtime players.[1] In 1917, Jimmy Blythe moved to Chicago, Illinois where he worked in the Mavis Talcum Powder Company, and studied the rudiments of piano playing under the tutelage of orchestra leader Clarence M. Jones, who found some success as an arranger. Though Blythe's life between 1919 and 1922 is obscured, it is speculated that he began preparing compositions in Jones's recording studio and performed at nearby music clubs.[2]

In early 1922, Blythe was hired by the Columbia Music Roll Company to record piano rolls that were home-accessible and featured in early nickelodeons. Modeling some of his style after the teachings of Jones, Blythe applied an increasingly popular octave and boogie bass, along with signature rhythmic breaks, to as many as 300 credited recordings for Columbia and later Capitol, when the company was reorganized in 1924.[3] In spite of the limitations of piano rolls, writer Bill Edwards remarks that Blythe "was able to take simple popular songs and create an engaging performance from them in short order. Many of these were taken from the simple sheet music and expanded to include blues riffs, stride or boogie-woogie bass, and even pseudo-novelty figures. Musicians around Chicago and beyond worked to emulate his engaging style as his fame grew".[4]

In April 1924, Blythe entered the recording studio with fellow musician and co-writer Alex J. Robinson to cut sides for Paramount Records. One of the songs, "Chicago Stomp", became Blythe's best-known recording, and made him the earliest boogie-woogie piano player to be captured on record. It has also been suggested that his 1925 recording of "Jimmie Blues" influenced the work of Clarence "Pine Top" Smith and Albert Ammons.[4][5] Over the ensuing years, Blythe recorded with his own studio-only groups including Blythe's Sinful Five, Jimmy Blythe and his Ragamuffins, and Blythe's Washboard Band, among others, which usually featured clarinetist Jimmy O'Bryant. In addition, Blythe accompanied recording sessions by Johnny Dodds, Ma Rainey, and Jimmy Bertrand, and made duets with Buddy Burton and Charlie Clark. In some instances when he penned songs with Robinson and other musicians such as Trixie Smith, Blythe used the pseudonyms Duke Owens and George Jefferson.[2]

In 1930, Blythe substantially decreased his recording activity, appearing on just two sides of Robinson's group, Knights of Rest. He was living with his sister and her husband when Blythe contracted meningitis. Blythe died on June 14, 1931 at age 30. Since his death, nearly all of Blythe's recordings have been made available through CD reissues.[1][6]


  1. ^ a b "Mecca Flat Blues - The Jimmy Blythe Story". chicagosouthsidepiano.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Koester, Bob (2007). "Messin' Around Blues (CD booklet)". Delmark Records. 
  3. ^ "James "Jimmy" Blythe". redhotjazz.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Edwards, Bill. "James Louis (Jimmy) Blythe". ragpiano.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Jimmy Blythe - Biography". allmusic.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Jimmy Blythe Discography". chicagosouthsidepiano.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015. 

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