String Ragtime


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String Ragtime – To Do This You Got to Know How qualifies as one of the more unusual albums in Yazoo Records’ original L-1000 series of LPs as the featured musicians come from various racial backgrounds, all of the tracks are instrumental, and it was never reissued on compact disc.  As one can surmise from the title, this collection focuses on ragtime, but not the piano variety (e.g. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”), which is what most people think of when discussing this variety of music.  The performances, recorded between the mid 1920s and mid 1950s, convincingly demonstrate that the genre lent itself well to all manner of stringed instruments, including guitar, banjo, violin, and many others.  The common thread that unites these performances is the breathtaking combination of speed and precision that nowadays is something of a lost art.

One of the things that makes this album so fascinating is the aforementioned diversity of the musicians who included ragtime pieces in their repertories, which demonstrates the wide-ranging appeal it had throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Moreover, it is interesting to note the staying power this musical style possessed since these 14 tracks were all recorded anywhere from 15 to 45 years after its commercial peak.  Only on an anthology such as this would one find a recording by a couple of Hawaiian guitarists (Jim & Bob’s interpretation of “Sweet Georgia Brown”) compiled alongside material by a Jewish mandolinist from Kiev (Dave Apollon‘s “Mandolin Blues” and “Russian Rag”).

Less surprising but no less enjoyable selections are those by Western swing groups and hillbilly string bands:  the East Texas Serenaders‘ “Arizona Stomp,” John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel’s “Cotton Patch Rag,” Walker’s Corbin Ramblers‘ “E Rag,” and Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys’ “Banjo Rag.”  That three of the tracks by black artists – “Somethin’ Doin” by Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater, “State Street Rag” by Robert “Louie Bluie” Armstrong & Ted Bogan, and “Dallas Rag” by the Dallas String Band – sound as though they could have been done by whites provides further evidence that early American music resulted from a common heritage between the races.

Robert Maxwell‘s “Spaghetti Rag” and Bob Roberts’ “Persian Lamb Rag” represent a pop music (or perhaps, more accurately, a novelty tune) take on ragtime.  The former was recorded circa 1956 (although the original sheet music dates from 1910) and features a harp-tenor banjo-tuba arrangement.  In similar fashion, the latter seems to have been first published in 1908 and, in this case, waxed in 1954 by a band that sounds like it included a tenor banjoist, pianist, drummer, and a small horn section.  “Banjo Rag” by Chauncey C. Lee (which is totally different from the like-titled track by Harald Goodman) and “To Do This You Got to Know How” by blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson are, quite simply, tours de force that will leave the listener awestruck.


One Response to “String Ragtime”

  1. Wendy Robinson Says:

    Walt Koken does Maple Leaf Rag on his latest CD, Sittin’ in the Catbird Seat. Talk about tour de force…!!

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