Mar
22

King Solomon Hill Identified with Draft Card

By Jason  //  Blues, blues history, Delta Blues  //  19 Comments

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.

Until now.

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.

19 Comments to “King Solomon Hill Identified with Draft Card”

  • Jason: Dandy little story! Who found the registration card?

    Am I correct to assume Joe was illiterate? Both the signature and the data on the card are of the same pen. (I have legal documents from my illiterate great-grandfather where his “x” served as verification of data filled out by someone else.)

    Has Gayle-Dean been made aware of this site? If hope so, because it has been such a wonderful tribute to his invaluable research. Without Gayle-Dean, our history of the Delta blues would be hopelessly arcane.

    My birthday is also July 18. Wild.

    Rick

  • Rick,

    Glad you like it!

    The registration card I found online. It has surely been found before, I just don’t think it was ever tied to any other research. At least, not that I can find.

    Yes, the signature on the card, as well as the rest of the card, bear the same handwriting. This is very evident if you examine the “H” in the signature versus the rest of the card. However, you can see a faint “smudge” where it reads “his mark”, which was apparently Joe’s signature. Back then, of course, and mark placed near the signature line did indeed serve as their mark, making the document legal.

    I don’t know if Gayle-Dean is aware of this site or not! I do know that Bruce Conforth, and some of the other more “modern” scholars, (Adam Gussow, you, etc) are aware of the site and have been here – but I do not know if Gayle -Dean knows about it or not!

    I do agree, though, without his research, we would be far more in the dark. His research is invaluable to he blues, and its history.

    Nice to see you again!

    ~ Jason

  • Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  • Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

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  • great post as usual!

  • well written blog. Im glad that I could find more info on this. thanks

  • Good post, i will share it

  • If only more people could read about this.

  • Thanks a lot! This is indeed a major discovery of this year. In fact, I´m just listening to his 8 titles right now :) it´s just his style that has always attracted me.
    Thanks for this place!

  • Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.

  • Very Interesting Blog! Thank You For Thi Blog!

  • Great !

  • Fantastic how this can help to unravel the history of blues.
    I gladly refer to your work on my site and recommend it vividly to others
    erwin

  • [...] similar characteristic combination of a falsetto singing with dazzling slide guitar. Other than his draft card for the army, no documents seem to have been found on Joe Holmes. No birth certificate (born in the [...]

  • This information was published a while prior to this post here.

    http://ghostofhenrysloan.blogspot.com/2009/02/king-solomon-hills-john-hancock.html

  • I love his sound so much. It’s him, Skip James, Doc Boggs and Robert Pete Williams that continually haunt me.
    Thanks for this site. Joe is a king!

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