Archive for the ‘Buell Kazee’ Category

Buell Kazee

May 17, 2012



It’s the first of July 1929, and at Brunswick Records’ studio in Chicago a recording supervisor invites a banjo-pickin’, tabacker-chawin’, moonshine-swiggin’ hillbilly to sit in front of a microphone (“Mike who?” the yokel asks) and make a record. The hillbilly delivers some canned vernacular (“Well dog my cats!”; “Well that’ll make a black snake spit in a bulldog’s eye!”), threatens the engineer, and gets learnt what a cuspidor is. After the supervisor coaxes a few verses and “some of that old-fashioned banjo picking” out of his guest, who has meanwhile gotten himself drunk, both sides of the record are finished, to be released later that year in the Brunswick/Supertone catalog as “A Mountain Boy Makes His First Record.”

That mountain boy was a 28-year-old from Magoffin County, Kentucky, named Buell Kazee, and this recorded skit was of his own devising: two sides of 58 that he made for the Brunswick label between 1927 and 1929, the heyday of the “hillbilly” recording era. Those sides, however, are among the least representative of the mountain boy’s considerable musical abilities (and did not in fact constitute his first record). And, as Loyal Jones, retired director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College, writes in his notes to the June Appal label’s recently released CD of Kazee’s later recordings, “Buell did not look on them as major accomplishments.”

They are also a completely misleading portrait of the man himself (not that many fell for it; the record hardly sold and has never been reissued), as the June Appal album, Buell Kazee, released in June, makes clear. Kazee was well-educated, deeply religious (he heard the call to preach at 17), and without a doubt one of the most remarkable talents in American folk music. His extensive repertoire of ballads, lyric songs, and occupational pieces reflected an upbringing in a mountain community steeped in the “old songs” and entertained by square dances and bean stringings, where he picked up the banjo at the age of five and where his love of music was nurtured by his parents, both of whom were talented singers. (more…)