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.
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.