Archive for the ‘Dick Spottswood’ Category

Raw Fiddle

July 19, 2013

Raw Fiddle (Rounder CD), edited by Richard Spottswood


This two-disc set consists of 49 reissued songs and tunes taken from old 78s and chosen by the respected ethnodiscographer Dick Spottswood. The first CD carries the relatively more familiar material, from Southern (and, more rarely, Southwestern) white and black folk musicians, the styles covering the bases: dance tunes and hoedowns, blues, comic and novelty pieces, lyric songs.

The second features less often encountered sounds, of the sort now often called — vaguely enough — “world music.” Then it was just “foreign” to English-speaking Americans of the 1920s, when the bulk of these recordings were waxed. Here that means fiddle tunes and songs from Albania, Greece, Syria, Martinique, Trinidad, Scotland, Ireland, Cajun Louisiana, French Canada, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria — and sometimes fusions, where two countries bordered one another and cultures meshed. Most are performed by immigrants to America — thus not actually “foreign” in anything but relatively recent arrival — who brought the old-country traditions, today largely vanished, with them.

Be assured, however, that everything here can be listened to with pleasure, and furthermore, you don’t have to be a violin player to appreciate it, though of course violinists will be picking up all kinds of things passing by the ears of those of us who aren’t. No matter; this is not just outstanding music, but accessible and entertaining, too. Spottswood obviously wants listeners, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to enjoy themselves. We do.

Even on the first disc he is not driving the usual warhorses, old recordings that have been revived and reissued to the point of exhaustion. Maybe half of the Southern material is known to me as a longtime listener of source recordings, and the other still sounds fresh enough not to have outworn welcomes. I can’t imagine that anyone could ever object to renewed acquaintance with, for example, the Carter Brothers & Son’s magnificently unhinged “Give the Fiddler a Dram” or the Bang Brothers’ cheerfully lascivious “When Lulu’s Gone.”

Disc two has delights flavored with surprises, with only the Cajun, Quebec and Celtic music likely not to sound — well, adjectives like “exotic” or “unusual” or “strange” only betray the listener’s ignorance and ethnocentrism. Let’s put it this way: Unless you grew up in a culture where these particular styles of fiddling and singing were a part of your life (or you happen to be an ethnomusicologist), you will be hearing something you’ve had little to no exposure to before. If you’re like me, you’ll be making a point to hear more. There are lots of good old-time reissues on the market, but none quite like this one.

Folk Music in America

July 4, 2013

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Here is an extrememly generous gift to the world,  from, for this 4th of July.  Thank you Dinosaur Discs! 

This 15 LP set is also a timeless gift of scholarship and love from legendary musicologist Dick Spottswood.  Many thanks to him for his decades of contributions to the understanding and appreciation of American vernacular music..  Read more about him here and here.

This post and links are copied with permission from

Folk Music in America

“Folk Music in America” is a series of 15 LP records published by the Library of Congress between 1976 and 1978 to celebrate the bicentennial of the American Revolution. It was curated by librarian/collector-cum-discographer Richard K. Spottswood, and funded by a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The music, pulled primarily from the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song (now Archive of Folk Culture), spans nearly a century (1890-1976) and virtually every form that can be considered American music. This includes native American songs and instrumental music, music of immigrant cultures from all over the world, and uniquely American forms like blues, jazz and country.

Download “Folk Music in America” (1.1GB) (Individual links below)

At 15 LP records (252 songs, 12 hours), the series stretches what can be considered a single publication, but represents a somewhat comprehensive survey of American folk music of the 20th century. The booklets (included here in PDF form) transcribe lyrics, share images and tell short stories about sources and symbols helpful in understanding the material. Each disc is organized along a theme, which follow. Click the links below to download the “discs” individually, or the image above to download the whole anthology.

  1. Religious Music – Congregational and Ceremonial
  2. Songs of Love, Courtship, and Marriage
  3. Dance Music – Breakdowns and Waltzes
  4. Dance Music – Reels, Polkas, Etc.
  5. Dance Music – Ragtime, Jazz, Etc.
  6. Songs of Migration and Immigration
  7. Songs of Complaint and Protest
  8. Songs of Labor and Livelihood
  9. Songs of Death and Tragedy
  10. Songs of War and History
  11. Songs of Humor and Hilarity
  12. Songs of Local History and Events
  13. Songs of Childhood
  14. Solo and Display Music
  15. Religious Music – Solo and Performance

Additional info about the downloads here.

Dick Spottswood’s Desert Island Discs

June 15, 2013


Richard K. “Dick” Spottswood  is a musicologist and author who has catalogued and been responsible for the reissue of many thousands of recordings of vernacular music in the United States.  His masterwork, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942 (University of Illinois Press, 1990), is a nine-volume listing of sound recordings by minority groups issued in the U.S. until 1942. He also edited and annotated the 15-volume LP series Folk Music in America for the Library of Congress, and contributed to books including Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music LCCN 2002-22360 and Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919.  The following is a list of his desert island discs.


SKIP JAMES Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues (any version)
Best of all the hard times songs, and the compelling peak of a great perfomer’s art

STANLEY BROTHERS Will He Wait a Little Longer Mercury, 1955
Ralph’s composition for bluegrass quartet, with unexpected harmonies that make it glow

LOUIS ARMSTRONG King of the Zulus OKeh, 1926
After some inept comedy, LA plays one of the most memorably thoughtful solos of his career.

DENNIS McGEE Mon Chère Bébé Créole (My Creole Sweet Mama) Vocalion, 1929
Singing in Cajun French with twin fiddles–it’s a waltz drenched in the blues. Dennis McGee sang and played it for most of his long life.

DUKE ELLINGTON The Giddybug Gallop/Bakiff Victor, 1941
Two forgotten favorites back to back. “Giddybug Gallop” was a tour-de-force that served as overture to the short-lived musical Jump for Joy. “Bakiff” (like “Caravan”) was a piece of atmospheric orientalia that featured Ray Nance’s sweet, sweet violin.

My favorite acapella performance. William Thatch’s falsetto lead resonates with me in a deep place. I don’t have this and wish I did.

CLARENCE WILLIAMS BLUE FIVE New Orleans Hop Scop Blues OKeh, 1923
Hard core blues from composer George W. Thomas with an early boogie bass and Sidney Bechet playing his heart out on the soprano saxophone.

CARTER FAMILY In the Valley of the Shenandoah Bluebird, 1941
One of their least remembered and very best performances, with aggressive dissonances in the vocal hamonies.

WADE MAINER Look On and Cry Bluebird, 1938
Clyde Moody sings lead on another tragic favorite. One verse duplicates the epitaph:

Remember, friends, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you will be
So get prepared to follow me

GEORGE TOREY Married Woman Blues/Lonesome Man Blues ARC, 1937
Another twofer, and my favorite voice & guitar blues record. Nothing we do is perfect, but either side of this disc comes close.

BOB WILLS Crippled Turkey ARC, 1936
Bob’s guitarist plays major chords to his minor key melody, and the tension builds. Some of my friends think this record is amateurishly bumbling, but others get it just fine.

This an arbitrary list, without any classical music or postwar country, r&b or jazz. Ask me again in a month and I might not make the same choices, but I’d make others like them.

Dick Spottswood (pt.2)

March 1, 2013



Dick Spottswood: I became fascinated with early hillbilly music when I heard the famous Harry Smith [An Anthology of American Folk Music] collection in the 1950s.  At the time I though country music was nothing more than honky tonk hits on AM radio, so I was really captivated by  music that sounded prehistoric in comparison.

Then, at a high school party – I think I was a sophomore that year, probably 1953 – I heard Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on a stack of records at a teenage party in Chevy Chase. That music stopped me in my tracks! (laughs) It was “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and even Harry Smith hadn’t prepared me for that!

Lester and Earl were like nothing I’d ever heard. It was on one of those old record players that dropped the 78s down on the turntable one at a time, without breaking any if you were lucky. So I memorized their names and went to see what I could about finding some of their records.

I met Mike Seeger around that time, and he was already paying attention to that style of hillbilly music. It wasn’t called bluegrass then. He recommended a lot of names. I learned of Bill Monroe from him the first time, along with Jim and Jesse and all  those people whose names became household.

A year later I went with Pete Kuykendall, Lamar Grier and a few other people to uncover a huge stash of small label records in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was over Christmas break in 1955. We drove down icy roads in Tennessee and Virginia in a 1948 Buick . I don’t know how it was that we didn’t slide off the road on the ice sometimes. We loaded up that car with as many records as we could without shoving any of us passengers out and drove all the way back to Washington with them.  It was really where I became acquainted with bluegrass and the art of collecting.

It was like I was selling Fuller brushes, except that I was buying old records; knocking on the door and saying, “how are you today? I was wondering if you have any old records hidden back in the closet or in the attic or outdoors in the shed, because I’m looking for whatever I can find.”

I would pay people for records, and most of the time it wasn’t too terribly hard. The hard part was looking through worn out records of no interest…standard popular music, or the beat up rhythm n’ blues records…you know, things that were very commonplace at the time and of no collecting interest. It wasn’t easy to find the records I liked best, even 50 or 60 years ago.

Dick Spottswood (pt.1)

February 20, 2013

Folk Music in America Series: Edited By Richard Spottswood, 15 Volume LP Set


by Ian Nagoski (edited excerpt from

“…there’s exciting music to be found in obscure places, and those are the discoveries I still live for.”

Dick Spottswood has been personally responsible for the continued life of thousands of performances of American music from the first half of the twentieth century.

If you own any reissue collections of vernacular music from that era, there’s a good chance that his name is somewhere in the credits. For more than 40 years, he has been publishing research and producing collections covering an incredibly diverse array of music, including blues, bluegrass, calypso, gospel, the music of immigrants from Ireland, Greece, Poland and the Ukraine, the musics of the Texas-Mexico region, Cuba, India, Portugal, China, and elsewhere.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1937 and raised just outside the district in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Spottswood joined an older generation of music enthusiasts when he was still an adolescent. During the 1950s,he was one of a group of record collectors who went searching for sound recordings that, although they were only two or three decades old at the time, were already forgotten, a process amounting to a pioneering music-salvage mission.

He began to disseminate the fruits of his listening and interests to the public in the 1960s and by the 70s had acquired a vast knowledge of 78rpm era recordings of a broad range of music. His taste ran strongly in the direction of what he calls “down home” music, and he sought out recordings in any language that seemed to fit that label.

He formalized his vision on a series of LPs produced for the Library of Congress (see above) and then produced his seven-volume Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893 to 1942, which was published by the University of Indiana press in 1990 and has become an indispensible tool for anyone interested in any of the hundreds of thousands of non-English-language recordings made here during that half-century.

Spottswood highlights the many facets of folk culture in the United States on his two hour radio show. Reaching back to the 1890s and the beginnings of recorded sound, but concentrating on music from the 1920s through 1950s, each of Dick’s programs brings listeners a surprising collection of recordings – from cylinders through 78’s and LP’s.