wrote his first song on Election Day in 1952 and called it "Democrat Blues." True to the sentiment of the blues, the song was a response to the way poor folks had been treated during Republican administrations. In 1974, he wrote another political song called "Watergate Blues."
was an optimist all through the 1970s and up until his death in 1984, as his motto was "I thank you for helping me keep the blues alive."
John Pickens Jenkins
was born in Forkland, AL. On his 12th birthday, he ran away from home and ended up in Memphis, TN. At the age of 14, he took his first wife, who was 13 years old. He worked for 15 years traveling and working through the Mississippi Delta before joining the Army. After his discharge in 1944, he decided he had enough of the South and moved to Detroit. He soon got a job at the Packard Motor Company and on the side, managed a garage, before landing a job at Chrysler, where he worked for 27 years. He also got a job taking pictures at the Harlem Inn where John Lee Hooker
was playing. Jenkins
soon bought a guitar and began writing songs. He wrote "Democrat Blues" while Eisenhower was being elected. He wrote most of his songs while working on the assembly line. He got his rhythms from the machines on the line, as it was like listening to a band all day.
In 1954, with the help of John Lee Hooker
, "Democrat Blues" was recorded in Chicago for Chess Records. He recorded two more singles for the Boxer label in Chicago and Fortune Records in Detroit. He always had this nagging dream of someday owning his own blues recording studio and label. It took him years of working in the factory, but his dream finally came through in 1959. The first record released on Jenkins
' Big Star label was his own: "You"ll Never Understand" and "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night." He was living in the area of Detroit that was known as "Black Bottom" and on the weekends, his house was "open" and was filled with musicians playing the blues all night long and sometimes well into the next day. One of those musicians was Sonny Boy Williamson II
, who was staying in Detroit at that time. Jenkins
was also working on building his new studio, doing all the wiring and construction himself. Soon he was recording and promoting such local Detroit musicians as James "Little Daddy" Walton, Little Junior Cannady, Chubby Martin, Syl Foreman, and others. In 1970, Jenkins
promoted the first Detroit Blues Festival on the steps of the Rackham Building stretching onto the lawn of the Detroit Art Institute.
In 1972 he put out his first album on his Big Star label called The Life of Bobo Jenkins. The album became known as the "red" album, with an old photo of a much younger Jenkins
inside a big star on the cover and stating "Read Back for My All New Life Story."
The 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival featured a special Detroit Blues Review and Jenkins
was one of the stars. The show was later released in 1995 on the Schoolkids Records label. Jenkins
had two songs included in this fine set of blues from the Motor City. In 1998 it was re-released by the Total Energy label and a third song by Jenkins
was added. The next album by Jenkins
came out in 1974, called Here I Am a Fool in Love Again on Big Star. This became known as the "green" album, as it was the exact same cover as the previous release, but a different color. The musicians who backed him on this album were from nearby Ann Arbor and included Steve Nardella
, Sarah Brown
, and Fran Christina
In 1977, the "yellow" album came out called Detroit All Purpose Blues, also on his Big Star label. This one also included two other Detroit blues artists -- Buddy Folks and Willie D. Warren
-- who had just arrived on the Detroit blues scene two years earlier, from Chicago. Jenkins
continued to promote the local Detroit blues artists for the next few years. In 1982, he went to Europe for his first tour, but due to poor health he returned home after the first concert. A long illness ultimately led to his death on August 14, 1984.