One of the world's most enduring blues artists was singer, songwriter and guitarist Huddie Ledbetter, known around the world as "Leadbelly." Born in Louisiana in 1888, Leadbelly wandered the Southwestern United States playing guitar and working as a laborer.
In 1930, he was convicted of attempted homicide and served four years in a Louisiana prison, but was later pardoned and released. Leadbelly wrote and recorded hundreds of songs before his death in 1949.
Among his many proteges is British blues great "Long John" Baldry, who pays tribute to his hero on a new album called Remembering Leadbelly.
Leadbelly was prone to fighting. His scrapes with the law resulted in several jail sentences, including time at the Shaw State Prison Farm in Huntsville, Texas, for shooting a man. It was his confrontational nature and occasional violent outbursts that earned him the nickname "Leadbelly."
"Birmingham Jail," performed by "Long John" Baldry, is Leadbelly's reworking of the folk classic "Down In The Valley." "Long John" Baldry was at the forefront of the British rock and blues movement in the early-1960s. One of the first Leadbelly tunes he heard was "Rock Island Line" by skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan.
Mr. Baldry is often credited with launching the careers of Rod Stewart and Elton John. He even sang in an early version of the Rolling Stones with drummer Charlie Watts and a young Mick Jagger filling in on vocals.
Baldry said Britain's rock invasion was inspired by the music of blues legends "Big" Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly and others. He said, "I think it's safe to say if there had been no Leadbelly, and if there'd been no "Big" Bill Broonzy, and of course [no] Muddy Waters as well, there wouldn't have been that initial thing to capture us and drag us in, which happened to so many of the people I was growing up with. And of course, [there were] the people that came a little later like Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger and the Davies brothers from The Kinks. The list just goes on and on. But Leadbelly and Bill Broonzy were the major catalysts for us."
Leadbelly's music went beyond the blues. He wrote and recorded songs for children, political songs and adaptations of traditional folk tunes and spirituals.
"Long John" Baldry describes Leadbelly as "a bluesman, storyteller, folk singer, social activist, balladeer, and a man who wrote children's songs with the same conviction he wrote about his travels through America 65 years ago."