A Draft Card Solidifies the Identity of King Solomon Hill.
King Solomon Hill was a skilled blues guitar player who sang in a falsetto voice, accompanied by slide guitar, where a meat bone was used as a slide. Hill recorded 6 sides in 1932, only four of which have ever been found by collectors.
Why is he so important? many researchers, collectors, and scholars think Hill is equally as talented as Willie Brown, Charlie Patton, or even Robert Johnson. Yet, for the most part, his true identity has remained a mystery, and a debate has raged on since the 1960′s with different opinions as to who this man actually was.
As early as 1959, Sam Charters, in his book ” Country Blues” had identified King Solomon Hill as Big Joe WIlliams. By the mid-1960s, that suggestion seemed erroneous to a new era of scholars and researchers, among them, Gayle Dean Wardlow. The mystery began to unravel when Stephen Calt informed Wardlow he heard mention of the town of Minden in the recording of “Gone Dead Train”, a Hill release. This peaked Wardlow’s interest, and the investigation begun.
After traveling to Minden, Wardlow began to ask residents about a King Solomon Hill. The residents, of course, had never heard of him. But once Wardlow began playing his music for the people, several of them identified the singer as a man named Joe Holmes, from Sibley, LA. Naturally, Wardlow followed the lead. Sibley, a small town of only 500 residents, sits about 30 miles from Shreveport. Once Wardlow began poking around there, again playing Hill’s recordings for the older people of the town, he got more of the same – “Never heard of no King Solomon Hill, but that sho’ ’nuff sounds like Joe Holmes.” Further investigation lead Wardlow to Roberta Allums, a woman who for 31 years had lived as husband and wife with Joe Holmes.
Joe Holmes was a native of south Mississippi, born near McComb in 1897. He followed his older brother to northern Louisiana in 1915, where he married Allums three years later. They had one child together, Essie, born in 1918, who at last account lives in Chicago. Holmes would soon grow restless, and returned to McComb in 1920. It was here, in Burgarland, the black section of McComb, that Holmes would meet Salty Dog Sam. Later, in Minden, Holmes would have a chance encounter with Blind Lemon Jefferson. They played together and hung out for tow months, before Jefferson parted ways. by the 1940s, Holmes was still playing music, but was drinking heavily. In 1949, Holmes fell ill. Holmes, being only 5 feet 3 inches, weighing in at 130 pounds, and a constant smoker, died three days later.
So how do we know that Joe Holmes is in fact King Solomon Hill? Here’s what Wardlow found out.
- Although Big Joe Williams was identified as King Solomon Hill by Sam Charters (who claimed Williams claimed the recording as as his), Williams said “words were put in my mouth” and that he was in fact not Hill.
- The name King Solomon Hill was thought by many to be a biblical reference. However, Wardlow tracked down E.B. Wall, a retired postal worker who remembers a town called King Solomon Hill that was on his postal route (it sits by Yellow Pine). There is even a King Solomon’s Hill Baptist Church. The town is now called Salt Works by the newer residents.
- Another witness, from Yellow Pine named John Willis, claimed he used to play guitar with Joe Holmes. Willis was able to identify the King Solomon Hill recordings as being Joe Holmes.
With all of this information, other researchers, most notably David Evans, still disputes the identity of King Solomon Hill. Though he has never released his theory on who the man actually is, on of the biggest disputes has been the fact that other than the postal worker, no one has been able to document Holmes’s existence, let alone that he was from Sibley, etc. No document has ever turned up showing the world that Joe Holmes is even real – he never recorded under that name, no death certificate was ever found, no other documentation exists. Until now.
Below is Joe Holmes’s Draft Card (click to enlarge). This, coupled with Wardlow’s previous research, solidifies Joe Holmes’s existence, but fits with the timeline. The card shows his address as Pointe Coupee, LA (you can see it on a map here). This town is in northern LA, where Joe Holes/King Solomon Hill lived in 1918 (the date the card was filled out). This is proven by the birth of his daughter, which happened while living here. His birth date year is also verified, but now we know the day – July 18th. We also have his original signature, as the card reads “his mark”, indicating Joe Holmes signed the card himself.
With this new information, coupled with Wardlow’s research, we now know Joe Holmes did exist. We also know his timeline fits with that of King Solomon Hill. Joe Holmes deserves the credit of the infamous guitar hero King Solomon Hill.
So where did the name King Solomon Hill come from? As we know, record companies would often change the name of performers to help sell records. King Solomon Hill, the town Joe Holmes was from, has a better ring to it than just plain old Joe Holmes. I mean, if they recorded Patton under different aliases, what is to stop them from doing it to others?
To this date, no Death Certificate has ever been found.