from “A Nation of Outsiders,” by Grace Elizabeth Hale:
The Mary Lomax Ballad Book: America’s Great 21st Century Traditional Singer—Collected and Annotated by Art Rosenbaum, with Bonnie Loggins, Casey Loggins, Pashie Towery, Roy Tench (fiddle), photographs by Margo Rosenbaum, 210 pages with 2 CDs, hardcover only, Loomis House Press, edited by Ed Cray, book cover Susan Archie, photo by Alix Taylor. Foreword by Alice Gerrard; Edited by Ed Cray; Published by CAMSCO Music (dick greenhaus); 210 + xviii pp; copyright 2013 by Art Rosenbaum. $37.50 Hard Cover only. You can order from email@example.com or by phone at 800/548-FOLK .
Art Rosenbaum’s interest in Mary Lomax and her sister Bonnie Loggins sprang not from music, but through a shared connection to the visual arts. In the early 2000s, Cleveland, Georgia folk art dealer Barbara C. Brogdon introduced Rosenbaum to the self-taught artist Bonnie Loggins. Rosenbaum was immediately captivated; not only by Bonnie’s visual artistry, but also intrigued by the traditional folk songs Bonnie had inherited from her father.
Bonnie dispensed these tunes and ballads, as well as her own inventive songs and poems, often and with great pleasure. It was during a visit with Bonnie in 2006 that Rosenbaum met the painter and muralist’s sister, Mary, who had taken on the responsibility of documenting her father’s folk songs and ballads.
Unlike Bonnie, whose illiteracy restricted her repertoire to childhood memory, Mary referred to typewritten texts to perform her father’s ballads. The sister’s interest in their father’s songs and tunes has resulted in one of the most comprehensive collections of music from the Southern Appalachians, which Art Rosenbaum has chronicled with care.
The Mary Lomax Ballad Book: America’s Great 21st Century Traditional Singer—collected and annotated by Art Rosenbaum—reads as a collection of transcribed ballads and fiddle tunes. The hardcover, designed by Susan Archie of World of anArchie, includes two CDs with 59 songs, plus another 20 transcriptions without accompanying audio.
The book is divided into discs A and B, with a brief introduction and explanation of the songs included. Together, the collection paints a rich portrait of an oral tradition passed down to Mary and her sister Bonnie through their late father, and the continuation of that tradition in their own music. The folk form comes to life on the lips of Mary Lomax, for example in “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum” (highlighting a great sense of humor) and all-instrumental songs like “Rocky Road to My Daughter’s House” [fiddle by Roy Tench] give the feeling of a human presence long forgotten in the mountains of North Georgia.
Country Music Goes to War edited by Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson (University Press of Kentucky)
Country Music Goes to War, in its 14 chapters, covers a great deal of ground, including Australia and Northern Ireland. Domestically, its authors look at the Civil War, the early years in commercial country music (from 1923 on), several examinations of the impact of World War II , Korea, the Cold War, the threat of the atom bomb on country music, the Toby Keith-Dixie Chicks era of Gulf War II, and 9/11 and its impact on country music. The Vietnam War, a fertile battleground of war songs, is not examined here and deserves its own book (as the authors note in their introduction).
The essays in Country Music Goes to War demonstrate that country musicians’ engagement with significant political and military issues is not strictly a twenty-first-century phenomenon. The contributors examine the output of country musicians responding to America’s large-scale confrontations in recent history. They address the ways in which country songs and artists have energized public discourse, captured hearts, and inspired millions of minds.
Andrew K. Smith and James E. Akenson catalogue a number of country songs and albums that invoke the Civil War. Charles K. Wolfe traces the emergence of the war song in early country music, and in a second essay combines original interviews with solid textual analysis and an awareness of historical context to fashion a solid overview of the short-lived atomic bomb genre in country music.
Entries chronicle the World War II experiences of Kentucky entrepreneur John Lair, the “Hayloft Gang” of Chicago’s National Barn Dance, and Gene Autry.
Hollywood wanted to punish cowboy singing star and actor Gene Autry for joining the military and serving in World War II. The head of his movie studio, Herbert Yates of Republic Pictures, threatened to “break” Autry and to promote Roy Rogers (who had a deferment as a father) over Autry if he refused Yates’ offer to have Republic engineer a deferment for Autry — as Yates had done for John Wayne. Republic Pictures felt that the studio’s success was more important than the war effort. Autry became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, and Yates did everything in his power for years to scuttle Autry’s career.
Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr (includes a CD with 20 Tracks)
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a steady stream of Scots migrated to Ulster and eventually onward across the Atlantic to resettle in the United States. Many of these Scots-Irish immigrants made their way into the mountains of the southern Appalachian region. They brought with them a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin.
Their enduring legacy of music flows today from Appalachia back to Ireland and Scotland and around the globe. In Wayfaring Strangers, Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr guide readers on a musical voyage across oceans, linking people and songs through centuries of adaptation and change.
From ancient ballads at the heart of the tradition to instruments that express this dynamic music, Ritchie and Orr chronicle the details of an epic journey. Enriched by the insights of key contributors to the living tradition on both sides of the Atlantic, this abundantly illustrated volume includes a CD featuring 20 songs by musicians profiled in the book, including Dolly Parton, Dougie MacLean, Cara Dillon, John Doyle, Pete Seeger, Sheila Kay Adams, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson, David Holt, Anais Mitchell, Al Petteway, and Amy White. (more…)
Louisianan Yule—who also wrote a recent book on the legendary Cajun fiddler Iry LeJeune—has done an amazing and admirable job in gathering data and photos of musicians and groups who played music in Louisiana in the first half of the 20th century. His list (which he actually limits to the north and west regions of the state)—includes old-time, Cajun, country and even some Bluegrass groups.
Some of the brief write-ups are drawn from Yule interviews, others put together from Newspaper accounts or from other writers. There’s a chapter on Louisiana Country Dances, and about 60 pages are devoted to “Fiddle Tales” of various musicians & local fiddle contests. I had not heard of most of the musicians and bands in this book, but there are names that some (specially record collectors) ill recognize.
Some of these include the Hackberry Ramblers, Anatole Credeur, Taylor-Grigg Melody Makers, Miller’s Merrymakers and the Pelican Wildcats—long a mystery old time band, they put just one fine tune on a very late Columbia 78 which was mis-titled “WALKIN’ GEORGIA ROSE” (it should have been WALKING GEORGIA ROADS). There’s a nice little section on fiddlers of the KWKH Barn Dance—some of these included Paul Warren, Cousin Emmy, Ralph Mayo, Curley Fox and Clayton McMichen.
In the way of Bluegrass, there is mention of Jimmy Martin, Luke Thompson’s Green Valley Boys, and Buzz Busby. Others mentioned include Rusty & Doug Kershaw, and the well traveled mandolinist Clyde Baum (who played with the Bailes Brothers, Johnnie & Jack, Charlie Monroe, the Sullivan Family and even Hank Williams). A nice feature of this book is the photos—there are dozens, and most are fairly sharp for their age. Although the scope of this work is very limited, there’s a lot of good information here that fans of the older days will appreciate.
Louisiana Fiddlers, by Ron Yule (University Press of Mississippi),368 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 165 b&w photographs
Louisiana Fiddlers shines light on sixty-two of the bayou state’s most accomplished fiddlers of the twentieth century. Author Ron Yule outlines the lives and times of these performers, who represent a multitude of fiddling styles including Cajun, country, western swing, zydeco, bluegrass, Irish, contest fiddling, and blues.
Featuring over 150 photographs, this volume provides insight into the “fiddlin’ grounds” of Louisiana. Yule chronicles the musicians’ varied appearances from the stage of the Louisiana Hayride, honky tonks, dancehalls, house dances, radio and television, and festivals, to the front porch and other more casual venues. The brief sketches include observations on musical travels, recordings, and family history.
Nationally acclaimed fiddlers Harry Choates, Dewey Balfa, Dennis McGee, Michael Doucet, Rufus Thibodeaux, and Hadley Castille share space with relatively unknown masters such as Mastern Brack, “Cheese” Read, John W. Daniel, and Fred Beavers. Each player has helped shape the region’s rich musical tradition.
Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist, by Steve Lowenthal (Chicago Review)
reviewed by Steve Danziger (http://online.wsj.com):
John Fahey was a composer, musician and absurdist bard of the American suburbs. An acoustic guitarist who combined traditional finger-style technique with an avant-garde sensibility, he called his style American Primitive. He drew from blues, Indian ragas, Gregorian chant, hymns, musique concrète and seemingly anything else he heard to make music of great delicacy and often harsh beauty, infused with yearning and anguish.
Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore called him a “secret influence,” a designation that could be made by admirers from Pete Townshend to Sufjan Stevens. He was also a notorious flake, difficult to fathom in the best circumstances. Steve Lowenthal’s patchy biography “Dance of Death” offers the outline of his life but little insight, leaving Fahey impenetrable as he was influential.
Dance of Death
Fahey (1939-2001), lonely and meek as a child in Takoma Park, Md., eased his alienation by allowing his imagination to go berserk. He and his friends invented “a secret race of cat people” and a “local demigod, whom they named ‘the Great Koonaklaster.’ ” By age 13, his whimsy had teetered into darkness, beginning a lifelong preoccupation with death.
Records saved Fahey. Hearing Blind Willie Johnson sparked a “hysterical conversion experience,” so he bought a $17 guitar and fed his obsession with records from the 1920s and 1930s that he found by trolling thrift stores and by going door to door in black neighborhoods. In 1959, he started his own label and pressed 100 copies of his first album, “Blind Joe Death.” The imaginary bluesman of the title became an alter ego and an outlet for Fahey’s bizarre sense of humor. Later liner notes would include faux-scholarly histories of both Fahey, who “made his first guitar from a baby’s coffin,” and Blind Joe Death, “the old blind negro [he led] through the back alleys and whore-houses of Takoma Park in return for lessons.” (more…)
Department of Redundancy: the books mentioned below have previously been featured on oldtimeparty, but this essay is too good to pass up.
by Barry Mazor (www.newrepublic.com):
In mid-April, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story that might have been taken as a sign of a leap in interest in pre-World War II acoustic blues. It concerned the utterly obscure Depression-era singers Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. In fact, while John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” presented sensational aspects of the two women’s stories (a murder; closeted lesbian lives on the run), it had, at its heart, something else entirely.
The unpublished information about the duo was tracked down in the early 1960s by the fabled, troubled blues researcher and record collector Mack McCormick and then clandestinely poached from his files by a research assistant. Constructed to maximize suspense, that story—and the peculiarities of white, educated blues obsessives—was the element that justified the article’s prominence in a publication not otherwise known for introducing forgotten music by minor artists of earlier eras.
The magazine’s editors are not alone. In the weeks since then, new books have been published that take up related themes: stories of middlemen blues researchers and record collectors, often, of guys who’ve been both. What’s going on here?
Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, Elion Paz’s lavish new volume of photographs depicts obsessive record collectors and their shelves upon shelves of immensely prized possessions. The book offers colorful photos of fanatic young collectors—standing in front of LPs with covers of certain colors, of all the David Bowie recordings, of private pressings with covers that are pure kitsch. And yet, articles about the book at Slate and Esquire have focused on the only pre-war singles collector in the 416-page volume, the jocular but cranky blues, early jazz and hillbilly specialist, Joe Bussard, age 76, possessor and caretaker of one of the largest private collections of 78 rpm records in those fields.
What drives collectors of old 78s like Joe to organize so much of their lives around relentless searching for and organizing of coveted rarities? Those questions are central in the latest book by journalist Amanda Petrusich, Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, which looks in on the obsessive collector subculture, and blues 78 collectors in particular. To see what manic searching for rare records feels like, Petrusich goes hunting with the Grammy-winning engineer Chris King and brings us along. While more interested in the music than in collecting, King shows her where unaccounted-for blues sides might still be lurking. (Inside old Victrola cabinets for sale in the South, is one place.)
Like many of the hardcore blues collectors—and collectors of anything—Petrusich has idiosyncratic opinions and strong responses to the music on those venerable, scratchy original 78s. She’s graphic when she describes her own intense, agitated physical reactions: “I felt like every single one of my internal organs had liquefied and was bubbling up into my esophagus … I wanted to curl up inside that record; I wanted to inhabit it,” she says of hearing an original pressing of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Big Leg Blues” for the first time. She also describes her strong predilection for blues records that are unremittingly bleak. That’s not an unusual preference for a member of a generation raised on the notion that caressing the texture of devastation and disconnection in art is profound, for whom lighter blues is unthinkably upbeat.
In the most colorful adventure in Do Not Sell, Petrusich dons a wet suit and searches for the legendary master recordings from Paramount that were, according to some accounts, thrown into the nearby Milwaukee River when the manufacturer went out of business. She doesn’t find any. The George Plimpton-style role-taking, intended to demonstrate how strong an obsession finding a rare record can be, perhaps better illustrates the lengths a writer might go to enliven a chapter.
She also reiterates the story of the “Blues Mafia,” the tight gang of white blues collectors of the 1950s and ’60s, some of whom turned into impresarios, some into recluses, who played such an influential role in changing the idea of which blues mattered. The specialists who coveted rarely heard records came to elevate rarely heard performers. If today people so often take Mississippi delta blues (Skip James, Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charley Patton) for heart of the form, it’s in no small measure because the collector-researchers of the ’50s and ’60s, and the blues rockers who followed their lead, taught us to think that way. In fact, those edgy, relatively marginalized, rural guitar players had, for the most part, been little-known artists with limited sales among the black Southern audience, which generally saw blues as dance music. But they presented challenging sounds and images irresistible to the white collector specialists.
Blues radio veteran Steve Cushing’s new 355-page anthology, Pioneers of the Blues Revival, gathers together detailed interviews with 17 of the key collector-researchers, particularly those who became constructive blues activists (Sam Charters, Paul Oliver, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Dick Spottswood, David Evans). These collectors founded reissue and new issue labels, created detailed discographies and blues histories, and most productively, enabled late-in-life coda careers for performers they “rediscovered,” including Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Skip James. Cushing’s detailed discussions with significant blues revival researchers tell crisscrossing artist- and record-rediscovery stories, portraying a close-knit scene with its own rituals, famous incidents, lost heroes, and well-recalled ne’er-do-well connivers. One of the classic blues revival stories is the tale (recalled by multiple researchers) of how a number of leading lights of the Blues Mafia—including eventual guitar hero and label executive John Fahey—raced to be the ones to locate Skip James in Mississippi.
Crucially, all the interviewees in Cushing’s book could still meet and talk with the blues originators directly. Fifty years after 1964, we’re a lot further away from the height of the mid-century blues revival than the revival was from the era of acoustic recorded blues. This points to one reason we’re hearing a lot about the blues collector revivalists now: The gents who had direct contact with the music-makers are themselves aging and dwindling in number.
Nothing has yet made the middlemen more vital or interesting than the music they organized around and collected, however—and nothing could. Attempts to find fresh stories may keep moving us, layer by layer, further away from the music itself—one more Russian stacking doll away from the music at the center.
R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country (Abrams Books, 238 pages, CD incuded))
by Terry Zwigoff (excerpt from R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country):
Robert’s original idea was to include a single music card with each Yazoo LP, in much the same spirit as the established trading card tradition that dates back over a century. It was Nick Perls [Yazoo Records founder] who wanted to package the cards as a thirty-six-piece boxed set. That gave Nick an additional item to sell rather than a bonus premium to give away with his paltry LP sales.
He also had Robert design beautiful point-of-purchase store displays for the card sets, which are rare and collectible items today. I remember walking around the West Village with Nick as he tried to talk the local merchants into carrying the card sets. He was pretty successful. The cards were appealing and colorful and sold well right from the start.
Numerous printings were done over the years, and the rights passed from Nick to other publishers. After Nick died, the original artwork for the cards was sold and today is owned by a successful film director in northern California.
Initially, Robert wanted to draw only the country string bands for the country set, but he was persuaded to include Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and a few more well-known entertainers. Robert liked these artists, but he seemed to get a bigger kick out of celebrating the lesser-known bands. Perhaps he wanted to give them a well-deserved bit of recognition after all their years of obscurity.
The existence of available photographs partly determined the musicians he chose to include. It’s a minor miracle that someone had a photo of Mumford Bean and His Itawambians, a band so obscure that their one existing 78 has only been heard by maybe dozen hard-core country collectors, and has never been reissued.
In Tune: Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Roots of American Music, by Ben Wynne (Louisiana State University Press)
Lead Kindly Light, by Sarah Bryan and Peter Honig
Description: 176-page hardcover, clothbound book with 2 CDs featuring recordings of Rural Southern Music: Old Time, String Band Music from Appalachia, extremely rare Country Blues and African American gospel singing from 1924-1939.
159 Photographs from the Collection of Sarah Bryan reproduced in full color
46 Audio Recordings from the 78 RPM Record Collection of Peter Honig
A portrait of the rural American South between the dawn of the twentieth century and World War II, Lead Kindly Light brings together two CDs of traditional music from early phonograph records and a fine hardcover book of never-before-published vernacular photography. North Carolina collectors Peter Honig and Sarah Bryan have spent years combing backroads, from deep in the Appalachian mountains to the cotton and tobacco lowlands, in search of the evocative music and images of the pre-war South.
The music of Lead Kindly Light presents outstanding lesser-known recordings by early stars of recorded country music, as well as rarely- and never-reissued treasures by obscure country, blues, and gospel artists. The photographs, mainly images of the rural and small-town South, are richly textured depictions of family life, work, and fun, and the often accidental beauty of the vernacular snapshot.
The Scotch-Irish Influence on Country Music in the Carolinas: Border Ballads, Fiddle Tunes and Sacred Songs, by Michael Scroggins (The History Press)
Art Rosenbaum’s Old Time Banjo Book: Forty-Seven Old-Time 5-String Banjo Tunings and Picking Styles
“As is the case with all of Rosenbaum’s recordings, you feel as though you are sharing a quiet evening with a generous master traditional musician…Rosenbaum plays banjo in many tunings and many styles, including down-picked and up-picked frailing as well as 2 and 3 finger pre-bluegrass styles.
He is adept at the more recent ‘melodic clawhammer’ style… He is one of a relatively small number of urban musicians who has developed a convincing and personal traditional Appalachian vocal style.” – Steve Senderoff /Old-Time Herald
Art Rosenbaum is one of America’s foremost performers and teachers of traditional five-string banjo playing. He has a long-time interest in the myriad old-time tunings that give breadth and richness to mountain and old-time banjo picking, and has learned first-hand from old-timers in the South and Midwest.
Pete Seeger praised the inclusion of 23 tunings in Art’s 1968 Oak Publications book “Old-Time Mountain Banjo.” The present book and 2-DVD set doubles (plus one!) that number of tunings. Art groups the tunings into “families” and shows how they can be used, with various picking styles, in playing banjo tunes and string band music and in song accompaniment.
Experienced players will broaden their knowledge of unusual and interesting tunings and styles, and novice players can get started with “common” tunings for easy pieces like “Cripple Creek” and “Shout Lulu” – the first tunes many old-timers learned.
240 minutes • 112 page book • Level 2/3
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music (Chicago Review Press (Nov 2014)
By Barry Mazor
320 Pages, 6 x 9
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.
Dick Weissman: I wrote a book which is called 100 Books Every Folk Music Fan Should Own. I found a couple books that I read specifically for the project that stood out above others. One of them was a book about a mysterious character named Lawrence Gellert. He was a guy who was collecting protest songs in the 1920s in the Carolinas and in Mississippi. His work paralleled the Lomaxes’ but he and the Lomaxes were not friends; he accused the Lomaxes of treating Lead Belly like a plantation slave. And the Lomaxes were not a family that took well to people disagreeing with their approach or attitude in any way.
So he’s sort of…I use an expression of people who have been written out of the folk-song revival, and he’s been written out of the folk-song revival. But a scholar in Michigan got interested — Bruce Conforth is his name. So he wrote this book, and the guy’s life turns out to be totally mysterious — like, his dead body was never found, for example. It was very interesting.
There’s a guy named Stephen Wade who wrote a book called The Beautiful Music Around Us, where he went back and took twelve recordings made by the Library of Congress around 1935 to ’40. And he went back to where these people recorded, and he interviewed family members. He interviewed people that knew them, who were younger than they were because they’re all gone.
Some of them are people that are somewhat known in the revival — like Vera Hall was one of the people that Lomax collected, a well-known sort of gospel-tinged singer. A banjo player named Pete Steele, from Hamilton, Ohio, has always been a legend among banjo players. And then eight or nine people that even someone like me had not necessarily heard of. It’s just a very well-written, wonderful book that included a CD of these people, so that a listener who doesn’t know any of them from Adam can say, “Oh, now I know who this guy’s writing about.”
In my teens, following the advice in Pete Seeger’s banjo book, I had bought a five string banjo at a pawn shop in the skid row section of town, abandoning it when I couldn’t figure out how to tune it without breaking strings. While attending Goddard College in Vermont, I met Lil Blos, who offered to teach me how to play the banjo. After graduating from college, Imoved to New York, and spent the next four years alternating between attending graduate school and becoming active in the folk music scene in Greenwich Village.
In the late 1940’s in New York there were very few people playing 5-string. There was Pete Seeger, of course. Joe Jaffe played on Milt Okun’s records, a very interesting banjo and guitar player. Joe Bossum was a traditional guy and there was also Woody Wachtel, and Stuart Jamieson. Stuart recorded African American banjo players for the Library of Congress when nobody seemed to know they were out there, continuing the American string band tradition. Stuart was amazing. I only got to hear him a few times, but he really blew my mind, he was a very rhythmically powerful player. He was just killer.
excerpt from interview at www.chicagoreader.com:
Do Not Sell at Any Price looks at what makes 78 rpm collectors tick, paying special attention to the service they’ve provided by researching and reissuing wonderful music that might otherwise have stayed lost forever. Petrusich, 34, interviews veterans such as Pete Whelan and Joe Bussard (who focus on jazz and blues) as well as relative newcomers such as Ian Nagoski and Christopher King (who have much broader tastes).
When you were doing the reporting, how important was the realization that just about every collector was a white male?
Petrusich: I went into this project thinking, “All right, here is the sort of archetype in place regarding what everybody thinks a 78 collector is.” It’s Steve Buscemi or the comic-book guy from The Simpsons. I went into the reporting thinking, well, that can’t possibly be true, and this would be great to write about, to show that lots of people like and collect 78s. But it did unfortunately turn out to be mostly true.
There’s one African-American collector, Jerron Paxton, and then there’s one female collector, Sarah Bryan, who also pops up toward the end of the book. I’m not sure Sarah self-identifies too heavily as a collector—she sort of buys what she likes, so her collection is really personal, in a lovely way.
Coming to this as a music writer, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar—it’s kind of a dude activity. It surprises me, because some of this music is so beautiful it should theoretically transcend all of that. I did have the opportunity to speak to this fantastic neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins about why this is such a male hobby. He had some interesting theories, one being that the collecting impulse is related to addiction, which also skews a little bit more male. Certain forms of OCD and autism have also been shown to trend a little more male.
How would you say your relationship with music has changed? Or has it?
I am a better listener now. Prior to writing this book, there were a lot of these records I hadn’t heard before. I think of Blind Uncle Gaspard, who was a Cajun performer who recorded a handful of sides for Vocalion in 1929. Chris King was the first person who played me a Gaspard record, and I remember feeling like I was having a stroke. I always think of that Barry Hannah line in Geronimo Rex, where he hears a piece of music and it’s so unbearably beautiful to him—like the kind of thing that makes you want to take a rifle and shoot yourself in the heart because it’s too much.
You work as a critic for long enough and you start to think, “Oh, I’ve heard everything.” You get a new record, and all the record people are all excited about it, and you put it on and you’re like that cranky old person: “Oh, it sounds like the last 50 bands that sound like the prior 50 bands.” And some of this stuff, recorded in 1929, sounded so unprecedented to me that it reawakened that excitement. “Aw, there are still records out there for me. There are still things that can really make me cry and make me feel all these things that I maybe thought I was done feeling from pop music.”
I think I have a sense of prewar recordings now. I have a pretty rich understanding of how it’s so unlikely we even have them at all. I thought I was turning into an incredibly lazy listener prior, and I really feel like that’s changed for me.
The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings by
“Invisible behind this large-format (8” x 11.5”) paperback is the reason for its existence: the archive described in its (also large-format) title. Nobody else in the roots music and collector world was interested in Mexican- American and Mexican music when Chris Strachwitz started acquiring all the discs – and photographs, posters, catalogues and other ephemera – he could lay his hands on.
Buying up radio station and distributor stock, and the inventory of record labels that went out of business, was usually more productive than junking; records that survived in private hands had often been played to death. The Strachwitz Frontera Collection comprises – deep breath – 33,472 performances on 78s, some 50,000 on 45s, 4,000 LPs and 650 cassettes, and is, needless to say, by far the largest archive of this music in existence.
Thanks to grants from various foundations, and notably to a share in $500,000 from regional superstars Los Tigres del Norte, by late 2010 all the 78s and about half the 45s had been digitised, and entered into a database at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. This is accessible via <http://frontera.library.ucla.edu/index.html>, although for copyright reasons only the first 50 seconds of each recording is available to computers off-campus.
The book under review explores some of the possibilities for research enabled by this resource. First, though, there are chapters about Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, and an account of how the Frontera Collection came into existence, through Chris’s encounters with the late Guillermo Hernández, a professor of literature who turned to studying border music and corridos after seeing Les Blank’s film, ‘Chulas Fronteras’, and learning of the existence of Strachwitz’s collection. Chris himself contributes a short history of the recording industry, with particular reference to Mexican music. (more…)
from Daniel Allar ( http://folkloreforum.net) and David Holt (www.davidholt.com): The Life and Times of Ray Hicks: Keeper of the Jack Tales by Lynn Salsi. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2008. $34.95.)
Lynn Salsi’s The Life and Times of Ray Hicks: The Keeper of the Jack Tales is a biography of Ray Hicks, a master storyteller from Banner Elk, North Carolina. Hicks farmed in the Appalachian Mountains his entire life, and the “Jack Tales” referred to in the title of this book were passed down through his family in that area. He had very little money his entire life, worked from sunup to sundown just to keep his family fed, and spent most of his free time telling the stories he had learned from his grandfather or playing the French harp.
Although the book is basically a rundown of some of the most important aspects and events in Hicks’s life, some reoccurring themes emerge. For example, Hicks was very proud of the fact that he stayed home, cared for his mother, and was not bound by material items. Hicks was also proud… that he was the “true” holder of the “Jack Tales,” which were stories featuring a poor character from the mountains—Jack—who behaved much the way Hicks did. In fact Hicks repeatedly claimed that he and Jack were the same person.
He and his wife, Rosa, lived the old-time way, raising their own food, collecting and selling ginseng and herbs, cooking and heating with wood in the same house where Ray was born. “Cut your own wood and it warms you twicet.”
He was a 19th century man in a 20th century world. He knew more about the old timey ways than anyone I have ever met. Last time I saw him he was telling me how they used to put dirt in a wound or cut to heal it…but he said you can’t do that anymore…no dirt in the world is clean enough now.
He was what we call an all day talker. He would start talking the minute you got there…start right in on a story. He had the most amazing accent, kinda talked way back in his throat. He’d say, “Jack seen a man comin down out of the woods with a great big head and he was knocking big trees down and hittin big rock boulders and wasn’t even hurtin’ a hair in his own head… he said, ‘Hello there. Who are ye?’ ‘ My name is Hardy Hard Head.’ ‘Well Hardy hard Head you must be…into my ship.’ ”
By the end of the day he’d still be talking, telling you the story. You’d get up and say, “Ray, it’s gettin late, gotta go.” He’d follow you all the way up to the car standing in the road still telling the tale. You’d just have to put down the window, wave and say, “Ray, I’ll see you..love you” and drive off with him still standing there still telling the story in the middle of the dirt road.
edited from Roderic Knight (Ethnomusicolgy, winter 2003) and http://www.newhavenreview.com:
For seven months in 1995 and 1996, guitarist Banning Eyre lived on the compound of one of Mali’s greatest and best-known guitarists, Djelimady Tounkara of Bamako, Mali. “In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali” is a chronicle of Eyre’s apprenticeship to Tounkara.
Eyre tells of his experiences– hours at night spent playing duos with his teacher, the humdrum round of wedding gigs, the grand and tedious music spectacles staged for TV in vast football stadiums, the reddish Bamako smog, the exhilaration of playing with the famous Rail Band. Those who have been there will say “namu” (“yes, true”) to his every sentence.
With a perceptive eye and compassionate heart he captures the interpersonal realities of trying to make a musical living in a contemporary African city. We sit in on sessions with kora player Toumani Diabate, drop in at hidden-away bars where improvisation thrives, listen as a husband-and-wife duo haggle over the logistics of their performance and the division of proceeds.
Eyre has also done his research, and frequently steps aside from the illuminating dialogues and character descriptions to discuss broader topics such as kingship, patronage, slavery, history versus oral narrative, the politics of post-colonial Mali, and the nature of Islam in African society.
In the course of the book, Eyre freely acknowledges his debt to John Miller Chernoff’s African Rhythms and African Sensibilities, perhaps one of the best books ever written about African music for a Western audience. The parallels between Eyre’s experiences and Chernoff’s are many. Both went to Africa—Eyre to Mali and Chernoff to Ghana—to learn to play music. Both knew that playing the music well required them to understand something about the culture and history that created the style in the first place, and both strove hard to immerse themselves as much as they could. Chernoff’s immersion was perhaps more successful: He emerged from his experience with a book that reads in parts like a Rosetta Stone to understanding Ghanian drumming in particular and African music generally. As a musician myself, I am still learning from Chernoff’s book, and it’s been ten years since I read it.
Eyre’s book, by design, doesn’t have that kind of insight. Unlike Chernoff, he doesn’t dwell on how the music is put together so much as what it was like for him to learn how to play it. While it seems clear that he played music for at least a couple hours a day, most of the book is about what happens to him when he’s not playing music—the conversations he has with people, the things he sees and does, the other musicians he hears—all written with a clear eye, an astonishing sensitivity, and a willingness to wrestle with some difficult questions about cultural frictions and the legacy of colonialism. The result, I believe, is a much more accessible book than Chernoff’s.
Where Chernoff’s book is perfect for people who already love African music—particularly other musicians who are trying to figure out how to play it—Eyre’s book is just the thing to make people who don’t know much about African music want to learn more about it. Its own effect on me has already been profound. Chernoff’s book in some ways scared me away from trying to play African music even as it made me want to all the more. But it was Eyre’s book (and Eyre himself, who I finally took a lesson from) that finally made me pick up a guitar and try to play. I know that I’ll never play like either Chernoff or Eyre—let alone the African musicians they have played with—but In Griot Time gave me the courage to play with the required humility, and evident joy.
Alan Lomax’s prolific sixty-four-year career as a folklorist and musicologist began with a trip across the South and into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country during the height of the Great Depression. In 1934, his father John, then curator of the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song, took an eighteen-year-old Alan and a 300-pound aluminum disk recorder into the rice fields of Jennings, along the waterways of New Iberia, and behind the gates of Angola State Penitentiary to collect vestiges of African American and Acadian musical tradition. These recordings now serve as the foundational document of indigenous Louisiana music.
Although widely recognized by scholars as a key artifact in the understanding of American vernacular music, most of the recordings by John and Alan Lomax during their expedition across the central-southern fringe of Louisiana were never transcribed or translated, much less studied in depth. This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive examination of the1934 corpus and unveils a multifaceted story of traditional song in one of the country’s most culturally dynamic regions.
Through his textual and comparative study of the songs contained in the Lomax collection, Joshua Clegg Caffery provides a musical history of Louisiana that extends beyond Cajun music and zydeco to the rural blues, Irish and English folk songs, play-party songs, slave spirituals, and traditional French folk songs that thrived at the time of these recordings.
Intimate in its presentation of Louisiana folklife and broad in its historical scope, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana honors the legacy of John and Alan Lomax by retrieving these musical relics from obscurity and ensuring their understanding and appreciation for generations to come.
• Complete transcriptions of the 1934 Lomax Field Recordings in southwestern Louisiana
• Side-by-side translations from French to English
• Photographs from the 1934 field trip and biographical details about the performers
World renowned Blues guitarist, vocalist, band leader and songwriter, Corey Harris, launched his first book on Monday 12th May in London. ‘Jahtigui: The Life and Music of Ali Farka Toure’ is the only book honouring the man and his legacy, whose desert blues changed the face of Malian music and influenced musicians the world over. The life and music of the Malian music legend are examined through the eyes of those who knew him best such as his son, accomplished musician Vieux Farka Toure. Compiled from both interviews and first hand experiences with the guitar master in his desert home in Niafunke, northern Mali.
excerpt from ‘Jahtigui: The Life and Music of Ali Farka Toure':
Ali Farka Toure bought his first guitar while in Bulgaria on April 21st, 1968. Around this time he first heard the music of Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jimmy Smith and Albert King, in which he said he recognized so much of his own musical traditions. But the one whose music struck him as being most similar to his own was the legendary John Lee Hooker. Upon hearing this music for the first time, he was amazed and thought to himself that “this music was taken from here.”
He loved the blues, but often said that his music began long before the blues was born. Many European and American writers were eager to give all the credit to the John Lee Hooker records Ali had heard after his style and approach to music had already fully manifested. He was definitely influenced by the blues he heard on records but he was secure in his musical identity. He often recalled his surprise the first time he heard Hooker, saying, “Where did they get this culture? This is something that belongs to us!”
As for the blues, Ali said, “to me blue is just a color. My music came long before the blues was born.” When he drove across the vast desert of northern Mali in his Land Rover, Ali’s stereo blasted the music of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Bobby Blue Bland and other blues and soul artists whom he recognized as his musical kinsmen. It didn’t matter to him that much of the English that they sung in was unintelligible to him. Upon learning of the passing of John Lee Hooker in 2001, Ali extended his heartfelt condolences. He knew that they belonged to the same musical family, rooted in the civilizations of ancient Africa.
He celebrated the African root of the blues as common knowledge, though many western audiences did not see the connection so clearly. Many thought it simply impossible that such a long history lay behind the music. Implicit in this idea is that Africans came to the West with no cultural traditions. Ali knew that Black American music has deep roots extending into the ancient empires of West Africa from which Black Americans’ ancestors were torn. He spoke about it often.
Just as European and other immigrant populations in North America persevered and further developed the music of their ancestors, so was the case with Africans in the Americas. Toumani Diabate once said “You can take people…you can take off his clothes, you can take off his shoes, you can take his name and give him another name…. the only thing that you can’t ever take from him is his culture.“ Ali Farka Toure represented the missing link between African music and Black American music. To know his music is to know the source.
The Dust & Grooves Book by Eilon Paz
Eilon Paz’s 416-page coffee-table book, Dust And Grooves illuminates over 130 vinyl collectors and their collections in the most intimate of environments—their record rooms. With a foreword by the RZA, compelling photographic essays are paired with in-depth interviews to illustrate what motivates record collectors to keep digging for more records.
Readers get an up close and personal look at a variety of well-known vinyl champions as well as a glimpse into the collections of known and unknown DJs, producers, record dealers, and everyday enthusiasts. The book is divided into two main parts: the first features 250 full-page photos framed by captions and select quotes, while the second consists of 12 full-length interviews that delve deeper into collectors’ personal histories and vinyl troves.
Dust & Grooves is a photography and interview project documenting vinyl collectors in their most natural and intimate environment: the record room. It all started out several years ago as nothing more than a way for photographer Eilon Paz to make use of his idle hours. Adrift in Brooklyn after emigrating from Israel, Eilon—a record collector on the side—thought it might be fun to start taking photos of people whose record collections were both larger and weirder than his own.
Adopting this as his personal project, he began traveling the world, from Australia to Cuba and Argentina to Ghana, in pursuit of intriguing and memorable subjects. Unearthing the very soul of the vinyl community, the assembly of portraits he created quickly turned into the Dust & Grooves website.
Dust & Grooves: Tell me a particularly sad record story!
Joe Bussard: There’s one that still brings tears to my eyes. This was in the 1960s. We were driving north out of Bluefield, WV, and came to this real little town. The main street was no more than five feet wide but they had a few shops. There was an S.S. Kresge Five and Dime Store with the original sign from the 1920s so we parked the car up on the sidewalk and went in. You wouldn’t believe the mess! Broken records all over the floor. Apparently they’d pulled bunches of them off the shelves to throw away –when nobody cared about records anymore – and they dropped all types of records on the floor. I saw Robert Johnson and Carter Family records that probably had never been played cracked and scattered on the floor with people just walking all over them. But this guy at the only filling station gave me a tip. We then went into the hardware store across the street, and oh my God! This guy had all these records upstairs, dealer stock, and he’d stopped selling them during the depression and never got back into it. An entire floor of mostly unplayed 78s. Jesus, I must have gotten about 2000 really choice records from the guy. Paid him $100.
If it I hadn’t found that hardware store after the tragedy at that five and dime, I might-a gone out and committed suicide! (laughs)
Pioneers of the Blues Revival: Eyewitness accounts of the blues’ evolution into a global music phenomenon, by Steve Cushing (http://www.press.uillinois.edu)
Steve Cushing, the award-winning host of the nationally syndicated public radio staple Blues before Sunrise, has spent over thirty years observing and participating in the Chicago blues scene. In Pioneers of the Blues Revival, he interviews many of the prominent white researchers and enthusiasts whose advocacy spearheaded the blues’ crossover into the mainstream starting in the 1960s.
Opinionated and territorial, the American, British, and French interviewees provide fascinating first-hand accounts of the era and movement. Experts including Paul Oliver, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Sam Charters, Ray Flerlage, Richard K. Spottswood, and Pete Whelan chronicle in their own words their obsessive early efforts at cataloging blues recordings and retrace lifetimes spent , finding, collecting, reissuing, and producing records.
They and nearly a dozen others recount relationships with blues musicians, including the discoveries of prewar bluesmen Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, and Bukka White, and the reintroduction of these musicians and many others to new generations of listeners. The accounts describe fieldwork in the South, renew lively debates, and tell of rehearsals in Muddy Waters’s basement and randomly finding Lightning Hopkins’s guitar in a pawn shop. Blues scholar Barry Lee Pearson provides a critical and historical framework for the interviews in an introduction.
Excerpted from “Black Hillbillies: African American Musicians on Old-Time Records, 1924-1932” by Patrick Huber. From “Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music,” edited by Diane Pecknold:
Much of the music found on the hillbilly records of the 1920s and early 1930s was the product of decades or even centuries of dynamic cultural interplay between white and black musicians, and many of the songs and tunes issued on these records were of black origin or borrowed from black tradition. Occasionally record catalogues and monthly supplements even mentioned these cross-racial borrowings.
Victor’s 1924 Olde Time Fiddlin’ Tunes brochure, for example, remarked that on its record of two “wonderful old Negro Spirituals,” former governor Alf Taylor and His Old Limber Quartet rendered the selections “exactly as they took [them] from the lips of the old Negro master of the hounds.” But the accompanying photograph of the string band made clear that these records were decidedly white interpretations of traditional black songs.
Although talking-machine companies occasionally issued African American artists’ recordings in hillbilly series, no photographs of these recording artists, to my knowledge, ever appeared in the promotional literature for these records. With few exceptions, old-time record catalogues and advertisements disseminated images of an idyllic white rural Mountain South that existed outside of modern urban America, a closely knit, socially homogeneous and harmonious world free from flappers, foreigners, and African Americans.
Talking-machine companies’ use of these “whitewashed” textual messages and pictorial images effectively concealed the interracial character of much of the music heard on prewar hillbilly records and thereby rendered practically invisible African Americans’ involvement in early commercial country music.
When U.S. talking-machine companies began to record and market blues and old-time music during the early to mid-1920s, they effectively began the process of transforming southern vernacular music, heard for decades at fiddle contests, dances, house parties, tent shows, and other social gatherings, into immensely popular commercial products. This music, the product of more than three centuries of vibrant cross-racial exchange and adaptation, was profoundly and inextricably multiracial, but talking-machine companies, in an effort to streamline their marketing efforts, separated the music of black and white southerners into special categories of “race” and “hillbilly” records.
First commercially recorded in 1920, race records encompassed blues, jazz, gospel numbers, and sermons marketed to African American consumers across the nation. Hillbilly records, first recorded in 1922 and so named in order to capture the music’s supposedly white rural southern origins, consisted chiefly of southern fiddle tunes, string-band numbers, old parlor ballads, and religious songs, and were marketed primarily to rural and small-town white consumers, particularly in the South.
But contrary to the claims of Donald Clarke and other music historians, this industry-wide practice of separating the music into two racially encoded categories had little to do with the existence of de jure racial segregation in the American South. Rather this decision was motivated primarily by practical and commercial considerations. Dividing race and hillbilly records into special series allowed talking-machine companies to target specialized markets of consumers more effectively with their advertising and marketing campaigns.
Moreover such series also made it easier for the firms’ jobbers (local or regional distributors) and retailers to select from an entire catalogue of several thousand records those releases that would most appeal to their customers. This division was, however, premised on the racialist beliefs of northern white middle-class executives who assumed, as the folklorist Bill Ivey has written, that “consumers select music based upon race” and that “musical style and race are inextricably linked.”
What began as merely marketing categories soon evolved, for all intents and purposes, into musical genres, as the sociologist William G. Roy has noted, and the generic labels of race (first applied in 1921) and hillbilly (first used in 1925) would remain the sound-recording industry’s dominant terms to describe black and white southern vernacular music until rhythm and blues and country and western replaced them shortly after the end of World War II.
Excerpted from “Black Hillbillies: African American Musicians on Old-Time Records, 1924-1932” by Patrick Huber. From Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music edited by Diane Pecknold:
Since at least the mid-1950s, scholars and discographers have been aware of a handful of prewar hillbilly recordings featuring racially integrated bands or African American artists, but these records have received surprisingly little scholarly attention, and have generally been treated either as historical anomalies or as interesting but otherwise unimportant curiosities. And much misinformation continues to circulate, even within country music books and liner notes to CD anthologies published within the past decade.
For example, in the booklet accompanying Yazoo’s seven-CD boxed set, Kentucky Mountain Music: Classic Recordings of the 1920s and 1930s (2003), the chief annotator makes the bogus claim that Taylor’s Kentucky Boys, an otherwise all-white string band featuring a black fiddler, represents “the only group to record in the 1920’s and 30’s with an interracial construct.” Elsewhere another eminent music scholar declares that this band’s April 1927 sessions rank as “the first integrated recording sessions in American music history; jazz could not claim an integrated session until 1931”; both halves of this statement are patently false.
The chief reason for these historical inaccuracies, as well as the primary obstacle impeding research in this subject, has been the lack of a comprehensive discography of prewar hillbilly records. But now, thanks chiefly to the publication of Tony Russell’s monumental Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942 (2004), which was more than twenty years in the making, the fuller history of African Americans’ participation on early country music recordings can begin to be told. Russell’s reference work and its race records counterpart, Dixon, Godrich, and Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records, 1890–1943, allow scholars to compile an accurate and fairly complete discography of all of the known commercial hillbilly records on which African Americans performed before World War II.
And what this newly emerging discography reveals is that African Americans actively participated in the hillbilly recording industry almost from its very beginning. To be sure, records featuring African American artists were far from common, constituting only about 1 percent of the approximately eleven thousand hillbilly records released in the United States before 1933, but their numbers are far greater than most country music scholars and fans have generally appreciated. Between 1924 and 1932 black and white artists collaborated at twenty-two racially integrated sessions that produced sixty-nine recorded masters (see appendix A).
Additionally fourteen different African American artists or acts recorded forty-three known selections that appeared on hillbilly records during this same period (see appendix B). Altogether forty-nine African American musicians participated in the recording of at least 112 masters for the hillbilly recording industry before 1933. These recordings were released, in various series, on a total of 204 domestically issued sides, and of these sides, no fewer than 178 of them appeared on hillbilly records or on records otherwise intended for sale in the hillbilly market.
These African American records raise a number of intriguing and important questions about the prewar hillbilly recording industry that produced them. For example, how, in an age of pervasive racism and Jim Crow segregation, did so many racially integrated sessions occur? Whose idea was it to record white and black musicians together, and why? How was it that a commercial music genre, which from its earliest advertisements was so deliberately and overtly linked to whiteness, came to include more than 175 records featuring African American artists?
In promoting these records, did companies attempt to conceal the racial identity of these African American artists from the southern white consumers who supposedly constituted the chief market for hillbilly records? While it remains difficult, if not impossible to formulate definitive answers to such questions, studying these records suggests new ways of thinking about and understanding commercially recorded hillbilly music prior to 1933.
Excerpted from Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
James McKune wasn’t the first 78 collector, but he was one of the earliest to single out rural blues records as worthy of preservation, and is arguably the field’s most archetypal figure. At the very least, he established the physical standard. He was flagpole skinny and otherwise nondescript (medium height, tapering hair), prone to wearing the same outfit nearly every day (a white shirt with rolled sleeves, black pants, white socks, black shoes).
McKune supposedly never gave up more than 10 bucks for a 78 (and often offered less than $3), and was deeply offended—outraged, even—by collectors willing to pay out large sums of money, a practice he found garish, irresponsible, and in basic opposition to what he understood as the moral foundation of the trade. He didn’t like the notion that records could generate profit for their handlers: in the fall of 1963, in another letter to Rinard, he referenced his skepticism of a fellow collector, writing, “Somehow, I distrust him. He bought some records from the Negroes in Charleston, S.C.
He spent $19 or $20 and sold the records for more than $500.” For McKune, collecting was a sacred pursuit—a way of salvaging and anointing songs and artists that had been unjustly marginalized. It was about training yourself to act as a gatekeeper, a savior; in that sense, it was also very much about being better (knowing better, listening better) than everyone else. Even in the 1940s and 50s, 78 collectors were positioning themselves as opponents of mass culture, and McKune cultivated a fantastic disdain for pop stars as well as the so-called protest singers of the era. He thought, for example, that Woody Guthrie was bullshit, although by 1950 he’d come back around on folk music as a genre, a shift he attributed to getting older. (The career of Glenn Miller, though, was a constant source of jokes.)
In January 1944 McKune took a routine trip to Big Joe’s and began pawing through a crate labeled “Miscellany,” where he found a record with “a sleeve so tattered he almost flicked past it.” It was a battered, nearly unplayable copy of Paramount 13110, Charley Patton’s “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone.” Patton had recorded the track in Grafton, Wisconsin, 15 years earlier, and he’d been dead for less than 10 when McKune first picked it up. Patton was almost entirely unknown to modern listeners; certainly McKune had never heard him before. He tossed a buck at a snoozing Clauberg and carted the record back to Brooklyn. As Hamilton wrote, “… even before he replaced the tonearm and turned up the volume and his neighbor began to pound on the walls, he realized that he had found it, the voice he’d been searching for all along.”
“Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” is one of Charley Patton’s more staid tracks, in both rhythm and narrative. According to Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt’s King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charley Patton, “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” was “likely conceived for white presentation: it used diatonic intervals and featured the keynote as its lowest vocal tone, a technique Patton usually avoided in singing blues and gospel material.” Wardlow and Calt suspect the tune was conceived for “white square dances and sociables,” where Patton was likely accompanied by a fiddler who’d been tasked with playing lead over his strums. Lyrically, it’s a sweet imploration: don’t take me for granted, Patton warns. “Some these days, I’m going to be leaving / Some these days, I’ll be going away,” he slurs, strumming a faint, bouncing guitar line. For once, he sounds more amused than angry. You’ll see, he seems to grin. Just wait.
Charley Patton changed everything for McKune. I can run an assortment of scenarios—recounting all the fireworks-type stuff I imagine happened when he first dropped a needle to “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone”—but those particular moments of catharsis are too weird and too personal ever really to translate. What’s important is that McKune’s discovery of Patton set off an avalanche of cultural events, a revolution that’s still in progress: blues records became coveted by collectors, who then fought to preserve and disseminate them.
In the liner notes to The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, a collection of 78 rarities released by Yazoo in 2012, Richard Nevins called McKune “‘the man’ who set it all in motion, who led blues collectors away from the errors of their wayward tastes… a fantastic, brilliant young man… [his] perspectives had profound influence and resound even today.” In the same notes, Dick Spottswood—in conversation with Nevins and Whelan—spoke about how McKune raised the stakes for everyone, about how things changed: “All I’m saying is that the records themselves as collectible artifacts were not buy or die [before]. They were desirable records but they weren’t life or death. You know, the way they have since turned into.” After McKune, collectors became invested in rural blues. They sought those records with fury, the music was preserved and reissued, and the entire trajectory of popular music shifted to reflect the genre’s influence. A guy from no place, saving music from the same.
America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century, by Philip F. Gura and James F. Bollman
336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 97 color and 156 b&w illus., notes, bibl., index
This handsome illustrated history traces the transformation of the banjo from primitive folk instrument to sophisticated musical machine and, in the process, offers a unique view of the music business in nineteenth-century America.
Philip Gura and James Bollman chart the evolution of “America’s instrument,” the five-stringed banjo, from its origins in the gourd instruments of enslaved Africans brought to the New World in the seventeenth century through its rise to the very pinnacle of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Throughout, they look at how banjo craftsmen and manufacturers developed, built, and marketed their products to an American public immersed in the production and consumption of popular music.
With over 250 illustrations–including rare period photographs, minstrel broadsides, sheet music covers, and banjo tutors and tune books–America’s Instrument brings to life a fascinating aspect of American cultural history.
Philip F. Gura is William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is an old-time music enthusiast. James F. Bollman is co-owner and manager of the Music Emporium in Lexington, Massachusetts. He plays clawhammer banjo and has been collecting and researching banjos and banjo-related ephemera for more than thirty years.
“America’s Instrument is a fascinating, eye-opening read. . . . That this handsome book belongs in the library of every banjo enthusiast barely needs stating, but it is also a gem for anyone interested in folk music, in American studies, and in the development of American popular culture.”
–Missouri Folklore Society Journal
“America’s Instrument reviews extant banjo history firmly, without antagonism. [The authors] prune from their own new research all but the banjo’s technical progress. They watch the banjo change from an African gourd with a neck attached to a twentieth-century machine-made tool able to bounce its yawp off the back of the largest halls. . . . They have written an obsessive book for banjo fanatics, rich in living banjo culture. . . . America’s Instrument lavishly details the banjo from the pegface to tailpiece hanger bolt.”
–Journal of American History
“American’s Instrument is now one of those ‘must have’ items for ‘banjo people.’ However, this is a very enjoyable book to look through for anyone, largely because so many incredible photos are of people, not just banjos, staring off the page at us from a century and a half ago. . . . Gura and Bollman have contributed an incredible document to the history of the banjo, and I for one deeply appreciate their effort.”
–Béla Fleck, for Mississippi Quarterly
That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture, by Karen Linn (University of Illinois)
Long a symbol of American culture, the banjo actually originated in Africa and was later adopted by European-Americans. In this book Karen Linn shows how the banjo – despite design innovations and several modernizing agendas – has failed to escape its image as a “half-barbaric” instrument symbolic of antimodernism and sentimentalism.
Caught in the morass of American racial attitudes and often used to express ambivalence toward modern industrial society, the banjo stood in opposition to the “official” values of rationalism, modernism, and belief in the beneficence of material progress. Linn uses popular literature, visual arts, advertisements, film, performance practices, instrument construction and decoration, and song lyrics to illustrate how notions about the banjo have changed.
Her text traces the instrument from its African origins through the 1980s, alternating between themes of urban modernization and rural nostalgia. She examines the banjo fad of bourgeois Northerners during the late nineteenth century, African-American banjo tradition and the commercially popular cultural image of the southern black banjo player, the banjo in ragtime and early jazz, and the white Southerner and mountaineer as banjo player.
“Well written and well researched; Linn has amassed an impressive amount of data, and she uses it effectively. . . . This is an excellent book that should be of interest to not only historians, folklorists, and musicologists but also the banjo player and the general reader.”–Charlie Seemann, Journal of Southern History
“An absolute must read for anyone interested in the banjo.”–Five Stringer
“Concise, well-supported, and provocative. . . . The clearest voice of revelation regarding American’s most misunderstood instrument.”–Bob Fulcher, Journal of Country Music
“An intriguing analysis of the role of the banjo in recent American culture and society. . . . Highly recommended.”–R. D. Cohen, Choice
“Uses everything from sentimental novels and escaped slave posters to Felix the Cat cartoons and magazine advertisements to create impressive cultural history of what the author calls the ‘idea of the banjo.’ . . . Linn’s wonderful book is scholarly without being jargoned, serious without being tedious. . . . A book for dipping into, underlining, reading aloud in snatches, and opening repeatedly.”–Rachel Rubin, Banjo Newsletter
Karen Linn is an archivist in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. She has published articles in North Carolina Folklore Journal and American Music.
Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel, by James R. Goff Jr. (University of North Carolina Press)
excerpt from http://uncpress.unc.edu:
Early in the nation’s history, gospel music emerged as a central part of the expression of American culture. Practically speaking, it provided a foundation for other styles of music that came to enrich the life of its citizens. More important, it built a bulwark upon which a developing nation and its people could assemble a religious identity.
At least since the first few decades of the nineteenth century, Americans have been among the world’s most religious people. And even before the rural revivals of the early 1800s turned the cultural landscape of the nation into a bastion of evangelicalism, Americans were comfortable with the tenets of the Judeo-Christian heritage and understood the majority of their values within those boundaries. In that context, gospel music helped mold the culture through which the collective hopes, dreams, and beliefs of most Americans found expression.
Few books have examined the American gospel music tradition. One can search library shelves and find a significant number of works on the evolution and importance of most forms of classical and popular music. On the popular side, a number of impressive efforts have chronicled the rise of blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music. In recent years, a sizable number of similar works on the role of black gospel have even appeared. Yet almost ignored is the parallel treatment of the white gospel tradition.
Ironically, the area of life most divided in 1900 was religious life—segregation by custom rather than by any particular detail of a state’s Jim Crow package. In part to experience fully one of the few areas where they had total control, blacks in the decades after the Civil War flocked to churches and denominations that were operated and controlled within the black community.
A by-product was an increased separation in the performance of and preference for gospel music. The timing was pivotal, for the late decades of the nineteenth century would be the crucial decades in the development of the shape-note songbook publishing business and also in the formation of early quartet styling. Black and white singers would still listen, learn, and consciously borrow from each other, but segregation in general would mean that their audiences and the confines of their market would be separate for at least the first six decades of the twentieth century.
“Music, Culture, and Conflict in Mali,” by Andy Morgan
Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali takes an in-depth look at the crisis that overtook Mali in January 2012 and lead to a ten-month occupation of the northern two-thirds of the country by armed jihadi groups, the impositon of Sharia law, and the banning of music.
The book examines the roots of those tumultuous events and their effect on the music and culture of the country. There are chapters on music under occupation in the north, the music scene in Bamako, the destruction of mausoleums in the north, the fate of Mali’s precious manuscripts, Mali’s film and theatre industries and the response to the crisis from writers, poets, journalists, intellectuals and film-makers.
Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali is by the writer and journalist Andy Morgan, who used to manage the Touareg group Tinariwen and has been working with and writing about Malian musicians for many years. He is also a reputed commentator on the music, culture and politics of Mali and the Sahara.
The inconclusive military coup of March 2012 ousted the government and left a power vacuum which Touareg rebels in the North seized upon to declare their independence from the Malian state. Al-Qaeda allies quickly capitalised on this political instability, taking control of the North and imposing a strict form of Islamic law on to the region.
These Islamist militia groups took particular objection to what they considered ‘idolatrous’ local religious practices, destroying the shrines of Timbuktu’s mosques, recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Mali’s rich musical culture was suppressed by laws which banned any form of ‘Western’ music, which in practice extended to local music, ringtones, and anything that was not chanted Qu’ranic verse.
Pistol Packin’ Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong,” by Shelly Romalis (University of Illinois
Meet Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960), one of American folklore’s most fascinating characters.
A coal miner’s daughter, she grew up in eastern Kentucky, married a miner, and became a midwife, labor activist, and songwriter. Fusing hard experience with rich Appalachian musical tradition, her songs became weapons of struggle.
In a life spanning eighty years, Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960) assumed a variety of identities: miner’s wife, mother, widow, midwife, union organizer, political activist, and ballad singer.
Briefly popular for her role as a political symbol and folksinger in 1930s New York City, Jackson’s name has since drifted into relative obscurity. Nonetheless the Kentucky woman was once called “one of America’s best native ballad singers” by the man usually credited with that honor, Woody Guthrie.
Invited to New York to sing about the plight of the ‘Bloody Harlan’ strikers in 1931, Jackson lived in that city for much of the decade and participated in Greenwich Village’s urban folk revival in the pre-war years. She came to be perceived by intellectuals of the time as an “authentic” representative of the American folk. Her folk identity, initially recognized and co-opted by writers of the political left, was later crafted for symbolic purchase by political groups, folk collectors, and, most importantly, Jackson herself.
She was sponsored and befriended by an illustrious circle of left-wing intellectuals and musicians, including Theodore Dreiser, Alan Lomax, and Charles Seeger and his son Pete. Along with Sarah Ogan Gunning, Jim Garland (two of Aunt Molly’s half-siblings), Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and other folk musicians, she served as a cultural broker, linking the rural working poor to big-city left-wing activism.
Shelly Romalis draws upon interviews and archival materials to construct this portrait of an Appalachian woman who remained radical, raucous, proud, poetic, offensive, self-involved, and in spirit the “real” pistol packin’ mama of the song.
“Mr. Coal operator call me anything you please, blue, green, or red, I aim to see to it that these Kentucky coalminers will not dig your coal while their little children are crying and dying for milk and bread.”
— Aunt Molly Jackson
from “Truth is Stranger Than Publicity,” by Alton Delmore (Country Music Foundation Press):
Alton Delmore writes about the 1930 fiddlers’ convention in Athens, AL:
“There was a big crowd there and everything was decorated and all fixed up like the president of the United States would be there. It was by far the biggest and most important contest in the entire country. People who had never been to a contest before gathered with the contestants at the Old Athens (Alabama) Agricultural School. My mother had made (guitar) cases for us out of cotton sacks we used during the picking season and we had our names on them spelled out in full. I painted them on the cases with pokeberry juice.
“You know how it feels to be a combatant in any kind of contest so we rightly felt proud of the sack cases and we were primed to go for the first in the prizes in each case. I entered the contest for the best guitarist and we also entered the contest for the best band. There were some bands there that would have given Bob Wills some strong competition if Bob had been there. We didn’t think we would win that one. By then we had ‘Brown’s Ferry Blues’ down pretty pat-in fact we could play it then just as good as we ever did.
“When it came our time to play we sang just as soft as we could and just as loud as we could but we put the music in there, too -and that counts as much as anything I can think of to help put an act over. You can analyze music and record hits, I mean the legitimate ones, and you will find that there is a synchronization between the voice or voices and the instrumentation.
“We got tied for the first place with three pretty girls. Nothing worse could have happened because we knew the crowd usually takes sides with the singer if it happens to be a girl and those three girls could really sing. The rules were that they were to play two songs and two for us. The girls went out first, and I could tell they had lost something of their quality on their very first song. Their second one was not any better but they still got a tremendous hand from the audience. I knew we had something to beat. Rabon did, too, but it just made us work harder. We could feel the challenge in the air.
“For our first number we used the old song ‘Columbus Stockade Blues.’ It was written by Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarltor It is a plaintive prison and love song combined and when we got through singing men threw their hats into the top of the house and everybody screamed like the had really never before. We thought had it won then and we did but we still had the ‘Brown’s Ferry Blues’ for them and when we did it the people really went wild and we won that contest without any question or any doubt. And that started us on our way to the Grand Ole Opry and the big record companies. Incidentally, I also won the first place for guitar playing with an instrumental rendition of ‘St. Louis Blues.’ Our names came out in the paper and it was really swell. Of all the days of triumph in my life, there were none any greater than those.”
“Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens” by Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone
The life story of singer and songwriter Hazel Dickens, the inspiring voice of a whole generation of women and workers
Hazel Dickens is an Appalachian singer and songwriter known for her superb musicianship, feminist country songs, union anthems, and blue-collar laments. Growing up in a West Virginia coal mining community, she drew on the mountain music and repertoire of her family and neighbors when establishing her own vibrant and powerful vocal style that is a trademark in old-time, bluegrass, and traditional country circles. Working Girl Blues presents forty original songs that Hazel Dickens wrote about coal mining, labor issues, personal relationships, and her life and family in Appalachia. Conveying sensitivity, determination, and feistiness, Dickens comments on each of her songs, explaining how she came to write them and what they meant and continue to mean to her. Bill C. Malone’s introduction traces Dickens’s life, musical career, and development as a songwriter, and the book features forty-one illustrations and a detailed discography of her commercial recordings.
“Working Girl Blues succinctly yet comprehensively surveys a remarkable artistic career and the circumstances in which it has progressed from the perspectives of the artist herself and a distinguished scholar. . . This book will be an invaluable resource to anyone who wishes to understand the contexts surrounding Dickens’s achievements and the historical developments of which her life is illustrative.”–H-Southern-Music
“A fascinating portrayal of how one Appalachian native navigated the American shoals. Dickens’s voice illuminates the pristine, original, and enduring folk culture of the region and will stimulate readers to ask larger questions about American polity. Folksong buffs, sophisticated feminists, labor partisans, and American and Appalachian studies scholars will be among the enthusiasts for this phenomenal book.”–Archie Green, author of Tin Men
“As a musician, Hazel Dickens has an immediately recognizable voice that perfectly captures the grittiness of the songs she writes. The songs themselves reflect the lives and struggles of the mountain people she grew up with and have acted as a conduit through which the whole country gained a more intimate knowledge of Appalachia. In this effortless, fast-moving narrative, we hear Dickens telling–in her own voice–how she is influenced by her life and times. A thoroughly enjoyable read.”–Ellen Wright, coauthor of Pressing On: The Roni Stoneman Story
Bill C. Malone is a professor emeritus of history at Tulane University. He is the author of several books, including Don’t Get above Your Raisin': Country Music and the Southern Working Class.
“Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem,” by Howard L. Sacks and Judith Rose Sacks
Who really wrote the classic song “Dixie”? A white musician, or an African American family of musicians and performers?
This book traces the lives of the Snowdens, an African American family of musicians and farmers living in rural Knox County, Ohio. Howard L. Sacks and Judith Rose Sacks examine the Snowdens’ musical and social exchanges with rural whites from the 1850s through the early 1920s and provide a detailed exploration of the claim that the Snowden family taught the song “Dixie” to Dan Emmett–the white musician and blackface minstrel credited with writing the song. This edition features a new introduction in which the authors discuss the public response to this controversial claim, and present new information on the Snowdens’ musical and social experiences.
“An intriguing and textured portrait of a black family in the nineteenth-century North. . . . Arguing that those who have searched for black influences on minstrelsy have exclusively and mistakenly focused on the South, the authors seek to demonstrate the closely intertwined traditions of black and white music above the Mason-Dixon line. . . . Not only has blackface minstrelsy exerted ‘a pervasive impact on American music’ . . . it has also served as both symbol and metaphoric expression of the complexities of American racial identity.”–Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times
“A haunting and heroic story, which the Sackses tell eloquently. . . . Way Up North in Dixie is the fullest, most finely detailed account I know of the musical life of a nineteenth-century African American family anywhere in the United States.”–Ken Emerson, Nation
“The process of cultural exchange the Sackses have delineated is one of which all historians of race in America need to be aware.”–Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., American Historical Review
Howard L. Sacks is senior advisor to the president, professor of sociology, and director of the Rural Life Center at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Judith Rose Sacks is an affiliated scholar in American studies at Kenyon College.
The Guitar and the New World: A Fugitive History, by Joe Gioia (SUNY Press)
The primary thesis of the book, sure to be controversial, is that the Blues is mostly derived from Native American roots, rather than African.
The book includes a wide range of intriguing meanderings, book-ended by the hidden background of the author’s Sicilian and Napolitano ancestors, one of whom was an early guitar maker. Along with the history of the guitar in Europe and 19th and early 20th century America, interesting histories of Western New York State and a presidential assassination appear. But the book’s true subject is the fugitive nature of history itself.
Gioia’s investigation stretches from the ancient world to the fateful events of the 1901 Buffalo Pan American Exposition, across Sioux Ghost Dancers and circus Indians, to the lives and works of such celebrated American musicians as Jimmy Rodgers, Charlie Patton, Eddie Lang, and the Carter Family.
At the heart of the book’s portrait of wanderings and legacies is the proposition that America’s idiomatic harmonic forms—mountain music and the blues—share a single root, and that the source of the sad and lonesome sounds central to both is neither Celtic nor African, but truly indigenous—Native American. The case is presented through a wide examination of cultural histories, academic works, and government documents, as well as a close appreciation of recordings made by key rural musicians, black and white, in the 1920s and ’30s.
Joe documents in some detail the fascinating history of how through the whole southeast including Appalachia but more, from the Florida Seminoles, West to Oklahoma, and up through the Northeast and upstate New York, there was not only large-scale inter-marriage but cultural interaction, especially musical.
Many Blues idioms, vocal and musical, go back to Native Americans, including “Hey Hey”. Howling Wolf claimed his Choctaw ancestry, but Muddy Waters is also an obviously Native American name. Joe Gioia provides plenty of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, all that is possible after the erasures of official history, including insight into the realities of slavery. One repellent but riveting example is how the term “Blues” derives from the toxic and nauseating indigo production. But after fifty years of extensive searching in Africa, nobody from musicologists to Buddy Guy have found anything like Blues musical patterns in Africa.
Discussions include Jimmy Rodgers, Charlie Patton, Eddie Lang, the Carter Family, Leadbelly, and many more, and Native American echoes appear in both Rock and Country music. Fascinating and highly readable, this is an important book, revealing a major contribution of Native Americans to mainstream American culture
edited excerpt of review of Tony Russell’s “Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost,” by Keith Chandler (http://www.mustrad.org.uk):
“Country Music Originals” takes the form of a chronologically-arranged series of brief biographies to which are attached even briefer playlists indicating where to hear tracks in the CD format by each of the chosen artists. Practically every entry features at least one photograph of the named performer, and in addition we get the bonus of further contextual images such as 78 rpm record labels, song folio covers, advertising copy, and facsimilies of newspaper articles (regrettably at times, as that on page 127, lacking details of provenance).
Mr. Russell appends a postscript to the biography of Ed Haley, a blind fiddler born in West Virginia in 1884 whose stylistic influence was widespread among many younger players throughout both that and adjoining states in which Haley travelled widely. He never recorded for any of the commercial companies, and his aural legacy lies in a series of home recordings (more than a hundred of which are extant) produced, it has always been assumed, simply for personal satisfaction.
Russell reveals (pages 79-80) that ‘recent research in West Virginia newspapers provides grounds for questioning’ that assumption, and offers an extract of an advertisement discovered in The Charleston Gazette of 27 September 1930 : ‘if interested, either as a seller or user, in 10-inch double-faced Phonograph Records, made by him, price 35 cents each, write Ed Haley Co., Huntington, W. Va.’ This would have involved a labour-intensive process, seated before a recording machine and playing through each selection as many times as were required to fill any outstanding orders.
Russell generally shows a nice turn of phrase which may be at odds with that demanded by strict academic publications, but which sits well in a volume that needs to exhibit the broadest possible appeal. The instruments of Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters, for instance, ‘pierce the murk of surface noise like a lighthouse beam on a dark night’ (page 24); while of Hoyt Ming’s group he writes (on page 122), ‘The hour or so they spent making records in the Memphis Auditorium would buy them a time-share at Immortality Court …’
Each individual entry in the book is made up from sundry component parts. Among these might be basic details of recording and other performance experiences, quotes from either the musicians themselves or those who knew them, partial transcriptions of a song or skit, the whole overlaid with Russell’s perceptive and insightful analysis. One excellent example of this may be found when he discusses (on page 107) the vocal interjections to be heard on many of the items recorded by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter:
The effect of these homely devices is to relocate the mythlike narratives of half-forgotten seductions and murders in the known present: to ground them in the familiar geographical, social, and ethical landscape of ’20s Appalachia. That this terrain was itself shifting uneasily beneath the pressures of modern life was all to the point: their tales, Grayson and Whitter might have argued, were, in their essence, for all time.
Africa and the Blues, by Gerhard Kubik
A study of the geneology of blues music encompassing forty years of fieldwork done in Africa, the U.S., and elsewhere
In 1969 Gerhard Kubik chanced to encounter a Mozambican labor migrant, a miner in Transvaal, South Africa, tapping a cipendani, a mouth-resonated musical bow. A comparable instrument was seen in the hands of a white Appalachian musician who claimed it as part of his own cultural heritage. Through connections like these Kubik realized that the link between these two far-flung musicians is African-American music, the sound that became the blues.
Such discoveries reveal a narrative of music evolution for Kubik, a cultural anthropologist and ethnomusicologist. Traveling in Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, and the United States, he spent forty years in the field gathering the material for Africa and the Blues. In this book, Kubik relentlessly traces the remote genealogies of African cultural music through eighteen African nations, especially in the Western and Central Sudanic Belt.
Included is a comprehensive map of this cradle of the blues, along with 31 photographs gathered in his fieldwork. The author also adds clear musical notations and descriptions of both African and African American traditions and practices and calls into question the many assumptions about which elements of the blues were “European” in origin and about which came from Africa. Unique to this book is Kubik’s insight into the ways present-day African musicians have adopted and enlivened the blues with their own traditions.
With scholarly care but with an ease for the general reader, Kubik proposes an entirely new theory on blue notes and their origins. Tracing what musical traits came from Africa and what mutations and mergers occurred in the Americas, he shows that the African American tradition we call the blues is truly a musical phenomenon belonging to the African cultural world.
Gerhard Kubik is a professor in the department of ethnology and African studies at the University of Mainz, Germany. Since 1983 he has been affiliated with the Center for Social Research of Malawi, Zomba. He is a permanent member of the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, London.
Country Music Humorists and Comedians, by Loyal Jones (University of Illinois Press)
An exhaustive reference detailing the mirth and music of country music humorists and comedians
This volume is an encyclopedia of country music performers who have used comedy as a central component of their presentation. Loyal Jones offers a conversational and informative biographical sketch of each performer, often including a sample of the musician’s humor, a recording history, and amusing anecdotal tidbits. In an entertaining style, Jones covers performers throughout the twentieth century, from such early stars of vaudeville and radio barn dances as the Skillet Lickers and the Weaver Brothers and Elviry, to regulars on Hee Haw and the Grand Old Opry, continuing to current comedians such as the Austin Lounge Lizards, Ray Stevens, and Jeff Foxworthy.
This comprehensive, readable reference opens with a broad introductory essay on country humor, discussing such topics as stock comic figures, venues for comedic performance, and benchmark performers. Throughout the volume, Jones places each performer squarely in the context of the country music community and its performing traditions. Readers will learn a good deal about musical instruments, yodeling, life on the road, the cultural milieu of these performers, and the roots of country music humor.
“If Cratis Williams is the father of Appalachian Studies and Helen Lewis its mother, than I reckon Loyal Jones would have to be considered the midwife of it all. . . . This book reflects not only his disarming sense of humor, but also his meticulous attention to voluminous details, his considerable scholarship, and his substantial wisdom.”–Appalachian Heritage
“Southern humor, rural comedy and its practitioners are brilliantly showcased.”–The Nashville Musician
“A treasure trove of information. . . . Will make a wonderful reference book for years to come.”–Bluegrass Unlimited
“The importance of the subject emphasized by Jones is unquestionable. Humor has been an indispensable ingredient of country music entertainment and is in fact a major force in its worldwide success. This volume is insightful, informative, and entertaining.”–Bill C. Malone, author of Don’t Get Above Your Raisin': Country Music and the Southern Working Class
“This stimulating book is a significant contribution to several fields. Students of country music, American history, performing arts, minstrel heritage, and the roots of comedy as it related to various subcultures of the American panorama will all want the detailed information only this author can provide. This book is one of a kind.”–Ron Thomason, founder of the bluegrass band Dry Branch Fire Squad
Loyal Jones is the author of nine books and dozens of articles on Appalachian culture, including Laughter in Appalachia: A Festival of Southern Mountain Humor. For twenty-three years he was director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College.
“Traditional Musicians of the Central Blue Ridge,” by Marty McGee (McFarland)
The Central Blue Ridge, taking in the mountainous regions of northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia, is well known for its musical traditions. Long recognized as one of the richest repositories of folksong in the United States, the Central Blue Ridge has also been a prolific source of commercial recording, starting in 1923 with Henry Whitter’s “hillbilly” music and continuing into the 21st century with such chart-topping acts as James King, Ronnie Bowman and Doc Watson.
Unrivaled in tradition, unequaled in acclaim and unprecedented in influence, the Central Blue Ridge can claim to have contributed to the musical landscape of Americana as much as or more than any other region in the United States.
This reference work–part of McFarland’s continuing series of Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies–provides complete biographical and discographical information on more than 75 traditional recording (major commercial label) artists who are natives of or lived mostly in the northwestern North Carolina counties of Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Surry, Watauga and Wilkes, and the southwestern Virginia counties of Carroll and Grayson.
Primary recordings as well as appearances on anthologies are included in the discographies. A chronological overview of the music is provided in the Introduction, and the Foreword is by the celebrated musician Bobby Patterson, founder of the Mountain and Heritage record labels.
“Strings of Life — Conversations with Old-Time Musicians from Virginia and North Carolina,” by Kevin Donleavy (Pocahontas Press)
Kevin Donleavy, graduate of University of Virginia, independent historian, musicologist, and educator has combined his talents to create a “historical-musical census-of-sorts” identifying more than 1300 banjo and fiddle players of traditional music in a span of over 250 years.
Donleavy spent seven years traveling, living, playing music and most importantly, listening to the residents of Carroll, Grayson, Patrick and Wythe counties in Virginia and Alleghany, Caswell, Forsyth, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, and Wilkes counties in North Carolina. He has now complied a collection of oral histories not found anywhere else.
Strings of Life is well organized and Mr. Donleavy’s research is thoroughly documented complete with a annotated Discography and Bibliography, as well as three separate indexes: Persons Mentioned; Tunes; and Bands and Musical Groups. In addition, of the 1300 some musicians mentioned in this volume, Donleavy has been able to identify the burial sites of about 660 in 170 graveyards scatted throughout the 11 counties.
Some of the families documented are Hawks, Jarrell, Lowe, Martin, McKinney, Sutphin and Tate, along with many others. It would have been nice if a list of the nearly one hundred wonderful photos had been included in the table of contents, but truly, the pictures are enough. (more…)
The High and Lonesome Sound (new book by John Cohen)
“The music of Roscoe Holcomb transcended daily life. Although it was grounded in Appalachia, in East Kentucky, in his little town of Dais, his music traveled like it was on a path towards a distant star.”
from publisher steidlville.com:
In 1959 John Cohen traveled to East Kentucky looking for what he calls “old music”. Cohen asked for names at local gas stations but soon ran out of leads, and drove off the highway onto the next dirt road. Here he stumbled across Roscoe Holcomb playing the banjo and singing on his front porch in a way says Cohen, “that made the hairs on my neck stand up on end”. And so by pure chance began the life-long friendship that is the background for The High and Lonesome Sound.
Cohen visited Holcomb frequently over the next three decades, and made many photographs, films and records of his music. In time Holcomb, a poor coal miner by trade, became a regular feature on the American concert and festival circuits. The “strange beauty and discomfort” of his music – a mixture of blues, ballads and Baptist hymns, and unique through his high strained voice – was exposed to a larger audience. Nevertheless Holcomb died alone in a nursing home in 1981.
The High and Lonesome Sound combines Cohen’s vintage photos, film and musical recordings as well as an anecdotal text into a multimedia tribute to this underappreciated legend of American music whose every performance was in Cohen’s words “not just a rendition of music, but a test of something to be overcome”.