Well, let’s be honest. We know he was actually blind. But how blind?
Most people know the story of Blind Lemon Jefferson. he is one of the amazing blues players to come out of Texas, and is arguably one of the most influential players of his time, and possibly, of all time. Of course, one of the amazing things about Jefferson was the fact he was blind. In fact, this has been confirmed, and there are several tales and stories about him being led around town. In fact, Jefferson even died (allegedly) by becoming disoriented and freezing to death in a snow storm in Chicago in 1929.
But could Jefferson see at all?
The proof that he was blind, largely involves two things. One, on the 1900 census, he was listed as BS, which most assumes stands for “blind son.” The other is the fact that a number of other musicians, including T-Bone Walker and Lighnin’ Hopkins, claimed to have helped lead Jefferson through the streets from place to place. There was even a story that Jefferson was a wrestler for a brief period of time. Since he was blind, he was able to be billed as a novelty act, and got the gig. Of course, there are other factors. The fact he possibly died due to his blindness, and more.
However, as it turns out, perhaps Jefferson was not completely blind at all. Think about what we know of him. Jefferson was usually seen nattily dressed, wearing a stetson hat. He was not a man of money. Therefore, why would a traveling musician, blind, and low on finds, have glasses? In both of his known photographs, he is shown wearing glasses. Two different pairs in fact. Why would a man - supposedly completely blind, need glasses at all? Other blind musicians of his day were never photographed wearing spectacles. Sure,there are accounts of musicians leading him around town, but there are other stories of him getting around town just fine by himself. There is also a story (as seen in Martin Scorsese presents The Blues) that once Jefferson was loaned a one dollar bill, when he had requested five. He was able to tell the denomination of the bill. If he is indeed fully blind, that is a pretty cool trick.
Jefferson was also known to carry a loaded pistol. In fact, in some circles, he was famous for it. Sure, a blind man can aim and shoot a gin based on sound – but let’s be honest. Getting attacked in a crowded juke, or a busy street? It would require more than sound to get any accurate shots off. He must have at least had enough sight to see where to shoot. Another interesting fact is his music. Luigi Monge analyzed all of his recordings, and discovered an interesting fact. No fewer than 241 direct or indirect visual references are spread over 90 of his known recordings. Only 7 songs of his make no reference to sight. That is even more than Charley Patton, and other contemporaries of his time. This is also more than most other blind blues artists, with the exception of Blind Willie McTell.
So, could jefferson see? Did he claim complete blindness to give himself and advantage in life, or to possibly boost his act? We will never know. One thing is for sure – he was a great man, with a unique talent that transcends time. In fact, rumor has it when they found him, he was dead with his hand frozen in place around the neck of the guitar.