Presenter Donal Dineen joined Seán Rocks on Arena to shine a spotlight on an artist he has nominated as being sorely overlooked when it comes to the Blues and Folk canon: American musician Abner Jay. 

Donal took Seán through Abner’s career.

Born into slavery in Georgia in 1921, Abner experienced hardships that historically make for good Blues music. He was a multi-instrumentalist, playing the harmonica, banjo and drums. A one-man band. Donal describes Abner Jay as "a mix of Woodie Guthrie and Robert Johnson" who "tended to stick around his area" and write about what he knew, namely poverty and discrimination. This may have played a role in his difficulty finding success with radio play and record labels.

"His life itself was not…the cleanest of lives. So, he tended to get involved in some of the things he sang about."

With such obvious talent, Seán asked, was it "the polemic" that kept Abner Jay from being more widely recognised? Abner was opinionated about political topics like the Vietnam War. It didn’t help, Donal explained.

"He didn’t edit himself down in any way… he didn’t have great control of the tongue… It’s great in some ways."

These elements resulted in Abner Jay not making it "above the line", as Donal puts it. Instead, he travelled around performing and selling his music. He formed an independent label (Brandie Records), pressed his own tracks and wrote the liner notes for each individual LP by hand.

"They were amazing recordings… He knew his way around the recording studio. He wasn’t like a guy who was outside because he wasn’t capable of doing it. He knew how to do it… He made some wonderful records and very varied records."

Donal considers the presence of several of Abner Jay’s performances online to be an incredible resource for those who want to learn more about him and his music.

"He’s a treasure. The fact that a guy like that can continue for four decades… that inspires me. I think it’s just a beautiful thing… We’re lucky that this stuff exists."

Listen back to the full conversation with Donal Dineen on Arena above.