Yank Rachell

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James "Yank" Rachell
Rachell performing in Hamburg, Germany, February 1978
Background information
Birth nameJames A. Rachel[1]
Born(1903-03-16)March 16, 1903 or 1910
Near Brownsville, Tennessee, United States
Died(1997-04-09)April 9, 1997 (aged 87–94)
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States[2]
GenresCountry blues,[3] blues
InstrumentsMandolin, guitar
Years active1929–1997
Associated actsSleepy John Estes
Hammie Nixon
Taj Mahal

James "Yank" Rachell (March 16, 1903[1] or 1910 – April 9, 1997) was an American country blues musician who has been called an "elder statesman of the blues."[3][4] His career as a performer spanned nearly seventy years, from the late 1920s to the 1990s.


Rachell grew up in Brownsville, Tennessee. There is uncertainty over his birth year; although his gravestone shows 1910, researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc conclude, on the basis of a 1920 census entry, that he was probably born in 1903.[1]

In 1958, during the American folk music revival, he moved to Indianapolis. He recorded for Delmark Records and Blue Goose Records. He was a capable guitarist and singer but was better known as a master of the blues mandolin. He bought his first mandolin at age 8, in a trade for a pig his family had given him to raise.[4] He often performed with the guitarist and singer Sleepy John Estes. "She Caught the Katy," which he wrote with Taj Mahal, is considered a blues standard.[4]

He appeared in the 1985 documentary film Louie Bluie (directed by Terry Zwigoff), about the musician Howard Armstrong. Rachell performed with John Sebastian and the J-Band in the film.[5]

By the mid-1990s, Rachell and Henry Townsend were the only blues musicians still active whose careers started in the 1920s.[6] Late in his life Rachell suffered from arthritis, which shortened his playing sessions, but he recorded an album just before his death, Too Hot for the Devil.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues – A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1996–1997". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  3. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  4. ^ a b c d Ratliff, Ben (April 20, 1997). "Yank Rachell, 87, Mandolinist and Elder Statesman of the Blues". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  5. ^ Norris, Sharon. Haywood County Tennessee. Black America Series. Arcadia Publishing.
  6. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 177–178. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.

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