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Papa Charlie Jackson (c. 1885 – 1938) was an early American bluesman and songster who accompanied himself variously with a hybrid banjo guitar, a guitar, or a ukulele. His recording career began in 1924. Much of his life remains a mystery, but it is probable that he was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and died in Chicago, Illinois in 1938.
Born William Henry Jackson, he originally performed in minstrel and medicine shows. From the early 1920s into the 1930s, Jackson played frequent club dates in Chicago, and was noted for busking at Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. In August 1924, for Paramount Records, he recorded "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues", the first commercially successful, self-accompanied recordings by a male singer of the blues. One of his following tracks, "Salty Dog Blues", became his most famous song. Among his recordings are several in which he accompanied classic female blues singers such as Ida Cox, Hattie McDaniel, and Ma Rainey.
Blues writer Bruce Eder says that Jackson achieved "a musical peak of sorts in September of 1929 when he got to record with his longtime idol, Blind (Arthur) Blake, often known as the king of ragtime guitar during this period. 'Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It' parts one and two are among the most unusual sides of the late '20s, containing elements of blues jam session, hokum recording, and ragtime". A few more recordings for the for Paramount label followed in 1929 and 1930. In 1934 he recorded for Okeh Records, and the following year he recorded with Big Bill Broonzy. Altogether, Jackson recorded 66 sides during his career.
Jackson was an influential figure in the history of the blues, notable as "the first male singer/guitarist who played the blues to get to record" and as "one of the creators of 'Hokum'", a song genre featuring comic, often sexually suggestive lyrics and lively, danceable rhythms. He wrote, or was the first to record, several songs that became blues standards, including "Spoonful" and "Salty Dog". Nonetheless, he has received little attention from blues historians, perhaps because the fast tempos and humorous lyrics he usually favored lie outside the category of the traditional blues, and because the banjo is not generally regarded as a blues instrument.
Jackson's "Shake That Thing" was covered by Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in 1964. "Loan Me Your Heart" appeared on The Wildparty Sheiks eponymous album in 2002. The Carolina Chocolate Drops recorded "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine" on their Grammy Award winning 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, and often played the song in interviews after its release.
In 1973 Jackson's song "Shake That Thing" was briefly featured in the Sanford and Son episode, "The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection". Fred, played by Redd Foxx, could be seen dancing and singing to it at the beginning of the episode.