Jimmy Johnson Blues Band at the Chicago Blues Festival Friday June 7

On November 25th, 1928 in Holly Spring, Mississippi, Verlie and Sam Thompson proudly introduced me into this world, their first boy child, James Thompson.

I was the first boy of 10 children, with only one older sibling, my cherished sister Annie Mae, who would watch over me as I played and patiently help me with my lessons as I studied.

I loved school, but didn’t get to go much, too much work to be done at home.

Life was very hard in Mississippi. Most days we worked from sunup until sundown. Already at 8 years old, I worked the fields picking, chopping and plowing cotton while also helping to tend to the farm animals.

I knew at an early age I did not want to be a farmer forever. There had to be a better life someplace else that I could cultivate. Never any money to show for all the hard work I did was powerful motivation to forge a different path.

When I was 16 years old, I went to Memphis seeking work. I found odd jobs digging ditches and working construction, but those jobs weren’t much better than the work back home. I even spent time at Memphis’s famous Peabody Hotel working for 14 dollars a week. Occasionally daydreaming of returning home, yet determined to tread my own path as an independent man, I carried on.

One fateful day, I received a postcard from my Uncle in Chicago. He was coming to Mississippi to visit the family and wondered if maybe I’d like to go back north to Chicago with him when he returned home. I jumped for joy at the chance and hurried back home to meet him.

I hated to leave my mama behind, but I wanted a better life and knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. I was twenty years old and on my way up.

Only a few days after arriving to Chicago, I had a job. I worked for Harrison Sheet Steel learning how to weld, eventually becoming a Class A combination welder. I worked hard, saved as much money as I could and as soon as I had enough, sent for my mama and the younger children to join me in Chicago.

I finally had money, real money, a nice car, good clothes and at the age of 28 had the great pleasure of buying my first guitar.


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