Skip James was born in Bentonia, Mississippi. Famous for developing the Bentonian Delta Blues style. His father was a bootlegger who later reformed to become a preacher.
His guitar playing style is noted for its dark, minor key style. He is said to have learned this style from Henry Stuckey – Stuckey never recorded, but was said to have learned a peculiar guitar tuning named Cross Note tuning (Open Dm) off of Bahaman sailors while in service in WW1.
In early 1931, James auditioned for the record shop owner and talent scout H. C. Speir in Jackson, Mississippi. Speir placed blues performers with various record labels, including Paramount Records.
On the strength of this audition, James traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record for Paramount. His 1931 records are considered legendary and form the basis of his reputation as a musician.
Unfortunately the Great Depression struck just as James’s recordings were hitting the market. Sales were poor as a result, and he gave up performing the blues to become the choir director in his father’s church.
For the next thirty years, James recorded nothing and performed only sporadically. In 1964, blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Bill Barth, and Henry Vestine found him in a hospital in Tunica, Mississippi. In July 1964 James appeared at the Newport Folk Festival.
One of the last living links to the original Bentonia school is Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the owner of the famous Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, Mississippi. Holmes learned to play in this particular style directly from Henry Stuckey linking him and Skip.