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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

King Solomon Hill

Joe Holmes, b. 1897 in McComb, MS, d. 1949 in Sibley, LA, blues singer and guitarist who recorded a handful of songs in 1932. Holmes was born near McComb, Mississippi, in 1897. In 1915 he followed his brother to northern Louisiana, where he married Roberta Allums. In 1920 he returned to McComb with his wife and their child, Essie. There he played with the most famous local blues musician, Sam Collins, known locally as "Salty Dog Sam" and on record as "Cryin' Sam Collins". When interviewed by Wardlow, Roberta recalled seeing her husband playing with Collins, whom she recognized from a publicity image for Black Patti Records. One year later, Roberta and Essie returned to Sibley, while Joe pursued his musical career, initially in McComb and then as an itinerant, returning periodically to Sibley. One town he played in was Minden, Louisiana, where he had a friend, George Young. In 1928 Blind Lemon Jefferson passed through Minden, and Holmes and Young left with him for Wichita Falls, Texas. Holmes later celebrated his brief partnership with Jefferson on his record "My Buddy Papa Lemon". At that time he befriended Willard Thomas, known as Ramblin' Thomas, who became his favorite musical partner. Holmes would often travel to Shreveport, Louisiana, to play with Thomas. In 1932, while performing in Minden, Holmes was invited to record for Paramount. Wardlow speculated that the Paramount sales manager Henry Stephany stopped at Minden en route from Birmingham, Alabama, to Dallas on the recommendation of Ben Curry (possibly the same man as Bogus Ben Covington), a friend and fellow musician who had moved from Arcadia, Louisiana, to Birmingham. In any case, somebody representing Paramount took Holmes to Birmingham, where he met up with Ben Curry and other Alabama musicians: the blues singer Marshal Owens and a gospel quartet, the Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham. The musicians travelled to the Paramount recording studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, and recorded at least twenty-eight titles, six of them by Holmes and issued under the name King Solomon Hill. It had been estimated that the recording session occurred about January 1932, but Roberta Allums stated that it was in the spring. Fourteen records were issued, three by King Solomon Hill, but Paramount was on the edge of bankruptcy, pressing and shipping only small numbers of records. Holmes took three discs with white labels back to Sibley, but his friends and family never saw any discs with a Paramount label. His friend John Wills did not believe they were "real records". Until convinced by Wardlow, he believed that Holmes had paid to have them recorded privately. Few copies survived. One of the three, Paramount 13125, with "My Buddy Papa Lemon" and "Times Has Done Got Hard", was long believed to be completely lost, until a copy was discovered in 2002. Little evidence exists of his life outside of music. He was described as a heavy drinker. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Louisiana in 1949.

Notes: The Mississippi blues artist Big Joe Williams took a fancy to the name King Solomon Hill and laid claim to it in interviews with Bob Koester, stating that the Hill sides were his first recordings. This story was published by Samuel Charters in his pioneering history The Country Blues. Williams had not known Blind Lemon Jefferson, so he claimed that the song My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon was about another singer. In a footnote, Charters admitted that the story was open to question, as the style, especially the singing, on the King Solomon Hill sides was so different from Williams's usual style. In his later work The Bluesmen, Charters dismissed Williams's story and commented on the strong resemblance between King Solomon Hill and Sam Collins, which led some blues enthusiasts to believe that they were the same man. The identification of Hill as Joe Holmes was made by the prominent blues scholar Gayle Dean Wardlow and strongly contested by another prominent blues scholar, David Evans. Wardlow eventually found four informants who had known Joe Holmes and identified his voice on the records of King Solomon Hill. One informant lived in a section of Sibley, Louisiana, known as Yellow Pine, within which is a community formerly known as King Solomon Hill, centered on a hill on which stood King Solomon Hill Baptist Church. A retired postal worker confirmed that King Solomon Hill would have been a valid postal address in 1932. The community is now known as Salt Works. No informant remembers Holmes using the name King Solomon Hill, so Wardlow concluded that it was Paramount Records who chose to use his address as his recording name.


by Jason Ankeny
One of the more fascinating footnotes in blues history, King Solomon Hill's scant recorded legacy suggests a singer and guitarist of considerable originality and primitive force. Born Joe Holmes circa 1897 in McComb, Mississippi, he first attracted attention in the Lousiana area, becoming a constant at parties and juke joints; most certainly a self-taught guitarist, he is rumored to have roamed the Delta and Panhandle regions playing alongside Sam Collins, Ramblin' Thomas, Oscar "Lone Wolf" Woods and possibly Blind Lemon Jefferson. Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon travelling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record the six tracks -- two of them alternate takes -- which comprise his known discography; songs like the eerie "Gone Dead Train" and "Down on Bended Knee" feature apocalyptic, seemingly alien vocals certainly unique to their time and place, accompanied by a raw guitar sound distinguished by irregular rhythms and notes said to be stretched out by a cow bone. After this lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, eventually vanishing from sight; reputedly a heavy drinker, he died of a massive brain hemorrhage in Sibley, Lousiana in 1949.