Author Archive

Changing Lives with Recorded Sound

April 17, 2014

index

excerpt from Anthony Seeger (http://symposium.music.org):

For 12 years I was director of Smithsonian Folkways recordings at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Folkways Records was an independent record company founded in New York City by Moses Asch in 1948. When it was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1987 it had a catalogue of 2,168 titles in print, including the music of many genres, many countries, and particular strength in “unpopular” recordings—recordings issued for reasons other than sales alone.

The Folkways recordings had been published as long as forty years previously, and were all carefully kept in print during that time. This gave them a long time to influence people—in fact to influence generations of listeners.I discovered the existence of a whole genre of stories that might be called “My Influential Folkways Record.” People would tell me about a certain Folkways recording they could remember and how important it was to them. They would usually describe how they happened to acquire it.

They often would say, “I never imagined such a thing existed.” Then they would go on to tell me more about the music or sound. Often their descriptions included the phrase “and it changed my life.” Some of these stories came from well-known musicians—Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Mickey Hart all remember such recordings. Most of the stories came from people I had never heard of, but whose lives had been equally affected.

Some people wrote about their experiences. From the author Jon Pankake: “In the case of my own questing youth, my discovery of the Anthology [of American Folk Music] at the age of twenty-one quite literally changed the course of my life”

My e-mail files at the Smithsonian were erased in a change of platform, but one of my assistants filed some of the query letters we received. Here are a few:

From Denver, Colorado: “I would like your assistance in locating and purchasing an old LP record. Mormon Pioneers is the title.… I know it existed because I had a copy, probably about 30 years old.”

From Garland, Texas: “I have been searching for years for a particular recording of American Revolution era songs….. Song titles I recall are: To Anacreon in Heaven, The Women All Tell Me….”

These stories of an important recording in the person’s life sometimes passed directly into another genre of recorded sound story that I also found to be extremely widespread. This is the genre of “How I Lost My Folkways Recording.” People would tell me that they lost their treasured recordings to fire, or divorce, or in a flood, or a sudden move. Here is an example:

From St. Louis, Missouri: “Some time ago a number of my records were stolen from my car. I have been able to track down copies of some of them, but two of my most cherished records, both Folkways, have proven impossible to find…. I would give anything to have them back in their original format again….I realize this may sound a bit unusual to you, but I am really quite serious about it; those records were incredibly special to me. The two in question are: The Music of New Orleans: Music of the Dance Halls; and The Music of New Orleans volume 5: New Orleans Jazz—the Flowering.”

These stories of loss were often followed by my revelation that every single Folkways recording ever released was still in print and available directly from the Smithsonian so they could retrieve their past, replace their lost recording, and do so assured that artists would receive royalties and my staff would get paid. But before I got to that point in the conversation, the vivid impact that these recordings had on people was always forcefully brought home to me.

Another important group of stories recounted that hearing the recording “made me want to play the music.” This is one of the most significant groups to me, because that is precisely what we as music educators hope people want to do—becoming self-motivated scholars and learning to play the music are two things some listeners resolved to do after hearing recordings. Some of the recordings influenced scholars: Marina Roseman, who has published books and recordings of the Temiar of Malaysia, became interested in the Temiar through an old Folkways recording of their music (Roseman, personal communication).

Peter Stampfel (a member of the Fugs and many other groups) wrote of the Anthology of American Folk Music: “Hearing all these people for the very first time, it was as if a veil was lifted…. ‘That’s what I was born to do,’ I thought. ‘Play and sing like those guys.’”

Not all of the people who talked to me spoke only about the sounds of Folkways. A recording is more than sounds—it has a look, cover art, and liner notes. They often spoke about the look and feel of the package, which in the era of LP records was made of heavy black cardboard with simple two-color slicks glued to them and a heavy piece of cardboard inside separating the long play records from the liner notes—often a thick pamphlet of them.

The Folkways look and the extensiveness of the enclosed notes were mentioned over and over again by people who recalled them, and also by the founder of Folkways, Moses Asch. He said he developed that heavy look because he wanted to show people that this was music to be taken seriously. It was important music. There was the look and feel of Folkways records that in itself had an impact on people. Sometimes, however, it was just the cover image that was remembered as in this letter:

From Middlesex, England: “I am looking for a Fred Gerlach recording. All I can remember is that on the record cover it portraited the strings of the guitar, and I believe the color was orange. So could you possibly let me know if it is still available?”

Jackson Stomp

April 17, 2014

 

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from http://www.redlick.com:

JACKSON STOMP – THE CHARLIE McCOY STORY: Nehi Records (NEH02)

A new release on a new label but, fear not, the guys behind Nehi are the same as used to release all those super blues CDs on Catfish Records. That fact alone provides comfort that you are in the hands of blues enthusiasts, ready, willing and able to find and release the rare and obscure records that we all crave.

This CD is one of three releases now becoming available to celebrate the official launch of the label. And, more good news, the plan is to release more early in the new year as part of an ongoing and regular release schedule. If the subsequent releases are as good as the three CDs that have kicked-off the programme, then we sure are going to have a series worth collecting. Not only are they well chosen and compiled, the sound quality is as good as your going to get and the notes are exhaustive and excellent. And, I haven’t even got to the very attractive price yet!

On this CD, the genius of Charlie McCoy is celebrated across 26 tracks from the 1920s to the early 1940s, either with Charlie as the featured artist (often under a pseudonym) or demonstrating his flexibility and versatility backing a range of other artists and friends on guitar or mandolin.

And as well as his renowned musical abilities, we should also add mobility as, having established his reputation in Mississippi in the 1920s on tracks by the likes of Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey, Bo Carter and Will Weldon (some of which are included here), he was soon lured to Chicago in the early 1930s to work on sessions for the likes of Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson, Johnny Temple, Curtis Jones and in bands with brother Joe McCoy, such as the Harlem Hamfats and Memphis Minnie (Joe’s then wife).

Unfortunately, into the 1940s Charlie’s luck changed as he was called up by Uncle Sam to support the war effort and, by the time this stint was over, his impetus and momentum had gone.

Nonetheless we are left with a fantastic musical legacy that this CD presents and celebrates magnificently.

I’m already licking my chops in anticipation of the next lot of releases from Nehi. They can’t all be this good, can they?

Wilson Douglas on Ed Haley

April 16, 2014
Wilson Douglas

Wilson Douglas

from http://brandonraykirk.wordpress.com:

Douglas:  “I knew him way back in ’38, ’39. As you know, he was a resident of Ashland, Kentucky, and he was born in Logan County, West Virginia. Well, he would come up to Ivydale, West Virginia, by train and then he would ride over on up into Calhoun County with the mail carrier. And he would get a ride with somebody over to Laury Hicks’, like with an old gentleman who used to be a country doctor, Dr. White. And while he was up in Calhoun County and Clay County, we’d go ever night – if we could get there anyway – and he’d play that fiddle about four or five hours at a time. Well, he’d go back to Ashland and stay a couple of months. I guess he was playing somewhere around in Kentucky. And then along in the fall he’d come back and maybe stay a month and then he’d catch the train to Logan County.”

I asked Wilson if he played a lot with Ed and he said, “Oh, well. No, I didn’t play a lot with him. I was just beginning to fiddle, you know, and he was my idol of a fiddler player. He mostly inspired me to fiddle, him and David French Carpenter of Clay County, West Virginia. I’m going to tell you, that there album [Parkersburg Landing] don’t give him credit.”

I asked Wilson if he remembered any of Ed’s tunes and he said, “Oh god, he played all the old tunes. Well, as you know, they all played the ‘Billy in the Lowground’, the ‘Tennessee Wagner’. I play one of Haley’s tunes: he called it the ‘Morning Flower’. Played in the key of A. I’ll have to think. Well, as you know, he called the ‘Stony Point’, the ‘Gilroy’. I learned that off of him. You know, all these tunes has got four or five different titles. And I played a little bit of his ‘Devil’s Dream’. He would play that to get warmed up.”

Did you ever hear him play “Blackberry Blossom”? I asked.

“Oh, by god yeah,” he said. “I remember him playing that. You know, Ed Haley told me he could hear a tune twice and play it, and I believe it.”

I said to Wilson, “Now, Ed Haley improvised a lot, didn’t he? Like take a tune and play it different kinda ways.”

“Well, he could play it about any way,” he said. “I’ll tell you what. He’d do a lot of that to show his skill, I think, but when you settled him down he didn’t vary the bow from one time to another. Now where they’s a gang of fiddlers around, you know, a little distant to him, trading tunes and messing around, he would show them up. I don’t think he did it just to be smart: he did it to show them that he could do it, you know. And what I liked about him: if he heard somebody play a tune, they’d say, ‘Well now Ed, am I getting it?’ And he’d say, ‘No, you’re not getting it.’ And if you were to get it, he’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s good enough. Drop it. Don’t try to do it no better than that.’ I liked that. He went straight to the point, and he told it like it was. If a fiddler got to fiddling too fast, he’d say, ‘Well, you’re losing the soul.’ Oh, he’d just cuss. Only tune to my knowledge that he really played fast was ‘Forked Deer’.”

I asked Wilson what he remembered about Ed’s bowing and he said, “Now, he played a long straight bow, but he put in the bow whatever the tune required. Every tune requires a different bow technique, as you know. Oh God, he played a long shuffle bow. I always thought he had the longest fiddle bow I’d ever seen. You know, he could tell if a fiddler was playing the short bow. He’d say, ‘Well son, don’t hold your bow up in the middle. Catch back on the frog of the bow. By god, you need to have bow if you’re gonna play that kind of music.’”

I asked Wilson if he thought Vassar Clements’ bowing was anything like Ed’s and he said, “No, no. By god, no. No, not in my book. Now, you know everybody’s entitled to his own opinion.”

Did Ed play with a tight or loose bow?

“He played a half-tight bow. He didn’t want any bouncing or want any wobbling.”

Crate-Diggers

April 15, 2014

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by Matthew Asprey (http://contrappassomag.wordpress.com):

THE DIGITAL AGE has coincided with the widespread excavation of stunning sounds from the past. Just check out the compilations released by such labels as Tompkins Square, Dust-to-Digital, Old Hat Records, Soundways, Now-Again, Mississippi, Sublime Frequencies, Arhoolie, and the Numero Group. The cavalcade indicates the staggering diversity of cultural expression in the twentieth century.

The best of these archival compilations do more than simply make great music available again. Radio presenter (and sometime protest singer) Bob Dylan said of Marshall Wyatt’s Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937:

“I got nothing against downloads and MP3s, but getting this CD with all the pictures and liner notes, well, it’s not as good as having it on the big 12” record, but at least there’s a booklet there, and believe it or not, folks, you can even read it in a power failure—as long as it’s daytime.”

The art of the music anthologist involves the sequencing of tracks, extensive annotations, the inclusion of archival photographs and historical documentation. The final package can be myth-shattering. The most ambitious compilations upset the complacency that creeps into our historicisation of the musical and social past, our desire to lock in definitions and musical genealogies.

Some provide an urgent counter-history by alerting us to an obscured genre or style or school of musicians; they can sometimes sketch in the till-now missing explanation for what came later. Others avoid definitive statements altogether, reminding us that the practice of music is too messy to be reduced to a dominant historical narrative, that music-making has always been a promiscuous activity, the fruit of numerous encounters and migrations, and as the decades pass it becomes more and more difficult to assess its true origins and connections.

The survival of music is largely a matter of chance. Of course only a small fraction of the music of the past hundred years was actually recorded; an even smaller fraction has survived to the present; even smaller still is the fraction that makes the leap to a digital format and an audience. We should be thankful for the reappearance of these beautiful ghostly sounds.

Music collectors are often called ‘crate-diggers’, which evokes a romantic image of dusty-thumbed record hunters in stifling basements and filthy flea markets and swap-meets, obsessed characters seeking the eureka moment when the impossible nugget is unearthed—even if these days the most valuable records are often found on eBay. Collector-anthologists are fascinating figures on the fringes of the contemporary music industry.

Llewyn Davis’ Repertoire

April 14, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis 3

from downhomeradioshow.com and http://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/:

Llewyn Davis’ repertoire as taken partly from the repertoire of Dave van Ronk and presented in the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” is very interesting and with further examination into its sources shows in a nutshell many of the strands that came together to make the folk music world of that time and place.   “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” (also known as “Been All Around This World) is a great banjo song originally field recorded by folklorists who located traditional banjo players Rufus Crisp and Justis Begley in Kentucky, and also recorded in a popular version by Kentucky banjoist Grandpa Jones.

How did it get to the Village?  Which was Dave van Ronk’s source?  I don’t know.  Rufus Crisp, a possible source for “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” was also one of our sources for the song “The Roving Gambler” which my band recorded for the film’s soundtrack album.  Crisp was one of the very first Southern traditional banjo players to inform the playing and repertoire of New York musicians through his Library of Congress field recordings and visits by Pete Seeger, Stu Jamieson and others.

Death of Queen Jane” is a medieval English ballad collected by venerated folklorist Francis James Child and published in his seminal books of balladry.  The film gives scant coverage to rural folk songs in a rural “old time” style, and no coverage to blues music that was being learned and played in the Village at that time.   Only the woman who plays autoharp and sings a Carter Family song badly gives any nod to the presence of old time music, which was being played by a number of people at the time, including the New Lost City Ramblers.

Dink’s Song was collected by the great American folklorist John Lomax from a woman named Dink along the Brazos river in Texas in 1904 and published in his 1934 book, “American Ballads and Folk Songs.”  It was first recorded as “Fare Thee Well” by Libby Holman and then most influentially by Josh White, both in the mid 40’s and perhaps with some personal direction from Alan Lomax who helped them find material.

” As Lomax recounted in the book Folk Song USA, Dink was the wife or girlfriend of a skilled equipment operator for a levee-building company in Texas, and Lomax found her “doing her man’s laundry in the shade of their tent” near the Brazos. Her song began:

If I had wings like Noah’s dove
I’d fly up the river to the man I love
Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well
 
I’s got a man and he’s long and tall
Moves his body like a cannonball
Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well

Lomax recorded “Dink’s Song” on an Edison cylinder, which he brought with him to the Library of Congress when he joined the staff in the 1930s.  According to Folk Song USA, the cylinder had been broken for a long time by the late 1940s–quite possibly before it even arrived here. Nevertheless, Lomax popularized the song by singing it himself, publishing it in books, and passing it down to his children Alan and Bess, who both became professional singers and folklorists. From the Lomaxes, the song passed to such revivalists as Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk, and became a well-known part of the folk scene of the 1950s and 60s. As a result, Dink’s lines about “Noah’s Dove” can be heard in  Inside Llewyn Davis, where they are sung by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford.

 

 

“Prayers from Hell”

April 13, 2014

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Prayers From Hell: White Gospel & Sinners Blues 1927-1940 (Trikont CD)

reviewed by Frank Weston (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Prayers From Hell?  One might be tempted to sing “Too Late Brother, Too Late” – perhaps Rejoicing and Regretting From Earth might be more appropriate as a subtitle.  Whichever way you look at it this mixture of songs looking forward to the life hereafter or lamenting the consequencies of wrong doing during this life make up an excellent seventy three minutes listening.

Whoever is responsible, these 1932 recordings are good examples of the string band music of the era.  The two tracks from the Monroe Brothers Bill and Charlie are from 1937 and hearing them again I am reminded just how great they were as a team.  True there were brother duets using guitar and mandolin back-up that preceded them but none had the same dynamism created by this pair.

Charlie’s solid foundation bass runs on the guitar and Bill’s soar-away mandolin make for great listening.  Bill’s long career as the recognised ‘Father of Bluegrass’ following the break-up with his brother has tended to overshadow these excellent earlier recordings, and of course Charlie’s own later career.

This whole album is chock-full of excellent material from the vocal duets of the Dixon Brothers with guitar and slide guitar, Dorsey’s duets with his wife Beatrice backed by his own uniquely rich sounding fingerpicked guitar, the wonderful bounce of the Carlisle Brothers’ tenor and steel guitars to the full sound of Byron Parker and His Mountaineers.

This latter group, by the way, includes Snuffy Jenkins who along with his brother was one of the earliest players of the three finger banjo style later taken up by Earl Scruggs and which was to become such an important ingredient in Bill Monroe’s band and without which bluegrass may have remained under the general umbrella of country music and not been given its own pigeonhole.

Two artists new to me here are the husband and wife team Sherman and Edith Collins, they made one single session for Decca in March 1938 and no biographical information has so far been uncovered.  This is a vocal duet accompanied by their own two guitars, one of which seems to be capoed up reasonably high.

Their first offering is a version of the song first recorded by Bill and Charlie Monroe in 1936 and two days earlier than them at the same recording session by Wade Mainer and Zeke Morns, although it was the Monroe’s version which was issued.  The second offering by the Collins duet is one that was later taken and adapted by Woody Guthrie who changed the content of the song quite dramatically but only changed one word in the title from can’t to don’t.  Edith’s voice has that slightly immature for want of a better word mountain sound with a slight husky catch in it which I find appealing.  I think she would have sounded equally at home singing with Hartman’s Heartbreakers but that’s another ball game.

For those of you who don’t know, Trikont is a German label but notes are in German and English in the informative booklet.Just in case it isn’t clear from the above ramblings, I find this a fascinating and enjoyable album – highly recommended.

Theodore Miller, Last Mento Fiddler?: 1922-2009

April 12, 2014

TMillerbyNeely

 

by Daniel Neely
Theodore Miller was born on August 1, 1922 in the Watson’s Hill area of Manchester, Jamaca, a rural district very close to the St. Elizabeth border.  The area he grew up in was full of mento bands.  Miller formed his first band in 1940 with two guitar players, his brother Alfred Miller and Allington Rhodes; the group played mainly at parties, booth, and quadrille dances.  It expanded in the 1950s and included, among others, Cleveland Salmon on rumba box.  In the 1960s, Mr. Miller and his band forged an important association with the Lititz community center, and through it began competing in the Popular & Mento Music competition in the National Festival for the Arts.

In 1967, his Lititz Mento Band placed first in what was their first year of competition.  Many competition successes followed–a bronze medal in 1969, silver medals in 1970-72 and gold again in 1973.  By the mid-1970s time it had become a Festival fixture and one of Jamaica’s most in-demand mento groups.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was a darling of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission.  In recognition for its work in the “Preservation of Ancestral Rhythms” (an effort Miller led), the group received a Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 1998.

I interviewed Mr. Miller in 2002 and he took me to my first nine-night (it was in Santa Cruz).  The picture above is one I took of him playing that night–it was amazing experience.  I consider him one of the most important people I spoke with during my research.

Like Moses Booth (Rod Dennis Mento Band) and Vincent Pryce (Blue Glaze Mento Band), Mr. Miller was from the first generation of mento band leaders to be recognized by the post-independence Jamaican government for their contributions to Jamaican culture.  His passing represents a great loss.

 

Lititz PhotoSmall

 “Dance Music and Working Songs From Jamaica” by The Lititz Mento Band.

This CD was released in Germany in 1993 on GEMA.  Two video clips featuring  Lititz fiddler Theodore Miller can be seen on the Mento Video page. 

This amazing CD is available on iTunes.  Get it while you still can.  As far as we can tell, the Jamaican fiddle tradition is no longer.

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Decosimo/Richardson House Concert: Conway, MA 4/12/14

April 11, 2014
Joseph Decosimo with Luke Richardson
 
Saturday, April 12  at 7:30pm   $15 
 
Pot luck at 6pm

92 West Parsons Drive, Conway MA

 
Please RSVP   liz@liztoffey.com
Joseph grew up in southeastern Tennessee listening to, learning from and playing with Charlie Acuff, Clyde Davenport and Charlie McCarroll. One of my favorite Joseph stories is his choice to play a gig with Charlie Acuff the night of his high school graduation—the boy had his priorities straight from the get go! Fast forward a decade plus and that dedication has turned into first place awards in fiddle, banjo and old time band at the Appalachian String Band Festival (Clifftop) and elsewhere. In 2012 he received his MA in Folklore from the University of North Carolina, studying the transformations in the fiddling tradition of the McCarroll family of East Tennessee (aka Roane County Ramblers).

Joseph has taught and performed at: Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Swannanoa Gathering, Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week, Augusta Heritage Center, Berkeley Old Time Music Festival, faculty of East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies Program 2012-2013.

Luke Richardson, also a native Tennessean, will be joining Joseph.  They’re recently back from from the Gainsborough American Old Time Festival in Lincolnshire, England where Joseph’s band The Bucking Mules have been touring. For more info about Joseph and to hear his music:

http://josephdecosimomusic.virb.com/hom

Brooklyn Folk Festival

April 11, 2014

 

from Eli Smith:

The Brooklyn Folk Festival, a co-production of Down Home Radio and the Jalopy Theatre, is almost here!  It’s gonna be an incredible event! – with 30 bands, film screenings, workshops, jam sessions and contests!  Coming up April 18th – 20th, 2014 at the Bell House, a great venue here in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Folk Festival is now going into its 6th successful year.  This year’s festival will focus on Old Time String Band music from the United States and will feature a number of traditional groups and musicians coming to the city from various parts of the South, representing their local traditions, as well as a number of great groups from right here in New York.  We will also have Indonesian Gamelan gong music, Andean music from regions of the old Inca empire, Balkan music, jug bands, blues, jazz, songwriters and more… a huge wealth of talent!

The festival will feature Frank Fairfield and Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, Dom Flemons and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, R. Crumb with the East River Stringband, as well as 25 other bands and performers.  The Brooklyn Folk Festival is modeled on the early days of the Newport and University of Chicago folk festivals and seeks to present an authentic folk festival experience, with a diversity of traditional music, as well as contemporary songwriters, plus workshops, jam sessions, film screenings and the famous Banjo Toss contest!  There will also be a very nice tribute to Pete Seeger with group singing and a family friendly square dance.

Its gonna be fun!  Get your tickets right away!.. visit the festival website at: www.BrooklynFolkFest.com for the compete schedule and ticket information.

Old Buck and The Ephemeral Stringband: Amherst, MA 4/17/14

April 10, 2014
 
Old Buck & The Ephemeral Stringband – Concert & Square Dance with Will Mentor
Old Buck is excited to be in Amherst MA with our buddies The Ephemeral Stringband and Will Mentor as our square dance caller!

Please come join us for a special night of concert and dance!
THUR APRIL 17:  7PM – 11PM
Amherst Masonic Lodge
99 Main St, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002

7 PM – Opening set with The Ephemeral Stringband
7:45 PM – Concert with Old Buck
9 – 11 PM – Square Dance with both bands and WILL MENTOR calling!

$15 suggested donation
$8 for college and high school students


OLD BUCK
(VA/NC/MA/NY)
Riley Baugus, Debra Clifford, Emily Schaad and Sabra Guzmán

http://oldbuckmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/oldbuckmusic
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/oldbuck

 

Old Buck makes its home at the convergence of Southern old time and bluegrass traditions. This stringband combines a love of old time traditions with a fresh new take – plenty of singing, layered arrangements, and influences from punk to vintage Americana to gospel.


THE EPHEMERAL STRINGBAND
(Amherst MA)
Maggie Shar, Molly Merritt, Tim Dolan and Tatiana Hargreaves
http://mollyandmaggie.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MollyAndMaggie


Oldtime fiddle tunes and sister harmony singing. We are also known to perform a few original songs and Shape Note music arranged for banjos.
The Ephemeral Stringband draws from several branches of traditional American music including Oldtime Stringband music, Early country and bluegrass and Shape Note sacred hymns. They combine skillful instrumental playing with close harmony singing, creating a sound that grounded in the past, while creating new material to add to the living tradition of American music.

Do Not Sell at Any Price

April 9, 2014

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Excerpted from Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

James McKune wasn’t the first 78 collector, but he was one of the earliest to single out rural blues records as worthy of preservation, and is arguably the field’s most archetypal figure. At the very least, he established the physical standard. He was flagpole skinny and otherwise nondescript (medium height, tapering hair), prone to wearing the same outfit nearly every day (a white shirt with rolled sleeves, black pants, white socks, black shoes).

McKune supposedly never gave up more than 10 bucks for a 78 (and often offered less than $3), and was deeply offended—outraged, even—by collectors willing to pay out large sums of money, a practice he found garish, irresponsible, and in basic opposition to what he understood as the moral foundation of the trade. He didn’t like the notion that records could generate profit for their handlers: in the fall of 1963, in another letter to Rinard, he referenced his skepticism of a fellow collector, writing, “Somehow, I distrust him. He bought some records from the Negroes in Charleston, S.C.

He spent $19 or $20 and sold the records for more than $500.” For McKune, collecting was a sacred pursuit—a way of salvaging and anointing songs and artists that had been unjustly marginalized. It was about training yourself to act as a gatekeeper, a savior; in that sense, it was also very much about being better (knowing better, listening better) than everyone else. Even in the 1940s and 50s, 78 collectors were positioning themselves as opponents of mass culture, and McKune cultivated a fantastic disdain for pop stars as well as the so-called protest singers of the era. He thought, for example, that Woody Guthrie was bullshit, although by 1950 he’d come back around on folk music as a genre, a shift he attributed to getting older. (The career of Glenn Miller, though, was a constant source of jokes.)

In January 1944 McKune took a routine trip to Big Joe’s and began pawing through a crate labeled “Miscellany,” where he found a record with “a sleeve so tattered he almost flicked past it.” It was a battered, nearly unplayable copy of Paramount 13110, Charley Patton’s “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone.” Patton had recorded the track in Grafton, Wisconsin, 15 years earlier, and he’d been dead for less than 10 when McKune first picked it up. Patton was almost entirely unknown to modern listeners; certainly McKune had never heard him before. He tossed a buck at a snoozing Clauberg and carted the record back to Brooklyn. As Hamilton wrote, “… even before he replaced the tonearm and turned up the volume and his neighbor began to pound on the walls, he realized that he had found it, the voice he’d been searching for all along.”

“Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” is one of Charley Patton’s more staid tracks, in both rhythm and narrative. According to Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt’s King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charley Patton, “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” was “likely conceived for white presentation: it used diatonic intervals and featured the keynote as its lowest vocal tone, a technique Patton usually avoided in singing blues and gospel material.” Wardlow and Calt suspect the tune was conceived for “white square dances and sociables,” where Patton was likely accompanied by a fiddler who’d been tasked with playing lead over his strums. Lyrically, it’s a sweet imploration: don’t take me for granted, Patton warns. “Some these days, I’m going to be leaving / Some these days, I’ll be going away,” he slurs, strumming a faint, bouncing guitar line. For once, he sounds more amused than angry. You’ll see, he seems to grin. Just wait.

Charley Patton changed everything for McKune. I can run an assortment of scenarios—recounting all the fireworks-type stuff I imagine happened when he first dropped a needle to “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone”—but those particular moments of catharsis are too weird and too personal ever really to translate. What’s important is that McKune’s discovery of Patton set off an avalanche of cultural events, a revolution that’s still in progress: blues records became coveted by collectors, who then fought to preserve and disseminate them.

In the liner notes to The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, a collection of 78 rarities released by Yazoo in 2012, Richard Nevins called McKune “‘the man’ who set it all in motion, who led blues collectors away from the errors of their wayward tastes… a fantastic, brilliant young man… [his] perspectives had profound influence and resound even today.” In the same notes, Dick Spottswood—in conversation with Nevins and Whelan—spoke about how McKune raised the stakes for everyone, about how things changed: “All I’m saying is that the records themselves as collectible artifacts were not buy or die [before]. They were desirable records but they weren’t life or death. You know, the way they have since turned into.” After McKune, collectors became invested in rural blues. They sought those records with fury, the music was preserved and reissued, and the entire trajectory of popular music shifted to reflect the genre’s influence. A guy from no place, saving music from the same.

Turn Me Loose

August 12, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turn Me Loose: Outsiders of Old Time Music, edited by Frank Fairfield  (Tompkins Square CD)

edited review by Mike Yates (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Subtitled “Commercial recordings of Anglo-European-American vernacular music that challenge the stereotypes”, this is a second selection of 78rpm recordings mainly from the collection of American musician Frank Fairfield, and is a really fascinating collection of little-known and seldom-heard musical gems.

Let’s begin with the opening track, a version of the well-known fiddle tune Waggoner, played by Bob Skiles Four Old Timers, a family band from Texas.  The band comprises Bob Skiles on fiddle, his mother on piano, and his two sons playing banjo and … tuba.  And I guess that the tuba is the reason for this tracks appearance here.  Yes, it is unusual to hear a brass instrument playing in a so-called string band, but let’s not forget that there was once a tradition of German “oom-pah” bands in Texas, so perhaps the tuba is not that odd after all.

And what about that piano?  The Tweedy Brother’s version of Chicken Reel is played on fiddle and piano, the latter being described in the notes as “eccentric”.  Well, the pianist does get a little over-involved in the middle of the recording, but then so did many other old-time piano players, such as Al Hopkins (of The Hillbillies), Hobart Smith and Haywood Blevins.  Clarice Shelor, who played the piano on her family band recordings, was perhaps more reserved, but, at the end of the day, the piano was probably more common in old-time music than we like to suppose. (more…)

The American Country Waltz

August 11, 2013

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excerpt from JEMF Quarterly VOL. V, PART 1, SPRING,1969, NO.13:

We all know the waltzes of art music, and many of us are familiar with the popular and folk waltzes of Germany, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Few folklorists know, however, that country dancers and musicians in our own Southern states are as fond of the waltz as they are of any of the livelier steps one usually associates with old-time fiddle music.

Few dances or old-time fiddlers’ contests pass without such favorites as “Over the Waves” and “Wednesday Night Waltz.” And yet even those few collectors who have carefully noted down the country reels and breakdowns have been content to let the waltz go with a passing mention, if indeed they mention it at all.

The typical “Wednesday Night Waltz” melody is a strain of 32 bars. Considered in the key of C, its range is from middle C up an octave and a fifth to G.  Its first three bars have three long notes; the first and third are double-stops on the high C chord, and the second is usually a half-tone below or a full-tone above the other two.

These are followed by a rapid descent to the low C.  At the fifth bar the melody jumps up to A, then drops stepwise to the E of the low C chord. The second 8 bars are the same except that the concluding bars form a G7 or dominant-seventh chord. The third 8 bars repeat the first 8 exactly. The final 8 can vary considerably, but nearly always end with a stepwise passage from the high E down to the high C.

Rather than going through that again, This is a recording made by the Leake County Revelers in 1926, which was in the catalog for over twenty years and is one of the all-time best-selling country records. 


The usual methods of classifying folk tunes—incipits, contours, emphasized and neglected pitches, and so on—are dependent on melody alone. And when we are studying music which is purely melodic, and not traditionally performed with harmony (such as Child ballads) we should certainly stick to these methods. But in the country waltz we are dealing with an essentially harmonic form.

We see this both historically and empirically: first by the historical connection of the country waltz with the obviously harmonic waltzes of Europe, and secondly by the inevitable presence in country waltz performances of a harmonic support
(usually a guitar or banjo) behind the melodic fiddle lead.

And if we can judge by the Leake County Revelers, the harmonic method represents not only a fast way of classifying tunes, but a way that agrees (at least subconsciously) with the folk attitude toward them.

 

Congo Square

August 10, 2013

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from Cyril Neville (www.purafe.com):

In the 18th and 19th century Congo Square, in New Orleans,  was outside the city proper and served as a market where slaves and Indians sold and bartered goods.

It was a Native gathering place where they probably had corn festivals and harvest festivals. After the Haitian Revolution in 1804, where people with hoes and clubs threw out the French slave masters, the slaveholders in New Orleans — some of them rich escapees from Haiti — decided to appease the slaves by letting them blow off steam.

My assessment is that in the beginning the Africans were going out there to worship and play music with the Native people and they’d all cook and play music together and eventually it attracted the Europeans. They came to see what the hullabaloo
was about and they [the Europeans] started throwing money at the players.
It was the first time that Africans played music for anything but to honor the ancestors or religious rituals. The
Europeans allowed it so Haiti wouldn’t happen in America.”

America’s Instrument

August 9, 2013
America's Instrument

America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century, by Philip F. Gura and James F. Bollman

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 97 color and 156 b&w illus., notes, bibl., index

from http://www.uncpress.unc.edu:


This handsome illustrated history traces the transformation of the banjo from primitive folk instrument to sophisticated musical machine and, in the process, offers a unique view of the music business in nineteenth-century America.

Philip Gura and James Bollman chart the evolution of “America’s instrument,” the five-stringed banjo, from its origins in the gourd instruments of enslaved Africans brought to the New World in the seventeenth century through its rise to the very pinnacle of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Throughout, they look at how banjo craftsmen and manufacturers developed, built, and marketed their products to an American public immersed in the production and consumption of popular music.

With over 250 illustrations–including rare period photographs, minstrel broadsides, sheet music covers, and banjo tutors and tune books–America’s Instrument brings to life a fascinating aspect of American cultural history.

About the Author

Philip F. Gura is William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is an old-time music enthusiast. James F. Bollman is co-owner and manager of the Music Emporium in Lexington, Massachusetts. He plays clawhammer banjo and has been collecting and researching banjos and banjo-related ephemera for more than thirty years.

Reviews

America’s Instrument is a fascinating, eye-opening read. . . . That this handsome book belongs in the library of every banjo enthusiast barely needs stating, but it is also a gem for anyone interested in folk music, in American studies, and in the development of American popular culture.”
Missouri Folklore Society Journal

America’s Instrument reviews extant banjo history firmly, without antagonism. [The authors] prune from their own new research all but the banjo’s technical progress. They watch the banjo change from an African gourd with a neck attached to a twentieth-century machine-made tool able to bounce its yawp off the back of the largest halls. . . . They have written an obsessive book for banjo fanatics, rich in living banjo culture. . . . America’s Instrument lavishly details the banjo from the pegface to tailpiece hanger bolt.”
Journal of American History

American’s Instrument is now one of those ‘must have’ items for ‘banjo people.’ However, this is a very enjoyable book to look through for anyone, largely because so many incredible photos are of people, not just banjos, staring off the page at us from a century and a half ago. . . . Gura and Bollman have contributed an incredible document to the history of the banjo, and I for one deeply appreciate their effort.”
–Béla Fleck, for Mississippi Quarterly

Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone

August 8, 2013

7 Amede Ardoin Chris King

from “DRAGGED THROUGH THE FOREST: The Long-Gone Sound of Amédé Ardoin,” by Amanda Petrusich:

It’s possible most of Ardoin’s songs are about one person: the girl to whom he was betrothed, or about to be betrothed—the most profound romantic fascination of his young life. As far as I can tell, theirs was a shotgun-to-the-temple, unbearable, drive-it-like-it’s-stolen love, uncompromising and insane. Something went wrong. They never married.

According to “Valse Des Opelousas,” she left, crying. “Oh, tite fille, si tu m’aimerais comme t’as voulu me dire / Tu te sentirais pas déçue pour ça ils sont après te dire,” Ardoin sings after her. Oh, little girl, if you loved me as much as you said, you wouldn’t feel so disappointed by what they’re telling you.

“In my understanding of that culture, in that particular time period, because it was so intensely Catholic and superstitious, you got married, and you didn’t get a new wife or husband until the other one died,” compiler Christopher King explained. “The same stigma was attached to betrothal.” Ardoin’s romantic outlook, from then on, was grim.

Because he couldn’t have her, Ardoin sang to her, over and over again. She appears often as “Jouline,” which King suspects was a pet name, a variation of “jolie,” or “pretty young thing,” though her actual name was Maisé Broussard. I imagine her as the kind of beautiful that makes your stomach hurt: sweet-faced and long-legged and a little mischievous around the eyes, too smart for her own good.

King likes to think that Ardoin sang to her with the hope that she’d eventually hear his prayers and adjurations—that he believed he could, in effect, sing her back to his side. He was clearly ready to die trying. “Oh, tite fille, moi, j’ai dit je m’aurais jamais marié / Oh, c’est rapport de voir ça t’as fait avec moi,” he sighs at the end of “Valse Des Opelousas,” his body gutted, his voice tired. Oh, little girl, I said I would never marry. Oh, it’s because of seeing what you’ve done to me.

The story of Amédé Ardoin’s death is apocryphal, something he shares with the Delta blues singers Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Sometimes mythology supersedes fact for so long that it becomes its own kind of truth by virtue of our belief in it; or, as with Ardoin, the details vary but the arc stays the same, stays true. (more…)

“Demon Lovers and Gospel Truths”

August 7, 2013

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edited from Ray Templeton (www.mustrad.org.uk) and http://vernacularshellac.com:

Dylan: “Maybe when I was about ten, I started playing the guitar. I found a guitar… in the house that my father bought, actually. I found something else in there, it was kind of mystical overtones. There was a great big mahogany radio, that had a 78 turntable–when you opened up the top.

And I opened it up one day and there was a record on there–country record–a song called “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”  The sound of the record made me feel like I was somebody else… and er, then, uh, you know, that I, I was maybe not even born to the right parents or something.”

In the first volume of his autobiography, Chronicles (Simon & Schuster, 2004), Bob Dylan talks of discovering

“… a parallel universe… with more archaic principles and values…  A culture with outlaw women, super thugs, demon lovers and gospel truths… streets and valleys, rich peaty swamps, with landowners and oilmen, Stagger Lees, Pretty Pollys and John Henrys – an invisible world that towered overhead with walls of gleaming corridors…

Folk music was a reality of a more brilliant dimension.  It exceeded all human understanding… (a) mythical realm… it was life magnified.”

Elsewhere, he describes putting together a repertoire of his own from the tradition (long before he had started to write songs) consisting of songs that were

“… about debauched bootleggers, mothers that drowned their own children… floods, union hall fires, darkness and cadavers at the bottom of rivers…  They weren’t friendly or ripe with mellowness.  They didn’t come gently to the shore…  They were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciousness of reality, some different republic …”

 

Sally Johnson

August 6, 2013

Let Your Feet Do The Talkin’

August 6, 2013

Let Your Feet Do the Talkin’
A documentary film by Stewart Copeland (Dust-To-Digital DVD)

by Ted Olson (www.oxfordamerican.org):

The South has been a hotbed of old-time music for generations, and remains so today. On any given weekend, Southerners from seemingly every walk of life gather with fellow aficionados in settings both formal (festivals, workshops) and informal (porches, backyards, picnic areas) to play chestnuts from the old-time music repertoire (fiddle tunes, hymns, ballads, nineteenth century sentimental parlor songs, etc.). But while old-time music has been widely revived across the region, another cultural expression from the pre-modern rural South—buck dancing—is only now receiving the attention it deserves, and that is largely the result of the promotional and participatory efforts of one individual, Thomas Maupin.

Buck dancing has long been associated with old-time music, in that a dancer traditionally would tap feet and move arms in harmony with the rhythms created by musicians.  Buck dancing is elusive because it is expressly individualistic, and until recently has had a difficult time competing for public attention with the showier, more programmatic or regimented dance forms that buck dancing has influenced—clogging and tap dancing—and also the recently popular, unrelated dance form imported from England by way of New England, contra dancing.

Buck dancing is not easy to categorize—it is simple, involving neither choreography nor costume, yet it is complex, with no set routines or rules. When you are buck dancing, though it is to someone else’s music, you are guided by your own sense of rhythm, in a manner encouraged in the mid-nineteenth century by Henry David Thoreau: “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

While far from mainstream, buck dancing holds considerable appeal to limber-bodied people who are unafraid to dance alone without an established set routine.  No one is more dedicated today to the tradition than Maupin. Anyone wanting to know about this talented and low-key revivalist should watch the recent short subject documentary film, Let Your Feet Do the Talkin’, which portrayed Maupin and his love for buck dancing (which he refers to as “a little ole country dance”). Over the years Maupin has been named national buck dancing champion six times, and he has won many other awards for his practice of this particular tradition (including the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award). (more…)

Cowboy Songs

August 5, 2013

 

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from http://www.npr.org:

A hundred years ago, a collection of folk music forever re-tuned the American songbook. Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax introduced the country to the music of the American West, and helped propel the cowboy to iconic status. But a close examination of early cowboy music reveals details about some of the very first cowboys that don’t fit the usual stereotypes.

In the 1940s, a radio show made for the Library of Congress recorded Lomax talking about his earliest memories of cowboys. The pioneer folklorist had seen firsthand the great trail drives after the Civil War.

“I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old when I first heard a cowboy yodel and sing to his cattle. I was sleeping in my father’s cabin in Texas,” Lomax said. “As the cowboys drove the cattle along, they sang, called and yodeled to them. … They made up songs about trail life.”

But just who were these cowboys that Lomax saw? Where did they come from? These questions intrigue Mike Searles, a professor of history at Augusta State University in Georgia.

“There’s a popular notion that when you’re talking about the cowboy, you’re exclusively talking about white cowboys, which of course is not true,” Searles says. “Black men were involved in being cowboys very early in the history of our country.”

No one is sure how many African-Americans worked as cowboys in the trail drives, but estimates run as high as 1 in 4. (more…)

Lunsford, Scruggs, and Rhumba

August 4, 2013

p

from http://www.peteseeger.net:

During the summer of 1935, the same year he moved his family to Washington, Charles Seeger took his son Pete to a mountain square dance and music festival in Asheville, North Carolina. This was the event begun and run for many years by the legendary Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

Here Pete, sixteen years old at the time, heard his first folk music. He says that it was love at first sight, after hearing a five-string banjo being played and listening to old ballads about lords and ladies. It’s probably safe to assume that if Seeger had not taken his young son on that fateful journey, there might have been no renewed interest in folk music.

from http://www.thistleradio.com:

Pete Seeger:  “Bascom Lamar Lunsford.  He gave me my first lesson in playing a 5 string banjo.  Instead of going and just playing chords, clunk, clunk, clunk, you’d pick up on maybe the middle string and then pick up on the first string, five notes higher.  And then come down with your thumb on the fifth string.

Gradually, I didn’t learn this all at once, I learned you picked one of the strings with your left hand.  So now I could get four beats there.  Up on the middle string, plucked the first string with your left hand – my mother says that on the violin that’s called Left Hand Pizzicato.  I just call it pulling off, but you know my phrase has been picked up by the whole music world now.

Guitar pickers all around the world, it’s pulling off when you play a note with your left hand.  And sometimes you can, instead of pulling off, you can hammer down on one of the strings, usually a lower string.  You pick it with your right hand and then come down strongly on the fretboard with your left hand and the string is still vibrating in the new pitch.  And of course, a man named Earl Scruggs invented a way to divide up 8 short notes into 3, 3 and 2, that adds up to 8.

And if you analyze it, that’s basically the rhumba rhythm.”

Down-Home Fiddling

August 3, 2013

Down-Home Fiddling the Way It Really Used to Be,” by MICHAEL HOINSKI (from http://www.nytimes.com):

During the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, a distinctive form of fiddle music emerged in Texas. Known for idiosyncratic timing and phrasing, this style was commonly played with banjos or guitars on front porches or in living rooms, less for show than for social interaction. It reflected the cross-pollination in Texas after the Civil War, with touches of African-American, Appalachian, Cajun, Czech, German, Irish, Mexican, Polish and Scottish musical forms.

“And then it just evaporated,” said Howard Rains, an Austin musician and one of the few people in the state who performs this nearly extinct genre of fiddling. “It was just gone. Everything changed after the Depression.”

Mr. Rains, 43, has established himself as an authority on old Texas-style fiddling with his recently released album “The Old Texas Fiddle,” dedicated to preserving this hand-me-down music, which was rarely recorded or committed to sheet music.

Western swing and contest-style fiddling all but buried old Texas fiddle music. In the 1930s, the Texas bandleader Bob Wills took the fiddle out of its folk environs — the cotton fields near Kosse, where he grew up — and into dance halls and onto the radio. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, a large band with multiple fiddles, played western swing, a mix of country and jazz that raised spirits dampened by the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Texas contest-style fiddling was undergoing an overhaul. In the late 1920s, Benny Thomasson, an acclaimed old Texas fiddler from near Gatesville, suffered a tough loss in his very first contest.

He went back to the woodshed and reworked older melodies into arrangements that required a virtuoso’s skills to play, then went on to win 15 state championships, evolving contest-style fiddling into today’s improvisational game of packing as many notes into a space as possible. Mr. Rains calls it “fiddling on steroids.”

“It’s the greatest fiddling ever known to man,” Mr. Rains said. “Or it’s this horrible aberration that’s overrun the old styles.” (more…)

Early Harmonica Recordings from the 1920s & 1930s

August 2, 2013

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Black & White Hillbilly Music – Early Harmonica Recordings from the 1920s & 1930s (Trikont CD)

from http://www.allmusic.com:

This is all pure country music, before there really was such a thing. This is the folk music of England, Ireland, and Scotland wrapped up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and in the Appalachian plains, and was transformed into something so perversely American it was a freak show to the rest of the country when it finally was released on recordings.

These recordings by the Crook Brothers, DeFord Bailey (the first black instrumentalist on the Grand Old Opry stage), the Jackson County Barn Owls, the Riverside Ramblers, Karl & Harty, the Pickard Family, Dr. Humphrey Bate & the Possum Hunters, Lonnie Glosson, and others were the sounds of people telling stories to one another in the confines of their communities, playing the old songs as if they had a secret code not decipherable outside the holler.

Music was played by clans for other clans; many of them identifying their “turf” and placing the name “Ramblers” after it (there are four such acts on this disc). This is primarily string band music, unique because of the prominence of the harmonica in the ensembles themselves. Fiddle solos were replaced or at least augmented by harmonica.

As an album, it doesn’t have the power or the focus that other Trikont compilations have. It feels shoddily snapped together to meet a production deadline, with this theme as its only unifier. That said, it’s of more than casual interest because of the material, which is very fine, and most of it is so obscure that it is seldom (if ever) referenced.

Of particular note is the early swing flavor of the Nelstone’s Hawaiians, formed during the brief national craze for Hawaiian guitar music. It seems there was contact beyond the mountain ridge after all. Glosson’s “Lonnie’s Fox Chase” is part Irish reel, part blues shuffle, part stomping bluegrass thunder. Using his voice to add percussion in and out of rhythm, Glosson had a few tricks up his sleeve as a harmonica player, but he used them very effectively, bending pitches that give the appearance that he’s changing keys on the same harmonica, and then singing through the harmonica body as he blew into it, creating true microtones. This psycho track is worth the price of the entire compilation.There’s supposedly a guitar on this cut as well but you can’t hear it and it doesn’t matter.

The other solid jam is DeFord Bailey’s “John Henry.” This is a blues stomp from 1928. The polyrhythms created by Bailey’s harmonica allowed for shifts and breaks in the melody in which the body of the tune changed from a country shuffle to a steamy blues while remaining recognizably the same song. Despite its flaws, this is still a worthy collection.

That Half-Barbaric Twang

August 1, 2013

 

Cover for LINN: That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture. Click for larger image

 

That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture, by Karen Linn (University of Illinois)

from http://press.illinois.edu:

Long a symbol of American culture, the banjo actually originated in Africa and was later adopted by European-Americans. In this book Karen Linn shows how the banjo – despite design innovations and several modernizing agendas – has failed to escape its image as a “half-barbaric” instrument symbolic of antimodernism and sentimentalism.

Caught in the morass of American racial attitudes and often used to express ambivalence toward modern industrial society, the banjo stood in opposition to the “official” values of rationalism, modernism, and belief in the beneficence of material progress. Linn uses popular literature, visual arts, advertisements, film, performance practices, instrument construction and decoration, and song lyrics to illustrate how notions about the banjo have changed.

Her text traces the instrument from its African origins through the 1980s, alternating between themes of urban modernization and rural nostalgia. She examines the banjo fad of bourgeois Northerners during the late nineteenth century, African-American banjo tradition and the commercially popular cultural image of the southern black banjo player, the banjo in ragtime and early jazz, and the white Southerner and mountaineer as banjo player.

“Well written and well researched; Linn has amassed an impressive amount of data, and she uses it effectively. . . . This is an excellent book that should be of interest to not only historians, folklorists, and musicologists but also the banjo player and the general reader.”–Charlie Seemann, Journal of Southern History

“An absolute must read for anyone interested in the banjo.”–Five Stringer

“Concise, well-supported, and provocative. . . . The clearest voice of revelation regarding American’s most misunderstood instrument.”–Bob Fulcher, Journal of Country Music

“An intriguing analysis of the role of the banjo in recent American culture and society. . . . Highly recommended.”–R. D. Cohen, Choice

“Uses everything from sentimental novels and escaped slave posters to Felix the Cat cartoons and magazine advertisements to create impressive cultural history of what the author calls the ‘idea of the banjo.’ . . . Linn’s wonderful book is scholarly without being jargoned, serious without being tedious. . . . A book for dipping into, underlining, reading aloud in snatches, and opening repeatedly.”–Rachel Rubin, Banjo Newsletter

Karen Linn is an archivist in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. She has published articles in North Carolina Folklore Journal and American Music.

Jimmie Rodgers (#2)

July 31, 2013

index

from “Jimmie Rodgers Died for Your Sins,” by Tom Piazza, and http://www.twangnation.com:

In the last three weeks of Jimmie Rodgers’ life, he traveled by train, in the company of a private nurse, from San Antonio to Galveston, and then by boat to New York City for an epic series of recording sessions, so that his wife and daughter would have a backlog of material to help out financially after he was gone. He stayed at the Hotel Taft and took the time to look at a few songs by a couple of young songwriters, whom he received while in bed, propped up on pillows.

At the Victor recording studio on East 24th Street, a cot was set up where Rodgers could lie down and regain his strength between takes. The first day, May 17, 1933, he recorded four tracks, an amazing effort under the circumstances; they included “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now,” a composition by one of the young songwriters who visited him at his hotel.

The next day he recorded three tracks, including the beautiful “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes” and a track released as “Jimmie Rodgers’s Last Blue Yodel,” sometimes known as “The Women Make a Fool Out of Me.” Rodgers skipped a day and went back in on May 20, but he was only able to record two songs before quitting.

He rested for three days. On May 24 the Victor people had set up a session with two other guitarists, and Rodgers, hanging on by a thread, recorded three songs with them. Then, solo, he recorded his last song, “Fifteen Years Ago Today,” sometimes issued as “Years Ago.”

The next day his nurse took him for a tour of Coney Island. He suffered a terrible attack of coughing and spasms and had to be brought back to the hotel, and in the deep morning hours of May 26 he died.

At the recent  Mississippi Picnic  at New York’s Central Park the “Singing Brakeman’s’”  iconic guitar was  played for the first time in 80 years to record music.

Rodger’s custom-ordered 1927 Martin 000-45, has his name in pearl inlay on the neck and “Thanks” written upside down on the back. After his death, Rodgers’ widow loaned the 000-45 to Ernest Tubb, who played it for forty years. It was later donated to the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, in Meridian, Mississippi, where it is kept in a safe behind glass.

Tribute artist Britt Gully received permission to use the guitar for recording a tribute CD and played the guitar at a Rodgers tribute at the event.

“This guitar is magical,” Gully said. “There was never a time when playing it that I did not realize what I was playing, and who played it before me.”

Top 10 Untrue Facts About Robert Johnson

July 30, 2013
Robert+Johnson+robert_jonhson
Top 10 Untrue Facts About Robert Johnson by Greil Marcus

1. Bob Dylan writes in Chronicles, Volume One that John Hammond, who tried to recruit Johnson for his 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert in New York before learning of Johnson’s murder, and who played two of Johnson’s 78s from the stage in his place, believed that Johnson had read Whitman. He had.

2. He based “Come on in My Kitchen” on “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

3. Traveling with Johnny Shines, Johnson passed through New York in 1937 or 1938—where he appeared in blackface as a spear-carrier in a revue at the relocated Cotton Club at Broadway and 48th Street.

4. Zora Neale Hurston saw him playing on the street in Harlem; she introduced him to Langston Hughes. The three read and sang back and forth until Hughes wrote in his journal, “We all wanted to be each other.”

5. Through Hurston, Johnson met Nancy Cunard, just then getting over her breakup with the jazz bandleader Henry Crowder. They had a brief affair. Stories that Johnson wrote “From Four Until Late” for her are considered dubious.

6. Through Cunard, Johnson met Big Bill Broonzy, and collaborated with him on “Just a Dream (On My Mind),” adding the verse about the president to Broonzy’s structure—

I dreamed I was in the White House, sittin’ in the president’s chair
I dreamed he’s shaking my hand, and he said “Bob, I’m so glad you’re here”
But that was just a dream, Lord, what a dream I had on my mind
Now, and when I woke up, baby, not a chair there could I find.

7. Broonzy would not record the song until 1939, when he changed the president’s address from “Bob” to “Bill.” Memphis Slim used to say Broonzy had arranged Johnson’s murder—or even committed it himself—in order to avoid sharing credit for what he knew would become his signature song, but no one believed him.

8. In recent years, various scholars and researchers, determined to remove the veil of mystification thrown over Johnson by the story of his supposedly selling his soul to the devil in order to gain a proficiency on the guitar that would take him beyond his fellows, have sought to restore balance to country-blues studies by both, or alternatively, denying that as a school, style, or aesthetically meaningful form there was any such thing as country blues, and denigrating Johnson’s originality, expressiveness, musical dexterity, or even the authenticity of his putative voice, with one writer arguing that Johnson’s natural voice was deep, but his producer sped up the master tapes of his recordings in order to make him sound younger and more vulnerable, thus purposefully or inadvertently adding to the myth of the doomed blues singer.

A book arguing that Johnson, like Shakespeare, was either a front (for Son House, who, the author suggests, thought he could make more money as a younger, more handsome, more plaintive-sounding version of himself), or never existed at all—the thesis being that the real Robert Johnson who made the recordings attributed to Johnson was, as some have argued about Homer, and as E.L. Doctorow essentially argues about the Rosenbergs at the end of The Book of Daniel, someone else with the same name—will be published next year by Sentinel.

9. Rumored but so-far-unfound Johnson recordings include “Country Blues” (a reworking of the Dock Boggs version), “Little Maggie,” “Adieu False Heart,” and “John Henry.”

10. Like Huey Newton and Bobby Seale listening to Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” as they drew up the charter for the Black Panthers, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen were listening to “Hell Hound on My Trail” when in 1941 they wrote “Blues in the Night.” “I want him on the session,” Bing Crosby, a fan of “Terraplane Blues,” said just before he recorded the song in 1942. But what he got was perfect anyway.

Ramblers, Gamblers, Vagabonds And Revelers

July 29, 2013

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Ramblers, Gamblers, Vagabonds And Revelers (4CD Proper Box Set)

from http://www.propermusic.com:

Retracing the musical footsteps of the archetypes of the early American society and culture reveals all the elements which cross-pollinated and fused together to make the beast that was Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s.

From the world of Old-Timey and Country come the Carolina Tar Heels, Charlie Poole, Frank Hutchison, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and many more. The Country Blues of Peg Leg Howell, Robert Lee McCoy, Muddy Waters, Blind Jefferson, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell showcase some of the most important musicians of the American Folk tradition. Add to that the Jazz, Cajun, Bluegrass and a multitude of other offshoots and styles and you can listen to the creation path of the style that took over the musical world and is still reigning ’till this day.

Covering much the same time span and social demography as the Lonesome Whistle Properbox set which came out in May, and featuring some of the same performers in the mix, the themes of this equally well-informed 4-CD anthology of roots recordings from the 1920s to the 50s are self-explanatory.

Audiophiles should be warned that early recordings are crackly transfers from shellac, which is entirely appropriate. It would be alarming if they were suddenly booming out in quadraphonic sound. Together with Lonesome Whistle, it comprises an eloquent diary of southern expression of the dispossessed either prevailing over circumstance, or simply falling by the wayside.

Many of the recordings provided repertoire for 50s UK skiffle, which in turn inspired the follow-up generation of British beat groups – along with rock ‘n’ roll. Includes an informative booklet on the history of American roots music and detailed information on each of the 100 tracks.

True Vine Music

July 28, 2013

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edited from article about record collector Christopher King by Eddie Dean (from Oxford American #45):

Pre-war blues and country records carry the weight of centuries in their sound, and bear the traditions of countless pockets of isolated, homegrown cultures wiped out by the spread of radio and, ironically enough, records. As performers throughout the South began to emulate the quality and effect of records, they sacrificed their own idiosyncratic styles, making way for the amplified, homogenized music collector Christopher King despises, which, besides bluegrass, includes pretty much everything recorded after World War II.

King’s ideal is sometime around 1870, when his house was built, and life moved at the easy pace of a horse’s trot, and songs were still handed down. This era was the heyday of what King calls “true vine” music, made by obscure performers whose repertoire dated back before the blues to murky, racially mongrel nineteenth-century origins, when blacks and whites in the South not only shared the same grab bag of songs, but often the same local styles.

The 78s he covets capture spontaneous, raw performances, when the only prodding from record-industry engineers was a bottle of whiskey and some pocket cash: Texas songster Henry Thomas, whose music can be heard on TV commercials via Canned Heat covers; Kentucky fiddler Jilson Setters, who made records well into his seventies; the black duo Two Poor Boys, whose songbook stretched back to the Civil War.

“True vine is music that’s not shaped or molded by crass commercialism,” he says. “It’s the stuff that would have been in the American vernacular before there were phonographs or music marketeers. They didn’t have someone telling them what to do, they were playing the way they’d always played.”

African Guitar Legends (pt. 1)

July 27, 2013
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François Luambo Makiadi (Franco)

by Dan Rosenberg, from “The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends” (World Music Network):

It would be hard to find a musical instrument that has done more to shape the music of the planet than the guitar. The six-stringed guitar has had a profound impact on the music of six continents.  While scholars have found evidence of guitar-like instruments as far back as ancient Persia, what we now know as the modern European guitar can be traced directly to Africa. It was the Moorish invasion in the eighth century that brought the guitar from Africa to Spain, which centuries later led to Flamenco and literally thousands of styles of music across the globe.

The slave trade led to the creation of American blues, and it doesn’t take an ethnomusicologist to recognize the blues’ connection to the guitar styles of legends like Mali’s Ali Farka Touré. The Spanish conquest brought the guitar to Latin America, and led to styles like the Cuban son
.
In an odd historical quirk, Afro-Cuban music made its way back across the Atlantic in the early twentieth century, and led to new styles such as Congolese rumba. Although artists like Trio Matamoros, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz and Ray Baretto didn’t tour Africa, their records certainly did – their vinyl LPs made it to DJs across the continent, and it was thoserecords that helped shape the styles of artists like Franco and Djelimady Tounkara.
A strong argument could be made that, as far back as the 1940s the musical capital of Africa was Leopoldville, the former colonial capital of Belgian Congo (the city now called Kinshasa). The city was the ultimate Afro-pop melting pot, as sounds like Ghanaian highlife, Cuban son and a host of Congolese folk rhythms could be heard over the airwaves and in local clubs.
These styles, and others, collided to form the Congolese rumba. Stars like Joseph Kabasele (known as ‘Le Grand Kalle’) and Franco created rumba supergroups (sometimes with as many as thirty musicians). Their guitar wizardry, sweet, touching vocals and lilting rhythms soon captivated great portions of the continent, especially across East Africa.

Addie Graham

July 26, 2013

from http://appalshop.org:

Addie Prater Graham, a singer of traditional ballads, hymns, and songs from eastern Kentucky, was born before 1900 and grew up in a family and community rich in traditional music. She learned many songs from her mother and many more from neighbors and family, including ballads which trace back to the British Isles, others composed in America, frolic songs and ditties, and religious songs in the Old Regular Baptist tradition. While the Old Baptist belief of her parents forbade the use of musical instruments, she became an accomplished singer in the complex, highly ornamented style of Kentucky’s oral tradition.

Addie married Amos Graham, a native of Wolfe County, Kentucky, and had three children. They lived in Breathitt County for many years before settling in Cynthiana, Harrison County, where she and her daughter ran a clothing store for many years. She passed away in 1977.

After a lifetime of singing only in the home, Addie performed at a number of music festivals in the 1970’s. She was recorded extensively by her grandson Rich Kirby and by folklorist Barbara (Edwards) Kunkle; they produced her LP recording Been A Long Time Traveling on Appalshop’s June Appal record label. The recording brought her music to the attention of a much wider audience; among the artists who have recorded some of her songs are Mike Seeger, Alice Gerrard, Ginny Hawker, and John McCutcheon. Appalshop re-released her recording, with extensive additional material, in 2008.

Close Harmony

July 25, 2013

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Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel, by James R. Goff Jr. (University of North Carolina Press)

excerpt from http://uncpress.unc.edu:

Early in the nation’s history, gospel music emerged as a central part of the expression of American culture. Practically speaking, it provided a foundation for other styles of music that came to enrich the life of its citizens. More important, it built a bulwark upon which a developing nation and its people could assemble a religious identity.

At least since the first few decades of the nineteenth century, Americans have been among the world’s most religious people. And even before the rural revivals of the early 1800s turned the cultural landscape of the nation into a bastion of evangelicalism, Americans were comfortable with the tenets of the Judeo-Christian heritage and understood the majority of their values within those boundaries. In that context, gospel music helped mold the culture through which the collective hopes, dreams, and beliefs of most Americans found expression.

Few books have examined the American gospel music tradition. One can search library shelves and find a significant number of works on the evolution and importance of most forms of classical and popular music. On the popular side, a number of impressive efforts have chronicled the rise of blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music. In recent years, a sizable number of similar works on the role of black gospel have even appeared. Yet almost ignored is the parallel treatment of the white gospel tradition.

Ironically, the area of life most divided in 1900 was religious life—segregation by custom rather than by any particular detail of a state’s Jim Crow package. In part to experience fully one of the few areas where they had total control, blacks in the decades after the Civil War flocked to churches and denominations that were operated and controlled within the black community.

A by-product was an increased separation in the performance of and preference for gospel music. The timing was pivotal, for the late decades of the nineteenth century would be the crucial decades in the development of the shape-note songbook publishing business and also in the formation of early quartet styling. Black and white singers would still listen, learn, and consciously borrow from each other, but segregation in general would mean that their audiences and the confines of their market would be separate for at least the first six decades of the twentieth century.

Download Music for the Sky

July 24, 2013

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from Nikolai Fox:

The first run of the indie documentary “Music for the Sky” (2008, 60min, by Nikolai Fox), is officially out of print on DVD. The film is now available for purchase as a digital download on Nikolai’s website:

http://www.nikolaifox.net/music-for-the-sky

“Music for the Sky” is a documentary film about a community of eccentric revivalist old-time fiddlers playing southern style fiddle music while living in the mountains of Vermont and Western Massachusetts. The film revolves around the personalities of eight musicians (George Ainley, Ahmet Baycu, Jim Burns, Michael Donahue, Zac Johnson, Bob Naess Anthony Pasquarosa and John Specker) – each described in a cinematic portrait. Using a single small camera first time filmmaker Nikolai Fox captures the music and personalities of this community of musicians at various informal locations. Also featuring the music of Jon Bekoff, Paula Bradley, Dan Brown, Bill Dillof, Nikolai Fox, Greg Miller, Jon Place, Alex Scala and Rose Sinclair and Liz Toffey.

Mississippi Records Tour Preview Film

July 24, 2013

from http://thewire.co.uk:

Portland, Oregon based crate diggers Mississippi Records are going on a summer tour around Europe, showcasing their own archives and screening films from the Alan Lomax archive (the Association for Cultural Equity).

The tour is headed up by Mississippi label head Eric Isaacson, who’ll be showing select footage filmed on Lomax’s travels around North America between 1978–1985, among other videos. Isaacson will be playing music too, culled from Mississippi’s library of folk, blues, spirituals and roots music, from 1890 to the present day. Footage includes RL Burnside, Jack Owens, the 1982 Holly Springs Sacred Harp Convention, a funeral parade, one string guitar playing and more. (All the Lomax videos are available online via ACE here.)

Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World

July 23, 2013

 

hot women2

from http://fivecreviews.blogspot.com:

Hot Women – Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World: CD Compilation By R. Crumb

Hot Women is a collection of 24 tracks taken from old 78 rpm recordings. They were gathered by none other than underground cartoonist/cultural icon R. Crumb, who also annotates the liner notes with what biographical information his friends could find on the web (Crumb himself knows not how to use the internet); we’re even treated to illustrations based on whatever photographs he could find of these women.

The earliest of the songs, like “Lu Fistinu Di Palermo” (Rosina Trubia Gioiosa of Sicily), comes to us from 1927; the latest, “Ballali Madja” (Hamsa Khalafe & Ali Atia, Africa), is dated around 1950. Most tracks come to us from the ‘30s, and possess both the eerie warmth and alien disembodiment that informs such cinematic tributes to the ‘30s as Triplets of Belleville and Pennies from Heaven, only more so: more so because while some of these “torrid regions” may be familiar to us (Lousiana, Cuba), others are decidedly less so (Tunisia, Middle Congo). I never imagined that Vietnam or Burma had viable pop recording industries 70 years ago.

Tony Baldwin handled remastering duties on Hot Women, and while I have no idea what the original recordings sound like, the effect is mesmerizing. The sound is still separated from reality, yet saturated with the physical effects of its context. “El Tambor De La Alegria”, a Cuban number from 1928, arrives as in a cloud of dust from the street, as though it exploded into being without the benefit of a producer. The mesmerizing “Chant D’Invitation A La Dance”, from the Middle Congo, built entirely on voice and finger piano, seems suffused with the miasma of an unfamiliar terrain and a stubborn refusal to be “properly” colonized.

If Crumb’s notes show an admiration for these women, his illustrations and the songs themselves seem to reflect the persistence of “exotic” cultures despite the oppressive gaze of the occidental eye. If Crumb’s cartoons turn misogyny on its head by deconstructing the misogynist impulse, his sharing of this music seems to critique colonialism by spreading its accidental treasures, the voices of the oppressed turning the entertainment of their oppressors into an expression of their own tenacity. This collection is grotesque, sexy, dissonant, desperate, and comical, both of this world and defiantly outside of it. These may not be the first hot women to haunt my daydreams, but they’re among the few I’ve ever felt so desperate to share.

hotwomen

Ten Years After

July 22, 2013

from http://www.brooklynrail.org:

Ten Years of Dust-To-Digital: The Ongoing Mission of Moses Asch by Christopher Nelson

In his lifetime, Moses Asch devoted himself to documenting what he called “people’s music.” Asch churned out dozens of releases each year on his label, Folkways Records, covering marginalized sounds from every corner of the globe. The Folkways canon is impossibly deep and far-reaching, constituting one of the world’s greatest collections of recorded music; had it not been for Asch, many of these relics would never have reached a larger audience.

After Asch’s death in 1986, the Smithsonian Institute acquired Folkways Records and honored its founder’s wish to keep all 2,186 titles in circulation. While Smithsonian Folkways ensures that the artifacts Asch uncovered will be preserved for future generations, the need to document rare music persists. This is Asch’s mission: to keep documenting.

Those of us who seek pleasure in uncommon sounds, who remain curious about the ways in which the human condition aurally manifests itself, can take great comfort in knowing that for the past ten years, Atlanta, Georgia’s Dust-to-Digital Records has carried on that mission with aplomb.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Dust-to-Digital’s first official release, Goodbye, Babylon, an expertly curated collection of gospel songs, sermons, and sacred harp music from the first half of the 20th century. Dust-to-Digital founder Lance Ledbetter was inspired to make the collection while hosting a radio show at Georgia State University on Sunday mornings.

Ledbetter noticed a gap in the selection of old gospel music he was playing, and set out to fill it. With the help of his wife, April, Ledbetter spent four and a half years after graduating from college carefully researching and collecting material for what would eventually become Goodbye, Babylon. In October 2003, at the tender age of 27, Ledbetter released Goodbye, Babylon in an issue of 1,000, each set of six CDs housed in a cedar wood box and cushioned by tufts of raw cotton. It is a masterpiece, and reflects the Ledbetters’ thousands of hours of work. (more…)

McTell, Puckett, and The Unfortunate Rake

July 21, 2013

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edited from essay by Max Haymes (www.earlyblues.com):

The Unfortunate Rake is the Irish source of the Dying Crapshooter’s Blues, by Blind Willie McTell.  It crossed the Atlantic where it was ‘cleaned up’ by the cowboy fraternity and appeared as The Streets Of Laredo, while ‘respectable’ versions of St. James Hospital existed alongside it.

The first black recording of the latter title was by James ‘Iron Head’ Baker for the Library of Congress.  Together with St. James/Joe’s Infirmary and the more respectful Rake And Rambling Boy by Gid Tanner, the net result was the ‘unholy’ blues composition by Blind Willie McTell.

James ‘Iron Head’ Baker recorded his version in 1934  for the Library of Congress and was followed some two months later by another black singer, James Wadley who had his side titled St. James Infirmary, and was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia.  This was the first rural, solo example of this song by a black artist on record as far as we know.

Sometime between 1924 and 1934, a white hill-billy outfit going by the name of Gid Tannner and his Skillet Lickers recorded a song which had evolved out of The Flash Lad and The Wild and Wicked Youth, which they called Rake And Rambling Boy.  The title harking back to the beginning of this chronology, The Unfortunate Rake, would appear to have roots in the nineteenth century also, probably in the last decade.  The last verse closes with these lines:

“And on her breast he placed a dove,

To signify she died for love.”

Gid Tanner’s group were based in Atlanta amidst a strong white country music scene which rubbed shoulders with the equally strong black blues one.  Tony Russell quite rightly says that “Interaction between black and white musicians has been one of the most stimulating forces in American folk music.”, although Russell says this is not so common today because of “‘social reasons’’,… in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties they were frequent and fertile.”

Former Columbia Record A. & R.  man Frank Walker explained to Russell why this was so.  “In those days, in the outskirts of a city like Atlanta, we’ll say, you had your colored section…and you had your white, but they were right close to each other.  They might be swinging round in an arc, the colored people, being the left end of the arc and the white the right, but they would pass each other every dayAnd a little of the spiritualistic singing of the colored people worked over into the white hillbilly, and a little of the white hillbilly worked over into what the colored people did, so that you got a little combination of the two things there…They (the hillbillies) adopted little things that a colored man might be playing on his guitar, but he (the colored man) heard the white fellow across the way…and he adopted a little of that.” .

Russell also notes that a black group of bluesmen sometimes known as ‘Peg Leg Howell And His Gang’ with a line-up of a fiddle and two guitars, was similar to Tanner’s group and they even sounded similar on occasion.  Further to this, Tanner’s excellent blind guitarist, Riley Puckett, declares a the beginning of his version of John Henry, which he called Darkey’s Wail, “I’m gonna play for you this time a little piece which an old southern darky I heard play, comin’ down Decatur Street the other day. ‘cause his good girl done throwed him down”.

In this cross-fertilization process, McTell could have got some inspiration for Crapshooter from Rake And Rambling Boy as he probably heard it in person as “Puckett for some years attended the State Blind School in Macon, Georgia, and while there he may have encountered the black singer Blind Willie McTell, who was a pupil from 1922 to 1925.  It may have even been McTell from whom he learned his interpretation of John Henry.”  Decatur Street, along with Auburn Avenue, as Paul Oliver says: “…were the ‘main stem’ in Atlanta’s Negro sector.”

 

Floyd Radio Show

July 20, 2013

from http://www.floydcountrystore.com/radio-show:

The Floyd Radio show appears on the stage of the Floyd Country Store, a traditional and historic live music destination for locals and out-of-towners alike. The show is a brainchild of proprietors Woody and Jackie Crenshaw, who dreamed of beaming a taste of the inimitable Floyd music and culture out to the world at large. Anna and Elizabeth brought the first show to life in September 2011 to great appreciation (and laughter), and completed its nine-show season this spring, its final five shows to a sold-out crowd.

Highlights of last season include: the melodrama of Myrtle Vermillion (a small-town autoharp sensation on her first visit to the big city); the entertaining new Ballad-style GPS–one product we wish was real!–and the Poetry Olympic Games, complete with Edgar Allen Poe-Vaulting.

Musical guests last season included award winning flatpicker and guitar maker Wayne Henderson, banjo player Riley Baugus (whose credits include work on the soundtrack of Cold Mountain), West Virginia storyteller Jimmy Costa, singer Carol Elizabeth Jones, and a host of local favorites including Floyd’s own Mac & Jenny Traynham, Janet Turner, Chance McCoy (now of Old Crow Medecine Show) and Blacksburg’s Black Twig Pickers.

Next season, we look forward to the return of our favorite guests, and bringing new musicians onto the show, including legendary bluegrass singer Alice Gerrard, award-winning songwriter John Lilly, and champion fiddler Bobby Taylor.

Each show is streamed live over the internet at www.floydcountrystore.com, and is soon to be available as a podcast. We are also working to bring the show to the radio waves this fall.

Raw Fiddle

July 19, 2013

Raw Fiddle (Rounder CD), edited by Richard Spottswood

from http://www.rambles.net:

This two-disc set consists of 49 reissued songs and tunes taken from old 78s and chosen by the respected ethnodiscographer Dick Spottswood. The first CD carries the relatively more familiar material, from Southern (and, more rarely, Southwestern) white and black folk musicians, the styles covering the bases: dance tunes and hoedowns, blues, comic and novelty pieces, lyric songs.

The second features less often encountered sounds, of the sort now often called — vaguely enough — “world music.” Then it was just “foreign” to English-speaking Americans of the 1920s, when the bulk of these recordings were waxed. Here that means fiddle tunes and songs from Albania, Greece, Syria, Martinique, Trinidad, Scotland, Ireland, Cajun Louisiana, French Canada, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria — and sometimes fusions, where two countries bordered one another and cultures meshed. Most are performed by immigrants to America — thus not actually “foreign” in anything but relatively recent arrival — who brought the old-country traditions, today largely vanished, with them.

Be assured, however, that everything here can be listened to with pleasure, and furthermore, you don’t have to be a violin player to appreciate it, though of course violinists will be picking up all kinds of things passing by the ears of those of us who aren’t. No matter; this is not just outstanding music, but accessible and entertaining, too. Spottswood obviously wants listeners, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to enjoy themselves. We do.

Even on the first disc he is not driving the usual warhorses, old recordings that have been revived and reissued to the point of exhaustion. Maybe half of the Southern material is known to me as a longtime listener of source recordings, and the other still sounds fresh enough not to have outworn welcomes. I can’t imagine that anyone could ever object to renewed acquaintance with, for example, the Carter Brothers & Son’s magnificently unhinged “Give the Fiddler a Dram” or the Bang Brothers’ cheerfully lascivious “When Lulu’s Gone.”

Disc two has delights flavored with surprises, with only the Cajun, Quebec and Celtic music likely not to sound — well, adjectives like “exotic” or “unusual” or “strange” only betray the listener’s ignorance and ethnocentrism. Let’s put it this way: Unless you grew up in a culture where these particular styles of fiddling and singing were a part of your life (or you happen to be an ethnomusicologist), you will be hearing something you’ve had little to no exposure to before. If you’re like me, you’ll be making a point to hear more. There are lots of good old-time reissues on the market, but none quite like this one.

Dom Flemons

July 18, 2013

AN AMERICAN REVIVALIST: Dom Flemons and the Return of the African-American String Band

edited from  Geoffrey Clarfield (www.brooklynrail.org):

Dom Flemons: “So there I was, in the Phoenix folk scene, collecting old 33s of Lomax’s Irish and English ballads in the Camden Folksongs of Britain series, and also a great New World Records release called The Roots of the Blues. That’s where I first heard ‘Buttermilk’ by Bob and Miles Pratcher, which was my first black string-band song, and also the first fife and drum record I ever heard of, Ed and Lonnie Young playing ‘Jim and John.’

In 2004, I discovered that the Lomax Archive, together with Rounder Records, had started publishing CDs, including the “Deep River of Song” series. Sid Hemphill’s fife and drum and string-band music, along with the other recordings from black Appalachia, transfixed me. I was also blown away by the Black Texicans album, which features the wonderful recordings of Pete Harris playing square-dance music.

This opened my eyes to the concept of black cowboys, which I had never, ever heard about before. But this was all still on the edge of my interests until I was invited out to the Black Banjo Gathering in 2005. It included African-American performers, Mike Seeger, and scholars interested in black string-band music and its origins. This was the turning point for me.”

The Gathering was organized to raise awareness of black string-band music in the hopes that African-American musicians young and old could get together and form a community where everyone would know that they weren’t alone in the world. As Lomax might have put it, it was an exercise in cultural equity. (more…)

The 78 Project

July 17, 2013
A diagram of the Presto...part troubleshooting, part more troubleshooting
A diagram of the Presto

from http://www.kickstarter.com:

The 78 Project records musicians as they perform early American songs  – exactly as they were originally recorded, instantaneously onto 78rpm lacquer discs.  With one microphone, one 1930′s Presto direct-to-acetate disk recorder, and one blank 78 record, artists have a chance to make a recording anywhere they choose.  It’s a haunting, magical time travel experience when we play back our freshly cut acetate – we’re hearing a sound almost a century old, but recorded only moments earlier.

Like Alan Lomax, the great field recordist and our inspiration (more about Lomax below), we’re out to discover what it means to be American today and to explore the deep historical significance of American songs – from Blues, Bluegrass, Cowboy songs and Murder Ballads to Folk, Gospel, Country and Roots.

We’ll visit modern musicians and local legends in their homes and hometown haunts, and we’ll tour the collections that hold our national musical treasures like the Alan Lomax Archives, the Library of Congress, the Southern Folklife Center, and the Smithsonian.

The 78 Project film will be filled with beautiful one-take performances and it will take you behind the scenes, deep into the surprising – and sometimes terrifying – process of recording them on vintage equipment. And speaking of vintage equipment, have you met our Presto?? Our Presto direct-to-disc machine is a genuine, wild and magical piece of 1930’s history. Many of the most iconic field recordings from the 1930’s and ‘40’s were recorded on a Presto just like ours, including recordings of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie and Jelly Roll Morton. It uses one microphone to provide the signal to a ruby stylus (or needle), which physically carves a groove into a blank nitrocellulose lacquer disc.

The Presto records at 78 rpm, which means we get just over 3 minutes of song per side of the record.  It’s a mad dash to get the whole song onto the surface of that platter as the needle races from edge to center, throwing up a kinky, out-of-control chip in its wake!

A little goes a long way at The 78 Project.  That is because we are a small, efficient, professional operation, and we conserve resources well.  We are just asking for the money we need to shoot The 78 Project feature film, to cover the cost of crew, equipment, insurance and transporting the production to the planned locations. Each dollar we raise beyond our goal will contribute to post-production.  It will pay for the editing, mixing and finishing of the film.

Donations can be made here.

A Cautionary Tale

July 16, 2013

Freemuse-Mali-Bk-Cover-4-WebMusic, Culture, and Conflict in Mali,” by Andy Morgan

from http://www.andymorganwrites.com and http://www.worldmusic.net:

Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali takes an in-depth look at the crisis that overtook Mali in January 2012 and lead to a ten-month occupation of the northern two-thirds of the country by armed jihadi groups, the impositon of Sharia law, and the banning of music.

The book examines the roots of those tumultuous events and their effect on the music and culture of the country. There are chapters on music under occupation in the north, the music scene in Bamako, the destruction of mausoleums in the north, the fate of Mali’s precious manuscripts, Mali’s film and theatre industries and the response to the crisis from writers, poets, journalists, intellectuals and film-makers.

Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali is by the writer and journalist Andy Morgan, who used to manage the Touareg group Tinariwen and has been working with and writing about Malian musicians for many years. He is also a reputed commentator on the music, culture and politics of Mali and the Sahara.

The inconclusive military coup of March 2012 ousted the government and left a power vacuum which Touareg rebels in the North seized upon to declare their independence from the Malian state. Al-Qaeda allies quickly capitalised on this political instability, taking control of the North and imposing a strict form of Islamic law on to the region.

These Islamist militia groups took particular objection to what they considered ‘idolatrous’ local religious practices, destroying the shrines of Timbuktu’s mosques, recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Mali’s rich musical culture was suppressed by laws which banned any form of ‘Western’ music, which in practice extended to local music, ringtones, and anything that was not chanted Qu’ranic verse.

Up Jumped the Devil

July 15, 2013

edited from Adriana C. Rissetto (http://xroads.virginia.edu):

In Robert Johnson’s song, Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) the speaker personifies the blues as “walkin’ like a man.” Even though the blues are an intimate product of the speaker’s creativity as a musician, this line reveals that he still feels alienated from them, as if they are an external force acting on him.

Just as a disease is often perceived as something which has attacked patients’ immune systems instead of a bodily process instigated by certain conditions, so for the speaker the blues is an unsettling process which he cannot curb or control. Moreover, the disease imagery is made all the more poignant by the paradoxical synthesis of the “shakin’ chill,” referring to the dangerous immediacy of a fever, combined with the surreptitious fatality of heart disease and excruciating longevity of consumption.

The metaphor of the blues like “consumption/killing [the speaker] by degrees” is the most chilling of all the disease imagery that Robert Johnson employs in “Preaching Blues.”  At first, it seems superfluous to include this image, as the shakin’ chill and heart disease create a nice binary opposition.

However, consumption differs from both of these by combining the intense pain of the shakin’ chill with the longevity of the heart disease. When one had consumption in 1930′s America, one was cognizant of a mortality slowly creeping closer with each hacking cough. Here the speaker is intensely aware of what the blues is doing to him in minute detail, and how it forces his lifestyle that ends in abrupt and brutal fatality.

The speaker acknowledges the potency of the disease imagery in the song’s last stanza, in which he states that he can “study rain/oh, oh, drive, oh, oh, drive my blues” in the same way that a scientist would scrutinize a bacteria culture in order to ascertain a cure to the disease.

Here the rain resembles a vaccination in which a small amount of the virus is introduced into the patient’s blood in order to build up an immunity; the speaker studies the rain, a symbol of depression, to build up “an immunity” to the effect of the blues on him. However, eventually he rejects this in favor of the distillery, a quick and easy pain killer which offers immediate, albeit temporary, relief.

Aunt Molly Jackson

July 14, 2013

Cover for ROMALIS: Pistol Packin' Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong

Pistol Packin’ Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong,” by Shelly Romalis (University of Illinois
Press)

from http://www.press.uillinois.edu and http://xroads.virginia.edu:

Meet Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960), one of American folklore’s most fascinating characters.

A coal miner’s daughter, she grew up in eastern Kentucky, married a miner, and became a midwife, labor activist, and songwriter. Fusing hard experience with rich Appalachian musical tradition, her songs became weapons of struggle.

In a life spanning eighty years, Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960) assumed a variety of identities: miner’s wife, mother, widow, midwife, union organizer, political activist, and ballad singer.

Briefly popular for her role as a political symbol and folksinger in 1930s New York City, Jackson’s name has since drifted into relative obscurity. Nonetheless the Kentucky woman was once called “one of America’s best native ballad singers” by the man usually credited with that honor, Woody Guthrie.

Invited to New York to sing about the plight of the ‘Bloody Harlan’ strikers in 1931, Jackson lived in that city for much of the decade and participated in Greenwich Village’s urban folk revival in the pre-war years. She came to be perceived by intellectuals of the time as an “authentic” representative of the American folk. Her folk identity, initially recognized and co-opted by writers of the political left, was later crafted for symbolic purchase by political groups, folk collectors, and, most importantly, Jackson herself.

She was sponsored and befriended by an illustrious circle of left-wing intellectuals and musicians, including Theodore Dreiser, Alan Lomax, and Charles Seeger and his son Pete. Along with Sarah Ogan Gunning, Jim Garland (two of Aunt Molly’s half-siblings), Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and other folk musicians, she served as a cultural broker, linking the rural working poor to big-city left-wing activism.

Shelly Romalis draws upon interviews and archival materials to construct this portrait of an Appalachian woman who remained radical, raucous, proud, poetic, offensive, self-involved, and in spirit the “real” pistol packin’ mama of the song.

“Mr. Coal operator call me anything you please, blue, green, or red, I aim to see to it that these Kentucky coalminers will not dig your coal while their little children are crying and dying for milk and bread.”
– Aunt Molly Jackson

Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook

July 13, 2013


Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook (Rounder CD)

reviewed by Gilbert Head (www.rambles.net):

It’s difficult to imagine a world without Alan Lomax. I’m not sure I’d want to try. Our friends at Rounder Records (whom some will doubtless think by now are my closet employers) have gifted us yet again with an indispensable piece of popular culture. Framed in the larger context of Rounder’s extensive Lomax catalogue, this sampler is essential for anybody who would seek to understand the evolution of popular music, both in the United States and in the wider world.

Before mentioning a few highlights and favorites, a word about the exceptional liner notes: masterful. Jeffrey Greenberg’s song notes are rich in detail and annotation, and the essay on Lomax’s role as the chronicler of modern popular music (by Gideon D’Archangelo, Anna Lomax Chairetakis and Ellen Harold) gives the listener the full context of what Lomax means to those of us who would understand how the music of yesterday has led to the music of today. Greenberg in particular will take exceptional delight in linking old prison-recorded tunes to the likes of such ’70s wunderkinder as Ram Jam. Even without the music, the notes provide an instant primer on the connectedness of the musical past to the musical present and the musical future.

The challenge in programming collections such as this is what to include and what to leave out. The smart producer recognizes that “getting it all” simply isn’t possible in the format of a single CD, and so it is with this disc. Instead, listeners are given a taste, a suggestion of possible avenues for further investigation. While any of us could have populated a disc with equally worthy cuts, this selection need apologize to no one.

The disc opens with “Joe Lee’s Rock,” a gutbucket blues piece recorded in 1959, and moves to a 1940 recording of “Do-Re-Mi” with a running commentary by Woody Guthrie. The congregation of the Independence Church in Tyro, Mississippi, next delivers solidly with the call-and-response “Jesus on the Mainline” (covered later by Ralph Stanley, Ry Cooder and others). The work of Leadbelly is introduced with a 1934 Angola Prison recording of “Midnight Special,” and Vera Ward Hall’s “Trouble So Hard” is heard in another powerful recording from 1959.

Further on down the line, we get the original recording of “Black Betty” here by James “Iron Head” Baker and other prisoners in Mississippi in 1933, later to be immortalized by the aforementioned Ram Jam. Again from 1959, Sidney Lee Carter offers “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby,” a tune that would be expanded to great effect in the recent film O Brother Where Art Thou. That same year of 1959 would also yield the whimsical “Join the Band,” rendered with exceptional gusto by the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The surprises continue, with an early working of “Sloop John B,” recorded by Clayton Simmons and friends in the Bahamas in 1935. As is the case for all of these tunes, Greenberg notes that later popular artists brought the work into the mainstream (in this case, by the Beach Boys, in 1966).

The wonders continue. A very rudimentary form of “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life” appeared first as “Ugly Woman,” presented here in a 1946 recording by the Duke of Iron. It is noted that Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole” (1938) would ultimately find a wholly different audience in the 1970s when it was covered by Led Zeppelin. The work song “Rosie,” from a Mississippi Farm Penitentiary recording in 1947, documents a prime preoccupation of men behind bars, and is counterpointed strikingly with the haunting instrumental “Alborada de Vigo” (1942). The disc closes with Georgia Turner’s hard-edged 1937 version of “House of the Rising Sun” and Leadbelly’s “Irene Goodnight,” also from 1937 (later recorded as “Goodnight Irene” by damned near everybody).

All in all, this is a wonderful collection. It will lead you to music you never thought of exploring, and you may never listen to your Animals or Hendrix or Zeppelin records in precisely the same way again.

 

The Films of Bess Lomax Hawes

July 12, 2013

Bess-f300

from www.media-generation.net:

GEORGIA SEA ISLAND SINGERS (1964) Shot in 35mm film with multiple cameras on a soundstage when the Sea Island Singers were visiting Los Angeles, this program presents a small part of their repertoire of sacred music, including the songs- Moses, Yonder Comes Day, Buzzard Lope (Throw Me Anywhere Lord), Adam in the Garden (Picking up Leaves), and Down in the Mire (Bright Star Shinning in Glory).

BUCKDANCER (1965) Featuring Panaloa County fife player Ed Young with Bessie Jones. Ed Young does the Buckdance, demonstrates making a fife, and plays a tune on the fife.

PIZZA PIZZA DADDY-O (1967) looks at continuity and change in girl’s playground games at a Los Angeles school.

SAY OLD MAN CAN YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE
(1970) Virtuoso fiddler Earl Collins, born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, moved to Southern California in the Depression. He plays Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle, Dry and Dusty, Sally Goodin, Bull at the Wagon, Black Mountain Rag, and Billy in the Low Ground. Additional tunes not included in the edited film are on the DVD.

These films were unique in their time and could not be made now. They developed as opportunities arose, using borrowed equipment, volunteer crews, small budgets, and a great deal of learning and experimentation in the editing room. The films concentrate on performance and by implication how the performers’ aesthetics both inform and reflect societal values. The films strive to make a pleasing and engaging record of small moments from the vastness of American expressive traditional arts; neither exhaustive nor statistically representative, but survivals of a time now past. (more…)

Jackson Lynch

July 12, 2013

Our man Jackson Lynch performing Frank Jenkins’ immortal western ballad.

Indian Nation and the Blues (pt. 2)

July 11, 2013

comanche

edited from Joe Gioia (www.utne.com):

The question of North America’s original, or indigenous, inhabitants hardly ever comes up in popular histories of American music, the assumption being that the land inhabited by the European arrivals, and their slaves, had been mainly clear of earlier people and empty of song.

Africa and the British Isles were seen as the only possible sources of the music that evolved from that place and time. The possibility that the musical traditions of indigenous peoples might be central to American harmony has never been articulated, much less considered at length.

This is pretty remarkable, not only because so many of the musicians—black, white, and brown—had pronounced Native American roots, but by the given historical details of the settlement of the North American continent.

In 1901 the anthropologist Charles Peabody, while excavating a pre-Columbian Indian mound in the Mississippi Delta at Coahoma, became, he said, distracted by strange music. Professor Peabody is not remembered now for any artifacts he uncovered, but for what he discovered in the air, what he called the “extraordinary” songs of the black men working for him.

Professor Peabody’s reactions to African-American workmen’s songs—“monotonous” and “weird,” he said—is pretty much how Europeans described American Indian music. That Peabody may have been closer to the mark when he said the music sounded Asian is, for many, counterintuitive.

Between 1600 and 1840, three cultures—Native American, African, and European—each with a highly evolved choral tradition, came to encounter one another, in war and peace, by choice and under duress, in the old and new settlements of the vast American interior east of the Mississippi. To assume that only one of these cultures predominated in how the music evolved, or that another had no influence whatsoever, flies not only against logic but also in the face of any practical knowledge about how musicians work. (more…)

“Unheard Ofs and Forgotten Abouts”

July 10, 2013
  • Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts” (Tompkins Square/Pawn CD)

    reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner (edited from http://pitchfork.com):

A mixtape of old tracks culled from Frank Fairfield’s personal record collection sounds like a proposition to be wary of, one that no doubt revels in the past simply because it is past. Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts spans the globe, traipsing from Scotland to Nairobi to China to the Appalachian foothills. In fact, the compilation often sounds diverse for the sake of diversity– not to show off how wide his collection is, but to demonstrate the various strains of music around the globe.

The brightest spots may be the transitions, suggesting a careful sequencing that contrasts wildly diverse musical traditions. Fairfield creates the starkest contrast by setting the two a cappella religious tunes right at the end. “Atepa Yion”, a Byzantine liturgy featuring Chanter P. Manea’s dizzyingly low bass, is measured and restrained, which makes “By the Pool of Siloam” by Chicago’s Rev. Frank Cotton sound all the more exuberant and desperate.

At only 16 tracks, Unheard doesn’t attempt to be representative of any one particular style or location, but that doesn’t prevent Fairfield from trying to sum up the world.  His tendency to overreach, while incompatible with bustling modern-day venues, actually proves noble on Unheard Ofs. Even though some of these songs are nearly a century old, they still sound immediate and lively.

The best songs here suggest the musicians are barely maintaining control of the rambunctious music. “Hundred Pipers-Miss Drummond of Perth-Sleepy Maggie”, a medley by Pipe-Major Forsyth and Drums, ends right at the moment when the repeating reel becomes too fast and too intense to keep up with. The increasing tempo gives it a hypnotic, almost abstracted sound, as if the musicians are trying to break the confines of the song and break through your speaker. Similarly, a version of “La Bamba” by the once popular Veracruzian act Hermanos Huesca, nearly trips over its own feet in its excitement; that it stays upright is both a miracle and a testament to the prowess of its players.

More interesting than the music, perhaps, is its presentation. These songs are deeply embedded in the familiar hiss and crackle of aged shellac and vinyl, which occasionally overwhelms the performers but generally remains a subtle sepia tone. That pervasive collector’s static suggests that Fairfield’s true preservationist urge is not primarily toward the music, but the medium.

These old records carry the marks of their many years, which give them each a unique character. If you compiled this same tracklist with records from another collector, it would be a very different album. The songs would be the same, but the textures and grain would change subtly but significantly from one physical object to the next. That is the most intriguing aspect of Unheard Ofs: He has based this entire compilation on the wear of specific, obsolete objects, which upholds the song’s excitability while casting them as fascinatingly dusty museum pieces.

Tom Dooley: The Movie

July 9, 2013

from http://www.dvdfilmclassics.com:

Based on the hit song by the Kingston Trio–which is featured in the film’s soundtrack–, The Legend of Tom Dooley tells the story of three renegade Confederate soldiers who, unaware that the Civil War has ended, ambush two Union soldiers and kill them.

At age 22, Michael Landon was a rapidly rising star when he was cast as Tom Dooley. He had attained teen—idol status with I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Gods Little Acre, and was about to enjoy the phenomenal success of one of television’s best—loved, longest running series ever, Bonanza.

For audiences, Tom Dooley, with its tragic tale of war’s brutal consequences and star- crossed lovers, was a new look at Landon’s growing range as an actor. As boyishly handsome as ever, Landon brings a rare depth to the role of Tom and many critics considered it his finest performance. Jo Morrow (Our Man in Havana) also stars as Tom’s young bride, and Jack Hogan and Richard Rust give fine supporting performances as Tom’s comrades-in-arms


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