"Seeing and hearing is believing, folks, how great thou art Abner Jay sings and plays. He once was a low down dirty blues singer, heavy on drugs and liquor. He performed with such greats as Lil Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and many others. One man band."
"St. James Infirmary Blues"
I very recently heard Abner Jay's music for the first time, and I've fallen in love with his deep voice, folky-blues-ey style and in-between-song spoken word stories and jokes. It's really a bare-bones, original and unique sound that reminds me of so many others I love, from Bob Dylan to Son House. The information that most of us seem to know comes straight from the horse's mouth via pamphlets (such as the quote above) and short biographies that he hand wrote and passed out at his performances, and it seems an lesser known legend has been out there all along.
The basics we know are: Abner was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia in 1921. Since his grandfather and father were both slaves, he was also a slave. His Grandfather gave him his own banjo and learned Abner how to play at an early age. He began performing in Medicine Shows at the age of five. At the age of 11, he joined the Silas Green Ministrels. He was in World War II and by age 25 he led the WMAZ Ministrels on Macon radio from 1946-1956. After this time, he began a solo career, traveling the south in a converted mobile home that opened up into a portable stage, complete with a small PA system and home furnishings. He traveled the southern United States as a one man band, earning a living by performing field songs, Pentecostal hymns and minstrel tunes as well as original material, with themes consisting of Vietnam, drug addiction, depression, sex and lust among others, intermixed with parts of spoken word and jokes. He sold vinyl records and cassettes that he self published on his own label, Brandie Records. These original pressings are sought after and quite rare. More recently, Mississippi Records, a Portland, Oregon based record label specializing in American roots music and blues archiving, has re-released some of Abner's recordings and releases, complete with reproductions of some of the handwritten pamphlets and biographies he distributed, including True Story of Abner Jay and Last Ole Ministrel Man, both of which I have purchased from Amoeba SF.
I think the best way to share the joy of Abner Jay is to let him speak for himself. Here are some more quotes to share the wonder that is Abner Jay.