Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James (June 9, 1902 – October 3, 1969) was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.
His guitar playing is noted for its dark, minor-key sound, played in an open D-minor tuning with an intricate fingerpicking technique. James first recorded for Paramount Records in 1931, but these recordings sold poorly, having been released during the Great Depression, and he drifted into obscurity.
After a long absence from the public eye, James was “rediscovered” in 1964 by blues enthusiasts, helping further the blues and folk music revival of the 1950s and early 1960s. During this period, James appeared at folk and blues festivals, gave concerts around the country and recorded several albums for various record labels. His songs have influenced generations of musicians and have been adapted by numerous artists. He has been hailed as “one of the seminal figures of the blues.”
James was born near Bentonia, Mississippi. His father was a bootlegger who reformed and became a preacher. As a youth, James heard local musicians, such as Henry Stuckey, from whom he learned to play the guitar, and the brothers Charlie and Jesse Sims. James began playing the organ in his teens. He worked on road construction and levee-building crews in Mississippi in the early 1920s and wrote what is perhaps his earliest song, “Illinois Blues”, about his experiences as a laborer. He began playing the guitar in open D-minor tuning.