The image of the blind troubadour is a familiar one in Country music’s history. For many born this way, or struck down with blindness in infancy, music was their only tangible means to forge an independant path through life. Perhaps the most famous blind troubadour in Country, in the post years at least, was Leon Payne. Although he achieved more success through his songwriting than his own recordings. Equally prolific on the songwriting front, yet denied the same degree of success, was Leroy Jenkins : he was born on July 28, 1921 in Texas. Only six months old he turned blind. From the age of seven he attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Here he learned to play the guitar. In 1942 he entered “Abilene Christian College”, to become a priest, meanwhile preaching in churches in the neighborhood. A year later he quit college and moved in with his wife, a blind woman he recently had married. He wanted to become an artist and he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas. He found a job in a nightclub where he sang and played guitar with fellow artists. He was a popular act and consequently he was offered a contract to host his own show at a local radio station.
In 1946 he had his first success when he wrote the song “Tell Me Now Or Tell Me Never”, which Roy Acuff recorded for Columbia (# 37099). He was then part of Miss Ludy & her Crazy Gang who were performing on KRLD, Dallas.
“Tell me now or tell me never”
Jenkins made his first recordings in September 1949 for the Talent label from Dallas [it’s unclear if it concerns the famous Star Talent/Talent label, which had only a 600/700 serie]. It’s however likely these recordings were made at Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas.
“You two timed me three timed me”
Beck was a key figure in the development of country music in Dallas. Another question appears when it comes to master # (BB 164/165) for « You two timed me three timed me » and « Forever and ever », as these numbers do seem Blue Bonnet (another Dallas label) cuts. Note that the B-side was also given at an earlier stage of research (by Al Turner) as another version of Wayne Raney’s « Why don’t you haul off and love me ».
“Too fat boogie”
Next Jenkins record with his Texas Showboys was made also in Dallas for the Jim Beck’s own Dude label (# 1507), and « Too fat boogie » is a hillbilly bop romper. Note that the flipside “If I could buy your love” (untraced) was cowritten with Beck and (apparently) Riley Crabtree.
Nevertheless it was probably Beck who arranged an audition for Leroy with Columbia’s A&R man Don Law.
Leroy Jenkins signed his Columbia contract on March 1, 1951. It was a contract for one year and four songs. He would get 2% of 90% of the sales. There were two options for an additional year against 3%.
On March 13, 1951 he had his first Columbia session in Beck’s studio. Four powerful songs were recorded of which « Hard time hard luck blues » (# 20815) was a strong rhythm-guitar led country-blues tune. Its flipside however was a weeper, « I’m crying but nobody cares».
“Hard time hard luck blues”
The remaining tracks of this first recording session were “Time Passes By” and “Please Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me” (# 20853) both weepers, although good examples of classic honky tonk ballads out of Texas in the early ’50s. During his second and final Columbia session (8/2/51) again four songs were recorded. Out of the 4 tracks, the two weepers « You’re talking to a broken heart » (# 20931) and « Don’t be a home breaker » (# 20878) were striking a balance between the two uptempos « I just don’t know » and most of all the fast « Tennessee sunshine ». Jenkins of course wrote all of his material.
His four records in the 20000 series didn’t have any commercial success and Columbia didn’t exercise the options. Jenkins stayed in Dallas until 1954, writing over a hundred songs.
“Why don’t you get on the woo wagon with me”
“The girl on page 83”
# 1013 circa 1953/54. The strong shuffler « Why don’t you get on the woo wagon with me » was paired with the equally good « The girl on page 83 ». At an unknown date, he was affiliated with Nashville’s WLAC radio station.
After that last record Jenkins disappeared from the music scene, and maybe returned to priesthood. He died December 18, 1990, and must not be confused either with the jazz violinist, or the Ohio televangelist of the same name. Nor of course with current artist Leeroy Jenkins.
Sources : 78rpm for label scans (thanks to Ronald Keppner) ; W. Agenant’s site « Columbia 20000 » for Columbia sides ; also his biography of L. Jenkins was of great help, as Al Turner’s in Hillbilly Researcher # 10 ; Uncle Gil Rockin’ Archives for Dude and Flair sides; Roots Vinyl Guide for some label scans. My own researches (photographs, various data, personal appreciations and additions).