Eddie “One String” Jones was, by no stretch of the imagination, a professional musician. Nor, like his more famous namesake, was he even a guitar player. Had it not been for his chance discovery by folklorist and ethnic musicologist Frederick A. Usher in February of 1960, it’s a pretty safe bet that no recorded document of him would probably exist.
Usher was in Los Angeles’ Skid Row section on business with an associate when he was accosted by two panhandlers. One of those two men (Jones) was holding a rough cut 2’x4’ plank, a homemade one-stringed instrument of the crudest construction. After a bit of cajoling from Usher, Jones reached into his pocket and fished out the other two working tools he used to make music with the board, a half pint whiskey bottle to slide with and a carefully whittled stick to bang the single string with in place of a guitar pick. The sound was raw, jangly, and chaotic, as far removed from normal slide or bottleneck techniques as Usher (or anyone else) had ever heard. This was evidently a direct tie to the African instrument known as the “diddleybow,” but Jones’s technique with the stick gave the music an otherworldly edge, multiple tones to be derived from a single note, and a total departure from what most folklorists had previously known about the instrument. Sensing that Jones was a modern day link to an African art form long since dissipated, Usher was bowled over and ran back home as fast as he could to grab his portable tape recorder. After hooking up to a nearby store’s electricity in a deserted back alley, Usher made the first recordings of Eddie “One String” Jones.
But Jones’s lifestyle as a homeless person made all attempts by Usher to mainstream him into folk music circles a virtual impossibility. “One String” was most secretive about his technique, the origin of the instrument, even his given name, which — it turns out — could have been Eddie Jones or Jessie Marshall. After scheduling two more informal recording sessions (one of which appears to be a no-show) and a chance to play for a group of Usher’s friends in Hollywood, Jones slipped back into obscurity and has eluded all modern day blues detective work to even try and append his bio with a date of his death. If there’s a romantic, mystery figure in blues history, Eddie “One String” Jones would certainly be at the top of the list.
Edited by [deleted user] on 6 Mar 2006, 12:31
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