One Kind Favor: See That My Blog Is Kept Ad-Free

Blind Lemon Jefferson marker

Qingming evokes reflections on memorials and (blues) ancestry.

Tomb-Sweeping

Graves in Malaysia during Qingming Festival

Graves in Malaysia during Qingming Festival

Before I came to Taiwan, I'd never heard of Qingming Festival (a.k.a, Ching Ming Festival, or 清明節), since it's not a public holiday in Singapore or Malaysia (or anywhere else other than China and Taiwan). A common English name for the festival is "Tomb-Sweeping Day".

See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

Of course, in my blues-infused brain, that name imediately cues the blues classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (a.k.a "One Kind Favor"), which I first heard on a Lightnin' Hopkins 78, around the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Long lane that's got no end

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Many years later I heard the original, by its composer: Blind Lemon Jefferson. It is this version that has remained in my ears. While Lightnin's version is stripped down lyrically, to become more of an instrumental boogie, Blind Lemon's version is haunting poetry:

Well, it's one kind favor I ask of you.
Well, it's one kind favor I ask of you.
Lord, it's one kind favor I'll ask of you.
See that my grave is kept clean.

It's a long old lane ain't got no end.
It's a long lane that's got no end.
It's a long lane ain't got no end.
And it's a bad wind that never change.

Lord, it's two white horses in a line.
Well, it's two white horses in a line.
Well, it's two white horses in a line.
Gonna take me to my burying ground.

My heart stopped beating, and my hands got cold.
My heart stopped beating, and my hands got cold.
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord, my hands got cold.
It wasn't long 'fore service by the cypress grove.

Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy is in the ground.

Oh, dig my grave with a silver spade.
Just dig my grave with a silver spade.
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade.
You may lead me down with a golden chain.

Have you ever heard a church bell tone?
Have you ever heard a church bell tone?
Have you ever heard a church bell tone?
Then you know that the poor boy is dead and gone.

--from Wikisource , recorded in 1928.

According to Wikipedia, Blind Lemon Jefferson's grave was not kept clean. In fact, though he died in 1929, his grave was unmarked until 1967, when Texas put up a historical marker in the cemetery - but the exact location of his grave is unknown. From his sound and portrait, I always imagined Blind Lemon as an old guy, but he died only 36 years old.

One Kind Favor

In this fascinating guitar lesson, B.B. King tells us that one of his main influences was Blind Lemon Jefferson! But, even after B.B. demonstrates, I still hear no connection between their styles. Nonetheless, apparently the influence was life-long: "One Kind Favor" was the title and lead song of B.B's final album.