Author Archive

The Blues House (pt. 1)

November 1, 2014

 

from http://www.blueshouse.com:

The Blues House: A Documentary  (Avalon Films)

The Blues House is about the search for two forgotten blues singers, carried out in Mississippi during one of the most violent periods of the civil rights movement.

1964 was a year of transition. The Beatles landed in America. Soul became a fixture on the airwaves. Lyndon Johnson began his War on Poverty and resolved to escalate the fight in Vietnam. And in June, hundreds of college students, eager to join the civil rights movement, traveled to Mississippi, starting what would be known as Freedom Summer.

That same month, two carloads of young men visited the Mississippi Delta. Strangely, neither party was aware of the other, though each had come on the same errand: to find a singer and coax him out of retirement. One group was after Son House, the other Skip James. Thirty years before, House and James had recorded some of the most memorable blues of their era, but now they seemed lost to time.

Finding them would not be easy. There were few clues to their whereabouts, and it was not even known for certain if they were still alive. And Mississippi, that summer, was a tense and dangerous place. With hundreds on their way to teach in freedom schools and work on voter registration, the Ku Klux Klan and police force of many towns–often one and the same entity–vowed that Freedom Summer would not succeed. Churches were bombed, shotguns blasted into cars and homes. And just as the searches for Son House and Skip James were drawing to a close, three people were murdered.

The Blues House follows the music’s unlikely path from the plantations and commissaries of the South to the festival circuit, concert hall and coffeehouse. The film ponders questions of race and identity highly relevant to our own day. And it pays tribute to a pioneering generation of musicians. With a wealth of interviews plus all-new performances by Lucinda Williams, Valerie June, Chris Thomas King, Jimbo Mathus, and more, The Blues House is sure to inspire debate as well as renew appreciation for one of America’s oldest and most vital musical forms: the blues.

Louisville Jug Music

October 31, 2014

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Louisville journalist and author Michael L. Jones has established himself as something of a jug music expert.  Jones wrote his most recent book, “Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to National Jubilee,” as a way to celebrate Louisville as the heart of a musical tradition that dates back to turn-of-the-century America.

I  interviewed Jones recently about the often misconstrued origins of jug music, its influence on current tunes, and how it continues to be an enduring part of Louisville’s music scene.

You mention in the book that “the main purpose of this book is to liberate jug music from misconceptions surrounding it.” What are some of those misconceptions?

In the 1920s, when the recording industry started, the record companies segregated white and black artists. Music by black artists was marketed as “race records” and music by white, rural artists was “hillbilly” music. But white, rural artists and black blues artists all drew on the same group of songs, which has come to be called the “common stock.” They are tunes likes “John Henry,” “Stagolee,” and “In the Jailhouse Now,” which was recorded by both country star Jimmie Rodgers and the Louisville Jug Band, among others. There were also more than 20 interracial recording sessions in the early days of country music, including a 1931 session between Rodgers and the Louisville Jug Band that occurred in Louisville. But when you see a discussion of jug music or country music in general, these black artists are totally ignored.

My point is the evolution of American music is not as cut and dry as people think. Much of what we think about its development is obscured by record company marketing plans. Even the Carter family had an African American collaborator.

You also say in the book that “jug music played a role in developing a lot of music people listen to today.” Do you have any examples of that correlation?

Gus Cannon had a jug tune called “Walk Right In” that was a hit in the 1960s for the Rooftop Singers. Jug music spawned a craze for skiffle music in 1950s England. The rock musicians that started out in skiffle bands include Jimmy Page, the Beatles and Van Morrison. On the American side, many of the bands popular in the folk revival of the 1960s got their start playing jug songs. John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful is currently a jug band musician, the Grateful Dead had a side group called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, and Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band was a popular 1960s act that actually recorded Louisville jug music.

How did our view of jug music become disenfranchised from the original African American influencers?

Jug music went out of vogue with the general public after the Great Depression. This also coincided with the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Basically, the jug music (and the banjo itself) was tied to Antebellum images in most people’s minds. African Americans wanted to move away from that image and that was reflected in the music they listened to. And, as I said before, the record companies were actually promoting that image of the good old days to white record buyers of country music.

During the folk revival, young white musicians could look back to an earlier America where a man had more freedom. That did not appeal to African American musicians, which is the reason that there were few African Americans involved in the scene although it was actually celebrating African American culture. Also, a lot of jug music songs were passed through the minstrel show or written during the “coon song” era, and that also did not appeal to a black audience.

Louisville, especially at the turn of the century, was home to a diverse population. How did that affect jug music?

After the Civil War there was an influx of ex-Confederates in Louisville. They brought along with them some of the Southern prejudices. Before 1900s, African Americans lived all over the city, but at the beginning of the 20th century we began to see all-black neighborhoods like West Parkland, modern Park DuValle, which was called “Little Africa.” This also impacted music.

Before the Civil War there were many interracial bands in the city. But after the war, most bands were either all white or all black. This forced professional African American musicians to form groups with African American folk musicians. It is the combination of the two that gave birth to Louisville jug music, which is different from other regional styles of jug music because of its use of jazz instrumentation. The other big jug band, the Memphis Jug Band, was more of a tradition string band because, being close to Mississippi, those musicians were greatly influenced by Delta Blues. Louisville musicians were more influenced by Dixieland Jazz because of the constant river traffic between Louisville and New Orleans. So, you see saxophones and other brass instruments along with the regular members of a string band.

 

“Something Extramusical is Being Communicated Here”

October 30, 2014

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by Amanda Petrusich (edited from http://www.oxfordamerican.org):

In his film “Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass,” Alan Lomax  corners poor old Roscoe Holcomb, who’s just finished singing, and demands “Where does it hurt you?”

Holcomb, a patriarch of Kentucky’s high lonesome sound (and, it turns out, eternally well-mannered), points to his lower throat. Lomax leans forward, a little too close, white-knuckling a microphone stand, and asks him if he’s ever had to cough (“Ever do that?”).

Lomax is a divisive character (there are complicated arguments to be made about cultural imperialism and nationalist pedagogy) but anyone with a pair of functional ears would be hard-pressed to feel anything but grateful for his work. He is singularly responsible for many of the thousands of hours of interviews and field recordings held by the Library of Congress, and he worked tirelessly to collect and preserve strains of vernacular music that might not have endured otherwise.

The Lomax-founded Association for Cultural Equity, which controls his archive, remains in the source material game even now, a decade after his death. Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass is an official commercial release, but the organization’s YouTube channel, maintained by its young, percipient curator, Nathan Salsburg, proffers a vibrant, sometimes staggering array of footage for aspiring visionaries to mine.

What Lomax and his peers accomplished is of historical and archival import, but what is in some ways more compelling is what it inspired and continues to inspire, what people who suddenly have [via youtube] access to Mississippi Fred McDowell’s propulsive grooves, or to polyphonic vocal music from the Mbuti pygmies of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), might do with that information.

Obviously, the machinery is in place for a generation of self-documenting American artists to build their own mythologies and to borrow freely and anonymously from ancient and emerging traditions. And yet: seeing Lomax flit about his apartment, or catching the Tennessee fiddler Fred Price giving the camera side-eye, or watching Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers shush the room, or hearing Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim lock into some intense, iniquitous rhythm, it’s hard not to feel like something vital, something extramusical, is being communicated here.

The Ozark Highballers

October 29, 2014

“Pike’s Peak” from Ted Sharp. Played here by Clarke Buehling (banjo), Seth Shumate (harmonica), Roy Pilgrim (fiddle), and Aviva Steigmeyer (guitar). (Key of C).

Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics

October 29, 2014
Cover for Jamison: Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance. Click for larger image

Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance
by Phil Jamieson

In Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics, old-time musician and flatfoot dancer Phil Jamison journeys into the past and surveys the present to tell the story behind the square dances, step dances, reels, and other forms of dance practiced in southern Appalachia.

These distinctive folk dances, Jamison argues, are not the unaltered jigs and reels brought by early British settlers, but hybrids that developed over time by adopting and incorporating elements from other popular forms. He traces the forms from their European, African American, and Native American roots to the modern day. On the way he explores the powerful influence of black culture, showing how practices such as calling dances as well as specific kinds of steps combined with white European forms to create distinctly “American” dances.

From cakewalks to clogging, and from the Shoo-fly Swing to the Virginia Reel, Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics reinterprets an essential aspect of Appalachian culture.

Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics is an outstanding book on Appalachian dance in all its wondrous variety. It is one of those benchmark books by which we will all measure how our view of a subject has changed. Phil Jamison has examined reams of evidence on dance history, both recent and distant, and the result is a fresh and in many cases astonishing new view of that history.

His focus is on the Appalachian forms of group, couple, and solo dancing, but in the process he illuminates the history of American folk dance more broadly. Too often the histories of Appalachian folk music and dance are reduced to oft-repeated truisms about what trait came from where. This book revolutionizes Appalachian dance history, beginning with a careful analysis of the ways in which Cecil Sharp’s influential ideas about Appalachian culture have proved mistaken.

Most important, Jamison analyzes not only the disparate strands but the evidence in Appalachian dance of new American cultural syntheses that incorporate creative contributions from British and European, African American, and Native American traditions. The roots may be separate strands, but the result is a grand intercultural American creative synthesis.”–Alan Jabbour, founding director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress

Classic Field Recordings on JSP

October 28, 2014

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from redlick.com:

CLASSIC FIELD RECORDINGS 1936 to 1940 – LANDMARK COUNTRY SESSIONS FROM A LOST ERA (JSP77131 4 cd set)

Johnnie Barfield, McLendon Brothers, Dewey & Gassie Bassett, Roy Shaffer, Four Pickled Peppers, Tennessee Ramblers, Pine Ridge Boys, Happy Valley Boys, Pete Pyle, Walter Couch & The Wilks Ramblers, JH Howell, Walter Hurdt, George Wade & The Caro-Ginians, Hinson Pitts & Coley, Smith’s Carolina Crackerjacks, Julian Johnson & Leon Hyatt, Grady & Hazel Cole, Hill Brothers with Willie Simmons, Blind Fiddler, Jack Pierce, Lester Pete Bivins, Gwen Foster, Louisiana Lou, The Southern Melody Boys, The Rouse Brothers.

The records used on this 100 track box set were made on various field trips organised by the RCA Victor Company in the 1930s for release on their brand new Bluebird label. Sales in country music had dropped dramatically since big sellers like Jimmie Rodgers, Gid Tanner and Fiddlin’ John Carson had died or retired and times were tough so record buying was a low priority for southern folk. It was a risk, but Bluebird knew that in the hills and hollers of the southern mountains there were some great musicians just waiting to get on record and hit the big time.

Auditions were set up in New York, Chicago, Charlotte and Rock Hill, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the new discoveries never made the big time but they did sell well in their own territories and, thanks to collectors like the award winning recording engineer and record producer Chris King, they’ve been preserved and are now getting another moment in the spotlight thanks to this box set.

It is a box full of obscurities and unknowns but the eagle eyed among you will pick out Gwen Foster, late of the  Carolina Tarheels and Clarence Ashley outfits on two songs; the chirpy How Many Biscuits and a re-make of his old hit Sideline Blues with, it’s assumed, The Three Tobacco Tags as backing musicians. Foster fills both tunes with his hundred miles an hour harmonica solos and there’s some pretty hot fiddle in there as well. (more…)

Home Sweet Home

October 27, 2014

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from http://civilwarband.com:

Home Sweet Home 

This song comes from the opera, Clari or The Maid of Milan, which opened in London on May 8, 1823. The music was composed by Henry Bishop and the lyrics by John Howard Payne.

On the eve of the Battle of Murfreesboro/Stones River, the Federal and Confederate bands serenaded the troops. Each band strove to outdo the other. As remembered by Sam Seay of the 1st Tenn.: “Finally one of them struck up Home Sweet Home. As if by common consent all other airs ceased, and the bands of both armies, as far as the ear could reach, joined in the refrain.”

The soldiers of both sides lifted their voices and joined the bands. Some began to shed a tear as their thoughts turned to home. In a similar situation, a few weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, as the combatants encamped on opposite banks of the Rappahannock River, both Union and Confederate military bands took turns serenading the armies.

The impromptu concert ended when a Federal band struck up Home Sweet Home and thousands of Northerners and Southerners pondered if they would see their homes again. When the Federal band ended a Confederate band repeated the tune. Then one regimental band after the other in both armies joined in. Some soldiers began to sing the lyrics.

Leander Cogswell of the 11th New Hampshire wrote, “As the sweet sounds arose and fell on the evening air all listened intently, and I do not believe there was a dry eye in all those assembled thousands.” Confederate Joseph Brown pondered how “Men who faced each other but a few weeks ago in one of the bloodiest battles of the world could unite on a mere suggestion of a song.”

Harlem Street Singer

October 26, 2014

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from http://www.harlemstreetsinger.com:

Harlem Street Singer, recently released on film, tells the story of Reverend Gary Davis, the great blues and gospel musician whose unique style and remarkable skills on the guitar inspired a generation of musicians. The film traces Davis’s journey out of poverty in the Deep South to his iconic status in the folk and rock scene in 1960s New York.

Interviews with celebrated folk and rock musicians who knew and studied with Davis, including Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott are combined with rare archival footage and photographs. The film includes never seen before concert footage of both Davis and Peter, Paul & Mary from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The film is co-produced by guitarist Woody Mann, who received his first music schooling in Davis’s living room.

Born poor and blind in rural South Carolina in 1896, Davis was a guitar prodigy. At age seven he made his first crude stringed instruments out of his grandmother’s pie tins, and by age 14 he was already performing in a professional string band.  Over the next decade he developed an innovative style combining church music, ragtime, blues, early jazz, marches and almost any other music he heard.

In Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and 30s, Davis played blues and popular songs for tips in the tobacco warehouses and on the streets. In 1937 he became an ordained minister and focused his playing solely on religious music. A few years later, he and his wife, Annie, moved to New York to seek out a better life.  Davis’s talents were quickly recognized and he soon found himself jamming with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Brownie McGhee.  But with no steady employment, he continued his marginal existence, often living in condemned buildings, playing on the street and preaching in storefront churches.

Davis’s fortunes finally changed during the Folk Revival movement in the early 60s, when he gained a following of young musicians who saw him as both mentor and father figure. As his reputation spread, many of these artists began covering his music, and when Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his song, Samson & Delilah, Davis’s royalties from the record enabled him to finally stop playing on the streets and buy his own home.  In his last years, Davis played for audiences of thousands in music festivals around the world. He died in 1972.

In addition to interviews, the storyline features contemporary musical sequences produced by Woody Mann featuring blues vocalist Bill Sims Jr. , Dave Keyes, piano and Brian Glassman, bass.  Harlem Street Singer celebrates the beauty and spirituality of his music as well as the human qualities that made Reverend Davis a much beloved teacher and minister. This is the exciting story of an American musical icon whose legacy continues to live on in today’s music scene.

Appalachian Dance

October 25, 2014

 

Cover for SPALDING: Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities. Click for larger image

from http://www.press.uillinois.edu:

Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities, by Susan Eike Spalding (University of Illinois Press)

In Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities, Susan Eike Spalding brings to bear twenty-five years’ worth of rich interviews with black and white Virginians, Tennesseeans, and Kentuckians to explore the evolution and social uses of dance in each region.

Spalding analyzes how issues as disparate as industrialization around coal, plantation culture, race relations, and the 1970s folk revival influenced freestyle clogging and other dance forms like square dancing in profound ways. She reveals how African Americans and Native Americans, as well as European immigrants drawn to the timber mills and coal fields, brought movement styles that added to local dance vocabularies.

Placing each community in its sociopolitical and economic context, Spalding analyzes how the formal and stylistic nuances found in Appalachian dance reflect the beliefs, shared understandings, and experiences of the community at large, paying particular attention to both regional and racial diversity.

2nd South Carolina String Band

October 24, 2014

 

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edited from http://civilwarband.com:

The mission of the 2nd South Carolina String Band is to present Civil War music in as authentic a manner as possible. In their recordings the listener will hear the music of the 19th century played on 19th century period instruments in the appropriate style. This is the music as it truly sounded to the soldiers of the Civil War.

The 2nd South Carolina String Band was formed in August of 1989 by five riflemen of Co.I, 2nd SC Volunteer Infantry, a unit of Civil War reenactors that was very active during the five years of events celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Civil War – and for many years to follow. After the battles, drills and inspections, the boys who had instruments played and sang around the campfire while members of the unit would often join in and sing along. This was the beginning of the 2nd South Carolina String Band.

Without recognizing it at the time, the group, comprised of mostly amateur musicians playing banjo, fiddle, and guitar, tambourine, bones and military drum – had coalesced into a 20th century recreation of a typical American Civil War camp band. In the beginning they played mostly at night around their company camp fire as they enthusiastically began to explore and perform the music of the War Between the States. Soon they began performing for reenactment dances and concert audiences.

The songs and instrumental tunes performed by the 2nd South Carolina String Band would have been considered the “pop” music of the period beginning in the late 1820′s and running through the 1860′s and beyond. In the years following the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Americans were determined to reject European classical musical forms and were searching for their own distinctly American musical “voice.”

They found it in the frontier tradition of tall-tales about larger-than-life American characters such as Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyon, Old Dan Tucker and John Henry. Composers such as Joel Sweeney, Daniel Emmett, Stephen Foster, and George Root soon arrived on the scene; men who wrote music for a living that appealed to the masses. This music was unique in that it had no classical background. Its roots were in Celtic, American and African folk melodies. Its songs were filled with the language, slang, and experiences of the common man rather than the intellectual elites and its impact on American culture echoes down to the present day.

The 2nd South Carolina String Band plays the songs and music that moved the American people of the early and mid-eighteen hundreds. They play the music that was in the hearts and minds and on the tongues of the citizen-soldiers that made up the ranks of the armies of the North and the South as they marched off to take part in the cataclysmic struggle that was to become the defining event of our nation’s history. They play it on instruments of the era and in an authentic manner and style that carries the listener back to simpler times. They play with a verve and excitement that infects even the most reserved listener with their own enjoyment and brings back to vibrant life the tumultuous energy of the American experience during the War Between the States. To experience the 2nd South Carolina String Band is, for a moment, to reach out and touch the past – “to eavesdrop on history.”

Hee Haw

October 23, 2014

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excerpt from Ted Olson (http://encyclopediaofappalachia.com):

Due to its broad scope of influence both within and outside the region, Appalachian music has been a powerful perpetrator of regional stereotypes. Although originating outside Appalachia, nineteenth-century minstrel show performances featuring white musicians derisively exaggerating black culture adversely affected the social standing of African Americans in the region after emancipation.

In the twentieth century, the barn dance—which achieved national popularity via radio and which sustained that popularity into the 1990s through such television programs as Hee Haw—provided steady work and significant exposure for many Appalachian musicians. But in order to represent rural culture, which held novelty appeal for main- stream audiences, producers directed Appalachian musicians to project a hillbilly identity.

The stereotype inevitably left far-flung audiences with negative and inaccurate impressions of Appalachian people. These barn dances particularly misrepresented two aspects of the region’s culture: Appalachian speech and Appalachian clothes. Musicians were encouraged to exaggerate their regional speech and to wear standardized hillbilly dress, including bib overalls and straw hats.

Likewise distorting general understanding of Appalachian regional culture during the twentieth century were attitudes toward Appalachian people of some of the musicians associated with the century’s several folk revivals, whose representations of Appalachian culture, whether earnest or intentionally exploitive, were rendered un- trustworthy by both positive and negative stereotyping.

Positive stereotypes included the revivalists’ romanticized portrayals of Appalachian musicians as mountain sages or noble savages; negative stereotyping involved the unfavorable characterization of Appalachian people as “rubes,” “hicks,” or “degenerates.”

Woman with Guitar

October 22, 2014

87286100382200Lfrom http://www.citylights.com:

Universally recognized as one of the greatest blues artists, Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) wrote and recorded hundreds of songs. Blues people as diverse as Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Big Mama Thornton, and Chuck Berry have acknowledged her as a major influence. At a time when most female vocalists sang Tin Pan Alley material, Minnie wrote her own lyrics and accompanied her singing with virtuoso guitar playing. Thanks to her merciless imagination and dark humor, her songs rank among the most vigorous and challenging popular poetry in any language.

Woman with Guitar is the first full-length study of the life and work of this extraordinary free spirit, focusing on the lively interplay between Minnie’s evolving artistry and the African American community in which she lived and worked. Drawing on folklore, psychoanalysis, critical theory, women’s studies, and surrealism, the authors’ explorations of Minnie’s songs illuminate the poetics of popular culture as well as the largely hidden history of working-class women’s self-emancipation.

This revised and expanded edition includes a wealth of new biographical material, including photographs, record contracts, sheet music, and period advertisements, which further vivify this portrait of an African-American musical legend. Complete, updated discography included.

Paul Garon is a co-founder of Living Blues magazine, and author of The Devil’s Son-in-Law and Blues and the Poetic Spirit. Beth Garon is a painter and collagist. The Garons operate a rare-book business in Chicago and have been associated with the U.S. Surrealist movement for many years.

Women of Old Time Music

October 21, 2014

Sandrock Recordings

October 20, 2014

 

"Fiddlin' John" Sharp (center), seen here with daughter Evelyn and banjo player Red Morris, is among the many musicians whose stories and songs are documented in Bobby Fulcher's archive.

“Fiddlin’ John” Sharp (center), seen here with daughter Evelyn and banjo player Red Morris, is among the many musicians whose stories and songs are documented in Bobby Fulcher’s archive.

from npr.org:

Archivist Wayne Moore leads the way down into the vault where the State of Tennessee stores its most valuable historical treasures.

“It’s a temperature- and humidity-controlled area where we keep a lot of the recordings,” he explains.

Hundreds of reel-to-reel audio tapes line these floor-to-ceiling shelves. Stacked atop each other, the recordings, photographs and lyric sheets in the collection would reach the height of a 14-story building. They were all assembled under the direction of novice folklorist and state park Ranger Bobby Fulcher.

Today you can find almost any obscure song or historical recording online, but there was a time when this music was nearly impossible to find, and the performers who knew the oldest songs were dying off. So, in 1976, Congress passed the American Folklife Preservation Act — and Bobby Fulcher became one of the first to take up the challenge of preserving these old songs.

Most of his material was collected during visits in the homes of Tennesseans — like Opal Wright, the daughter of late music legend “Fiddlin'” John Sharp.

“They’d invite all the musicianers and all the neighbors around,” Wright says when asked about the role of music-making in her childhood home. “They’d all get on their horses on a Friday, and you could hear ‘em comin’ for a mile.”

Fulcher is helping the Sharp family restore and release Fiddlin’ John’s surviving recordings. He’s also collecting the stories behind the music. A child of the folk-era, he grew up listening to Dylan and Baez, but the tunes he heard as a young ranger traveling the Tennessee hills seemed somehow more compelling.

“There’s a difference between hearing someone sing a song that doesn’t really believe that there are ghosts and haints and ghost lovers, and someone who believes they’re real,” Fulcher says. “It sounds different to me when I hear ‘em sing it.”

 

Securing A Tradition’s Future

Fulcher began spending all his spare time tracking down folk artists and recording their songs. One of his biggest finds was a man named Dee Hicks, who had more than 100 centuries-old songs committed to memory. But getting to him wasn’t easy.

“When I walked up to the door, there were dogs chained up — and it was good that they were chained, you know. They were pullin’ on the chain and snarlin’,” Fulcher says. “I knocked on the door and they let me in, and we started talking about music. And I recorded some banjo tunes right there.”

Each folk artist Fulcher met introduced him to still more artists he wanted to record. To get to them faster, Fulcher hired grad students using federal arts grants. Betsy Peterson was one of those early interns. She says Fulcher taught her that to connect with hill people, you have to move at their pace.

“You have to learn to sort of step back and wait for the other individual to reveal themselves and reveal what they want to tell you,” she says.

Peterson is now the director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She says that what’s unique about the recordings Fulcher and his team assembled is the sheer volume of a collection built over a lifetime — clearly, as she puts it, a work of love.

“He did fall in love with the people, and he loves being around people, and he loves just hearing what they have to say and sort of drawing out the best in people,” Peterson says.

Seeing the end of his Park Service career ­­on the horizon, Bobby Fulcher is now focused on sharing the music that’s become his passion. He helped launch a label, Sandrock Recordings, to ensure Tennessee’s traditional music reaches a wider audience.

“You found something. You heard it, then other people heard it, and they fell in love with it. You’re a part of that. That’s a wonderful feelin’,” he says.

The label has released nine albums of traditional music so far; six more are in the works. Fulcher now manages Tennessee’s newest state park and continues to add to the Folklife Collection.

(more…)

Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels

October 19, 2014

9780252080197from http://www.press.uillinois.edu/:

Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels, by James Revell Carr (University of Illinois Press)

Hawaiian Music in Motion explores the performance, reception, transmission, and adaptation of Hawaiian music on board ships and in the islands, revealing the ways both maritime commerce and imperial confrontation facilitated the circulation of popular music in the nineteenth century.

James Revell Carr shows how Hawaiians initially used music and dance to ease tensions with, and spread information about, potentially dangerous foreigners, and then traces the circulation of Hawaiian song and dance worldwide as Hawaiians served aboard American and European ships.

Drawing on journals and ships’ logs, Carr highlights the profound contrasts between Hawaiians’ treatment by fellow sailors who appreciated their seamanship and music, versus antagonistic American missionaries determined to keep Hawaiians on local sugar plantations, and looks at how Hawaiians achieved their own ends by capitalizing on Americans’ conflicting expectations and fraught discourse around hula and other musical practices.

He also examines American minstrelsy in Hawaii, including professional touring minstrel troupes from the mainland, amateur troupes consisting of crew members of visiting ships, and local indigenous troupes of Hawaiian minstrels. In the process he illuminates how a merging of indigenous and foreign elements became the new sound of native Hawaiian culture at the turn of the twentieth century–and made loping rhythms, falsetto yodels, and driving ukuleles indelible parts of American popular music.

African Roots Revival

October 18, 2014

 

from http://www.muzikifan.com:

AFRICAN ROOTS REVIVAL (Rough Guide RGNet1269)

The roots music showcased here is not traditional folk-in-aspic but rather a vibrant movement that is ever-evolving, with instruments often born out of necessity. Large plastic jugs can be used over and over for carrying or storing liquids, they can also be beaten to make a satisfying thud.

Africans have long made thumb-pianos from wood and nails, and more recently flattened tin cans and other recycled metals, which can also be fashioned into guitars, with bicycle wire strings. I was keen to check this out because, apart from Staff Benda Bilili, Konono Numero Un, Kasai All Stars, Seprewa Kasa and a few other familiar names there were some unknown to me.

So I am thrilled to discover the Bedouin Jerry Can Band, whose music still sounds traditional, even when played on scrap ammo boxes backing their flute and five-stringed lyre. Then there are the bands that use more convention instruments such as mbira or ngoni.

Two East African mbira groups are represented: Hukwe Zawose’s offspring, known as the Zawose Family from Tanzania, and Zimbabwean Mbira Dzenharira who play lovely meditative cyclical music on their massed thumb pianos. Other thumb pianists are Konono, Kasai All Stars and, new to me, Papa Kourand, who all hail from Congo.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba have become quite well known in the West with their bluesy Malian music featuring the (also pentatonic) ngoni. Before we get lost in the mellowness of it all, the abrasive electric likembes of Konono No 1 jar us awake, from their Live at Couleur Café album.

I predict Jagwa Music will emerge to become more widely recognised, like Staff Benda or Konono. Then we get three lesser-known but accomplished acts, two of them from worldmusicnet’s own Riverboat series: Zulu musician Shiyani Ngcobo and Mamane Barka, a harp player from Niger. This is portable, intimate music and the disc represents a good cross-section of current artists renewing their own musical traditions.

New Rafe and Clelia DVD

October 17, 2014

Rafe and Clelia Stefanini DVDBUY the Rafe & Clelia Stefanini DVD now at countysales.com

Featuring 17 fiddle and banjo tunes.

 

I’ll Sing for You

October 16, 2014

indexI’ll Sing For You (FIRST RUN FEATURES, dvd)

from villagevoice.com:

Surrounded by old photos of his “Malian Elvis” days, 60-year-old musician Boubacar Traoré rests his head on his guitar and unfurls a precise pop-folk lament, his fingers moving in blues formations, his lithe voice coiling in a hypnotic muezzin drone. “Kar Kar” never addresses director Jacques Sarasin’s camera, instead blessing his own biography with mournful, journeyman performances.

Friends recount the revolutionary non-griot’s 1960s radio wake-up calls heralding a free Mali. They tell of his departure from music to raise a family, the subsequent loss of his wife, and his life as an immigrant in France. As the stories unfold, lingering shots of everyday life amid the craggy Dogon hills and the bustle of waterway commerce recall the observant modes of Abderrahmane Sissako or Abbas Kiarostami.

The resurrected relic plays his trusty Takamine in unlikely public spaces, duetting at points with kora player Ballake Sissoko and Ali Farka Touré. The reverent pacing lags a bit, but the film’s meditation on the struggle to find spirituality that reconciles Islam with tribal belief systems is powerful in its understatement, and its wordless observation of France’s Malian community quietly evidences daily cultural preservation amid the hard labor.

Women of These Hills

October 15, 2014

Roots of the Revival

October 14, 2014

9780252080128

from http://www.press.uillinois.edu:

Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s,  by Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson (University of Illinois Press)

In Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s, Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson present a transatlantic history of folk’s midcentury resurgence that juxtaposes the related but distinct revivals that took place in the United States and Great Britain.

After setting the stage with the work of music collectors in the nineteenth century, the authors explore the so-called recovery of folk music practices and performers by Alan Lomax and others, including journeys to and within the British Isles that allowed artists and folk music advocates to absorb native forms and facilitate the music’s transatlantic exchange.

Cohen and Donaldson place the musical and cultural connections of the twin revivals within the decade’s social and musical milieu and grapple with the performers’ leftist political agendas and artistic challenges, including the fierce debates over “authenticity” in practice and repertoire that erupted when artists like Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio carried folk into the popular music mainstream.

From mountain ballets to skiffle, from the Weavers in Greenwich Village to Burl Ives on the BBC, Roots of the Revival offers a frank and wide-ranging consideration of a time, a movement, and a transformative period in American and British pop culture.

Take Me to the Water

October 13, 2014

a1188638747_2Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950, edited by Jim Linderman, Luc Sante (Dust-to-Digital)

reviewed by Justin Brooks (www.popmatters.com):

Absolutely none of these cuts should be familiar to the average person. All apologies to my distant relatives The Carter Family, but “Denomination Blues, Part 1” by Washington Phillips is the only track on this compilation that I’d ever actually heard before. A good deal of the artists were familiar to me by way of my immersion (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in Dust-to-Digital’s staggering Goodbye, Babylon box. Evoking that former release, the compilers make no effort to segregate the music in any way: string bands and hillbilly hollers jostle grittier blues and folk numbers for breathing room.

 

Unlike Babylon though, the sermons included here are interspersed throughout, making for a slightly more diverse listening experience. While we are on the subject, this reviewer sees Take Me to the Water as-among other thing-a beautifully packaged addendum to the already splendid Goodbye, Babylon.

 

There are 25 tracks on the disc that accompanies this set and quite frankly, most of them are jewels. As with any compilation or proper album, a certain song may strike you just the right way on a particular day, so with material of this quality, the best cuts ultimately depend on the listener.

 

Washington Phillips, a ‘jack-leg preacher’ of the first degree, is represented here with “Denomination Blues Part 1”, in which his delicate vocal is accompanied by a strange zither-esque “novelty instrument.”  This cut may be the catchiest pre-war gospel/blues since Skip James’ “Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader.”  Now that may mean a little or a lot, depending on how far down the rabbit-hole of this kind of music you want to go.

 

By far the most popular artist represented here is The Carter Family, whose “On My Way to Canaan’s Land” may just be an artistic representation of Mother Maybelle’s actual baptism. Classic call and response of the hillbilly variety is accounted for too with the Carolina Tar Heels’ “I’ll Be Washed”.  The intermingling of the sermon fragments—which often break out in song—with the tunes is a sly move on the part of the compilers, as the preachers’ intonations always take on a rhythmic quality and the fiery intensity helps move these pieces, and the set itself, forward.

David Murray

October 12, 2014

opiumtraces-voicesofthedead-650

from http://www.popmatters.com:

Longing for the Past, The 78rpm Era in Southeast Asia, is a lavish four CD box-set covering recordings from 1905 to 1966, with an accompanying 267 page book, released on the Atlanta-based boutique label Dust-to-Digital. It won the 2014 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, in the category Best Historical Research in Recorded Folk or World Music.

In recent years, Dust-to-Digital has created a name for itself, if not an entire niche market, with high quality box-sets that, as the website explains, “combine rare, essential recordings with historical images and descriptive texts to create high-quality, cultural artifacts.”

“Longing for the Past” editor David Murray:  I’d been listening to world music from the 78rpm era for quite awhile via CD reissues. Everything from American blues, hillbilly, and Cajun recordings to Irish, Ukrainian, Greek and more. These were mostly reissues on the Arhoolie label or the Secret Museum of Mankind series, which was just then being released. I was learning to play old banjo and fiddle music and soon got hooked on playing the Greek bouzouki in a style called Rebetika. Rebetika is famously known as the music of the Greek hashish dens, which is at least partially true.

Living in San Francisco (at that time) I began to wonder if there was a style of music associated with the city’s Chinese opium dens that had been widespread in the second half of the 1800s. Unfortunately, I could find no hint of a style of music tied to the opium dens, but in the process I heard old recordings of Chinese opera for the first time. Cantonese recordings had been made in San Francisco very early, 1898 or so. I was instantly obsessed with the sound of this music and spent the next several years amassing Chinese 78s. I followed the music of the Chinese diaspora, which led to Southeast Asia.

I hope that more collectors will focus on world music. There are enough blues collectors already! I never understood why somebody would take the time and money to build a collection of blues and hillbilly records that already exist on CD reissues and have been thoroughly researched. For me, the thrill is finding great recordings that are truly on the verge of being lost. A Burmese record from 1911? Who’s going to hold onto that? And when it’s gone it may be gone for good.

The more of these records we can salvage the better our understanding of music and our history will be. There are a few younger collectors who are interested in world music, but not many. The goal of my projects is just to get the music out there. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen after that, but I’ve done my part.

Narmour and Smith Marker Unveiled

October 11, 2014

Many thanks to Susie James for these photos.  Read her article on Narmour and Smith here.

Narmour and Smith Marker unveiled

The unveiling of the Narmour and Smith marker was done by Chip Narmour and sister Laura N. Oakes, both children of Willie’s son, the late Coleman Narmour, who shared his dad’s story of how “Carroll County Blues” came into being.

Note hand whittled tuning peg Willie Narmour made

Hands carefully removed Willie Narmour’s fragile old fiddle with its hand-whittled turning peg out of its carrying case to show the public on Narmour & Smith’s big day in their county seat of Carrollton, Mississippi.

 from http://winonatimes.com:

Narmour and his partner, Shellie Walton Smith, were “Narmour & Smith,” who in 1929 recorded a rousing tune they had created, “Carroll County Blues.” The duo made other recordings as well, but the Depression stunted the growth of the recording industry for years. Like John Hurt, Narmour and Smith were poor farmers — though talented musicians.

John Hurt was first recorded in the late 1920s after a neighbor, fiddler Willie Thomas Narmour, recommended him to a traveling record producer. Had it not been for these early recordings, which were found and enjoyed by some men from the Northeast during the folk music revival of the 1960s, it’s unlikely Hurt would have been “rediscovered.”

As people from that era often observed: Nobody had any money back then. Hurt would at times “spell” other musicians, including Narmour & Smith, at house parties, which comprised much of the entertainments throughout the countryside.

As it was, the late Tom Hoskins had, through listening to a number of “78s,” learned of several early talents from Carroll County around Avalon. Hoskins determined to see if some were still kicking. He came through the area in early 1963 trying to find one of them in particular: John Hurt, whose output had included “Avalon Blues.”

A soft-spoken farm worker who at the time lived in the same shotgun cabin that in July 2002 was dedicated (in a different location than from when the Hurts lived in it up on the Perkins place a bit east of the Valley Store) as the Hurt Museum, John Hurt had kept busy during the intervening years playing guitar and singing mostly for neighborhood events.

Heaven And Earth Magic

October 10, 2014

from http://dyingforbadmusic.com:

Local heroes Anthony Pasquarosa,  Zac Johnson, and Ian Logan recorded under the moniker Heaven And Earth Magic a tape for High Ledges Tapes. The name is borrowed from a really weird one hour long stop motion experimental film from the late fifties, by  Harry Smith (see above).

There was one track that grabbed my attention and when I looked closer, it wasn’t even their own song. They recorded a version of Uncle Dave Macon “Oh lovin’ babe“. I heard about Macon, a key figure of early country music, with a huge output, but I’ve never heard this particular song.

So the surprise, how the original banjo driven song translates into the band’s psych rock sound was quiet huge and I wanted to find out more.

Regarding the lyrics: It looks like Uncle Dave Macon wasn’t able to keep it in his pants when he was traveling and so he got kissed by a pretty, strange woman, because men cannot help themselves in those cases. When his wife wants to leave him, he tries to make her guilty with the old story about the garden of eden and Eve and the apple she gave to Adam. I might be wrong with my interpretation, please correct me. Macon also was more an entertainer than a preacher so he’s probably not that serious about the bible and stuff.

Another interesting bit:

Charles Wolfe noted: ‘Oh Lovin’ Babe is another song never before issued (Rounder issue 1979) and nowhere else recorded by Macon. The unusual melody for the song seems to have been adapted from the verse of ‘Mister Johnson, Turn Me Loose’, an old coon song written in the ragtime era by one B. Harney. Macon had recorded ‘Mister Johnson’ with Sid Harkreader in 1929 with the melody (but not the words) to the verse identical to what is heard here … The juxtaposing of the sacred (verse) with the profane (chorus), common enough in Macon’s music overall, was seldom illustrated so dramatically in a single song’. (source)

On the Rumba River

October 9, 2014

index

 

On the Rumba River (FIRST RUN FEATURES dvd):

Available on Netflix.

from http://www.villagevoice.com and http://www.nytimes.com:

You’ve never heard of him, but Antoine Kolosoy, a/k/a Wendo, a/k/a Papa Wendo, is perhaps the most beloved musician that the Democratic Republic of Congo (a/k/a Zaire, a/k/a Belgian Congo) has ever known. The peripatetic Wendo got his start as a teenager, traveling up and down the Congo River as a mechanic, boxer, and part-time musician.

He ascended to the ranks of the mono-named in 1948, when his first album became a massive hit and established him as the father of a new genre: Congolese Rumba. After 12 years of megastardom, though, the rise of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the ’60s reduced Wendo to homelessness—until he was rediscovered in the ’90s.

With On the Rumba River, yachtsman-cum- documentarian Jacques Sarasin has compiled a meditative ramble through the highlights of Wendo’s career, told entirely through song and interviews with Wendo’s musician-colleagues. As a filmmaker, Sarasin has an extraordinarily light touch—a good thing for those who want to sit back and enjoy the music (the toe-tappingly spirited rendition of Wendo’s biggest hit, “Marie-Louise,” is a highlight), a bad thing for viewers unfamiliar with Congolese history and in need of a little context with their rumba.

Wendo Kolosoy was a former boxer and ship’s mechanic from the Congo who in 1948 recorded a song called “Marie Louise” as Papa Wendo. Wendo’s music, an infectious blend of Latin and African rhythms, took the nation by storm and he became an overnight star among the Congolese. However, while the sound Wendo created proved to have a lasting influence in the Congo, his own fame waned, and as he slipped into obscurity, he watched the sad history of his nation unfold, as the end of colonialism led to wave after wave of bloody violence. Wendo’s music, however, has been discovered by a new generation of music fans, and the aging musician continues to perform as often as he can.

This alternately poignant and playful documentary views his achievements from a context of political oppression and economic deprivation. Now 83, Mr. Kolosoy is seen enjoying a reunion with former band mates while dodging his wife’s pleas to get a job.

“We got our independence, but all we do is kill each other,” he tells us while the camera tracks through the misery of the Kinshasa slums, their squalor a shocking counterpoint to the effervescence of the music. Whether proclaiming the indifference of politicians or the thrill of infatuation, the songs — heavily influenced by the music of Cuban seamen in the 1940s — offer a welcome distraction from poverty and civil war.

Filming in late 2004, the director uses his eyes but not his voice, allowing his subjects to guide the story. In the background, the vast expanse of the Congo River flows with a neglected beauty; the country may be falling into ruin, but the songs remain the same.

78 RPM Record Collectors

October 8, 2014
78_collector_richardnevins_heneghan21

Richard Nevins, who runs the 78 reissue label Yazoo Records, sits in his personal record room.

edited from http://www.collectorsweekly.com:

Amanda Petrusich: I think a lot of collectors end up turning to 78 rpm records because they feel alienated by modern culture or not satisfied by it in some ways. Your collection becomes a way of insulating yourself from the facets of modernity that you find distasteful, unsustainable, or not nourishing. A lot of these guys had no interest in modern or contemporary music at all.

For them, it ended with World War II, or with Hank Williams. Everything that came after that, they don’t even want to know about it because they think it’s garbage. It’s frustrating for me as music fan and critic, because I’ll be like, “Wait, there are all these amazing people making amazing records,” and they have no interest in them.

Most collectors are white men who started collecting in the second half of the 20th century and have enough money to travel and buy records. They’re coming from a place of extraordinary privilege for sure. It’s these privileged white people collecting this music from disenfranchised African Americans. There is something uncomfortable, I think, for a lot of people, myself included, about that exchange.

I always get nervous talking about this because these are such big generalities. But socioculturally speaking, just in my experience, I think women are more comfortable listening to music and having an emotional reaction to it. We have the vocabulary for that. We’re socialized that it’s okay for us to do that.

With men, it’s a little more complicated. For a man to hear a song and be moved to tears by it, I think it can be a frightening experience or maybe an experience he has not been socialized to find acceptable. So collecting and organizing is a way of trying to de-fang those intense emotions and also figure them out through meticulous research, learning as much as they can about the record, owning the record. There are all these different ways you can mediate a very emotional experience to make it more concrete, more digestible, or less scary.

 

A Visit to Ali Farka Toure

October 7, 2014

index

 

A Visit To Ali Farka Touré (Kultur Video DVD)

(AVAILABLE FROM NETFLIX)

from http://worldmusiccentral.org:

Kultur Video pays homage to the legendary, late Grammy Award winning world musician, Ali Farka Touré, with the release of the DVD documentary A Visit To Ali Farka Touré. The African singer and guitarist was known throughout the world for his innovative music and his deep commitment to improving conditions in his homeland. His death caused worldwide lament, and this documentary gives his fans an exclusive glimpse into his life, his music and his community.

Filmmaker Marc Huraux takes viewers to Ali’s homeland in Mali, Africa. Marc provides an unprecedented look at the world music legend as the two converse, and discuss Ali’s personal memories – from his early childhood up through recent events. An illuminating documentary about a man who gave up touring and recording sessions at the end of his career to preserve his link between his music and its source in deep Mali, A Visit To Ali Farka Touré, provides an intimate look at a remarkable man devoting much of his time, energy and resources toward improving conditions in his homeland.

The documentary features live performances from Mali Dje, Gomni, Chanson sur Niafunke, Keito and Tulumba. Conversations with Samba Toure, Afel Bocoum, Oumar Diallo Barou, Oumar Toure, Djeneba Doukoure, Hamma Sankare, Concano Yatara, Souleyman Kane and Yoro Cisse provide a compelling look at the man and his music.

Ali Farka Touré is recognized as one of the pioneers of “Mali Blues” – a mixture of contemporary African music and blues. His music quickly spread throughout West Africa and gained a successful career as he toured widely in Africa, Europe and the U.S. Toure was honored with his first Grammy Award for Talking Timbuktu and then a second Grammy for his album in collaboration with another famous Malian musician, Toumani Diabate, In the Heart of the Moon.

After a long battle with cancer, the musician passed away on March 7, 2006, but he will forever remain a legend through the power of his music and his influence in society.

 

Georgia Yellow Hammers on Document

October 6, 2014

unnamedfrom http://document-records.com:

We have been working with Tony Russell, Harry Bolick and others to expand the series and we are delighted to present the first two volumes in a series of four of The Georgia Yellowhammers: Bill Chitwood and Bud Landress, with their friends Phil Reeve, Ernest Moody and Clyde Evans, and associates such as Andrew and Jim Baxter, the Harper brothers, Gus Boaz, Lawrence Neal and others, would represent and promote the musical culture of their region for most of a decade. Thanks to them, Gordon County, Georgia, has come to be held in high regard by lovers of old-time Southern music.

Today we can see it as a prism, its facets reflecting the different forms of Southern music: old-time fiddling, quartet singing, stringband ensembles, rustic comedy, yodelling, blues.”

Aided by this collection (and the music of the Baxters, available elsewhere on Document), we can hold a magnifying glass over a map of Gordon County, so that towns and communities leap into large-print life.

We see the streets of Calhoun and Resaca and Sugar Valley, hear the rattle of wagon wheels and the distant whistle of the railroad train, the massed voices from the singing convention in Calhoun’s City Auditorium, the strains of contesting fiddlers at the Courthouse, of the Baxters playing for picnickers at Dew’s Pond, and of Bill and Bud and their cronies serenading the townsfolk in Gentlemen’s Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Wife

October 6, 2014

The Beautiful Music All Around Us (#2)

October 5, 2014

The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience by Stephen Wade (University of Illinois Press, 2012, hardback, xvii + pp.477)

CD included: 1.  Bonaparte’s Retreat – WH Stepp;  2.  Rock Island Line – Kelly Pace and group;  3.  Pullin’ the Skiff / Shortnin’ Bread – Ora Dell Graham;  4.  Sea Lion Woman – Christine and Katherine Shipp;  5.  Soldier’s Joy – Nashville Washboard Band;  6.  Another Man Done Gone – Vera Hall;  7.  Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down – Bozie Sturdivant;  8.  Coal Creek March – Pete Steele;  9.  One Morning in May – Texas Gladden;  10.  Glory in the Meetinghouse – Luther Strong;  11.  Diamond Joe – Charlie Butler;  12.  Goodbye Old Paint – Jess Morris.

reviewed by Chris Smith (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Stephen Wade’s book has its origins in the CD, A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings (Rounder CD 1500), which I reviewed for MT in 1998.  The Beautiful Music All Around Us is now in its fourth printing, and has received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, and an ARSC Award for Excellence.  This review comes late to the party, therefore, but it considers a book that all readers of this website need to be aware of.

The Rounder CD presented 30 tracks, and knowing Stephen, I’m sure that he would have liked to have written a chapter on every one of them.  Inevitably, what we have is less than that in regard to quantity, but decidedly not short on quality.  Its twelve chapters each deal with one artist, although the total number of songs discussed, and included on the illustrative CD, is a baker’s dozen, because Ora Dell Graham gets two (and two minutes playing time.)

Each chapter discusses the song included on the CD, in terms of the particular performance, earlier and later versions, the meaning of the song for the artist and her/his community, and its after-life in folk and popular culture.  (Wade even managed to interest me in the use of Rock Island Line and Sea Lion Woman on the soundtrack of a John Travolta movie.)

There is also as much biographical information as can be gathered, ranging from very full for the likes of Jess Morris, a voluminous correspondent and self-documenter, to scarcely anything for the members of the Nashville Washboard Band or the convict Charlie Butler, whose sad-eyed prison photograph is haunting.  (‘Bad case and one of Beal Streets bad boys,’ the District Attorney wrote on his court record.)  The process of researching the singers’ lives and deaths is also described, in encounters with relatives and acquaintances that range from friendly to tense.  A conversation with a retired schoolteacher takes an unexpected turn:

As I got up to leave, she took her other hand from her pocket, drawing with it an unholstered, snub-nosed, .38 caliber revolver.  I suddenly realized that the whole time we talked, she had it pointed at me.  She revealed it now as a statement of trust.

The assiduity with which Wade has tracked down people and documentation is extraordinary; in these pages, we learn that the original version of Rock Island Line was discovered in the railroad’s booster club magazine, and find out how Isaac Shipp came to learn songs in Sierra Leone and the Belgian Congo, a puzzle which I noted in my preamble to the review of the Treasury CD.  (Wade describes Shipp, who died in 2007 at the age of 91, as ‘a truly amazing man.’) We also encounter the descendants of Bill Stepp and Pete Steele, of Texas Gladden and Luther Strong (a violent drunkard, whose children seem to have survived their upbringing remarkably well.) In the introduction, we also meet Ella Hoffpauir Boudreaux, ten years old when she sang Sept Ans Sur Mer with her sisters, and living in conditions where a fantastical song about hunger had all too realistic resonances.

These are just a few of the people who give testimony.  Throughout, Wade lets them speak in their own voices, and tell their stories in and on their own terms.  The richness of even the poorest lives (Bill Stepp’s first five years were spent in a cave) is conveyed through the informants’ own words, and in contextualisations, explanations and comments that are insightful, humane and beautifully written.

 

Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Bit Further Into the Fire

October 4, 2014

images

from http://holdoldbald.tumblr.com:

One story claims that a “pig’s foot” is a tool used by a blacksmith (or alternatively, at a foundry) to hold a bit of pig iron (“pig” iron…how convenient) in a fire. While this explanation is nearly entirely wrong, there may be a grain of truth in it, as we will shortly see.

The fact is that this tune, like many, has seen its title change slightly over time.

This song derives from an old slave folktale which later became a chant and finally a tune. The story goes like this. A slave had just stolen from his master’s larder a shoat (in other variants just its haunch) and had hidden the meat beneath his bed sheets (again in other variants it was hidden under the bed itself).

The slave was in his cabin telling his wife of his prize when the master, along with a friend, appeared in the door of the slave’s cabin, requesting that the slave demonstrate his fine skill on the fiddle. Aware that the pig’s foot was exposed and its discovery, which appeared imminent, would cost him a whipping or worse, the slave quickly took down his fiddle and began to play and sing:
Shove that pig’s foot further in the bed
Further in the bed
Further in the bed
Shove that pig’s foot further in the bed
Katie, Katie, Katie, can’t you hear me now

The master and his friend watched the performance with glee while his wife Katie heard the message (hidden in plain sight) and covertly slid the pig’s leg beneath the bedsheets. At the end of the song the master exclaimed, “well, there’s a song I’ve never heard before!” and he and his friend gave the fiddler a short round of applause before making their exit.

In other variants, the slave’s wife’s name is Ginny, but the story is the same. The tale was a favorite among the miserable slaves who could always benefit from a laugh, especially from a yarn involving a slave pulling such a trick — two tricks really — on his loathsome master.

In time it became a field holler and later a fiddle tune. When Marcus Martin’s father learned it from white loggers working along the railroad lines in Western North Carolina, the title had apparently changed. Perhaps they were ignorant of the story and didn’t see why a pig’s foot would be in a bed, so they changed the word to fire. Perhaps they thought “bed” referred to a bed of coals and made, what they thought to be a reference to barbecue, more explicit.

Or perhaps these railroad men were familiar with the tool known as a “pig’s foot” — a short crowbar with a cloven end — and took delight in the idea of the double-entendre permitted by such an image. Because of course, “poking the fire” was a well-known euphemism for the act of sex. Recall the famous story in which James Monroe expressed to Thomas Jefferson his surprise that James Madison was able to engage in carnal acts with a wife as homely as Dolley Madison. Jefferson replied with a broad grin, “My dear young man, I am quite certain that the President does not find the need to admire the mantel whilst he is poking the fire!”

Nonesuch Records

October 3, 2014

 

edited from afropop.org:

50 Years of Nonesuch: Three Essential Albums

1. The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People of Rhodesia

explorer-africa-zimbabwe-soul-of-mbira

The Soul of Mbira, released in 1973, is one of the great gems of Nonesuch’s Explorer Series, which put previously hard to find field recordings in the hands of a broad public. These beautiful field recordings were made by ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, who also contributed to our “Art of Improvisation, Part 2” program as a Hip Deep scholar. The mbira, a wooden instrument with up to 52 metal keys, often with a gourd resonator, is played traditionally by the Shona people of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), both for entertainment and religious ceremonies. The Soul of Mbira compiles four types of mbira playing: matepe, mbira dzavadzimu, ndimba and njari.

2. Oumou Sangare: Worotan

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Oumou Sangare is a singer of wassoulou music, a style from Mali’s southwest region that borders Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Worotan, her third album, contains a message in support of women’s rights that traveled powerfully from West Africa to a worldwide audience, thanks to its release on Nonesuch. Worotan also includes saxophone playing from the great Pee Wee Ellis, known for his work with James Brown and Van Morrison.

3. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté: In the Heart of the Moon

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A collaboration between guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player Toumani Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon was recorded at the Hotel Mandé on the Niger River. The record brings together Songhai traditions from Touré’s origins in northern Mali with Bambara styles of Diabaté’s home region in the south. Touré, who passed away a year after the record was released in 2005, was widely appreciated as one of the greatest guitarists in the world, while Diabaté, who descends from 70 generations of griots, continues to tour the world and is the most successful kora player of his time.

Wax cylinder recording session

October 2, 2014

homesm

 from http://memory.loc.gov and http://www.nps.gov:

Wax cylinder recording session, Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 pm
WEST ORANGE, NJ –On October 30, visitors to Thomas Edison National Historical Park will have the opportunity to watch and listen as the Demolition String Duo makes recording history. Elena Skye and Boo Reiners are the featured artists at a wax cylinder phonograph recording session taking place on Thursday evening.
Elena Skye and Boo Reiners lead New York City’s “Demolition String Band”. They are currently celebrating the release of their recording of the Woody Guthrie song “Go Coney Island, Roll on the Sand” on the audio book “My Name is New York, Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town”. This new audio book is a collection of Guthrie’s New York City-inspired stories and music, produced and narrated by daughter Nora Guthrie.
The Demolition String Duo will record onto wax cylinders in the same way it was done in Edison’s time over a century ago. The method of capturing sound is non-electric. Like the artists who recorded for Edison during the 1890s, the Demolition String Duo will play in front of a large horn that will serve as their microphone. The duo hopes to release the recordings they make at the Edison Laboratory on a future album.

(more…)

Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers

October 1, 2014

from http://www.dust-digital.com:

Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers (Dust-to-Digital CD)

Description: CD Digipak with 32 page booklet featuring liner notes by Tony Russell and photographs from the collection of Maxine Payne

 
Images & Recordings from Rural Arkansas: Recently discovered photographs inspire two new publications.

 
In the 1930s, the Massengill family of rural Arkansas built three portable photography studios on old truck frames, attached each to the back of any car that would run, and started a mobile photo booth business that would last for a decade. Making Pictures: Three for a Dime, featuring Massengill family prints and photo albums collected by artist Maxine Payne, illuminates a sliver of the Depression-era South previously unseen by the public.

Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers serves as the soundtrack to Making Pictures and allows us to hear how the voices of that time and region sounded, by carrying the listener from the hillbilly music craze of the 1920s to the song-based country music of the late ’30s.

Produced by April and Lance Ledbetter utilizing transfers from the Music Memory archive, “Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers” features original recordings made between 1928-1937. The CD and the 32-page booklet serve as a companion album to the newly-released photograph book, “Making Pictures: Three for a Dime” by Maxine Payne. All of the photos in this package are from the same cache of photographs taken by the Massengil family in their mobile photo-booth trailer throughout rural Arkansas in the 1930s-1940s.

“For the traveling recording men of the late 1920s, Arkansas offered enticing pickings. The region was thronged with vigorous, idiosyncratic stringbands. This album carries the listener from the hillbilly music craze of the ’20s to the song-based country music of the late ’30s. Scarcely more than a decade, but a period, in music as in all American life, of galvanic change.” – Tony Russell, from the liner notes

When the Mask Cracks

September 30, 2014

index

excerpt from Greil Marcus (www.space-age-bachelor.com):

It has proven very difficult for me to access Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music. There’s such distance between us and this music that any suspension of disbelief is fragile.  Once submitted to, the Anthology proves to be spellbinding.

To know that some of these songs were recorded in New York in the time of Tin Pan Alley is a fact irreconcilable with what you hear.  Even if the second track by Nelstone’s Hawaiians reminds me of Bing Crosby, this music is a long way from the slick Tin Pan Alley schmaltz that today fills the airwaves of chain bookstores and coffee shops to inspire purchases, by appealing to nostalgia.  Our favorite moments of popular music come when the mask cracks.

In the Anthology, all pretenses are absent, and all guards down, or so you’re led to believe — cause really anyone who knows how to guard themself will know also how to give the impression of being unguarded.  All I know is that no one sings in these strange voices any more.  Like “Le Vieux Soulard et Sa Femme,” which sounds like the sloppy, hilarious way you sing, when you think that no one is listening.  And then there’s Didier Hebert’s “I Woke Up One Morning In May,” which might be sung in French, but for all I know could be sung in tongues.

There’s such a spirit of anything goes to these songs, always teetering from one brink from another, from overflowing joy to callousness.  The opening notes of Ramblin’ Thomas’ “Poor Boy Blues” are such a mix of menace and woe.  And then there’s lyrics like the one in “James Alley Blues,” which goes,

“You’re my daily thought and my nightly dream,

Sometimes I think you’re too sweet to die,

And another time, I think you ought to be buried alive.”

 

This is music made by people with nowhere to go, but to the grave, whether dead or not.

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate

September 29, 2014

11661-5035-2

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas (Rounder CD)

from rounder.com and liner notes by Jody Stecher:
When these recording were made in 1965 in Nassau, the Bahamas, these singers — including Joseph Spence, the Pinder Family and Frederick McQueen — were at the height of their powers. Coming from Nassau and the Andros, Abaco and Mores Islands, most of these singers were already over sixty years old when they recorded the lovely spirituals, anthems, rhyming songs and ballads heard here.

Today, this powerful and complex music has virtually disappeared, making the release of these recordings all the more invaluable and historically important. Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate was recorded by Peter K. Siegel and Jody Stecher, the team responsible for the Elektra/Nonesuch label’s two volume series titled The Real Bahamas.

The first volume, issued in 1966, is a beloved and influential album, cherished and absorbed by countless musicians — such as Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal — and was the source for the Incredible String Band’s “I Bid You Goodnight,” a song that was the heartbreaking, joyous finale of live shows throughout their career. Except for three tracks recorded in 1965, the tracks recorded here come from the same legendary field trip that produced The Real Bahamas, and have never been issued before.

Rhyming is a uniquely Bahamian way of developing a song.  A singer intones verses, “rhymes,” over a repeating time cycle created by the words, rhythms, and harmonies of bass and treble support singers.

Joseph Spence’s “What a Beautiful Home” was recorded in Peter Siegel’s home in NYC a month before we journeyed to the Bahamas.  It captures Spence in a tender and reflective mood.  For me, it recalls his personal sweetness and the first words he spoke to me: “You like banana?”

 

Hollow Rock String Band

September 28, 2014

indexby (www.indyweek.com):

The original Hollow Rock String Band–Tommy Thompson on five-string banjo, Bobbie Thompson on guitar, Bertram Levy on mandolin and Alan Jabbour on fiddle–grew out of mid-’60s jam sessions that took place at the Hollow Rock Grocery on Erwin Road at New Hope Creek, just outside of Durham. As the surrounding circle of friends and players grew larger than the store could handle–sometimes up to 150 people–the sessions moved to the Thompsons’ house down the road.

The music they played grew out of Duke grad student Jabbour’s mid-’60s excursions through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia to record instrumental folk music, folksong and folklore. Though he’d been a classical violinist from the age of 7, he began a new kind of apprenticeship with old-time fiddlers he met along the way, like Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Va. It was around the old-time fiddle tunes from Reed and others that the Hollow Rock String Band oriented itself. But because they were largely solo numbers, the group had to invent band settings for them.

“I can remember sitting together, and all of us sort of puzzling out what chords we would play,” Jabbour says. “Imagining how it might sound was part of the excitement of this enterprise: To us, it really was kind of an adventure into this unknown artistic world.” But that adventure was not only about music, it was about a way of life.

“Only later did we puzzle about it, and wonder what it was that lit us up,” Jabbour says. “It was beautiful to us; there was something magical about the music itself, artistically. But also, we were drawn–how shall I say–to certain social and cultural values that the music seemed to stand for. And we were proud to re-assert that, to sort of throw it into the face of the world.”

For Jim Watson, who played guitar and was learning mandolin, the Hollow Rock jam sessions were a musical turning point. “I had started going to fiddlers’ conventions in the summer of 1965 and learning a little bit about it,” he remembers, “but not until I got in the midst of this music scene at Tommy and Bobby’s did I really start learning how to play it.” Watson and musician friend Bill DeTurk became regular visitors to the Thompsons’ jam sessions.

“It’s really hard to overstate the effect that those parties had on me, and a lot of people, back then,” Watson says. “A lot of us were learning music, and learning it in a group situation–and in a party situation, too, where you would just go and play hard and have a good time, rather than sitting in your living room with one or two other people. You had to play hard to be heard–to hear yourself, even–in some of those settings.”

In 1969, Jabbour was appointed head of the Archive of Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of Congress, where he exerted a tremendous influence on scholarly and popular understandings of American vernacular music. Meanwhile, as the ’60s became the ’70s, Watson and Tommy Thompson played as a duo, and as a trio with “Fiddlin’ Al” McCanless. Bobbie went on to join the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, comprised of other jam regulars. She died in a car accident in 1972, before seeing the release of the group’s first album, The Fuzzy Mountain String Band.

When Rounder Records asked Jabbour to record a new album of fiddle tunes in the early ’70s, he asked Tommy Thompson to join him, and Thompson invited Watson along to play guitar. With Levy’s blessing (he didn’t participate in the session), they dubbed the recording The Hollow Rock String Band.

“It was exciting to make that record, as an effort to recapture the Hollow Rock energy,” Jabbour says. “But that energy was spreading in other ways beyond us. The truth is, you want to keep making music yourself, but it has its impact, and it goes on beyond you. Others continue, and they continue it in their own way.” (more…)

Stump-Tailed Dolly

September 27, 2014
stumptailed-dolly
from http://holdoldbald.tumblr.com:

Though it is not a term commonly heard today, a century and a half ago, if you had asked a sheep farmer in the areas of Southern West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky what the best sheep dog was, he would have told you without hesitation, “well that’s a Stump-Tailed Dolly!”

This dog, described as having long tangled hair and a docked tail, is believed to have originated from the Briard breed, and was introduced to the region by Johann Dahle, a Hessian mercenary who served with the British against the colonists in the Revolutionary War. After the war’s end he fled to the Western slopes of North Fork Mountain in a rural area of Virginia (now West Virginia) where he raised sheep and other livestock. Legend has it that his prize sheepdog, Melisande, was actually stolen from General Lafayette himself.

Melisande was pregnant with a litter at the time of her “liberation” and from that litter descended a line of sheepdogs that came to be known as “Stump-Tailed Dollies” from their cropped tails and the Anglicized pronunciation of Johann Dahle’s surname. (Some of his descendants in the area go by Dahle, many more changed the spelling to Dolly generations ago.)

The tune’s authorship is unknown but it was widely played among the fiddlers of this area (many of whom were Scots-Irish sheep herders) beginning as early as 1830. Variant titles include “Stumptail Dolly,” “Stumptail Dog,” “Stumptown Dolly,” or just “Dolly.”

The dog breed itself seems to have largely vanished from the area along with the sheep farming it supported, though some believe that the infamous “Logan County Devil Dogs” were descended a prize English Mastiff that escaped from the “Indian Water Medicine Show” near Madison in 1868 and bred with a Stump-Tailed Dolly living in that region.

Recording Black Culture

September 26, 2014

 

from http://blackgrooves.org:

Title: John Work, III: Recording Black Culture

Label: Spring Fed Records (SFR 104)

In 1993 Alan Lomax published his book The Land Where the Blues Began, to great popular and critical acclaim. The book told the story of his collecting adventures in the Mississippi Delta fifty years earlier, “discovering” and recording artists such as Son House, Muddy Waters, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards.

In their co-edited book Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942, Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov detail the larger picture of the same collecting trips made by Lomax in the early 1940s by including the equally large contributions of Fisk University scholars (a collaboration which was almost completely obfuscated in The Land Where the Blues Began) and paying particular attention to the work of John Wesley Work, III. With the release of the CD John Work, III: Recording Black Culture, we now have the music to match the text of Lost Delta Found (through it’s not a companion piece), along with greater evidence of the variety of black musical culture in the early part of the twentieth century.

Recording Black Culture separates its14 tracks into six categories: Social Songs (fiddle and banjo tunes), The Quartets, Work Song, Congregational Singing, Blues, and Colored Sacred Harp (shape note congregational singing). On display here are both secular and sacred musics, though the liner notes indicate Work was mostly interested in secular “folk” musics. The wide range of music that is offered was almost entirely recorded before Work and his Fisk colleagues joined forces with Lomax and the Library of Congress for the trip to the delta.

Work’s recordings were done in and around Nashville Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Many of the recordings have poor fidelity (even for historical recordings) and lend some insight as to why Fisk may have contacted the Library of Congress about a joint venture into the Delta: they wanted the more sophisticated equipment used by Lomax. In this regard Work was right, the tracks that surfaced later in Lomax’s collections are much higher in fidelity (e.g., The Land Where the Blues Began Rounder CD) and Work’s recordings are surely more interesting to a scholar than to most casual listeners.

Of the highest fidelity and given five tracks on the compilation are songs of The Quartets, including, with an egalitarian sprite, the Holloway High School Quartet, The Fairfield Four, The Heavenly Gate Quartet (a group of Work’s friends who sang together), and two unnamed groups. Here we have vocal harmony groups singing religious music in jubilee style with tight vocal parts and pulsating rhythms.

The intimate sound of the quartets, specifically on the two tracks of the Heavenly Gate Quartet, provide great examples of vernacular presentations of popular stylings of the day, including “If I Had My Way.” Other tracks on the album, such as the congregational version of “Amazing Grace,” are harder to hear and are best left for academic scrutiny rather than pleasure listening. Many of these recordings are of particular interest because of their rarity; for example, the only known recording of blues street musician Joe Holmes singing “Ain’t Gonna Drink No Mo’,” as well as the ulta-rare recordings of fiddle and banjo players Ned Frazier and Frank Patterson that lead off the compilation.

The CD is packaged with comprehensive liner notes written by Bruce Nemerov and aided by archival photos of the people, places, equipment, and songbooks used during this era. Though the recording quality lacks the fidelity of other field collections of the time, and the repertoire is perhaps too wide ranging for some tastes, the packaging and release of this material (a joint effort between local, state, and federal arts agencies) offers further proof of what many musicians have known for years, that rural black music is not, and was never solely the blues.

Cacklin’ Hen

September 26, 2014

Tennessee Folk Music Recordings: A List

September 25, 2014

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 3.14.48 PMCLICK HERE FOR PDF:

http://www.tn.gov/arts/images/folklife/Tennessee%20Folk%20Music%20Recordings.pdf

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 3.19.40 PM

John Work

September 24, 2014

index

from http://www.motherjones.com and http://www.nytimes.com:

Two years ago, the book “Lost Delta Found” criticized the American folklorist Alan Lomax for giving short shrift to the work of three black researchers with whom he made some of his landmark field recordings in the 1940s. Maybe more important, the book argued that our appreciation of the black roots music of the era would have been greatly enriched had the writings of the researchers reached a wider audience. With the release of “Recording Black Culture,” an album consisting largely of newly unearthed acetates made by one of the collectors, John Work III, we now have the music itself to buttress this claim.

Work, the most eminent of the black folklorists, was not merely an acolyte of Lomax but clearly had ideas of his own. Where Lomax tended to treat black vernacular music as an artifact in need of preservation, Work sought to document it as it was unfolding. Thus on “Recording Black Culture,” instead of spirituals harking back to the 19th century, we hear febrile gospel shouting set to the cadences of what soon would become rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

As the story goes, the folklorist Alan Lomax was traveling around Mississippi with his recording equipment in the summer of 1941 when he came upon the house of a blues singer named McKinley Morganfield. Lomax recorded a few tracks for the Library of Congress and moved on, later mailing Morganfield a check for $20 and two copies of the record. What Lomax couldn’t have known at the time was that Morganfield, better known today as Muddy Waters, was to become one of the most famous blues singers of all time—the undisputed king of the electric Chicago sound.

Morganfield, along with Son House, went on to be known as one of Lomax’s greatest discoveries. And while it may be true that without Lomax, we might never have heard of these artists, it’s worth remembering that—despite what his own memoirs suggest—Lomax didn’t actually discover either of them. That credit falls to a little-known black folklorist named John Work III, who died 44 years ago this month.

The long history of famous men is haunted by forgotten heroes. There are those like Alfred Russel Wallace, the biologist who proposed the theory of evolution before Darwin did. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is not so much as the man who first conceived of evolution by natural selection, but as the man whom history forgot to credit—a historical nuance not fit for high school biology texts. In Wallace’s case, Darwin attempted to give him credit, but history was intent on forgetting him. Work’s absence from the historical record is more suspect: Lomax devoted only one sentence to him in his own writings.

John Work III, born in 1901 in Tullahoma Tennessee, was a folklorist at Fisk University for almost 40 years. He attended Julliard and held music degrees from Yale and Columbia. According to music writer Dave Marsh, Work was Lomax’s partner and guide in the early 1940s. He led Lomax first to Son House and later to Muddy Waters, where Lomax recorded part of what would later be released as Down on Stovall’s Plantation. “Lomax never credited Work, but recent research has established him as at least Lomax’s equal in the study,” Marsh writes.

Kirk McGee video

September 23, 2014

from vimeo.com:

Roll ONE of a four-roll interview session with KIRK McGEE (b. David Kirkland McGee, November 4, 1899, d. October 24, 1983) interviewed by folklorist CHARLES K. WOLE (Aug. 14, 1943 — Feb.9, 2006) shot by Sol Korine and Blaine Dunlap for the for the documentary “The Uncle Dave Macon Program,” (1979) by Wolfe and Korine-Dunlap.

This and other analog video recordings by Blaine Dunlap and Sol Korine are archived at the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University, Mufreesboro, TN, popmusic.mtsu.edu/)

Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection

September 22, 2014

Charles Wolfefrom http://popmusic.mtsu.edu:

The Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection:  An Overview

In February, 2012, the family of the late Dr. Charles K. Wolfe (1943-2006) signed a deed-of-gift donating Dr. Wolfe’s collection of sound recordings to the Center for Popular Music (CPM).  This was a major bequest, for not only was Dr. Wolfe a prodigiously productive scholar, he was also an obsessive collector of the nation’s popular and vernacular music.

The Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection contains in total 2,601 cassette recordings, 719 open-reel recordings, and an uncounted number of commercial tape releases.  Among these are:  interviews and field recordings made by Dr. Wolfe and other scholars; small label/vanity pressings of music; field recordings and transcriptions that are commercially available or that can be found in other institutional collections; dubs of rare recordings; and more.

 
The Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection consists mainly of audio tapes relating to the vernacular musical styles of the American south from ca. 1929 to 2006.  Styles represented in the collection include:  country/old time/string band music, fiddling, blues, classic jazz, folk ballad, blues, western swing, Hawaiian, folk song, shape note singing, the singing school tradition, gospel quartet singing, and rockabilly.

 
The Wolfe Audio Collection contain oral histories and interviews with many pioneering country and gospel musicians, singers, songwriters, producers, and publishers.  Among them are:  Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Sam and Kirk McGee, Dick Rutherford, Sid Harkreader, Alison Krauss, Art Galbraith, Clyde Davenport, Frank Walker, Ernest Stoneman, Kitty Wells, Maybelle Carter, James D. Walbert, Benny Williams, Louise Woods-Woodward, Clarence Myer, Poplin-Woods Tennessee String Band, Hack’s String Band, Skillet Lickers, Georgia Yellowhammers, Doc Roberts, Dykes Magic City Trio, Perry County Music Makers, Jess Young, Smith’s Sacred Singers, Vaughan Quartet, Taylor’s Kentucky Boys, Uncle Dave Macon, Burnett & Rutherford, Byrd Moore, the Tweedy Brothers, Red Fox Chasers, Stamps Quartet, James D. Vaughan, George Jones, Lefty Frizzell and more.

 

The interviews tend to focus regionally on Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee, North Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Western North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. Wolfe’s interviews include information on musician’s impressions of other musicians, details of recording sessions, individual performance styles and techniques, influences, memories of other musicians, travelling, songwriting, business aspects, gospel publishing, discographical information, autobiographical and genealogical information, and first-person information on the early histories of the Grand Old Opry, the National Barn Dance, and Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

 
The Wolfe Audio Collection also features many field recordings, historic radio transcriptions, dubs (and originals) of small label/vanity label recordings and demo tapes as well as copies of similar recordings made by fellow scholars, musicians, and folklorists.

Ralph Peer

September 21, 2014

9781613740217

from http://www.chicagoreviewpress.com:

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music (Chicago Review Press (Nov 2014)

By Barry Mazor

320 Pages, 6 x 9

Cloth, $28.95

This is the first biography of Ralph Peer, the adventurous—even revolutionary—A&R man and music publisher who saw the universal power locked in regional roots music and tapped it, changing the breadth and flavor of popular music around the world. It is the story of the life and fifty-year career, from the age of cylinder recordings to the stereo era, of the man who pioneered the recording, marketing, and publishing of blues, jazz, country, gospel, and Latin music.

The book tracks Peer’s role in such breakthrough events as the recording of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” (the record that sparked the blues craze), the first country recording sessions with Fiddlin’ John Carson, his discovery of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family at the famed Bristol sessions, the popularizing of Latin American music during World War II, and the postwar transformation of music on the airwaves that set the stage for the dominance of R&B, country, and rock ‘n’ roll.

But this is also the story of a man from humble midwestern beginnings who went on to build the world’s largest independent music publishing firm, fostering the global reach of music that had previously been specialized, localized, and marginalized. Ralph Peer redefined the ways promising songs and performers were identified, encouraged, and promoted, rethought how far regional music might travel, and changed our very notions of what pop music can be.

Calypso Craze (Bear Family Box Set)

September 20, 2014

382b0f3e32922c01c168526a85ae984b_bcd16947a

from http://www.bear-family.com:

Calypso Craze (6-CD / 1-DVD boxed set (LP-size) with 176-page hardcover book, 173 tracks. Total playing time approx. 484 mns. – DVD: 14 chapters, c. 86 minutes)

From late 1956 through mid-1957, calypso was everywhere: not just on the Hit Parade, but on the dance floor and the TV, in movie theaters and magazines, in college student unions and high school glee clubs. There were calypso card games, clothing lines, and children’s toys. Calypso was the stuff of commercials and comedy routines, news reports and detective novels.

Nightclubs across the country hastily tacked up fishnets and palm fronds and remade themselves as calypso rooms. Singers donned straw hats and tattered trousers and affected mock-West Indian ‘ahk-cents.’ And it was Harry Belafonte – not Elvis Presley – who with his 1956 album ‘Calypso’ had the first million-selling LP in the history of the record industry. No wonder reporters and marketers joined the trade journals and fanzines in declaring a ‘Calypso Craze.’ In fact, by the time ‘Variety’ announced “Hot Trend: Trinidado Tunes” (on the cover of its December 26, 1956 issue), the Craze was already well underway.

How calypso came from Trinidad to America and found such celebrity, vying seriously (if only fleetingly) with rock ‘n’ roll for the affections of the nation’s youth, is one of the stranger tales of modern popular music. This collection offers an overview of calypso’s slow rise, heady prominence, and precipitous fall in America and beyond in the period surrounding the Calypso Craze of 1956-57.

•    Trinidadian calypsonians Lion, Atilla, Radio, and Caresser; Beginner, Invader, and Kitchener; Terror, Cristo and Panther
•    Trinidadian expatriates Wilmoth Houdini, Duke of Iron, Sir Lancelot, and MacBeth the Great
•    Other West Indians (and Bermudians) such as Lloyd Thomas, Lord Flea, Lord Foodoos, Mighty Zebra, The Talbot Brothers, Sidney Bean, Hubert Smith, Blind Blake, Enid Mosier, The Eloise Trio, Edric Connor, George Browne, and Frank Holder
•    Folksingers The Tarriers, Terry Gilkyson and The Easy Riders, Stan Wilson, and The Kingston Trio

Bonus DVD:
•    Unseen in over 55 years – a ‘Calypso Craze’ feature-length film never before issued on video or broadcast on television: ‘Calypso Joe’ (Allied Artists, 1957), starring Herb Jeffries and Angie Dickinson, and featuring Duke of Iron and The Easy Riders
•    Four short ‘soundies’ from the 1940s and 50s, with Sam Manning and ‘Belle Rosette’ (Beryl McBurnie), Broadway and big-band singer Gracie Barrie covering Stone Cold Dead In The Market, and Lord Cristo and the March Of Dimes Quartet

Jonathan Ward

September 19, 2014

images

excerpt of interview with 78 RPM collector Jonathan Ward (of excavatedshellac.com), from http://contrappassomag.wordpress.com:

My main inspiration was the music on the records themselves, and sitting and listening to records at fellow collectors’ homes. But, compilations definitely inspired me, and they’re all pretty well known: The Secret Museum of Mankind series on Yazoo, the Times Ain’t What They Used to Be series also on Yazoo, Music of the World’s Peoples on Folkways, anything compiled by Richard Spottswood or Bruce Bastin, just to name a few. Equally as influential to me were articles and books on early non-Western recordings and the music industry by Paul Vernon, Rodney Gallop, Pekka Gronow, and Michael Kinnear.

Hearing Malagasy 78s for the first time in the 1990s made me utterly flabbergasted at their beauty and, I soon found out, their scarcity. At the same time I was also amazed at how little I knew about both that music and the record industry, and it opened my eyes to the sheer volume of material that was produced and released all over the world on the 78 format, as well as how little access I had to it. These were commercial recordings, not ethnographic recordings. I wanted to hear more, so I began to collect, read, learn, and most importantly, talk to other collector friends and musicians who knew a lot more than I and who were willing to share—they have always been one of the most significant influences for me..

I sometimes wonder if people have this idea that 78 collectors are white-robed saviors, scouring the earth in Land Rovers like post-colonial Indiana Joneses, pilfering 78s from the hands of starving people of color in order to haughtily bequeath them to their audience, treating them like starving children. Maybe the (entirely true) stories of blues collectors knocking on doors in poor neighborhoods in the American south has helped to prop up this myth. But Pat Conte, the curator of the Secret Museum CD series and owner of the one of the most unparalleled collections of historic global music on the planet, admitted in print that he’d never ventured outside the United States.

Although it’s true that some collectors, especially 45 collectors, extensively travel, even they, too, have ‘finders’. I think all of this unfortunately props up the myth of the record collector as some kind of modern day sage, which I don’t espouse, and takes us all away from the real focus, which is the music. Beyond developing a core body of arcane knowledge, I’m not sure if it takes any talent whatsoever to be a record collector—just a bank account, patience, and some competitive edge. It should just be fun.

Uncle Dave Macon video

September 19, 2014

View entire 58 minute video here.

Wolf, Johnson, and Rodgers

September 18, 2014

Tommy Johnson

from http://archives.nodepression.com:

In Peter Guralnick’s interview with Howlin’ Wolf in “Feel Like Going Home,” the blues colossus claims that the yodeling of Jimmie Rodgers was the source of his hair-raising wail.

Wolf surely heard the Singing Brakeman during the late ’20s when, as a teenager, he lived and worked on the Dockery plantation in northwestern Mississippi. Yet Wolf’s trademark howl also owes a debt to Tommy Johnson, a tremendously influential, if today relatively unsung, blues singer whose lilting 1928 recording of “Cool Drink Of Water Blues” provided the blueprint for Wolf’s 1956 Chess single, “I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)”, right down to its lupine moan. Play Johnson’s blues alongside Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” (a.k.a. “T For Texas”), and the similarities between the two records, released just months apart, render arguments about Wolf’s “real” source so much academic hairsplitting.

Their shared twelve-bar, AAB format (swap out lines from one record and see if they don’t fit perfectly into the other) is obvious enough. So is the way the two Mississippians draw on the same storehouse of verses and lyric fragments that virtually all of their blues and songster contemporaries did.

Not only that, but in something of a reversal of roles, “Blue Yodel” finds Rodgers playing an outlaw akin to Stackalee, an anti-hero more popular with black than white audiences, while in “Cool Drink”, Johnson adopts the persona of a freight-hopping rounder much like the one who frequents many of Rodgers’ train songs. What’s truly uncanny, though, is the resemblance between Johnson’s crying, field holler-inspired falsetto and Rodgers’ blue yodel, singular devices that each man tacked onto the end of vocal lines to heighten their emotional impact.

Of course Rodgers’ more measured diction, something of a cross between the parlor singing of Vernon Dalhart and the blackface minstrelsy of Emmett Miller, evinces fewer of the hallmarks of African-derived singing — the coarse, dirty timbres, say — employed by Johnson. Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” also sounds jauntier than the blues man’s heavier, more percussive “Cool Drink”, although Johnson’s music is quite lyrical, even country-sounding, compared to the brooding, declamatory style of his Delta counterparts.

Indeed, as accompanied by Ishman Bracey and Charlie McCoy on mandolin and guitar, Johnson’s music fairly resembles that of black string bands like the Mississippi Sheiks, who not only played hillbilly material at white dances, but recorded tunes based on those of the Singing Brakeman and other country and pop acts as well. In other words, despite their differences, “Blue Yodel” and “Cool Drink Of Water Blues” display an undeniable affinity, most notably between Rodgers’ and Johnson’s vocal contortions and melodicism — their manifest theatricality, too.

None of which should be surprising, given that Rodgers and Johnson grew up a few miles from one another in Central Mississippi, and were born just a year apart. Each almost certainly would have heard the other’s records, even if establishing direct influence at this point is impossible.

What we do know for sure is that, after 1928, the two singers’ careers diverged sharply. Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” sold more than a million copies, making him a celebrity and affording him the chance to leave behind a sizable body of work before his death from tuberculosis in 1934. Johnson, by contrast, worked just one more session, even though he was a star of the magnitude of his running buddies and fellow Delta heavy hitters Charley Patton and Son House. He continued to perform publicly for nearly three decades, until he died of complications related to chronic alcoholism in 1956.

Today, the legacies of Rodgers and Johnson are more discreet than ever, but oh for the chance to have tagged along with either of them, if only to learn what, if anything, they heard and stole from each other.


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