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Family, Friends Mourn Blues Legend John Jackson

In 1964 at a Fairfax Amoco gas station, blues history was made when John Jackson hammered out a few chords of Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man" for passerby Chuck Perdue.

From that day, John Jackson became a blues legend of international fame, although it never swayed him from his position as a gravedigger, residing in Fairfax Station. He died Jan. 20 at 77.

Perdue recalled the magic of that moment, at Jackson's funeral Jan. 24 in the Grace Baptist Church in Dale City.

"Some say this was the discovery of John, but he was never lost," Perdue told a packed house on a gray, rainy day.

From that day in 1964, Jackson went on to master a "Piedmont" guitar method that was famous on the blues circuit. He was ranked up there with other blues performers, Fats Domino, John Lee Hooker, T-bone Walker and Bob Dylan. In 1986, he was recognized as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.

"John Jackson was one of the last remaining songsters whose guitar style and song repertoire are a potpourri of blues, rag, folk, country and old ballads," wrote Robert Santelli, author of "The Big Book of Blues."

At the funeral, fellow gravedigger Tim Mentzer remembered the guitar style.

"He had a certain thumb-picking method, a Piedmont method. There's nobody that picks like him," he said.

Burke resident Alan Harris is a cameraman at Fairfax Channel 10. He remembered when co-producer Diane Trees opened a coffee shop in Occoquan; Jackson was there as well.

"He [Jackson] canceled a tour to play at the coffeehouse opening," Harris said.

Metzer noted Jackson’s tendency to be his own man and not adhere to schedules.

"He was his own guy. It [touring] would have boxed him in," he said.

Bob McGinnis played guitar with Jackson for 25 years.

"It's not just technique, it's a presence, and he had that presence," McGinnis said.

Songs from his nine albums were intertwined with friends’ sharing memories of Jackson, at the service. Several members of the congregation were slowly bobbing their heads to the rhythm. His presence was felt at Grace Baptist that morning.

Clifton musician Randy Thompson remembers Jackson’s coming into Fairview Elementary School when he was a child, sometime in the 1960s.

"John came into Fairview Elementary, and he would play for the kids. He'd play the slide guitar with a butter knife," Thompson said.

St. Mary's Church in Fairfax Station was also a spot where Jackson was well-known, especially at Labor Day picnics. Daughter Beth Jackson remembered a banjo-dominated favorite they would ask him to play.

"They asked him to come every year. He'd play 'Haddi Wanna Lou Like a Lou Like a Man'. People seem to like that a lot," she said.

Jackson was born in Rappahanock County, Va., and was the seventh of 14 children. He grew up on a farm and credited "a chain-gang convict he knew only as 'Happy' with his earliest guitar training,” according to family lore printed on a handout at the funeral.

"The blues, according to John, includes happy as well as sad songs," McGinnis added.

Jackson was buried in the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park in Annandale.