Jenkins (January 7, 1916 – August 14, 1984) was an American Detroit
blues and electric blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He also built and
set up his own recording studio and record label in Detroit. Jenkins is best
known for his recordings of 'Democrat Blues' and 'Tell Me Where You Stayed
He was born John Pickens Jenkins in Forkland, Alabama, but when less than a
year old his father, a sharecropper, died and Jenkins grew up with his
mother and uncle. However, he left home before the age of 12, and arrived in
Memphis, Tennessee. He had a wife at the age of 14, the first of ten
marriages. Jenkins took casual work in the Mississippi Delta for several
years and then enrolled in the United States Army. Following his 1944
military discharge, he relocated to Detroit, working for Packard and
managing a garage, before spending twenty seven years working for Chrysler.
In the late 1940s Jenkins learned the guitar and starting writing songs. He
penned the politically motivated 'Democrat Blues' on US Election Day in
1952. Therein Jenkins expressed his disquiet about Dwight D. Eisenhower
becoming the first Republican in the White House for almost twenty years.
With assistance from John Lee Hooker, Jenkins recorded 'Democrat Blues' in
Chicago in 1954, which was released by Chess Records. A further issue
appeared on Chicago's Boxer Records, and then 'Ten Below Zero' (1957) on
Detroit's Fortune Records. In 1959 he set up his own record label, Big Star
Records, whose first release was Jenkin's single 'You'll Never Understand'
and 'Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night.' He met and played alongside Sonny
Boy Williamson II, before self-constructing his own recording studio. He
recorded mainly local musicians including James 'Little Daddy' Walton,
Little Junior Cannady, Chubby Martin and Syl Foreman.
Jenkins went on to promote the first Detroit Blues Festival in 1972, and the
same year issued his first album, The Life of Bobo Jenkins. The album became
known as the 'red album', due to the color of the record sleeve. It included
a photograph of a younger Jenkins- who was 56 years old- within a star
shape. This was a tie-in with the Big Star Records name. Jenkins was one of
the headline acts in the Detroit blues review part of the 1973 Ann Arbor
Blues and Jazz Festival. Recordings from the festival were released by
Schoolkids Records in 1995, which included two tracks by Jenkins. In 1974,
Jenkins penned another song with political overtones, 'Watergate Blues,'
which appeared on his next album Here I Am a Fool in Love Again. It boasted
the same cover design as the previous release, but with a change in color
was alternatively dubbed the 'green album'. Session musicians used included
Ann Arbor based artists such as Sarah Brown, Fran Christina and Steve
Nardella. In 1976 Jenkins performed at the Smithsonian Institution, as part
of the celebrations marking the US Bicentennial.
Detroit All Purpose Blues was issued in 1977, his so-called 'yellow album',
which utilised other Detroit based blues musicians such as Buddy Folks and
Willie D. Warren. In 1982, he went to Europe with the American Living Blues
Festival tour, but due to poor health he returned home after his first
Bobo Jenkins died in Detroit after a long illness in August 1984, at the age