To be referred to as "a mandolin player named Jim" by researchers is perhaps all the honor an obscure musician really needs. That would be Jim Hill, one of several players with this name active in American roots music genres. In terms of celebrity, no one would mistake this Hill for a mountain. The amount of information available on the total population of black string band mandolinists from the '20s would hardly block the view of the country-blues landscape, let alone the details concerning a solitary mandolinist backing up various severely handicapped performers whose venues were most often street corners. Peg Leg Howell began performing in Atlanta, GA, around 1923, accompanied by a small squad of players which included Hill; collectively, this was Peg Leg Howell & His Gang. Eugene Pedin was an earlier mandolinist in this group, which from its name might be more likely to be at sea pilfering from passing boats than performing upbeat, musically adept country-blues songs in a primitive recording studio.
The opportunity for any of the "gang" members to work continuously with Howell could not be realized, especially in 1925 when the bandleader was literally sent upstream -- to River Camp Prison, that is, for bootlegging. It seems a matter of historical fact that Howell's main income had come from illegal liquor, and not his musical projects. The mandolinist may also have had muscle in the moonshine mill, but stayed out of the jug. Hill was also known to work with Blind Willie McTell, the music including ragtime elements and the responsibilities shifting from keeping pace with a boss who limps to leading. Speaking of which, Howell hobbled back to Atlanta when his stretch was up, and Columbia put him in the studios off and on during the latter part of that decade. Hill shows up on the 1928 cuts, and blues listeners most often hear the mandolinist on a song the Yazoo label has chosen for reissue inclusion, "Away from Home."
Mandolinists who play in a similar style and are equally obscure include Louis Ford, Willie Harcher, and Charles Johnson. There was a bluesman named James Hall who recorded with the west coast pianist J.D. Nicholson in the '50s, but he does not appear to have any connection with the mandolinist.