Ry Cooder: I took lessons from Mike Seeger when I was a kid — also from one of the other Ramblers, Tom Paley. The Ramblers used to play the Ash Grove all the time. I learned a lot of songs from those guys, sure did. I’ve known Pete Seeger a long time, too, because I used to see Pete Seeger everywhere.
I saw him when I was six, and then at folk festivals later on. It’d be just like you’d think. You’d go up to him and say, “Hi, Pete, how ya doin’?” And he would say, “Well, I’ll tell you something.” And off he’d go on a long speech.
Mike, Pete and I recorded Pete’s song, about a pig named J. Edgar at Pete’s house in Beacon. Pete doesn’t travel to LA — hell, he’s pushing 90. We had lunch, and Pete wanted to talk about how there are too many people in the human race and they’re pressing down on the earth and here’s how you measure that force, and I’m like, “Man, we have to record. You’re wearing me out. Let’s play this song, and then we can get back to this.”
Which he did when the tune was done. Pete didn’t understand it. He said, “What’s all this about J. Edgar?” “It’s a pig, Pete,” I said. “Well, I… I just don’t understand,” he said. So I wrote out the words for him on a piece of paper. Then he understood. “Oh, I see,” he said. “This is a joke, it’s a gag.” Very literal-minded cat.
SS: Recently you said that those old union songs meant a lot to the movement at the time, and they can mean a lot to us now.
RC: Well, songs empower people. Civil rights certainly needed music on the spot, like an injection. Pete Seeger’s theory is if you sing you become unified — within minutes. It’s an amazing phenomenon. So we’d better utilize it, because we need to do something to overcome this terrible isolation of people from one another today, and the misunderstanding and the ignorance.
from notes to “Ragtime 2: The Country” (Folkways RBF 18) by Samuel Charters:
Country ragtime in the 1920′s and 1930′s has some of the feel of an old farm house that was on the land for years, then was added-to and redone, until finally it wasn’t quite the old house any more – but it wasn’t quite a new house, either. It has some of the look of the old house and some of the look of the new house, and in some places it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
Ragtime seems to have been once a kind of style of playing that went on in the black slave cabins and the isolated country towns of the South. It had the melodic structure and the kind of harmonic patterns that characterized European dancing and march music, but it was different from it both in rhythm and scale.
Instead of the simple four beat or dotted accent of the European jigs and reels the ragtime melody was more subtly syncopated, perhaps as a reflection of some earlier time when African drums were still played surreptitiously along with the banjos and the violins.
The more complex, multi-layered, texture of African drumming could lead to a free-flowing sense of melody, which was more strictured in the European context. And some of the same scale patterns that characterize the blues also turn up in early ragtime – the ambiguous major-minor resolutions of James Scott’s rags, and the gapped scales in some of the strains of the early St. Louis rags.
“Lindy” played by the Proximity String Quartet (from “Ragtime 2: The Country”):
FRC700 – The Hellbenders $15 (available here):
The Hellbenders, Bruce Molsky and James Leva (fiddles), David Winston (banjo), Mary Winston (guitar) and Dave Grant (bass) made these recordings in Charlottesville, VA released on cassette in 1990 and digitally remixed and remastered by Al Tharp from his original recordings for this CD.
Dave Grant, who was the soul of the band, was killed in a work accident in 2002. He was an inspiration in music and in life. This album is dedicated with love and appreciation to Dave Grant.
The Hellbenders was a unique old-time musical feast. Inspired by players heard from all over Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and by the classic old recordings of southern mountain music, they went in the studio in 1989 and recorded a cassette, kind of a testament to the music scene and everything that was happening around them at that time. High energy, no holds barred string band music, fiddles blazing.
2. Train on the Island
4. Tight Old Sally Gal
5. Red Mountain Wine
6. Betty Baker
7. She Took it Off
8. Indian War Whoop
10. Baby Waltz
11. Poor Little Mary (Sittin’ in the Corner)
12. Bravest Cowboy
14. Woop Reprise
In later years when Gid had false teeth, he would take them out so he would look funny. The story goes that a lady walked up to him and after looking at his mouth shouted, “You haven’t got any teeth!” Gid replied, “No ma’am, I was born that way.”
Although Gid stopped recording, he remained active and attended fiddle competitions. As late as 1955 when he was 70 years old, Gid won the Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Atlanta. He died in 1960, just three weeks shy of his seventy-fifth birthday.
from notes to “The Six and Seven-Eight String Band of New Orleans” (Folkways 2671) by Samuel Charters:
Dr. Edmond Souchon, the guitarist, is a prominent New Orleans surgeon; the mandolin player, Bill Kleppinger, is customs inspector of the Port of New Orleans; the string bass man, “Red” Mackie, is head of a pine oil manufacturing firm; the steel guitarist, Bernie Shields, heads a department of a large ship- ping concern. Their music-making has been a hobby, pursued with all the devotion and consuming all the time that only very busy men can find for such things.
Undoubtedly, there were other groups of southern musicians who transposed their impressions of jazz and folk strains for performance in small string bands. Remnants of the tradition have been found in other areas (see “Music from the South,” Volume 5, Folkways FP 654), and the folksinger, Leadbelly, has said that he played with a small string band that roamed the streets of Dallas, in 1910. In this group, he played guitar, accordion, mandolin, mouth harp and string bass, – as required by changing personnel.
But the lives of all the early Negro string bands that roamed the South were short, and none of these bands, whose musicians underwent a variety of adventures, ever achieved any historical continuity.
This is a blank that has been filled in by the members of the Six and Seven-Eights group, whose more fortunate position has enabled them to stay with music over a longer period of time. How long the period has been can be imagined by Dr. Souchon’s recollections of some of the first guitar-mandolin music he knew, on hearing string duets in Volume 5 of “Music from the South:”
“… the mandolin-guitar duets brought back many fond memories, for I used to pay a Negro mandolin and guitar player 25¢ an hour to let me come over to his cabin, back of Pass Christian, and play along with him. He taught me much, and a great deal of his style was exactly as these two players on the record. “
Six and Seven-Eight String Band plays “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band One-Step”:
edited from “Stagolee Shot Billy,” by Cecil Brown (Harvard University Press):
There was indeed a real Stagolee, Lee Shelton, a thirty-one-year-old well-known figure in St. Louis’s red-light district during the 189os, a pimp who, when he shot and killed William Lyons, was the president of a “Colored Four Hundred Club,” a political and social organization.
Charles Haffer, of Coahama Counry Mississippi, recalled having first heard of a Stagolee ballad in 1895. As a ballad, Stagolee evolved from then to the 1970s, when it was appropriated by black revolutionaries like Bobby Seale, who used it as a symbol of the enduring black male struggle against white oppression and racism. Seale not only named his son Stagolee but used the narrative toast version as a recruiting device to get young black men into the Black Panther party.
The first Stagolee ballad ever collected consisted of eight stanzas sent to John Lomax in February 191o by Miss Ella Scott Fisher of San Angelo, Texas, with the following note:
“This is all the verses I remember. The origin of this ballad, I have been told, was the shooting of Billy Lyons in a barroom on the Memphis levee by Stack Lee. The song is sung by the Negroes on the levee while they are loading and unloading the river freighters, the words being composed by the singers. The characters were prominently known in Memphis, I was told, the unfortunate Stagalee belonging to the family of the owners of the Lee line of steamers, which are known on the Mississippi River from Cairo to the Gulf. I give all this to you as it was given to me.”
Maskanda is a subgenre of Zulu folk music, born in South Africa. Often played on acoustic guitars, there is a specific technique to playing Maskanda music. The guitarist uses his thumb and index finger independently of each other, the thumb playing double-time staccato bass runs, while the index finger picks a countermelody.
There is a very percussive quality to the guitar playing. Some Maskandi play with finger picks, to get a more percussive attack on the strings. Other common Maskanda instruments include violins, concertinas, mouth organs, and jaw harps. Male Maskandi traditionally play guitar, concertina, or violin, while women Maskandi more often play mouth organs or jaw harps.
The music has improvisational elements, allowing musicians to compose and compete with one another. And while the guitarist is considered the quintessential Maskandi musician, there are many virtuosic, well-respected Maskandi who play violin or concertina.
The tunings vary from guitarist to guitarist; many invent their own and become fiercely protective of them. There are some widely shared tunings. The most common drops the first treble E string down to D. One variation on this replaces the D fourth string with a nylon first string and tunes it in unison to the D first string. This is known as “double first” tuning, pronounced dabul fersi.
Harmonies based on a hexatonic scale rise out of the juxtaposition of triads a tone apart,the interwoven rhythmic pulse, and the inclusion of izibongo (praisepoetry)
In September 1926 Uncle Dave Macon, the first star of the Grand Ole Opry, recorded this folk blues, performing it as a solo banjo song. He made it his own by localizing it to the Nashville Arcade, a nearby mercantile center (still in use), and dedicating it to two of its current tenants: “Mr. Charlie Keys and Mr. Hyde . . . who will play you records on both sides!”
One of Uncle Dave’s sources for “Arcade Blues” may have been Leroy “Lasses”White, a black- face vaudevillian who by 1928 began performing on the Grand Ole Opry. Long before Uncle Dave recorded the song, however, White copyrighted its prototype in 1912. The following year White published “Nigger Blues” and by 1919 saw it is- sued on four recordings as well as four piano rolls.
The song continued to proliferate on race and hillbilly recordings, bearing such titles as Ida Cox’s 1924 “Blues Ain’t Nothin’ Else But!” followed by Georgia White’s 1938 remake. Its white vernacular music performances count Jess Young’s “Old Weary Blues” (1929), the Brock Sis- ters’“Broadway Blues” (1929), and Milton Brown’s “Texas Hambone Blues” (1936).
What musically distinguishes Uncle Dave’s version from these re- leases, as well as from the original sheet music, is his omission of the characteristic blue note. In ef- fect, Uncle Dave performed a blues in structure but not in sound.
In August 1979, I visited with members of Uncle Dave Macon’s family, calling on his sons Eston and Dorris, the family of his eldest son, Arch, grandson David Ramsey Macon, and great- grandson Dave Macon IV. During that trip, I also investigated the Nashville Arcade.This building, a handsome two-story shopping center of an earlier age, seemed as haunted then by lost souls and illicit trafficking as it did by the figures appearing in “Arcade Blues” from more than a half-century earlier.
The song’s juxtaposing currents—its blend of blues and pre-blues, its combination of urban and rural milieus, and its upbeat treatment of forbidden attraction, prostitution, and death—seemed all the more striking in conjunction with some of Uncle Dave’s letters I read at that time. Hand- written by the famous showman during his travels, they echoed the creative tension in “Arcade Blues”—words indicative of a complex personal alchemy. Almost always he signed them, “Your loving father, Uncle Dave Macon.”
Part 1 of 2 – Second part forthcoming. Sincere thanks to Matt Downer for sharing this interview, Dave Leddel and Itamar Silver for their help, Oscar Huff for getting there just in time, and Gid Tanner for his endless inspiration.
from The Southern Folklife Collection (UNC):
Gid Tanner, Anglo-American fiddle player, and member of the Skillet Lickers, a string band from north Georgia active in the 1920s and 1930s.
Oscar Huff’s 1959 recording of an interview with Gid Tanner (1885-1960), including a discussion about hunting and Tanner’s hunting dogs, his fiddles, and his early recording and musical experiences.
Henry — modern corporate man off some foreign boat,
Unable to handle his “psychosis” responsible for organizing the Intelligentsia,
Disarming the people, an infantile sensualist — white teeth, wide smile, lotza money, kowtow to fairy queen exploiters & corrupt religious establishments, career minded, limousine double parked, imposing his will & dishonest garbage in popular magazines.
He lays his head on a pillow of down & falls asleep.
He shoulda known better, he must’ve had a hearing problem.
Untitled fife tune played by Ed Young, cane fife; Bessie Jones and Georgia Sea Islanders, clapping:
from notes to “Old Mother Hippletoe: Rural and Urban Children’s Songs” (New World NW 291):
The late Ed Young was born in 1910 into a musical family. The whole family sang religious music together, and two maternal uncles were also banjo players. Though widespread and popular, the banjo was by no means the only musical instrument played in Ed Young’s home country, the Yazoo Delta of northwestern Mississippi. Fife and drum, originally instruments of martial music, were played in the Youngs’ community for dancing at picnics.
Of his first encounter with fife and drum at age eight or ten, Young recalled, “When that drum started playing, I didn’t know what to think of it…. I remember my mother holding me….I was just fixing to run.”
He and his brother Lonnie rapidly mastered the instruments and became favored performers at picnics. Other musicians “… didn’t want to see us around… drummers just fall out with us on that account…. …I was a pretty testible little fellow anyhow, and I liked to blow sort of fast pieces that people could get out there and clown some on…. I never tried to run no races or beat no one doing anything, but whatever I was going to do, I just loved to get out there and do whatever I can.”
Ed Young made his cane fife with six holes but played only five; the sixth improved the tone quality. He developed a unique style, playing some of the notes by either sliding his fingers on and off the holes or using his tongue to bend the notes and create a tremolo. “I always had a way of making [the sound] go this way this time, and the other way the next….I don’t care who’s playing fife, if I pick it up, everybody will tell you who got it.”
On this recording Bessie Jones backs up Ed Young with clapping. Clapping, stamping, and pounding a stick on a resonant floor constituted the basics of a polyrhythmic percussive accompaniment for songs on plantations, where slaves were not allowed to make and play drums . The slave owners feared the potential use of “talking drums” to send messages from plantation to plantation, so the percussion music of Africa was adapted to the mediums at hand – proof that you can deny a people their musical instruments, but you cannot take away their music making.
edited from liner notes to “Kulanjan”(Hannibal CD 1444) by Lucy Duran and Taj Mahal:
When he was 19, and she was 67, Taj Mahal learned this old banjo dance tune (“Georgie Buck”) from Elizabeth Cotten. During the recording of the CD “Kulanjan” he played it to the Malian musicians who were recording with him, then put down his guitar, and they started to play their own version based around the 6-string hunter’s harp [kamalengoni, see above].
This may be as close as one gets to how the blues once sounded–long before even the wax-cylinder recordings at the turn of the century–but it’s also unquestionable contemporary. As Taj declared after the last notes of “Ol’ Georgie Buck” faded, “That’s five centuries there, the music just went around in a big ring.”
“To complete a cycle, to return to the intact original, to have been visited by very powerful visions of ancestors and their music, to realize the dream my father and mother had along with many other generations of Africans who now live outside of the continent of Africa.”
Taj Mahal, Ballake Sissoko, Dougouye Koulibaly, and Bassekou Kouyate play “Ol’ Georgie Buck”:
Born in New York City in 1951 and raised in New Jersey, Bruce Greene would seem an unlikely person to become one of the finest old time southern Appalachian fiddlers of his generation. As did many of his peers, he began to learn folk music as a teenager during the folk revival of the fifties and sixties, mastering the guitar and banjo. His interest drifted into the fiddle music he began to hear, and by the time he was twenty years old, he was “hooked” thoroughly enough to move to Kentucky in search of the source of the music he had come to love and identify with.
Bruce attended Western Kentucky University, intending to become a folklorist, but his interest in fiddling was stronger than his scholarly ambitions, and he soon made the transition from learning about traditional fiddling to learning fiddle music in a traditional way. His travels around Kentucky led him to a number of old time fiddlers, and the next several years were taken up with informal apprenticeships with these old timers. In the process of learning from them, Bruce also recorded a great deal of their music, preserving a rich, often previously unknown part of our pioneer musical heritage.
One of Bruce’s greatest discoveries was the family of John Salyer of Magoffin County, Kentucky. Salyer was a true giant of a fiddler whose distrust of the commercial music industry had kept his music a secret from the outside world. However, the Salyers had home recordings of their father, which they let Bruce listen to and learn from. For a number of years, the old time music revival community was treated to these tunes through Bruce’s playing without ever getting to hear the true source. But Bruce’s long term friendship with the family has recently paid off for the rest of us, since the family gave permission to the Appalachian Center of Berea College to issue a cassette album of John Salyer himself. The music of the Salyer Family has been Bruce’s greatest inspiration over the years.
This CD is a selection of fiddle tunes, most of which come from fiddlers who were born in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds in Kentucky and Western North Carolina. We have been stubbornly carrying them on for the better part of a lifetime in our rural communities, where we have had the pleasure of playing at local dances, weddings, funerals, birthdays, potlucks, ramp festivals, and sorghum makings – all the places where homemade music has long been a part of everyday life. It is a joy and a privilege to be part of the mule-paced and timeless graciousness of this living memory and to carry it into the twenty-first century.
Tune list Boogerman - Old Red Rooster – Nancy Dalton – Pretty Little Widow – Roosian Rabbit – Grey Squirrel Eating Up the New Ground Corn – Twine Mid the Ringlets - Little Boy Working on the Road – Ten Steps – Stranger on a Mule – Christmas Eve – Little Lizee Anne – Laurel Lonesome - John Henry – Hog Eyed Man – Frolic of the Frogs – Sleeping on a Corn Cob Bed – Run Johnny Run – Come Along Terrapin – Three Forks of the Cumberland - The Old Folks Played and the Young People Danced - Say Old Man I Want Your Daughter – Betty Baker - John Salyer’s Shady Grove – Shady Lane – Lee Sexton’s Shady Grove – Old Aunt Jenny with Her Night Cap On – McKinley Waltz – Old Beech Leaves – Hello John D – Old Tobacco Hills
edited from “Charley Patton: Folksinger,” by Elijah Wald
Patton’s way with pre-blues, “songster” material is even more interesting, and it is not a stretch to say that, had things worked out differently, he could have appealed to the same audience that made Leadbelly a folk icon. Admittedly, his recordings do not include a “Goodnight Irene” or “Midnight Special,” but it is worth remembering that Leadbelly only learned the latter song after being taken up by John Lomax as a folksong demonstrator.
We have no idea how much more “folk” material Patton might have known, or how he might have adapted his formidable skills to suit a Greenwich Village audience. He was a notably versatile performer and musician and, unlike virtually any major blues singer besides Leadbelly, he was given to composing lengthy ballads about current events in his world, just the sort of thing the New York crowd would have prized and encouraged.
Patton’s masterpiece is “Down the Dirt Road,” which for sheer rhythmic complexity is the most striking performance in the whole of blues. At times, Patton seems to be singing one rhythm, tapping another on the top his guitar, and playing a third on the strings, all without the slightest sense of effort. This is the work that distinguishes him from his peers, and that sets his circle of Mississippians aside from all the other players in the early blues pantheon. While no other player equalled his abilities, Mississippi consistently produced the most rhythmically sophisticated players in early blues. Perhaps this was due to the regional survival of African tradition exemplified by the “fife and drum” bands of the hill country to the Delta’s east, perhaps to the proximity of New Orleans and the Caribbean, perhaps in a large degree to the influence of Patton himself.
His rhythms are a world–or at least a continent–away from the straight-ahead, 4/4 sound that defines virtually all modern blues. That is why so few contemporary players can capture anything of his greatness. There is the tendency to play his tunes for driving power, missing the ease, the relaxed subtlety that underly all of his work. It is a control born of playing this music in eight or ten-hour sessions, week after week and year after year, for an audience of extremely demanding dancers, and of remembering centuries of previous dance rhythms–not only the complex polyrhythms of West Africa, but also slow drags, cakewalks, hoedowns, and waltzes.
In 1752 England adopted the Gregorian calendar to replace the inaccurate Julian. The result was a loss of 12 days; September 2 was followed by September 14 and Christmas day moved from January 6 to December 25. It must have taken some time for the change to filter over to the American colonies and then to gradually penetrate the frontier. But eventually, as people began adopting the new calendar changes, the former celebration day was called Old Christmas Morning to reference what used to be.
Old Christmas refers to the celebration of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, on January 6, and was the date some old-time Appalachian communities celebrated Christmas (surviving into the latter half of the 20th century in isolated parts of eastern Kentucky) by lighting bonfires at night with much gunplay and fireworks. The custom was inported from North Britain, where the revelry of “Old Christmas” reached its climax in a rough and sometimes violent practice called “stanging,” in which a person was hoisted on a long pole and made to dangle in the air until he bought himself free.
Uncle Bud Landress and the boys perform “Christmas Time at Moonshine Hollow”:
Thanks to Lane Ryan for sharing this recording with oldtimeparty: Fred Cockerham (fiddle) and Kyle Creed (banjo) play “Sally Ann” at Brandywine (1974) :
by Ray Alden (www.fieldrecorder.com):
Fred Cockerham, one of the seven children of Elias and Betty Jane Cockerham, was born on November 3, 1905. He was the only one from the Round Peak community to attempt the difficult life of a professional rural musician. The way that Fred began playing the fiddle is similar to the way many country musicians began. Basically, this story can be heard on FRC101, but here the story is amplified somewhat so as to compliment the spoken word. Fred remembered this story from the time he was 8 years old:
“My older brother Pate fiddled, but not too well. Just about every time he’d set down to play he’d get disgusted before long and throw the fiddle on the bed and walk out. Well, I thought to myself, I’m going to learn to play that, but he was high tempered and didn’t want me messin’ with it. So I’d sneak his fiddle over into the hog range and go over the bank into the hollow and saw the hell out of it. I didn’t worry cause I knew he couldn’t catch me when I was barefoot like I was when I was caring for the hogs, back then I could outrun a haint.
Before very long I got so I could play a few tunes pretty well, and I just couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. So I asked my mother if she’d like to hear a tune and played “Sally Ann” for her. Now that tickled her the best of anything you ever saw, and that evening when Pate threw the fiddle down as usual, she said to him, “Sit down and let your brother play a tune.” He never touched the fiddle again and I just kept right on playing it.” (more…)
[see the website above for info on a documentary about "Westphalia Waltz"]
The melody of the Westphalia Waltz derives from a Polish song known by several titles — “Pytala Sie Pani,” “Wszystkie Rybki,” and others. Citing references from Poland’s National Library in Warsaw and the Polish Museum of America in Chicago, the film shows the presence of the song in Poland and the United States in the early twentieth century. It includes interviews with descendents of the Polish immigrants who worked the mills in Massachusetts and the coal mines in the Alleghenies. The grandson of the lead trumpet player from Victor’s 1930 recording recalls his grandfather’s musical and professional life. The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner relates his father’s insistence that he learn music as a way out of their coal town.
From the mills of New England and the coal mines of Pennsylvania, to the farms of Wisconsin and the boisterous taverns of Chicago, “Pytala Sie Pani” was a unifying and bawdy favorite that the overworked, underpaid, ostracized and homesick Polish-Americans sang to forget the Great Depression. Victor (1930) and Columbia (1937) both recorded it. Publishers in Chicago (Sajewski) and Philadelphia (Podgorski) sold the sheet music. Steve Okonski, a fiddler from Bremond, Texas’s largest Polish settlement, brought the tune from Chicago to Bremond in the late 1930′s. But in Westphalia, just 35 miles west of Bremond, the locals gave it a different name.
Cotton Collins, a gifted Texas fiddler, recorded the piece in 1946 with the Waco-area band the Lone Star Playboys. Collins had re-interpreted the piece as a Texas fiddle waltz and named it after the small Texas village of Westphalia, just 34 miles south of Waco. After Collins registered the copyright in 1947, the tune gained great popularity in the country music arena. The Lone Star Playboys performed it frequently at gigs and on their daily radio show, broadcast at lunchtime on WACO in Waco. “Westphalia Waltz” was recorded by a long string of artists, notably Floyd Tillman (in 1947, on Columbia) and then Hank Thompson in 1955, on Capitol Records. Thompson’s well-produced recording, with Capitol’s national promotion and distribution, elevated the “Westphalia Waltz” to national exposure, where it enchanted fiddlers and listeners alike.
edited from “Colinda: Mysterious Origins of a Cajun Folksong,” by Shane Bernard and Julia Frederick (Journal of Folklore Research 29, 1992):
The Calinda dance survives in several Caribbean locations, including Haiti, Bequia, Carriacou, and Trinidad. The main characteristic of the Calinda, according to Mina Monroe (in “Bayou Ballads,” 1921) is stick-fighting, which corresponds to present-day descriptions of the dance in Trinidad. In 1760, in a study of the French colonies in the Americas, Thomas Jefferys called it “a sport brought from the coast of Guinea, and attended with gestures which are not entirely consistent with modesty, whence it is forbidden by the public laws of the islands.”
The Provencal troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras composed a mildly erotic medieval dance song entitled “Calenda Maya” about 1200 A.D. Romanian rustic Christmas carols, called Colinda, descended from the ancient Roman New Year festival called the Calendae, which persisted in Eastern Europe several centuries after the downfall of Rome.
All these folk traditions are associated with themes of fertility and regeneration.
Harold Courlander suggests that the Calinda could be “an African dance with an African name, or a European dance taken over in part and adapted by the slaves, or a European name attached to a number of dances traditional among slaves.”
Speculation aside, the Calinda originated in Guinea prior to the late-seventeenth century. It traveled to the New World on slave ships and arrived as several dances or as a single dance that evolved into many related dances in the Caribbean and Louisiana.
Plank Road Stringband plays “Going Down the River”:
edited from Odell McGuire (www.fieldrecorder.com):
’73 was the first summer of “The (Mongrel) Horde” as they called themselves. Musicians and their supernumeraries rented three large farm houses in various parts of the [Rockbridge] county. We traveled to festivals most every weekend and we entered three or even four bands with various personnel groupings and various names. For example, an all girl outfit, including Liz Shields and Becky Williams called themselves “The Leather Bitches.” Dave Winston and Brad Leftwich stayed in one of these houses near Fairfield until Al Tharp invited them to move into his little place on Plank Road. They did so, and the idea of a band called “Plank Road” probably dates from that time. Also, as many readers will be aware, Uncle Dave Macon once recorded a tune called “Way Down on the Old Plank Road.”
Almost from the start, they were joined by cello picker Mike Kott, who had never played with some members of the band before. Al Tharp tells that story on the back cover of the FRC Plank Road CD. I’d met Michael James the previous August at Galax. One night I crashed in a stall with Dave Winston. Early next morning I was awakened by horrible loud sounds from out-of-tune guitar and cello. My first thought was that we had died and gone to Hell and this was retribution for all those bad notes we hit on our banjers. I said as much to Dave. He said: “No! It’s only Michael James Kott.” We emerged from the stall. The guitarist was a rocker who called himself Johnny Bee. Michael James grinned and said: “I knew if we played the right tune it’d get y’ns up!” And we tuned properly up for a jam.
Plank Road quickly made a name for themselves on the road but it wasn’t til June of ’76, that they taped a cassette intended for public release. They used a very small studio at W&L University. There was no air conditioning and no windows and it was very hot and stuffy. Dave Winston engineered according to Al’s instructions. Michael James [Kott] was stripped to the skin playing his cello. The rest wore sweat drenched underwear. Some tunes were added in December in a more comfortable venue, and a few of those recorded in June were dropped. The product was released in April ’77 by Rounder. A second recording, “Plank Road 2″, same band, different tunes, was made in Doug Dorschug’s studio in August ’77 when we were all up to a Highwoods party. It was later released by Appalshop, I think. Also Plank Road , at some point during ’76-’77 played a gig in the White House.
Steve Gendron, Andy Williams, Brad Leftwich, Michael Kott, Al Tharp
Some of you may have met a couple of these fellers at the HS Frolic in July. They’ve got a new band and CD. For all lovers of music from the 78 rpm era, this band is for you. Check out the recording below.
The Down Hill Strugglers’ new album “Home Recordings: Volume 1″ was recorded around a single microphone over the course of 2 days while we were staying in a house on the former site of Sodom, KY. At present it is only available for purchase at our live shows.
The Down Hill Strugglers play “Goodbye My Honey I’m Gone”:
According to linguist Geoffrey D. Kimball, the lyrics of the song are derived in part from Mobilian Jargon, an extinct Native American trade language consisting mostly of Choctaw and Chickasaw words and once used by Southeastern Indians, African Americans, and European settlers and their descendants in the Gulf Coast Region. In Mobilian Jargon, čokəma fehna (interpreted as “jockomo feeno”) was a commonly used phrase, meaning “very good.”
Louisiana creole lingua specialists believe now that the words originated as:
Akout, Akout an deye
Chaque amoor fi nou wa na né
Chaque amoor fi na né
In English, this equates to:
Hey now! Hey now!
Listen, listen at the back
All the love made our king be born
All the love made it happen.
In a 2009 Offbeat article, however, the Ghanaian social linguist Dr. Evershed Amuzu said the chorus was “definitely West African,” reflecting West African tonal patterns. The article also notes that the phrase ayeko—often doubled as ayeko, ayeko—is a popular chant meaning “well done, or congratulations” among the Akan and Ewe people in modern-day Togo, Ghana, and Benin.
Both groups were heavily traded during the slave trade, often to Haiti, which served as a way station for Louisiana. (Ewes in particular are credited with bringing West African cultural influences like Voudou rites from West Africa to Haiti and on to New Orleans.)
On December 8, 1859, Brown was buried near his small cabin at North Elba, New York, following his one-week journey from the gallows at Harper’s Ferry. Blacks and whites, men and women, came together in the Adirondacks to remember and mourn those executed for the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Yet we rarely associate John Brown and the other conspirators in the raid with the hills and valleys of his upstate New York farm.
The lands near North Elba deserve space alongside the other frames of John Brown’s life–Harper’s Ferry and Bloody Kansas. On December 8, 1859, Brown’s body returned for the last time to a farm he had purchased in 1849.
Though the majority of Americans remain unfamiliar with this story, Brown had purchased the property with the explicit intention of living with and among freed African Americans, whom he hoped he could help in farming and living sustainably on the land.
The Adirondack lands were made available through the efforts of wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith, who hoped to distribute his lands to freed people. Brown believed that living in an interracial society was the most important step in overturning slavery.
John Brown’s memory is still alive in the hills and valleys of upstate New York.
Listen to this tribute to John Brown played by Jeb Puryear, of Trumansburg, NY : “John Brown’s Dream”
The following statement was made to me in person in the summer of 1918 by Mr. James Knox Smith, a Negro lawyer of Keystone, McDowell County, who was present at the trial and also at the execution of John Hardy:—
“Hardy worked for the Shawnee Coal Company, and one pay-day night he killed a man in a crap game over a dispute of twenty-five cents. Before the game began, he laid his pistol on the table, saying to it, ‘Now I want you to lay here; and the first nigger that steals money from me, I mean to kill him.’ About midnight he began to lose, and claimed that one of the Negroes had taken twenty-five cents of his money. The man denied the charge, but gave him the amount; whereupon he said, ‘Don’t you know that I won’t lie to my gun?’ Thereupon he seized his pistol and shot the man dead.
“After the crime he hid around the Negro shanties and in the mountains a few days, until John Effler (the sheriff) and John Campbell (a deputy) caught him. Some of the Negroes told them where Hardy was, and, slipping into the shanty where he was asleep, they first took his shotgun and pistol, then they wakcd him up and put the cuffs on him. Effler handcuffed Hardy to himself, and took the train at Eckman for Welch. Just as the train aas passing through a tunnel, and Effler was taking his prisoner from one car to another, Hardy jumped, and took Effler with him. He tried to get hold of Effler’s pistol; and the sheriff struck him over the head with it, and almost killed him. Then he unhandcuffed himself from Hardy, tied him securely with ropes, took him to Welch, and put him in jail.
“While in jail after his conviction, he could look out and see the men building his scaffold; and he walked up and down his cell, telling the rest of the prisoners that he would never be hung on that scaffold. Judge H. H. Christian, who had defended Hardy, heard of this, visited him in jail, advised him not to kill himself or compel the officers to kill him, but to prepare to die. Hardy began to sing and pray, and finally sent for the Reverend Lex Evans, a white Baptist preacher, told him he had made his peace with God, and asked to be baptized. Evans said he would as soon baptize him as he would a white man. Then they let him put on a new suit of clothes, the guards led him down to the Tug River, and Evans baptized him. On the scaffold he begged the sheriff’s pardon for the way he had treated him, said that he had intended to fight to the death and not be hung, but that after he got religion he did not feel like fighting. He confessed that he had done wrong, killed a man under the influence of whiskey, and advised all young men to avoid gambling and drink. A great throng witnessed the hanging.
“Hardy was black as a crow, over six feet tall, weighed about two hundred pounds, raw-boned, and had unusually long arms. He came originally from down eastern Virginia, and had no family. He had formerly been a steel-driver, and was about forty years old, or more.”
The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. Recordings in the Jukebox were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.
At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others. Here are just a few of the categories of recordings available:
Excerpt from John Storm Roberts’ notes to “Under the Coconut Tree - Music from Grand Cayman and Tortola,” (Original Music, 1982)
“Though recent music from both islands is heavy in calypsos… the traditional styles of both Grand Cayman and Tortola are fairly unusual in that they contain many purely British survivals and no purely African ones… In the case of Grand Cayman, this is presumably explained by the fact that there were no plantations on the island and only a fairly small number of domestic slaves, so that the percentage of people of African descent was relatively low.
The very strong British strain in Tortolan music is more baffling. Not only did the island have sugar plantations, and therefore a high African population, but a kind of ex-slaves’ revolt shortly after Emancipation caused virtually all the British settlers to leave. For almost 100 years, Tortola remained a de facto independent black state, British in theory but hardly at all in practice. Yet we found far more British survivals in Tortola than in Grand Cayman.”
“The Butcher Boy,” sung by Melcena Smith And Elias Fazer (from Tortola):
For me, the recordings presented here fall into two groups. The first half of the recordings, from South and Central America and Mexico, are of folk making music. The second half of the recordings, from the rest of North America, are of people playing folk music.
The first track, from Bolivia, is a solo of short phrases, each culminating in a wonderful single string vibrato of pure rippling sound. Then a band from Columbia is driven by drums and pushed along by horns, while the fiddle has the melody. From Peru, part of a long and complex annual fertility ceremony, where women’s voices and the fiddle alternate, interspersed with animal horns; you can feel the intensity of the participants, who are totally absorbed in their task. The seke-seke from the rain forests of Venezuela provides some lively dance music, and the 3-string rabel from NE Argentina is accompanied by the local 5-string guittarra (sound clip).
A remarkably complex sound from Equador is provided by the 2-string kitiar, the melody inextricably interwoven with the vocal of a song of short phrases, in triple meter but with a strong beat, and with a simultaneous drone providing a shimmering undulation (sound clip). The small tribes of Mayan descent in present-day Guatemala are represented by two contrasting tracks of Fiesta music, of violin with harp, and violin with guitar. The latter tune has a complex rhythm, on the surface in triple time, but broken into two followed by four beats – is there such a signature as 3/6? Mexico gets 5 tracks, all of very different character. The first, apparently with Mayan influence, is again in the complex 3/6 or perhaps even 6/12 meter, with short, staccato notes on the home-made violin, accompanied by bombo and tarola drums (wonderfully onomatopoeic names). (more…)
excerpt from John Cohen’s notes to “The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett” (Field Recorder’s Collective FRC304 )
Bill Cornett was born in East Kentucky in 1890. He started playing banjo at age eight. His musical flair, he reported, was inherited from his mother who sang ballads to him. He operated a country store two miles outside of Hindman. It is said that he’d rather sit and pick his banjo than wait on customers. In 1956 he was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature, representing Knot and Magoffin counties. A Democrat, he picked and sang his way to his first term. “You know how I win? I get the young folks with my music and the old-folks by fighting for old age benefits.
He was proud of his composition “the Old Age Pension Blues” which he sang on the floor of the Legislature. While serving in the House of Representatives in Frankfort, at age 69 he died of a heart attack while picking his banjo to entertain the customers at a downtown restaurant. The following day, his banjo was banked with flowers at his desk in the House chamber at the Capitol.
I first met him in 1959 at his home near Hindman,. Some officials from the United Mine Workers had brought me to his house to hear his music. I was in Kentucky to document local music and Bill was the first person I recorded. Although he was reticent about performing for my tape recorder, he respected the UMW men’s request and for about an hour, Bill played and sang a bunch of songs which I recorded and eventually issued on Folkways “Mountain Music of Kentucky”.
He would often announce during the song, that he was the performer and the composer of the music. He claimed that some of his original songs had been taken from him and plagiarized. He was wary of folksong collectors. He also told me that he had already recorded his best material – it was inside on his tape recorder.
Banjo Bill Cornett died before “Mountain Music of Kentucky” came out, and for many years I asked his family if I might hear Bill’s own recordings. I tried several times during the first ten years, and then gave up. In 1995 I visited the Hindman Settlement School, and asked about memories of Bill Cornett.
In 2002, forty three years after my initial recordings I heard from Bill’s son Brode Cornett who told me that he had listened to the tapes, and heard his father’s voice say that he wanted his music to be heard. The original quarter inch tapes had been destroyed, but eventually Brode sent me his own cassette copies of the tapes. That is how these recordings came to light, so many years after they were recorded.
Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now,
drove me down the line
Backwater done rose at Sumner,
drove poor Charley down the line
Lord, I’ll tell the world the water,
done crept through this town
Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed
Lord, the whole round country,
man, is overflowed
You know I can’t stay here,
I’ll go where it’s high, boy
I would go to the hilly country,
but, they got me barred
Now, look-a here now at Leland
river was risin’ high
Look-a here boys around Leland tell me,
river was raisin’ high
Boy, it’s risin’ over there, yeah
I’m gonna move to Greenville
fore I leave, goodbye
Look-a here the water now, Lordy,
Levee broke, rose most everywhere
The water at Greenville and Leland,
Lord, it done rose everywhere
Boy, you can’t never stay here
I would go down to Rosedale
but, they tell me there’s water there
Now, the water now, mama,
done took Charley’s town
Well, they tell me the water,
done took Charley’s town
Boy, I’m goin’ to Vicksburg
Well, I’m goin’ to Vicksburg,
for that high of mine
I am goin’ up that water,
where lands don’t never flow
Well, I’m goin’ over the hill where,
water, oh don’t ever flow
Boy, hit Sharkey County and everything was down in Stovall
But, that whole county was leavin’,
over that Tallahatchie shore Boy,
went to Tallahatchie and got it over there
Lord, the water done rushed all over,
down old Jackson road
Lord, the water done raised,
over the Jackson road
Boy, it starched my clothes
I’m goin’ back to the hilly country,
won’t be worried no more
Charley Patton sings “High Water Everywhere, pt. 1″:
“People get into this stuff in different ways. Some people get really attracted by the ancientness and the history of it, and all the stuff that goes along with that. I was really fascinated by the rhythm. I had always been fascinated by drumming and rhythm, but just happened to play the violin. I was never a reproductionist. I really liked the tunes, I really liked the rhythmic thing, and I always just did it pretty much how it came out. I figured the integrity to it was to try and get it to sound like fiddling and not like violin playing, and I was really interested in the southern repertoire.
I like to think of it as the whole thing being a rhythm bed, and the fiddle is in there with everything else. I think that what we all see in it and what we’re all trying to communicate is something that makes you feel and enjoy rhythm, and that has a lot of float and a lot of interesting things poking out of it, but doesn’t have any one thing that’s driving it. And melody is not the main thing for us, and harmony certainly isn’t the main thing for us, although how the chords work is very important to us.
People who grew up with it and learned it from their ancestors, that was the natural thing for them to do. And what we ended up doing and have continued to do, if you put together all the pieces, is just exactly right and the natural thing for us to have done. I think a lot of people have thought we were disrespecting the music and trying to do all these oddball things. Not really.”
Terry Zwigoff, the director of “Louie Bluie” (about fiddler Howard Armstrong), recounts a chance meeting between Armstrong and Wllie Sievers of the Tennessee Ramblers (edited from http://www.fretboardjournal.com):
My original intention was to write an article about Louie Bluie and “State Street Rag” for an English magazine called Old Time Music. It was just a little thin publication, maybe 500 people subscribed to it. It had photographs of rare record labels, photographs of musicians from the ‘20s, discographies and a little bit of whatever info or stories they could find out about their lives.
I set out to do that with Louie Bluie and I assumed the guy who was using the pseudonym “Louie Bluie” was long dead since this record was recorded half a century before. But when I tracked him down still alive, living in Detroit, I was rather amazed. It turned out his real name was Howard Armstrong and he was originally a member of a great band called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops in the 1920s. I went out there to meet him and sat down with a tape recorder. He told me to bring along fifty bucks to pay for his time, and I recorded an oral history over three days. After hanging out with him I thought he’d be a great subject for a documentary.
We went down to La Follete, Tennessee, where Howard was born. He was thinking, “Ah, there’s probably a lot of old friends of mine still alive, and relatives that are really good musicians. Let’s go back there and film them.” And, of course, we get there and everybody’s dead or moved away, and there’s nothing to film. And I’m like, “Oh, Jesus, what are we going to do now?”
So, we’re sort of aimlessly driving around trying to figure out what to film, and there’s a nearby town called Clinton, Tennessee, I think it’s about eight miles away from La Follette. It’s just a little town with a little main street. We’re going through there looking for something to eat for lunch, and we see a banner that says “Music at the Big Barn every Saturday. Bring your fiddle.” I said, “Oh, let’s go over there.”
I go inside and this woman comes up to me, looks vaguely familiar, and welcomes me. She says, “Hi, my name is Willie. What’s your name?” And I tell my name is Terry and I’m from California. And she says, “Oh, what are you doing here?” I start to explain to her, and about that time I realize she looked really familiar. And I flash back to this cover of an old issue of Old Time Music, the magazine I was going to write the Louie Bluie article for. But I remembered it because it had her photo on the cover when she was 18-years-old, holding a really rare Gibson guitar!
It was a striking photo, not only for the fact that she’s holding this guitar, but because she’s strikingly beautiful, which is something you rarely see in old-time musicians. I, of course, was very interested in the story, which had other pictures of her, including one from just a few years before when she was in her 60s.
So it all came back to me, and I said, “Are you Willie Sievers from the Tennessee Ramblers?” And about that time Howard Armstrong sticks his head in the door and she spots him from across the room, gets all excited and yells for her brother who played banjo on her family band’s records. She knew exactly who he was, and the last time they had seen him was 50 years before that, at the one time their paths had ever crossed, in Knoxville at the St. James Hotel recording session for Vocalion Brunswick. Both their family bands recorded like two tunes on the same day.
Back then, the Sievers were very knocked-out by Armstrong’s fiddle playing. Armstrong and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops did a tune called “Vine Street Drag” and he’s just unbelievable. And even though in the film I capture him at age 76, trying to play the same tune he’s not quite all there, it’s still like 10 percent of his former talent, but that talent is up there with somebody like Michelangelo. So it’s still pretty prominent, it’s still pretty important.
“Vine Street Drag,” played by the Tennessee Chocolate Drops (Howard Armstrong-fiddle):
By the early 1930s, the Gennett Records division of the Starr Piano Company was barely clinging to life. In the late 1920s Gennett had stayed afloat in part by pressing records for Sears and recording on commission for Paramount, Q-R-S, and other labels. By 1930 those deals were no more. At the end of that year the Gennett label was discontinued, leaving Starr with just the cheap Champion and Superior lines.
Sales of those labels dropped disastrously as the Depression deepened. The extent of the damage is clear in the early 1930s royalty statement sheets, many of which have survived.
Luke Decker provides as good an example as any. Lonesome Luke & his Farm Boys recorded four titles at the Richmond Indiana studio on February 12, 1931. All were issued concurrently on Champion and Superior (the latter under the pseudonym of “Tommy Gordon & his Corn Huskers”).
The royalty sheets tell a sad tale. For the twelve-month period ending September 1932, these record sold a total of 668 copies, and Decker earned a total royalty of $2.26. Amazingly, that was far better than many of the 1930s Champions and Superiors; sales of some of the last Champion issues never broke out of the two-digit range.
$0.30 royalty was earned for “Wild Hog in the Woods,” surely one of the greatest recordings from the era of the classic string bands.
Lonesome Luke and His Farm Boys play “Wild Hog in the Woods”:
“Blacks, Whites, and Blues,” by Tony Russell (Stein and Day, 1970)
The man whose efforts crystallized the blue yodel, and the white blues form, and ensured its future in country music was Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi in 1897, the son of an M&O gang foreman. Rodgers’ musical environment has often been described; how he fetched water for the black gandy dancers in the Meridian yards; how he heard their songs and slang, and was taught the banjo by them. Rodgers’ career on the tracks was curtailed by tuberculosis in 1925, and he took up, full time, the musical life which he had for some years enjoyed as an amateur.
The blue yodels were a foundation upon which countless white country singers built. David Evans has suggested, very reasonably, that the blue yodel synthesized Swiss (yodelling) and African (falsetto) traditions; the falsetto “leap” was established among blacks since the days of the field holler — consider Vera Hall’s “Wild Ox Moan” — and (Jimmy) Rodgers, hearing it, thought it analogous to the yodel and inserted both into his blues.
“The identifying characteristics of the ‘blue yodel,’” John Greenway has written,” are (1) the slight situational pattern, that of a ’rounder’ boasting of his prowess as a lover, but ever in fear of the ‘creeper,’ evidence of whose presence he reacts to either with threats against the sinning parties or with the declaration that he can get another woman easily enough; and (2) the prosodic pattern, the articulation of Negro maverick stanzas dealing with violence and promiscuity, often with double meaning, and followed by a yodel refrain.”
Jimmy Rodgers sings “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel,” recorded May 18, 1933, NYC:
Before old time music festivals there were camp meetings.
“During the Second Great Awakening, people from all sorts of backgrounds—Irish, Native American, African—met and had these experiences in the wilderness with a new kind of American music,” Tim Eriksen recounts. “The camp meeting songs are the hidden grandparents of just about everything we listen to right now.” Eriksen evokes and tweaks that sound on tracks like “The Golden Harp,” (listen below) an early shape-note hymn with a beat that reminded Eriksen of the pounding pulse of good banjo tunes.
In these Great Awakening revivalist services music played a significant role. Black and white music found a common ground in these services, especially in the outdoor camp meetings which functioned as religious, social, and recreational gatherings. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a revival with crowds of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with these events. Sound familiar?
Camp meetings lasted up to five days and lasted through the day and night. Whites, blacks, men, women, and persons of all denominations took turns exhorting would-be converts. Attendees anticipated and had emotional experiences, with crying, trances, and exaltation. Camp meetings induced sensational results: some observers described participants laughing out loud, barking like dogs, falling down as if dead, and experiencing “the jerks.” (Similar phenomena have been reported at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, W. VA, particularly “falling down as if dead.”)
Written as a “two-step, polka or cakewalk” it is in reality a perfect characteristic cakewalk. Kerry Mills, born in Philadelphia in 1869, was perhaps the most popular composer of popular American music in his lifetime, stated: “This march was not intended to be a part of the religious exercise, but when the young folks got together they felt as if they needed some amusement. A cakewalk was suggested and held in a quiet place – hence this music.”
Mills’ career reflected the changing trends in American popular music in 1897 to 1915. He was a skillful and prolific composer, capable of writing in any popular idiom. His most lasting composition might be “Red Wing.” [He also composed "Whistling Rufus."] Mills’ compositions were the antecedent of classic ragtime and they indicate a bridge between the old two-step danced to Sousa’s “Washington Post March and Two Step” and the emerging styles of black-derived dance called the cakewalk.
In Mills’ music, unlike the grotesque ‘coon’ songs of the era, the African-American is a medicum of dignity and individuality. Mills’ sheet music covers are carefully conceived, executed and designed to emphasize the title without resorting to a complex apparatus of symbolism. “Georgia Camp Meeting” in its time was the biggest of hits and is based on the Civil War tune “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight.” In “Georgia” one can see the influence of the cakewalk ancestor – the march, and it is band music, not written for the keyboard idiom.
“At A Georgia Camp Meeting,” played by The Leake County Revelers.
The Red Fox Chasers began when a bunch of mountain boys from the north-west corner of North Carolina met at the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention in 1928. Fiddler Guy Brooks, banjo picker Paul Miles, guitarist AP Thompson and harmonica player Bob Cranford quickly developed into a solid unit with a wide repertoire of songs and tunes and one big burning ambition – to make records.
Paul Miles fired off letters to Columbia and Victor etc with no luck until Gennett came back with an offer and the boys scooted up to Richmond, Virginia to record a total of 32 sides over three sessions during the next couple of years. Those sides are on this 2CD set alongside 10 songs recorded in 1931 by Cranford and Thompson after the Red Fox Chasers disbanded. The records sold well on Gennett and on their budget labels Champion, Supertone and Conqueror where they were, for some unknown reason, released under pseudonyms such as The Virginia Possum Tamers and The Boone County Entertainers.
This music is classic old-time mountain stuff – minstrel tunes, murder ballads, folk songs, breakdowns, tin pan alley tunes, reels, country gospel and current ‘hits’ learned from the Carter Family, Charlie Poole and the Carolina Tarheels. The band was particularly adept at re-jigging old numbers like Omie Wise, We Shall Meet On That Beautiful Shore and Devilish Mary but they also wrote some notable items like Mountain Sweetheart, Two False Lovers and the Gid Tanner inspired skit Makin’ Licker In North Carolina.
One of their most notable compositions is the ballad Stolen Love which sounds pretty advanced musically, thanks to its beautiful shift in meter between the verse and chorus. In fact, The Red Fox Chasers revelled in their instrumental skills as you’ll hear on numbers like the jumping Mississippi Sawyers with Bob Cranford displaying his amazing technique of playing two harmonicas as the band move from the D part to the A part. They even brought a new twist to the old warhorse Turkey In The Straw with Guy Brooks hot fiddle manoeuvrings and Paul Miles quirky banjo runs making this one of the Chaser’s best selling records.
The CD is completed by the ten sides recorded by Cranford and Thompson in 1931. These are a treasure trove of old-time tunes including murder songs like Pretty Polly, Lula Wall and Murder Of The Lawson Family, the great bad-man ballad Otto Wood and a blissful rendition of the Carter Family masterpiece Sweet Fern.
Up until now The Red Fox Chasers music has been very hard to find so fans will be thrilled that these precious vintage tracks have been painstakingly remastered for Tompkins Square by Grammy Award winning Christopher King – of County and Revenant Charley Patton box fame! And the notes are by that champion of old-timer music Kinney Rorrer. This package is unmissable!
Solo fiddle playing is a tradition that was well established at the time of the Civil War. Contests were often held to determine the best fiddler in a brigade, regiment, or even down to the company level. Old issues of Confederate Veteran magazine are filled with stories of fiddle contests and the exploits of fiddle players. For example, an article appearing in an 1894 edition speaks of treasure trove of entertainment granted to the boys of General A.P. Hill’s signal corps while stationed on Clark’s Mountain in Orange County, VA. “Down by the river,” an old veteran of the corps recalled, “was the regiment of Barksdale’s Mississippians. In one company of ninety men, ‘seventy-five were good fiddlers.’ We cultivated these fellows and they cultivated us. We had a dance three nights out of the week, and went courting two out of the other four.” Years after the war, fiddle contests were held at veterans’ reunions.
At the 1916 United Confedertate Veterans’ reunion in Birmingham, Dr. Lauriston H. Hill, former surgeon for the 53rd North Carolina Regiment, organized such an event where “old vets and their children can contest.” He urged them to come prepared “to do your best” for “the championship of old-time fiddlers.” And, after they’d done their best, Dr. Hill added, “if you don’t mind, these old Tarheels will show you how they play and put ‘the tar on you.’” These contests were fierce and serious affairs with bragging rights awarded to the winner. Thus, Dr. Hill closed his announcement with a bit of bragging of his own: “I will say, lastly, that when allowed to play, I have won the first prize.”
Scott’s Return on this recording is a good example of a contest tune played by a master fiddler in the Old-time tradition. And, Bruce Greene is one of the finest there is. Bruce learned this version from Milo Biggers (born around 1890) of Glasgow, KY. Bruce adds: “Mr. Biggers got it from Henry Carver, a legendary fiddler of that area and patriarch of a musical family that included the Carver Boys (recorded in the 1920’s), Cousin Emmy, and Noble (Uncle Bozo) Carver. Milo said it was a Civil War piece, but all he knew about it was something about an old soldier coming back from the war.”
Clarence Horton Greene was born in 1894 and died in 1961. A native of North Carolina, Greene had a long and distinguished musical career playing primarily fiddle and guitar from 1915 – 1955. Clarence Greene recorded for the Columbia, Victor, and Okeh record labels.
According to Greene’s son, Clarence Greene had heard a ragtime type tune titled Chattanooga Blues recorded by the Allen Brothers in 1927 and Clarence was in Atlanta at the time of the Allen recording. The tune actually originated with blues singer Ida Cox, who recorded the song for Paramount in 1923 and Greene’s version is much closer in style to Ida Cox who was accompanied by a piano. Webpage on the Chattanooga Blues.
In 1928, when Frank Buckley Walker auditioned and recorded Appalachian talent for Columbia Records in Johnson City, Tennessee, Clarence Greene, who performed Chattanooga Blues in his repertoire, adapted the Allen Brothers/Ida Cox tune to the lyrics above as “Johnson City Blues.” In the recording for Columbia, Greene performs only with his guitar in a style reminiscent of Delta Blues. In 1938 another North Carolina recording artist, J. E. Mainer and His Mountaineers, recorded a tune for Bluebird Records titled Back to Johnson City that is virtually identical Greene’s arrangement of Johnson City Blues.
The Columbia recordings by Frank Buckley Walker became known as The Johnson City Sessions and in addition to Clarence Greene featured top performers Fiddlin’ Charlie Bowman and Clarence “Tom” Ashley. Ashley’s recording of the Coo Coo Bird (from the 1929 Johnson City Columbia Sessions) is considered a clawhammer banjo classic. Ashley (1895 – 1967) was the last surviving star of the Johnson City Sessions, and was still performing at folk festivals and international tours with his friend Doc Watson shortly before his death.
According to Greene’s protege and travel companion, Walter Davis, Greene and Davis learned blues guitar from the legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, (October 26, 1894 — December 1929) who lived for a time in Johnson City, Tennessee performing as a street musician in the town’s hotel/railroad district. Both Davis and Greene also performed as “street musicians” in cities in both eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
One of 2008’s best country reissues, maybe even the best, is Ernest V. Stoneman: The Unsung Father Of Country Music, 1925-1934. The 46-track collection is smartly packaged, including a small hard-bound book with lots of photos. But it’s the savvy selection of some too-long-unavailable early sides of Ernest “Pops” Stoneman that excites. There’s his first recording and biggest hit, “The Titanic”; duets with his daughter; fuller string-band arrangements with the Dixie Mountaineers; short comic plays such as “Old Time Corn Shuckin’, Parts 1 and 2″; and even two versions (cut six years apart) of Stoneman’s “All I’ve Got’s Gone”, which remains among country music’s great poverty songs – and one of its catchiest tunes, too.
This is truly an essential, not to mention long overdue, collection. There is, however, the matter of that title. Not “An Unsung Father of Country Music” but “The Unsung Father” – a choice of article clearly intended to not so subtly dispute the long-since-established paternity rights of one Jimmie Rodgers.
The cover’s bold claim is fleshed out in a liner-notes essay by Henry Sapoznik (the man behind that amazing and essential You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me: Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music set from a few years back). Sapoznik argues that it was only pioneering record producer Ralph Peer’s “post-mortem marketing of Rodgers that firmly established the Singing Brakeman as the putative Father of Country Music” and that “Peer crafted Rodgers’ legend…while having eschewed Stoneman’s, whose recorded output dwarfed Rodgers.” In other words, if Ralph Peer had chosen to mythologize Stoneman rather than Rodgers, or if he’d just let history take its un-manipulated course, then we would likely be hailing “Pops” as the father of the music, not Jimmie.
This is needless overreaching. It is well past high-time that fans and historians paid attention to Ernest Stoneman, and Sapoznik is to be commended for his efforts on Stoneman’s behalf. But to press the case for Stoneman by insisting upon a diminution of Jimmie Rodgers is merely to redress one injustice by perpetrating another.
No musical genre (not even bluegrass) can have a lone inventor. That caveat made, there are good reasons why Rodgers is considered the Father of Country Music and why Stoneman is not. The title of Father here has nothing to do with who came first, of course. If that were the case, we’d be calling John Carson daddy, or Eck Robertson, or, for that matter, Vernon Dalhart (if only we acknowledged the pop essence of even the earliest commercial country music). (more…)
OUT OF SIGHT: THE RISE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC, 1889 – 1895by Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff (University Press of Mississippi, 2003)
“At least two commercial recordings of “40 Drops” were made during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1928, it was recorded by Andrew and Jim Baxter, a black fiddle and guitar duo. Andrew Baxter fiddles through a roughed-out country interpretation of the essential theme, struggling through a muddy variation or two, while Jim Baxter posits a verbal elucidation of the song title: ‘Now this is the “Forty Drops”. Forty Drops of what? Forty drops of rye!…Who’s gonna carry me home when the dance is over? ‘Cause I”m getting about full of this rye”.
The Baxters were seperated for the source of ’40 Drops’ by more than a generation, so the accuracy of their explanation of the ‘forty drops of what’ is open to question. It more likely referred to morphene or laudanum, popular recreational drugs of the 1890s, typically dispensed in drops [a footnote explains that the typical medicinal dose of laudanum was 50 drops, as per a medical text of the time].
“40 Drops” was also recorded by the Stripling Brothers, a white fiddle and guitar duo, in 1936. In this version the initial theme is more distinctly articulated, but like the Baxters, the Striplings don’t attempt to execute every movement of “40 Drops” as preserved in the 1898 published edition.
In its published form “40 Drops” is a charcteristic early rag. In places it resembles a standard country string band tune, but there is also an unmistakeble something “oriental’ or pseudo-Turkish, such as reverberated from the 1893 Word’s Columbian Exposition Midway.
During the height of the great string band era of the 1920s, one of the largest and most popular string bands in Arkansas was Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers. Originally founded to promote tourism in the area of Izard County, the band went on to achieve a modicum of regional success before succumbing to the Depression.
Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers was founded by Dr. Henry Harlin Smith, a surgeon for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who lived in the Calico Rock (Izard County) area. On his travels with the railway, he found that he was often working to dispel the backward image that many people outside of Arkansas had of the region. Smith thought that if more people were to visit Calico Rock and enjoy the area’s natural beauty, it could change the negative misconception that was so prevalent.
As a way to promote the area and tourism, he organized a fiddle contest in Calico Rock. Smith was not a musician himself, but he knew that a rich crop of talented musicians lived in and around Izard County. The contest was held in January 1926. From the winners of the contest, Dr. Smith formed a band with the whimsical name of “Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers”—a unique but fitting name derived from the fact that fiddle bows are strung with horse hair. Smith also assembled a group of vocalists from the winners of the contest and called them the “Hill-Billy Quartet.”
Smith took the Champion Hoss Hair Pullers and the Hill-Billy Quartet to Hot Springs (Garland County) as ambassadors of the Calico Rock area. As part of his introduction before each show, he proudly extolled the natural beauty of Izard County and promoted the virtues of the area as a vacation destination.
Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers enjoyed a couple years of popularity, which earned them several radio performances on KTHS in Hot Springs and a recording session in Memphis, Tennessee, for Victor during September 1928. Three 78 rpm records, a total of six songs, were recorded at this session. Members of the band for these recordings included James Clark Duncan and Bryan Lackey on fiddles, Leeman Bone on guitar, and Ray Marshall on mandolin.
Over the years, the band’s roster changed several times. Members of the various incarnations of Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers and the Hill-Billy Quartet included Leeman Bone on guitar and vocals, Graydon Bone on vocals, George Dillard on fiddle, James Clark Duncan on fiddle, Roosevelt Garner on vocals, Homer T. Goatcher on vocals, J. Odie Goatcher on vocals, Owen Hunt on fiddle, Bryan Lackey on fiddle, Ray Marshall on mandolin, W. P. McLeary on fiddle and guitar, Hubert Simmons on vocals, and Luther Walker on fiddle.
By late 1929, the Depression began to take a toll on the music industry as well as tourism. Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers and the Hill-Billy Quartet continued to play throughout Izard County until 1930, when Dr. Smith determined that the band no longer served its original purpose as ambassadors of tourism, and the group was disbanded.
Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers play “Going Down the River”:
by Nathan Salsburg
Alan Lomax’s “Southern Journey” field recording trip ended in October of 1959, but by April of the next year Alan was back recording in the South, this time in the capacity of music supervisor to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s film, Music of Williamsburg. The aim was to recreate the sound of African American music as it might have been heard in Colonial Williamsburg, and, according to a strikingly progressive 1962 press release from the Foundation, “to portray the important contributions of the Negro race to the nation’s heritage.”
Lomax assembled a novel cast, comprised of many musicians he’d recorded several months earlier, and drawn from disparate locales. Ed Young came north from Como, Mississippi, to provide the necessary fife-blowing. Hobart Smith traveled east from Saltville, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with his four-string banjo and a clawhammer technique learned, in part, from an African American. Nat Rahmings, a Bahamian drummer and drum-maker, was brought in from Miami. And the Georgia Sea Island Singers were the vocal group at the ensemble’s core.
After filming was completed, Lomax wrote, the “musicians stayed on for what turned out to be a day of extraordinary music-making and musical cross-fertilization.” Alan had turned up this tune years before, having gone looking for the oldest published black dance songs in Virginia—-its references to the drinking gourd evince its slavery-time origin—-and he taught it to the group. “I cannot swear to the authenticity of this reconstructed material,” Lomax continued. “But the musically conservative Sea Island singers gave it their enthusiastic approval.”
Hobart Smith, Bessie Jones, Ed Young, Nate Rahmings, and others play “Reg’lar, Reg’lar, Rollin’ Under”(1960):