Pigmeat Jarrett

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b. James Jarrett Jnr., 8 December 1899, Cordele, Georgia, USA, d. 5 September 1995. Barrelhouse blues pianist Pigmeat Jarrett moved to Kentucky as a child where his Geechee father worked as a coalminer,…
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Artist Biography by

b. James Jarrett Jnr., 8 December 1899, Cordele, Georgia, USA, d. 5 September 1995. Barrelhouse blues pianist Pigmeat Jarrett moved to Kentucky as a child where his Geechee father worked as a coalminer, his mother being half-Geechee, half-Cherokee. Some years later the family settled in Cincinnati, the city with which he would become synonymous. Jarrett attended the local Beecher Stowe School: ‘I got my nickname there from the teacher’, he told Living Blues magazine, ‘because every time she seen me I had a piece of hog.’ His mother sang at church, but would have nothing to do with the nascent blues movement, considering it to be the ‘devil’s music’. Her son did not share her opinion, picking up the basics from local ‘open house’ gatherings. Later he helped run whiskey from Newport during prohibition. He also began to play alongside local musicians and visiting stars such as Bessie Smith. His first ventures out of town came courtesy of covert train rides in cattle trucks - a method of transport he shared with bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leroy Carr.

In the 30s Jarrett found employment on steam paddlers, operating on the Ohio and Illinois Rivers. The Depression and the subsequent introduction of jukeboxes curtailed his employment somewhat, and for a time he joined a 16-piece house band, moving progressively into jazz as opportunities for blues artists dwindled. Later he started a small electrical shop. Despite his long career, Jarrett was recorded only once, when blues scholar Steve Tracy produced his 1980 album Look At The People. He was later honoured at the Cincinnati Public Library with a Pigmeat Jarrett Day in 1992 and also performed at the Chicago Blues Festival that year.