Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

The Crooked Tune, An Old Time Fiddler in a Modern World

May 13, 2015


For eight years, filmmaker Charles Cohen has followed Dave Bing, one of this country’s preeminent Old Time fiddlers, from the backwoods of West Virginia to the pubs in England and back again. The result is an exploration of a thriving musical form that is in no need of saving but rather prefers to twist and turn under the radar, which ironically is the very attraction for the young and old looking for a break from the digital age. It makes Dave Bing wonder can Old Time survive its newfound success?

by Charles Cohen, edited from

This fiddler project has been the obsession of my life. I’ve since enrolled at American University for a three year MFA degree. New Life for Old Time is my thesis. I’m aiming to finish a full length doc by the time I graduate next Spring. I have since followed Dave Bing to several workshops and festivals in West Va. and in England back in Maryland. I’ve visited his and Sue’s home in Roane County which has just as rewarding. I’ve witnessed him playing with Old Time Fiddler with Elder, Franklin George.

And just as vital I’ve gone back with him to the spot in the Williams River, where Dave used to camp as a young man, while he spent days, weeks, months with the Hammons Family. The Hammons are considered a major wellspring for Old Time, their tradition of storytelling, tunes and Living the Life as Hunter and Gatherers, has been passed down since settler days. Their blend thrived in isolation even for West Virginia standards, creating a unique “crooked” sound, which has documented heavily first by local musician Dwight Dillar and then by the Smithsonian.

Dave’s relationship with the Hammons, a generation of musicians who have all passed, has been profound and unique being that he’s the last persistent practioner, who learned straight from them. A major mission of this doc is to not just tell this aspect of oral tradition as its most personal, but show it. Show how as Faulkner so well put it, “The Past is not Dead. It’s not even the Past.”


Calypso Dreams

May 1, 2015


The feature-length documentary film Calypso Dreams chronicles the fascinating spirit and traditions of Calypso music in the island country of Trinidad and Tobago, dating back to its complex Afro-Caribbean roots in the 18th and 19th centuries.

With narrative commentary by the popular Caribbean musician David Rudder, the film captures riveting, contemporary performances by a host of legendary Calypso performers with colorful “sobriquets,” including the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Lord Superior, Black Stalin, Mighty Bomber, Lord Blakie, Singing Sandra and Mighty Terror, and pays homage to recently deceased Calypsonians, including Lord Kitchener and Lord Pretender.

The film also includes a rare and exclusive interview with Harry Belafonte on the issue of his early involvement with Calypso and his complex relationship with Lord Melody in the 1950s and early ’60s. Using a rich array of archival footage and photographs, Calypso Dreams illustrates how the music was corrupted and homogenized by the American music industry in the 1940s and 1950s, only to survive and, ultimately, thrive in international anonymity.

As with The Buena Vista Social Club, Calypso Dreams provides a cultural rediscovery—in this case, of a musical tradition that has been bypassed by the mainstream for decades. It is a celebration not only of the music of Calypso, but of the intense sense of community it engenders in Trinidad and Tobago, and of the art form’s dynamic social and political roots, which sustain it.


April 24, 2015

from and

Timbuktu: 2015 Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film

Few films have aroused more unexpected controversy in recent years than the Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” which was released in the United States in January. Lyrical and visually arresting, the movie is set in the storied city of Timbuktu, in the West African nation of Mali.

Timbuktu has long been a center of Islamic scholarship, art, literature, and music—a deposit of cultural artifacts at the southern gate to the Sahara. The film tells a story about occupation, about what happens when Islamist extremists take over the town and impose a grinding interpretation of Sharia law. It’s also a story about resistance, about the people who refuse to submit to fundamentalism.

Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences.

Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants. Timbuktu is Mauritania’s first entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Universal

Music has released a soundtrack album for the drama Timbuktu. The album features the film’s original music composed by Amine Bouhafa. The soundtrack is now available overseas and is available as an import on Amazon.

American Epic

April 14, 2015


 Two British filmmakers, Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, and American Producer Duke Erikson have pieced together this extraordinary story set in the late 1920s when record companies toured America with a recording machine and for the first time captured the raw expression of an emerging culture. It democratized music and gave a voice to the poorest in the nation.

The filmmakers follow the machine’s trail across the United States to rediscover the families whose music was recorded by it, music that would lead to the development of blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk music – without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop today.

Over three episodes the remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs, and exclusive interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era, when the musical strands of a diverse nation first emerged, sparking a cultural revolution whose reverberations are felt to this day.

For AMERICAN EPIC SESSIONS the filmmakers have re-assembled the machine that allowed America to first hear itself. They have replicated the atmosphere of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings down to the smallest detail, with top American artists recording straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era.

This is the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery for over 80 years. Led by producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett, today’s legends are given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to relive the experience of the founding mothers and fathers, their idols, and remake the music that changed America and changed the world.

Producer and co-creator Allison McGourty said, “We traveled the length and breadth of America, from Cleveland, Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, and from New York to Hawaii, in our quest to discover the identities and stories of America’s earliest recorded musicians.  We captured testimonials from the last living witnesses and direct descendants of America’s musical pioneers. This is the last time their story can be told before everyone who was there is gone.”

Hawaiian Rainbow

January 8, 2015


Click here to view introduction and history of Hawaiian slack key guitar playing from Robert Mugge’s 1987 film HAWAIIAN RAINBOW.  Features three songs by slack key guitar master Raymond Kane.

Sunny Side of Life

January 4, 2015





Sunny Side of Life (Appalshop Films)

Directed by: Scott Faulkner, Anthony Slone, and Jack Wright
Running Time: 58:00

During the 1920s and ’30s, the records and radio shows of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle spread the music of the southern mountains around the world and earned the Carter family international fame.

Sunny Side of Life celebrates the legacy of this country music dynasty by focusing on the Carter Family Fold in Maces Spring, Virginia–an old-time music hall founded in 1975 by Janette, Joe, and Gladys, the children of A.P. and Sara Carter.

Sunny Side of Life features Saturday night performances at the Fold by such artists as the Home Folks, Red Clay Ramblers, and Hot Mud Family, as well as lots of flatfooting and clogging by the audience.

The film includes a history of the Carter Family and an examination of the way old-time music continues to be integrated into the life of this community.

“Surpasses any documentary I have seen in articulating the emotional ties which lie at the heart of old-time country music and the Appalachian experience.” -Richard Blaustein, Director, Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, East Tennessee State University

Reel ‘Em, Boys, Reel ‘Em

January 2, 2015


from and

REEL ‘EM, BOYS, REEL ‘EM, a film by Gerald Milnes and Becky Hill (Augusta Heritage Productions, AHCMS-12)

REEL ‘EM, BOYS, REEL ‘EM features West Virginia traditional square dancing and step dancing and follows the Mountain Dance Trail as it winds across the Mountain State. Interviews with callers, musicians, dancers and dance historians, along with current square dance footage and archival footage from Augusta Heritage Center are combined to create a film that celebrates the importance of old-time music and dance. Centuries old dance customs are discussed and revealed in the traditions as they exist today. This film documents the exceptional endurance of traditional dance in West Virginia.

The Mountain Dance Trail project celebrates West Virginia as the only Appalachian state that maintains a strong community dance tradition. The dance trail follows a route from the Potomac Highlands in the eastern part of the state, to the Ohio River in the west, connecting 10 communities that still host old-time mountain square dances.

The towns are: Marlinton, Dunmore, Monterey, Blue Grass, Franklin, Upper Tract, Circleville, Riverton, Harman, Elkins, Helvetia, Pickens, Ireland, Sutton, Glenville and Henderson.

Square dance styles vary throughout the state, from the “Mountain Circle” or “Big Circle” dances in the east, to Appalachian four-couple squares in the west. “Round Dances,” like waltzes and two steps, are played between square dances at most locations.

Square dance culture has been losing ground over the last 50 years, but West Virginia has held on to traditional dancing in small towns and communities across the center of the state. The idea behind The Mountain Dance Trail is to honor, embrace, and promote these dance traditions and to preserve Appalachian old-time dance in its localized forms.



December 31, 2014


from and

 Festival is a documentary of the Newport Folk Festivals from 1963 to 1966.  In 97 black and white minutes we are given clips of nearly 50 performers, not a single number is presented from start to uninterrupted finish.   There is a magnificent interview with Mike Bloomfield, a stunning  close-up monologue in which the gifted Son House explains the BLUES – a few minutes worth the price the admission – the always mind-blowing Howlin’ Wolf, and, lastly,  the holy grail of film footage, the first available film of Dylan’s first electric set. 
“Festival” is  a cinematic synthesis of four Newport Folk Festivals in which the art of folk music is pictured in transition during its most crucial years.  The range is also from the high-priced professionals like Peter, Paul, and Mary to the authentic folk dignity of living legends such as  Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Eck Robertson, Clayton McMichen, Texas Gladden, and the Ed Young Fife and Drum Corps, and numerous others that give a feeling of community with the whole American present, and continuity with the American past.
Indeed, the long-haired Newport audiences pictured sleeping on beaches and on the grounds, in sports cars and battered station wagons, plunking banjoes and guitars, swapping tunes between formal concerts, and talking about folk music, seem not a rupture with the American past, but an expression of carrying forward an American idealism and social concern.
Clayton McMichen at Newport:

The Blues House (pt.2)

November 7, 2014


In the early 1960s an unlikely audience latched on to the blues of the Depression era: college students and record collectors from New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Berkeley. “The blues mafia,” as they liked to call themselves, studied rare 78s, so rare that sometimes, as in the case of Skip James’s “Drunken Spree,” there was only one known copy of a record. And a few thought about driving south to locate the men whose voices they heard coming from their turntable. But where to start? There were no biographies, no press releases to consult or Wikipedia page. The songs were all they had.

In 1963, Tom Hoskins, a member of the so-called blues mafia, drove to a general store and post office in the southeast corner of the Mississippi Delta. On old maps this spot was labeled “Avalon,” and more than three decades before, Mississippi John Hurt, a figure revered by the blues mafia, had recorded a song called “Avalon Blues.” At the store Hoskins got directions to Hurt’s house. Hearing that he was from Washington, D.C., Hurt initially believed Hoskins was a revenue collector. Finally, Hoskins was able to convince Hurt of his true purpose, and was also able to convince him to come north and begin recording again. A few months later, Hurt, who had not made a recording since the 1920s, was appearing on the Johnny Carson Show and at the Newport Folk Festival.

That same year, a guitarist named John Fahey sent a letter to

Booker White (old blues singer)
c/o General Delivery
Aberdeen, MS

“I’m sitting down in Aberdeen, with New Orleans on my mind,” sang White in his 1940 song “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” When the letter was forwarded to him, White, who was now living in Memphis, replied to Fahey, and the following year Fahey decided to track down the most elusive bluesman of all, Skip James. In June of 1964 he left Berkeley with Bill Barth and Henry Vestine, friends and fellow guitarists. (more…)

The Blues House (pt. 1)

November 1, 2014



The Blues House: A Documentary  (Avalon Films)

The Blues House is about the search for two forgotten blues singers, carried out in Mississippi during one of the most violent periods of the civil rights movement.

1964 was a year of transition. The Beatles landed in America. Soul became a fixture on the airwaves. Lyndon Johnson began his War on Poverty and resolved to escalate the fight in Vietnam. And in June, hundreds of college students, eager to join the civil rights movement, traveled to Mississippi, starting what would be known as Freedom Summer.

That same month, two carloads of young men visited the Mississippi Delta. Strangely, neither party was aware of the other, though each had come on the same errand: to find a singer and coax him out of retirement. One group was after Son House, the other Skip James. Thirty years before, House and James had recorded some of the most memorable blues of their era, but now they seemed lost to time.

Finding them would not be easy. There were few clues to their whereabouts, and it was not even known for certain if they were still alive. And Mississippi, that summer, was a tense and dangerous place. With hundreds on their way to teach in freedom schools and work on voter registration, the Ku Klux Klan and police force of many towns–often one and the same entity–vowed that Freedom Summer would not succeed. Churches were bombed, shotguns blasted into cars and homes. And just as the searches for Son House and Skip James were drawing to a close, three people were murdered.

The Blues House follows the music’s unlikely path from the plantations and commissaries of the South to the festival circuit, concert hall and coffeehouse. The film ponders questions of race and identity highly relevant to our own day. And it pays tribute to a pioneering generation of musicians. With a wealth of interviews plus all-new performances by Lucinda Williams, Valerie June, Chris Thomas King, Jimbo Mathus, and more, The Blues House is sure to inspire debate as well as renew appreciation for one of America’s oldest and most vital musical forms: the blues.

“Something Extramusical is Being Communicated Here”

October 30, 2014


by Amanda Petrusich (edited from

In his film “Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass,” Alan Lomax  corners poor old Roscoe Holcomb, who’s just finished singing, and demands “Where does it hurt you?”

Holcomb, a patriarch of Kentucky’s high lonesome sound (and, it turns out, eternally well-mannered), points to his lower throat. Lomax leans forward, a little too close, white-knuckling a microphone stand, and asks him if he’s ever had to cough (“Ever do that?”).

Lomax is a divisive character (there are complicated arguments to be made about cultural imperialism and nationalist pedagogy) but anyone with a pair of functional ears would be hard-pressed to feel anything but grateful for his work. He is singularly responsible for many of the thousands of hours of interviews and field recordings held by the Library of Congress, and he worked tirelessly to collect and preserve strains of vernacular music that might not have endured otherwise.

The Lomax-founded Association for Cultural Equity, which controls his archive, remains in the source material game even now, a decade after his death. Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass is an official commercial release, but the organization’s YouTube channel, maintained by its young, percipient curator, Nathan Salsburg, proffers a vibrant, sometimes staggering array of footage for aspiring visionaries to mine.

What Lomax and his peers accomplished is of historical and archival import, but what is in some ways more compelling is what it inspired and continues to inspire, what people who suddenly have [via youtube] access to Mississippi Fred McDowell’s propulsive grooves, or to polyphonic vocal music from the Mbuti pygmies of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), might do with that information.

Obviously, the machinery is in place for a generation of self-documenting American artists to build their own mythologies and to borrow freely and anonymously from ancient and emerging traditions. And yet: seeing Lomax flit about his apartment, or catching the Tennessee fiddler Fred Price giving the camera side-eye, or watching Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers shush the room, or hearing Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim lock into some intense, iniquitous rhythm, it’s hard not to feel like something vital, something extramusical, is being communicated here.

Harlem Street Singer

October 26, 2014



Harlem Street Singer, recently released on film, tells the story of Reverend Gary Davis, the great blues and gospel musician whose unique style and remarkable skills on the guitar inspired a generation of musicians. The film traces Davis’s journey out of poverty in the Deep South to his iconic status in the folk and rock scene in 1960s New York.

Interviews with celebrated folk and rock musicians who knew and studied with Davis, including Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott are combined with rare archival footage and photographs. The film includes never seen before concert footage of both Davis and Peter, Paul & Mary from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The film is co-produced by guitarist Woody Mann, who received his first music schooling in Davis’s living room.

Born poor and blind in rural South Carolina in 1896, Davis was a guitar prodigy. At age seven he made his first crude stringed instruments out of his grandmother’s pie tins, and by age 14 he was already performing in a professional string band.  Over the next decade he developed an innovative style combining church music, ragtime, blues, early jazz, marches and almost any other music he heard.

In Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and 30s, Davis played blues and popular songs for tips in the tobacco warehouses and on the streets. In 1937 he became an ordained minister and focused his playing solely on religious music. A few years later, he and his wife, Annie, moved to New York to seek out a better life.  Davis’s talents were quickly recognized and he soon found himself jamming with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Brownie McGhee.  But with no steady employment, he continued his marginal existence, often living in condemned buildings, playing on the street and preaching in storefront churches.

Davis’s fortunes finally changed during the Folk Revival movement in the early 60s, when he gained a following of young musicians who saw him as both mentor and father figure. As his reputation spread, many of these artists began covering his music, and when Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his song, Samson & Delilah, Davis’s royalties from the record enabled him to finally stop playing on the streets and buy his own home.  In his last years, Davis played for audiences of thousands in music festivals around the world. He died in 1972.

In addition to interviews, the storyline features contemporary musical sequences produced by Woody Mann featuring blues vocalist Bill Sims Jr. , Dave Keyes, piano and Brian Glassman, bass.  Harlem Street Singer celebrates the beauty and spirituality of his music as well as the human qualities that made Reverend Davis a much beloved teacher and minister. This is the exciting story of an American musical icon whose legacy continues to live on in today’s music scene.

I’ll Sing for You

October 16, 2014

indexI’ll Sing For You (FIRST RUN FEATURES, dvd)


Surrounded by old photos of his “Malian Elvis” days, 60-year-old musician Boubacar Traoré rests his head on his guitar and unfurls a precise pop-folk lament, his fingers moving in blues formations, his lithe voice coiling in a hypnotic muezzin drone. “Kar Kar” never addresses director Jacques Sarasin’s camera, instead blessing his own biography with mournful, journeyman performances.

Friends recount the revolutionary non-griot’s 1960s radio wake-up calls heralding a free Mali. They tell of his departure from music to raise a family, the subsequent loss of his wife, and his life as an immigrant in France. As the stories unfold, lingering shots of everyday life amid the craggy Dogon hills and the bustle of waterway commerce recall the observant modes of Abderrahmane Sissako or Abbas Kiarostami.

The resurrected relic plays his trusty Takamine in unlikely public spaces, duetting at points with kora player Ballake Sissoko and Ali Farka Touré. The reverent pacing lags a bit, but the film’s meditation on the struggle to find spirituality that reconciles Islam with tribal belief systems is powerful in its understatement, and its wordless observation of France’s Malian community quietly evidences daily cultural preservation amid the hard labor.

Heaven And Earth Magic

October 10, 2014


Local heroes Anthony Pasquarosa,  Zac Johnson, and Ian Logan recorded under the moniker Heaven And Earth Magic a tape for High Ledges Tapes. The name is borrowed from a really weird one hour long stop motion experimental film from the late fifties, by  Harry Smith (see above).

There was one track that grabbed my attention and when I looked closer, it wasn’t even their own song. They recorded a version of Uncle Dave Macon “Oh lovin’ babe“. I heard about Macon, a key figure of early country music, with a huge output, but I’ve never heard this particular song.

So the surprise, how the original banjo driven song translates into the band’s psych rock sound was quiet huge and I wanted to find out more.

Regarding the lyrics: It looks like Uncle Dave Macon wasn’t able to keep it in his pants when he was traveling and so he got kissed by a pretty, strange woman, because men cannot help themselves in those cases. When his wife wants to leave him, he tries to make her guilty with the old story about the garden of eden and Eve and the apple she gave to Adam. I might be wrong with my interpretation, please correct me. Macon also was more an entertainer than a preacher so he’s probably not that serious about the bible and stuff.

Another interesting bit:

Charles Wolfe noted: ‘Oh Lovin’ Babe is another song never before issued (Rounder issue 1979) and nowhere else recorded by Macon. The unusual melody for the song seems to have been adapted from the verse of ‘Mister Johnson, Turn Me Loose’, an old coon song written in the ragtime era by one B. Harney. Macon had recorded ‘Mister Johnson’ with Sid Harkreader in 1929 with the melody (but not the words) to the verse identical to what is heard here … The juxtaposing of the sacred (verse) with the profane (chorus), common enough in Macon’s music overall, was seldom illustrated so dramatically in a single song’. (source)

On the Rumba River

October 9, 2014



On the Rumba River (FIRST RUN FEATURES dvd):

Available on Netflix.

from and

You’ve never heard of him, but Antoine Kolosoy, a/k/a Wendo, a/k/a Papa Wendo, is perhaps the most beloved musician that the Democratic Republic of Congo (a/k/a Zaire, a/k/a Belgian Congo) has ever known. The peripatetic Wendo got his start as a teenager, traveling up and down the Congo River as a mechanic, boxer, and part-time musician.

He ascended to the ranks of the mono-named in 1948, when his first album became a massive hit and established him as the father of a new genre: Congolese Rumba. After 12 years of megastardom, though, the rise of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the ’60s reduced Wendo to homelessness—until he was rediscovered in the ’90s.

With On the Rumba River, yachtsman-cum- documentarian Jacques Sarasin has compiled a meditative ramble through the highlights of Wendo’s career, told entirely through song and interviews with Wendo’s musician-colleagues. As a filmmaker, Sarasin has an extraordinarily light touch—a good thing for those who want to sit back and enjoy the music (the toe-tappingly spirited rendition of Wendo’s biggest hit, “Marie-Louise,” is a highlight), a bad thing for viewers unfamiliar with Congolese history and in need of a little context with their rumba.

Wendo Kolosoy was a former boxer and ship’s mechanic from the Congo who in 1948 recorded a song called “Marie Louise” as Papa Wendo. Wendo’s music, an infectious blend of Latin and African rhythms, took the nation by storm and he became an overnight star among the Congolese. However, while the sound Wendo created proved to have a lasting influence in the Congo, his own fame waned, and as he slipped into obscurity, he watched the sad history of his nation unfold, as the end of colonialism led to wave after wave of bloody violence. Wendo’s music, however, has been discovered by a new generation of music fans, and the aging musician continues to perform as often as he can.

This alternately poignant and playful documentary views his achievements from a context of political oppression and economic deprivation. Now 83, Mr. Kolosoy is seen enjoying a reunion with former band mates while dodging his wife’s pleas to get a job.

“We got our independence, but all we do is kill each other,” he tells us while the camera tracks through the misery of the Kinshasa slums, their squalor a shocking counterpoint to the effervescence of the music. Whether proclaiming the indifference of politicians or the thrill of infatuation, the songs — heavily influenced by the music of Cuban seamen in the 1940s — offer a welcome distraction from poverty and civil war.

Filming in late 2004, the director uses his eyes but not his voice, allowing his subjects to guide the story. In the background, the vast expanse of the Congo River flows with a neglected beauty; the country may be falling into ruin, but the songs remain the same.

A Visit to Ali Farka Toure

October 7, 2014



A Visit To Ali Farka Touré (Kultur Video DVD)



Kultur Video pays homage to the legendary, late Grammy Award winning world musician, Ali Farka Touré, with the release of the DVD documentary A Visit To Ali Farka Touré. The African singer and guitarist was known throughout the world for his innovative music and his deep commitment to improving conditions in his homeland. His death caused worldwide lament, and this documentary gives his fans an exclusive glimpse into his life, his music and his community.

Filmmaker Marc Huraux takes viewers to Ali’s homeland in Mali, Africa. Marc provides an unprecedented look at the world music legend as the two converse, and discuss Ali’s personal memories – from his early childhood up through recent events. An illuminating documentary about a man who gave up touring and recording sessions at the end of his career to preserve his link between his music and its source in deep Mali, A Visit To Ali Farka Touré, provides an intimate look at a remarkable man devoting much of his time, energy and resources toward improving conditions in his homeland.

The documentary features live performances from Mali Dje, Gomni, Chanson sur Niafunke, Keito and Tulumba. Conversations with Samba Toure, Afel Bocoum, Oumar Diallo Barou, Oumar Toure, Djeneba Doukoure, Hamma Sankare, Concano Yatara, Souleyman Kane and Yoro Cisse provide a compelling look at the man and his music.

Ali Farka Touré is recognized as one of the pioneers of “Mali Blues” – a mixture of contemporary African music and blues. His music quickly spread throughout West Africa and gained a successful career as he toured widely in Africa, Europe and the U.S. Toure was honored with his first Grammy Award for Talking Timbuktu and then a second Grammy for his album in collaboration with another famous Malian musician, Toumani Diabate, In the Heart of the Moon.

After a long battle with cancer, the musician passed away on March 7, 2006, but he will forever remain a legend through the power of his music and his influence in society.


The Guitar of Joseph Spence: DVD

September 7, 2014

spence dvdfrom
The Guitar Stylings of Joseph Spence (DVD)

To order online, go to the Guitar Workshop site.
For related music, check out my Bahamian Blind Blake page.

I saw Joseph Spence only once, when I was 12 years old, in a concert at

Harvard University with the Texas guitarist Mance Lipscomb. I can’t say I

remember very much about that particular concert, but I have been listening

to his music as long as I can remember, and he has always been one of my

favorite musicians.


I worked out one of his arrangements for the first time in the late 1970s,

among the first pieces I ever tried to learn note for note off a recording.

I can’t say I got very close to his fingering, but I came pretty close to the

rhythm, and that was what first fascinated me about his playing. I was

used to the straightforward rhythms of ragtime-blues, and Spence opened

up new possibilities that would eventually lead me to the Congo and lessons

from players like Jean-Bosco Mwenda and Edouard Masengo.


Over the next thirty years I learned about a dozen of his pieces, but it was

only after Ernie Hawkins put me in touch with Stefan Grossman and Stefan

agreed to do this video that I really buckled down and tried to get the pieces

right. The last three years have involved months of intensive woodshedding,

as well as many long conversations with Guy Droussart. (more…)

One More Time: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

July 16, 2014
Cover of Melvin Wine DVD/CD set
One More Time: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

Executive Producers: Margo Blevin and Gerald Milnes.
Produced by Jimmy Triplett and Marilyn Palmer Richards with assistance from many.
DVD and CD-ROM, 2-disc set $30. (CD-ROM is available for Windows only)

Melvin Wine was never without a song to sing, a story to tell, or a tune to play, and his familiar “one more time” still rings in our hearts. He was born in 1909 at the mouth of Stouts Hollow in Braxton County, West Virginia. Melvin’s chiseled smile was a very familiar sight around many West Virginia music events for the 40 years leading up to his death in 2003. How appropriate that he was laid to rest on the first day of spring just a stone’s throw from his birthplace.

Hundreds of fiddlers have learned about playing tunes and living life from Melvin, and through this project, many more will have opportunities to continue learning from him.

The interactive CD-ROM contains many tunes, stories, and photos, plus biographical information from Melvin’s remarkable life. A tune can be slowed down or stopped to allow you to study his playing, his bowing techniques, or simply to catch the melody. The DVD contains four films from periods of Melvin’s life: “Melvin Wine: Old-Time Music Maker;” a film made on his porch at home; a Copen Community Center jam and dance; and Melvin’s last Augusta concert.

Melvin Wine won many distinctive awards and honors and traveled widely because of his music to events in Washington, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and many other places. It wasn’t the places he remembered; it was the people he met. They, and we, will always remember him. Finally in 1991, he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow. The awards weren’t as important to Melvin, as were his many friends. We’re sure he’s still humming “In a Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old.” In memory of Melvin Wine: 1909-2003.


Music of Williamsburg

July 8, 2014


by Shlomo Pestcoe, Banjo Roots Research Initiatives

Music of Williamsburg” (DVD dir. by Alan Lomax, 1960,
, was an educational period docufiction ‘short’ produced by Colonial Williamsburg to present, through costumed historical reenactment, the various different kinds of music and music instruments that might have been heard on a single day in 1768 in Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. Appropriately enough, a recreation of the early gourd banjo would appear in the film along with other early African American folk instruments – the cane fife, the  jawbone, and the ‘goombay’ drum – to provide the music for a dance gathering of the portrayed enslaved blacks.

The idea of recreating a slavery-era gourd banjo for use in Music of Williamsburg was the brainchild of trailblazing folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002). He had been brought on board to program music for the film[2] appropriate to the African Americans  of Williamsburg (mostly enslaved, though there were some free black families), who “probably constituted about one-half” of the population of Virginia’s capital during the colonial period. [3] In this capacity, Lomax would assemble “a remarkable cast of talented folk musicians representing early Southern music, including the Sea Island singers [Bessie Jones, John Davis, Henry Morrison, Alberta Ramsay, and Emma Ramsay]; Bahamian drummer Nat Rahmings, who had come up from Miami; Mississippi hill country fife player Ed Young; Virginia Tidewater jawbone player Prince Ellis; and Virginia mountain multi-instrumentalist Hobart Smith.”

The talents of all of these tradition-bearers would be showcased in a major scene in the film showing the portrayed enslaved blacks coming together after dark for an informal social dance gathering, traditionally referred to in African American folklore as a ‘frolic’. As Bessie Smith Jones (1902-1984), the Sea Islanders’ lead singer, would put it in her reminiscences about growing up in rural Georgia during the early 1900s: “In those days we didn’t have parties – so-called parties – we had frolics.”

For the film’s suppositious recreation of an 18th century slave frolic, Lomax chose Reg’lar, Reg’lar, Rolling Under, a song that he had uncovered in his research that he posited as being “the oldest published black dance song from Virginia.”  He taught it to the performers, who embraced and ‘folk-processed’ the song, thereby making it their own:

“The Sea Islanders sang with slavery-era accompaniment; the [cane] fife, the one-headed drum, and a replica of the four-string, fretless banjo. Hobart Smith picked the bowl-shaped ‘slave’ banjo with abandon, Ed Young blew thrilling litany phrases on his cane fife, and Nat Rahmings played a drum of a type once used in St. Simons [the second largest of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and the home of the Georgia Sea Island Singers] and still played in the Bahamas. I cannot swear to the authenticity of this reconstructed music, but the musically conservative Sea Island singers gave it their enthusiastic approval.” (more…)

From Appalachia to Himalaya

June 4, 2014


The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya follows the journey of two traditional musicians from their roots in the hills of Virginia to the mountains of rural Nepal, where they explore the extraordinary connections between Appalachian and Himalayan folk music and culture, particularly with the traditional musicians of the Gandharba caste.

The Gandharbas were once the wandering minstrels of the southern Himalayas, bringing news, storytelling, and traditional singing to the villages of rural Nepal. Their songs once helped to unite disparate kingdoms into a unified Nepal, and even in recent years Gandharba singers played a great role in Nepal’s democracy movement. Although in Hindu mythology, Gandharbas were thought to be divine angel musicians, their caste is low among the Hindu hierarchy and they have long been considered to be ‘untouchable,’ unfit to share water with people of higher castes. Adding to their troubles, their rich musical traditions are at risk of extinction as radio, television, and recorded music encroach upon rural Nepali life.

Musicians/Hosts Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely join Nepali musician Buddhiman Gandharba on a musical expedition through rural Nepal, where they discover surprising similarities between these seemingly distant cultures. In the melodies of the traditional Nepali Sarangi (fiddle) or the taste of homemade Raksi (moonshine), there’s a thread that hearkens back to Old-Time Appalachian culture and to rural communities around the world, where people are poor but proud, their music the very fabric of village life.  With lyrics telling of lost loves, murders, wayfaring travelers, and even farm animals, sung by farmers, minstrels, and shepherds, this is music meant for the porch rather than the stage.

Tara, Danny, and Buddhiman are off in search of this ‘higher lonesome sound,’ traveling to the villages of Lamjung, Palpa, Gorkha, Chitwan, and Pokhara in search of musicians who are keeping the Gandharba traditions alive. As they make their way through the strikingly beautiful mountains of Nepal, they meet rural luthiers carving their instruments from a single piece of wood, families making moonshine in homemade stills, and a handful of old men who remember the days when musicians were used to bring rain to drought-stricken areas.

The language may be different, and the mountains may be higher, but it soon becomes clear that their cultures share more than just melodies.  Along their journey, they build bridges between these two rural cultures (and in some cases actually building actual roads when the van can’t go any further). And of course, they play music as they travel, the Appalachian ballads blending seamlessly with the Nepali Chanchari songs, the rhythms, melodies, and lyrics nearly interchangeable. They meet Tikki Maya – one of the few Gandharba women who overcame great cultural taboos to perform her heartfelt songs, Mohan – a traditional healer and one of the last living players of the banjo-like Arbaj, and Hum Bahadur – who at 75 years of age, still travels the countryside singing of the injustices of the caste system, like an unsung Woody Guthrie.

When the journey brings our hosts back to big-city Kathmandu, they become aware of the Gandharbas’ more recent plight, of trying to make ends meet in a newfound culture that has now forgotten them or their role in traditional society.  They begin looking for an answer for how these traditions can find a place in modern Nepal, while reflecting on how Appalachian traditional music was able to survive the influx of radio and recorded music more than half a century ago.

“Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass” online

May 31, 2014

Screen shot 2014-05-07 at 7.10.11 AM

All 35 minutes of Alan Lomax’s “Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass” now viewable online at

More info here.

The Librarian and the Banjo – DVD – Dena Epstein, the famous music librarian

May 18, 2014

Now available on DVD! DVD coverDVD Cover

DVD insertDVD insert


The Librarian and The Banjo

We are saddened to report that Dena Epstein, the famous music librarian who opened our eyes to African American musical culture, died Nov. 13 in Chicago. She would have turned 97 on Nov. 30.

In the 1970s, after 25 years of research on her own, Dena published a series of papers and her monumental book, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folks Music to the Civil War, which shattered myths that African slaves arrived in the Americas “culturally naked.” She documented a musical culture among Africans and African-Americans that was rich with song, dance and instrumentation.

I was fortunate to have interviewed Dena in 2009, and produced a film about her life and legacy.

The 56-minute film tells the story of Dena Epstein, a music librarian, now 96 years old, whose trailblazing scholarship was the first to take on the old myths about the banjo and prove its African-American origins and West African roots. Her work shattered myths about the roots of American music, and has been described as “monumental.”

The film features interviews with Dena (as everyone calls her), academics, banjo historians and musicians including the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Eric Weissberg. The soundtrack, from dozens of banjo players, includes music on gourd akontings, minstrel instruments and bluegrass banjos. Among featured artists are Stephen Wade, Sule Greg Wilson and Pura Fe.

Among music historians interviewed in the film are: Bill Ferris (former NEH chairman), Bob Winans, Tony Thomas, Greg Adams, Laurent Dubois, Bobby Fulcher and Daniel Jatta.

The DVD also includes bonus material on the minstrel banjo with Bob Winans; gourd banjo making with Pete Ross, Clarke Buehling and the late Scott Didlake; and Angela Wellman’s music school in Oakland, California where the banjo is being introduced to a new generation of children of color. In a bonus chapter I call “The Cutting Room” floor I have two great stories – the story of “Dixie,” and the Senagambian legend that the Devil likes akonting music — because akonting players were kidnapped by slave traders, told by Daniel Jatta.

The film also includes a pan of a huge (4-foot long) photo of the famous Tennessee Banjo Institute, held in 1992, at which Dena Epstein lectured. She recalls being one of the few people without a banjo in their hands. Here is a photo closeup of her behind John Hartford.

Dena’s work inspired the TBI, which brought together the whole world of banjoists, including, for the first time, African plucked lute players, minstrel historians and the hottest bluegrass pickers from Nashville. Many credit TBI with finally breaking the long-held American myth that the banjo was strictly a southern, white instrument.
To purchase a DVD for personal or institutional use, click here.

Across the Yew Pines

May 1, 2014


Across the Yew Pines – The Hammonses: Descendents of the Frontier

A film by Dwight Diller (4 DVDs, about 4 hours)

Across the Yew Pines is an opportunity to spend some time in the company of the Hammons family, who were born and raised on the Williams River in East Central West Virginia. Their great- great-grandfather was born in the latter half of the 18th Century in the ‘Indian Nation,’ and the family moved north from there, through virgin forest, to Webster Co and Nicholas Co, eventually settling in an isolated location on the Williams River, where the surviving members were born around the turn of the 20th Century.

This journey brought them through Indian country, the Civil War, and the start and end of the logging boom. Journeying alongside them, and carried by them, came the music, the banjo and fiddle tunes, the many songs, and the family stories that made up their own history.  These shared memories are portrayed here in four DVDs that contain original recordings made during visits to the Hammons’ home. Conversation, music and stories have been woven together, with many still photographs taken at that time set against footage of the forests in which they lived, plus some film of the Hammons at their home, and of the logging industry that formed a part of their early life.

These four DVDs, each lasting one hour, have been put together with the aim of allowing the Hammons to tell us their own story, in their own words, at their own pace, and in their own way. The past is allowed to flow without interference into the present, giving us a glimpse of an earlier way of life.  A CD is included with the transcription of the stories, so that they can be followed while listening to the DVD. The transcription follows as faithfully as possible the dialect spoken by the Hammons. It also contains an introduction to the series, a list of the tunes and stories used, some additional history of the times, and acknowledgements.

Dwight Diller is a native son of the East Central Mountains of West Virginia. He is a musician in the old West Virginia mountain music tradition, and has been teaching this music and its culture for over 40 years. He always had an interest in the old stories of his own family, as well as those of other people in this area, when he was a small boy, and his meeting and subsequent friendship with the Hammons was a continuation of this.

Music from the South (DVD)

April 23, 2014


from and Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag:


This is a great addition to the Old-Time music library, with no less than 36 performances by a variety of rural country, Cajun and blues musicians who were captured on film in the 1960s and early 70s. Most of us were not aware that such precious footage was preserved—whata treat it is to see Clark Kessinger, Kilby Snow and the Coon Creek Girls, among others, in this 103-minute black & white DVD. These artists were still in their prime when 0they were captured on film.

Clark Kessinger—one of the finest old time fiddlers of all time—is seen here on 6 rousing tunes including SALLY ANN JOHNSON, BILLY IN THE LOW GROUND and POCA RIVER BLUES, accompanied well on banjo and guitar by Wayne Hauser and Gene Meade respectively—the lineup that backed Clark on the several fine LPs that he made in the 1960s. Lily May Ledford sings and plays banjo on a couple of fine numbers: EAST VIRGINIA BLUES and JOHNSON BOYS. And what Kilby Snow could do with his autoharp is fascinating and thoroughly musical—his 4 tracks here include SHADY GROVE, WILDWOOD FLOWER and an un- expected but fine version of Bill Monroe’s CLOSE BY. Other tracks on this DVD include a fife & drum band from Mississippi and 5 nice songs by the Cajun duo of Canray Fontenot and Bois Sec Ardoin.

The only problem with this DVD—and it is a glaring one—is the lack of any information on the musicians and when and where they were filmed: any who buy this item will most likely be expecting to find a booklet of notes inside, but there is nothing. Still, to be able to see and hear these wonderful musicians is a huge treat and an instructive one.

One particular B&W sequence stems from Alan Lomax’s after-hours experiment at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival when he simulated a juke joint, stocked its bar, and let Southern roots heroes whoop it up. That’s also where Clark Kessinger coats his old-timey fiddle in rosin dust from heatedly sawing “Chicken Reel.” But just a little while later we’re truly southbound in full 1979 color as ethnomusicologist David Evans’ camera delivers us onto the porch of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s shotgun shack. Then over to Memphis we go for a private audience with Mose Vinson, Piano Red, and growler Booker T. Low, who roll and tumble their blues pianos. Between “Turkey in the Straw” levitating under a buzzing swarm of fiddlers and those Young brothers’ polyrhythmic rituals squirming “Snake Dance” into life, these country hoedowns and hill-country shakedowns keep your living room (pad, pod, or phone too, via available direct download) constantly quaking.

The South’s more oddball instruments also raise quite the ruckus at the hands of their corresponding virtuosos. Meet the Jimi Hendrix of autoharp, Kilby Snow, who pulls off a daredevil feat with “Wildwood Flower.” Jimmy Driftwood twangs “Galloping Horse” on the one-string mouth bow with ingenious hillbilly fever. Yet quivering just as violently are the one-string diddley bows—a concoction of broom wire, snuff bottles, and a nail for a fingerpick—of Compton Jones, Napolean Strickland and Glen Roy Faulkner, Mississippi’s blue trinity. Here, the sights are just as surreal as the sounds.

DVD: $ 20.00

Llewyn Davis’ Repertoire

April 14, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis 3

from and

Llewyn Davis’ repertoire as taken partly from the repertoire of Dave van Ronk and presented in the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” is very interesting and with further examination into its sources shows in a nutshell many of the strands that came together to make the folk music world of that time and place.   “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” (also known as “Been All Around This World) is a great banjo song originally field recorded by folklorists who located traditional banjo players Rufus Crisp and Justis Begley in Kentucky, and also recorded in a popular version by Kentucky banjoist Grandpa Jones.

How did it get to the Village?  Which was Dave van Ronk’s source?  I don’t know.  Rufus Crisp, a possible source for “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” was also one of our sources for the song “The Roving Gambler” which my band recorded for the film’s soundtrack album.  Crisp was one of the very first Southern traditional banjo players to inform the playing and repertoire of New York musicians through his Library of Congress field recordings and visits by Pete Seeger, Stu Jamieson and others.

Death of Queen Jane” is a medieval English ballad collected by venerated folklorist Francis James Child and published in his seminal books of balladry.  The film gives scant coverage to rural folk songs in a rural “old time” style, and no coverage to blues music that was being learned and played in the Village at that time.   Only the woman who plays autoharp and sings a Carter Family song badly gives any nod to the presence of old time music, which was being played by a number of people at the time, including the New Lost City Ramblers.

Dink’s Song was collected by the great American folklorist John Lomax from a woman named Dink along the Brazos river in Texas in 1904 and published in his 1934 book, “American Ballads and Folk Songs.”  It was first recorded as “Fare Thee Well” by Libby Holman and then most influentially by Josh White, both in the mid 40’s and perhaps with some personal direction from Alan Lomax who helped them find material.

” As Lomax recounted in the book Folk Song USA, Dink was the wife or girlfriend of a skilled equipment operator for a levee-building company in Texas, and Lomax found her “doing her man’s laundry in the shade of their tent” near the Brazos. Her song began:

If I had wings like Noah’s dove
I’d fly up the river to the man I love
Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well
I’s got a man and he’s long and tall
Moves his body like a cannonball
Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well

Lomax recorded “Dink’s Song” on an Edison cylinder, which he brought with him to the Library of Congress when he joined the staff in the 1930s.  According to Folk Song USA, the cylinder had been broken for a long time by the late 1940s–quite possibly before it even arrived here. Nevertheless, Lomax popularized the song by singing it himself, publishing it in books, and passing it down to his children Alan and Bess, who both became professional singers and folklorists. From the Lomaxes, the song passed to such revivalists as Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk, and became a well-known part of the folk scene of the 1950s and 60s. As a result, Dink’s lines about “Noah’s Dove” can be heard in  Inside Llewyn Davis, where they are sung by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford.



Let Your Feet Do The Talkin’

August 6, 2013

Let Your Feet Do the Talkin’
A documentary film by Stewart Copeland (Dust-To-Digital DVD)

by Ted Olson (

The South has been a hotbed of old-time music for generations, and remains so today. On any given weekend, Southerners from seemingly every walk of life gather with fellow aficionados in settings both formal (festivals, workshops) and informal (porches, backyards, picnic areas) to play chestnuts from the old-time music repertoire (fiddle tunes, hymns, ballads, nineteenth century sentimental parlor songs, etc.). But while old-time music has been widely revived across the region, another cultural expression from the pre-modern rural South—buck dancing—is only now receiving the attention it deserves, and that is largely the result of the promotional and participatory efforts of one individual, Thomas Maupin.

Buck dancing has long been associated with old-time music, in that a dancer traditionally would tap feet and move arms in harmony with the rhythms created by musicians.  Buck dancing is elusive because it is expressly individualistic, and until recently has had a difficult time competing for public attention with the showier, more programmatic or regimented dance forms that buck dancing has influenced—clogging and tap dancing—and also the recently popular, unrelated dance form imported from England by way of New England, contra dancing.

Buck dancing is not easy to categorize—it is simple, involving neither choreography nor costume, yet it is complex, with no set routines or rules. When you are buck dancing, though it is to someone else’s music, you are guided by your own sense of rhythm, in a manner encouraged in the mid-nineteenth century by Henry David Thoreau: “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

While far from mainstream, buck dancing holds considerable appeal to limber-bodied people who are unafraid to dance alone without an established set routine.  No one is more dedicated today to the tradition than Maupin. Anyone wanting to know about this talented and low-key revivalist should watch the recent short subject documentary film, Let Your Feet Do the Talkin’, which portrayed Maupin and his love for buck dancing (which he refers to as “a little ole country dance”). Over the years Maupin has been named national buck dancing champion six times, and he has won many other awards for his practice of this particular tradition (including the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award). (more…)

Download Music for the Sky

July 24, 2013


from Nikolai Fox:

The first run of the indie documentary “Music for the Sky” (2008, 60min, by Nikolai Fox), is officially out of print on DVD. The film is now available for purchase as a digital download on Nikolai’s website:

“Music for the Sky” is a documentary film about a community of eccentric revivalist old-time fiddlers playing southern style fiddle music while living in the mountains of Vermont and Western Massachusetts. The film revolves around the personalities of eight musicians (George Ainley, Ahmet Baycu, Jim Burns, Michael Donahue, Zac Johnson, Bob Naess Anthony Pasquarosa and John Specker) – each described in a cinematic portrait. Using a single small camera first time filmmaker Nikolai Fox captures the music and personalities of this community of musicians at various informal locations. Also featuring the music of Jon Bekoff, Paula Bradley, Dan Brown, Bill Dillof, Nikolai Fox, Greg Miller, Jon Place, Alex Scala and Rose Sinclair and Liz Toffey.

The Films of Bess Lomax Hawes

July 12, 2013



GEORGIA SEA ISLAND SINGERS (1964) Shot in 35mm film with multiple cameras on a soundstage when the Sea Island Singers were visiting Los Angeles, this program presents a small part of their repertoire of sacred music, including the songs- Moses, Yonder Comes Day, Buzzard Lope (Throw Me Anywhere Lord), Adam in the Garden (Picking up Leaves), and Down in the Mire (Bright Star Shinning in Glory).

BUCKDANCER (1965) Featuring Panaloa County fife player Ed Young with Bessie Jones. Ed Young does the Buckdance, demonstrates making a fife, and plays a tune on the fife.

PIZZA PIZZA DADDY-O (1967) looks at continuity and change in girl’s playground games at a Los Angeles school.

(1970) Virtuoso fiddler Earl Collins, born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, moved to Southern California in the Depression. He plays Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle, Dry and Dusty, Sally Goodin, Bull at the Wagon, Black Mountain Rag, and Billy in the Low Ground. Additional tunes not included in the edited film are on the DVD.

These films were unique in their time and could not be made now. They developed as opportunities arose, using borrowed equipment, volunteer crews, small budgets, and a great deal of learning and experimentation in the editing room. The films concentrate on performance and by implication how the performers’ aesthetics both inform and reflect societal values. The films strive to make a pleasing and engaging record of small moments from the vastness of American expressive traditional arts; neither exhaustive nor statistically representative, but survivals of a time now past. (more…)

A Musical Journey

July 6, 2013


A Musical Journey – The Films Of Pete, Toshi & Dan Seeger


Here are some of the most unusual “home movies” you’ll ever get a chance to see. After sitting on a barn shelf for decades, a few of them are finally being offered here, including rare footage of Sonny Terry, Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Steele, Jean Carignan and others, selected for this video by Stefan Grossman.

Pete Seeger remembers: “In 1955 I bought a secondhand Auricon, a 16mm camera with single system optical sound, used for making newsreels. . . . In 1963, Toshi and I took our three children out of school and travelled around the world, filming whatever good music we stumbled upon.

There was no theme or plan. Three years later, with our 21 year old son Dan, we arranged to film African-American worksongs in a Texas prison. I’m so glad some of these films will finally be seen. For 30 years they’ve sat in our barn and Toshi and I would say ‘When are we going to have time to work on them?’ — and we never had time. Along comes our friend Stefan and says, ‘Let me see.’

Track Listing
Sonny Terry & J.C. Burris, 1958
Crazy About You Baby
Buck Dance
Hand Jive
Jean Carignan, 1957
La Grande Fleur
Sherbrooke Jig
Irish Tune

Big Bill Broonzy, 1957
Worried Man Blues
Hey Hey
How You Want It Done
John Henry
Blues in E

The McPeake Family, 1964
Jug of Punch
Will Ye Go Lassie Go?
Pipes/Harp Instrumental
Oro Se

Pete Steele, 1962
Pay Day at Coal Creek
Coal Creek March

Ellis Unit, Huntsville Texas, 1964
Working All Day Long
Grizzly Bear/Down the Line
I Believe I’ll Call My Baby

Oklahoma Fiddle Contest, 1957

Schuyler Michaels, 1957
Two Tunes
Soldier’s Joy

Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass (#2)

July 1, 2013




"Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass,"
directed by Alan Lomax (Cultural Equity, 2012)

reviewed by Michael Scott Cain (

In 1961, the Friends of Old Time Music threw a series of concerts in New York City, featuring the likes of Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashey and Doc Watson, as well as blues giants Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon. Folklorist Alan Lomax brought them all back to his Greenwich Village apartment for a party, where he directed this 35-minute documentary.

In the film, we see these established musicians perform, as well as next-generation folk artists such as Ernie Marrs, Peter LaFarge, the Greenbriar Boys, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and the New Lost City Ramblers.

As the film unfolds, we see these artists perform in an informal setting, singing for each other and the small group of attendees that included the likes of Maria Muldair. (Bob Dylan was rumored to be in attendance but in the film about the making of the film, John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers and one of the founders of the Friends of Old Time Music say flatly that Dylan wasn’t there. The cinematographer George Picklow, however, says Dylan was indeed on the premises, lurking in the background, but Picklow wasn’t allowed to film him.)

Ballads, Blues & Bluegrass is both a fine movie and a very much needed piece of history. It’s the only film of Peter LaFarge, a singer who wrings all of the drama out of his song, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” and it also contains a rare appearance by Roscoe Holcomb singing a couple of old Appalachian tunes, including a hard-driving bluegrass version of “Old Smoky” that makes the song we all knew as kids sound as hokey and inauthentic as we always suspected it was.

When Holcomb does “The Cuckoo” we see a very young and unknown Doc Watson accompanying him. Holcomb is a treasure, and this opportunity to see him makes this film essential.

But Holcomb isn’t the only treasure here. Ernie Marrs, a man who lived his principles by working as a migrant fruit and vegetable picker, turns “Pop Goes theWeasel” into a protest song, an attack on the nuclear age called “Pop Goes the Missile,” while Ramblin’ Jack Elliot contributes his classic versions of “Candyman” and “San Francisco Bay Blues.” He then pays tribute to Woody Guthrie before he sneaks out of the party with a beautiful young woman on his arm and a lecherous grin on his face.

If there’s a flaw to the movie it is Lomax himself. His goal here was to sell the film to British television as the pilot for a series, so he conducts little mini-interviews with the talent, asking them self-evident questions designed to make academic points. These interviews are totally unnecessary, serving only to break the natural flow of the film.

This DVD is the first release of Ballads, Blues & Bluegrass in any form. You’ve got to see it.

Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost

June 23, 2013


Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost
directed by Todd Kwait
(North Pacific DVD)

reviewed by John Bird (

As harmonica legend and southern gentleman Charlie Musselwhite notes in Todd Kwait’s new and fascinating documentary about jug-band music, Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost, the basic jug band lineup of guitar, harmonica and bass (or in this case, jug), is the very thing that evolved into the electric sound of the Chicago blues. And as any fan of early Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Lovin’ Spoonful, Cream, Led Zepplin, Creedance Clearwater Revival and so many other classic rock bands knows, the Chicago blues (and jug-band music) were huge influences in the development of rock ‘n’ roll.

So there’s your lineage right there, and reason enough for all us aficionados of Americana roots music to be interested in the story of jug-band music (hereinafter referred to as JBM).

JBM originally flourished briefly on record in and around Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn., in the 1920s. Recording and record sales for the music crashed along with the stock-market in 1929 and never recovered until a brief blip during the folk boom of the late 1950s and early ’60s. The music and musicians did continue to survive, though, on the streets and in the dancehalls of the region.

Some of the seminal bands included the Memphis Jug Band, Dixieland Jug Blowers, Louisville Jug Band, Mound City Blue Blowers and Whistler & His Jug Band. But perhaps the most well-known champion of the genre was Gus Cannon and his band, Cannon’s Jug Stompers. And it’s the ghost of Gus Cannon that Kwait trails throughout this 90-minute investigative exploration of JBM’s roots. Hence the film’s title. (more…)

Les Blank

April 15, 2013

by Josh Baum:

Les Blank, a renowned documentary filmmaker of American traditional music, food, and culture, passed away last week at the age of 77. Blank’s films include The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sprout Wings and Fly with Appalachian fiddler Tommy Jarrell, and the films Dry Wood and Hot Pepper on Creole and Cajun music in Louisiana.

From the New York Times:

“You could call him an ethnographer; you could call him an ethnomusicologist or an anthropologist,” Mr. Hackford said. “He was interested in certain cultures that Americans are unaware of. He shot what he wanted, captured it beautifully, and those subjects are now gone. The homogenization of American culture has obliterated it.”

A shy, quiet man, Mr. Blank achieved a kind of intimacy in his work — his subjects often seem almost impossibly at ease — that suggested the camera had been unobtrusive, or perhaps a welcome guest. Mr. Blank sometimes lived among the people he was filming for weeks at a time.

“I try not to make a big deal about the camera, to let it get between me and them,” Mr. Blank said in 1979. “I’ve seen a lot of cameramen go in and treat the subjects like so many guinea pigs. I think the people pick up on my very protective feelings toward them, and they aren’t self-conscious about what they do or say, and they try to show the inner light about themselves that I find so attractive.”

Excerpt from Sprout Wings and Fly:

Great Southern Old Time Fiddlers Convention: DVD

March 14, 2013


Great Southern Old Time Fiddlers Convention – Documentary 1925-1929,   b/w – 53 minutes, $10.00

Limited Edition DVD presented by the Chattanooga Old Fiddlers Association,

During the mid-1920’s, the the biggest names in string band music and all the best old time fiddlers around gathered in Chattanooga, TN in hopes of carrying home the title – Champion Old Time Fiddler of the South.

Narrated by text from newspaper articles which appeared in the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga News and utilizing period and rare photographs, the early days of this historic convention come to life on the screen.
Featuring Gid Tanner, Clayton McMichen, Riley Puckett, Uncle Dave Macon and A.A. Gray, as well as hometown favorites “Sawmill” Tom Smith, Jess Young, Bob Douglas and Lowe Stokes.

In Search of Blind Joe Death

March 11, 2013


edited from

“As a young man, he was in the Mississippi Delta looking for Skip James and Bukka White, and then, later, people went to Oregon looking for him. And there he was.”

Greil Marcus’s old, weird America had a second generation, one of its children being John Fahey, the “original American primitive,” and an untutored, finger-style adventurer on the steel-stringed acoustic guitar.

He is the subject of In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey, a new documentary by James Cullingham.

As a musicologist, Fahey tracked down folk-blues pioneers Bukka White and Skip James, and helped revive their careers during the great American folk-blues boom in the 1960s. His essays on those sojourns into the Mississippi Delta were thoroughly journalistic, if somewhat fanciful.

In 1964, as one of the inaugural graduates of the University of California’s folklore curriculum, Fahey‘s master’s thesis was on the great country-blues artist Charlie Patton. In his own (mostly instrumental) music, he took the forms of Patton and others and developed his own melodies while introducing resonant syncopation, Eastern meditativeness and, later, found sounds.

What’s fascinating about Fahey is that he himself became the same source of intrigue as his folk-blues heroes. After a successful career of recording and touring, he wound up homeless in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest. “As a young man, he was in the Mississippi Delta looking for James and White,” says Cullingham. “And then, later, people went to Oregon looking for him. And there he was.”


Sing My Troubles By

January 25, 2013

Sing My Troubles By: Visits with Georgia Women Carrying Their Musical Traditions into the 21st Century

(A new film by Neil Rosenbaum)

 This feature-length documentary honors older Georgia women who treasure and continue to perform the gospel, blues, mountain music, and ballad traditions they grew up with.

Folklorist and artist Art Rosenbaum visits the women (and some men!) in the homes and churches where their music lives on. These visits reveal not only the music, but also the memories and life experiences of these grass-roots singers and musicians.

The four main segments of the film feature Blue Ridge Mountain ballad singers, sisters Mary Lomax and Bonnie Loggins; early African American spirituals and gospel performed by Rev. Willie Mae Eberhart and nonagenarian blind piano player and singer, Mother Fleeta Mitchell; a mountain string band and harmony singing group, the Myers family and their friends; and the acoustic guitar and singing of south Georgia country blueswoman Precious Bryant.

Most of the performers in the film can be heard on Dust-to-Digital’s box set “Art of Field Recording, Vol. I, Fifty Years of Traditional American Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum, which won the 2007 Grammy for Best Historical Recording, and its companion compilation, “Art of Field Recording, Vol. II.”

On seeing the film–in which he appears–traditional north Georgia banjo picker Ed Teague said, “Some people like to ‘jelly it up’, this [film] is more natural, this is what it ought to be…it’s telling the story…If there was something that was wrong, I’d tell you right straight out.”

“Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass”

September 21, 2012


Shot in 1961
restored and released 2012

In the early 1960s, when Greenwich Village was bursting with a folk music revival, the Friends of Old Time Music made it their mission to introduce urban audience to some of the legends of pre-war American traditional music. After a 1961 series of concerts featuring Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson, Alan Lomax invited the artists and a who’s who of the folk revival back to his West 3rd Avenue apartment for an impromptu song swap. Filming was arranged on the fly and a raw, many-layered evocation of the art and attitude of the period emerges from the footage, with some of the biggest names of the era, old timers and revivalists alike: Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Jean Ritchie, Ernie Marrs, Peter LeFarge, Ramblin Jack Elliott, Guy Carawan,the Greenbriar Boys, and the New Lost City Ramblers.

Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass is a remarkable portrait of a brief but fabled era that was widely documented in recordings but all too under-represented in moving image. This DVD is the film’s first release in any form.

It also includes interviews with the cinematographer, George Pickow, and John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers reflecting on the film in 2010.

Ballads Blues & Bluegrass (35 min)
directed by Alan Lomax
filmed by George Pickow
sound by Jean Ritchie
edited by Anna Lomax Wood
produced by Alan Lomax, George Pickow, Jean Ritchie
restoration and DVD by John Melville Bishop

Making Ballads Blues & Bluegrass (25 min)
video by John Melville Bishop

Hickory Pictures: Casting Dancers for Film

August 24, 2012

Hickory Pictures is now casting dancers familiar with the Virgina Reel, Galopede, Flatfooting, etc. to be in an upcoming period drama. This family-friendly feature film follows the coming of age story of a young boy.

We need dancers of all ages!  If you dance and would like to be part of this production, please follow the instructions below to apply.  No prior film or acting experience is required.

Shooting will take place near New Paltz, NY in October, and will require one day of filming, which will be paid.

We’ll need the following:
1) Two current photos of yourself, one up close, and one full-body shot.  These do not need to be professional, simple photos is all we need.
2) Your height.
3) Your contact number.
Reply to: Stefni Colle
Local Casting Director – Hickory Pictures

Please use Dancer as the subject line of your email, or it may not go to the right people.

Parents, if you have children who are interested, please contact us on their behalf.

Come dance!!!
Jay & Molly

Pimento and Hot Pepper

June 1, 2012

Pimento and Hot Pepper” is a documentary about mento music by Rick Elgood.  The following is from the Bilmon Productions site:

Mento music is a fusion of African and European musical traditions that began in Jamaica in the 19th century. Although widely played throughout the island for many years, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the first mento recording appeared on a 78 RPM disc. This decade was mento’s golden age, as a variety of artists recorded mento songs in an assortment of rhythms and styles. It was the peak of mento’s creativity and popularity in Jamaica and the birth of Jamaica’s recording industry.

Interviews include commentary from leading political, cultural and musical personalities. Musical performances include a panorama of existing mento bands from all across Jamaica, some of which have been playing continuously for 45 yrs.

“No Mouse Music”: Chris Strachwitz

May 23, 2012

edited from
No Mouse Music! The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records.  A film by Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon

No Mouse Music! is a feature-length documentary about the life and vision of Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz and his adventures searching out America’s roots music. A displaced person from Germany after WWII, Strachwitz helped to bring Cajun music out of Louisiana, norteño music out of Texas and country blues out of the country and into the living rooms of middle America. Through one man’s amazing journey, we will experience the rich panorama of American regional music.  Watch this beautiful trailer.  They’re all here: Flaco Jimenez, Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb…  Where would we have been without Chris Strachwitz’ tireless promotion of this great music?

by Jeffrey St. Clair, Author Born Under a Bad Sky:

Chris Strachwitz is a detective of sounds, an archaeologist of the deep American music, music with roots that strike straight into the country’s heartland. He is the guiding force behind the legendary Arhoolie Records, producing albums that the Rolling Stones and many others played the grooves right off of. Since 1960, Strachwitz has been recording the authentic pulses of the great American music, throbbing away in the backwoods of the nation. His label offers an unparalleled catalogue of blues, Cajun, wild Hillbilly country, Tex-Mex and New Orleans R&B. These diverse musical strands seem to have grown right out of the ground they are played on. With tape-recorder in hand, Strachwitz traveled to plantations and prisons, roadhouses and whorehouses, churches and bayou juke joints. He returned with recordings that would revolutionize the sound of popular music.

In “No Mouse Music!,” their vivid portrait of an obsessive sonic sleuth, filmmakers Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling take a hip-shaking stroll from New Orleans to Appalachia and right into very the DNA of rock’n’roll. In this beautifully shot film, we come face to face with the creators of indigenous music, from the great Clifton Chenier to fiddler Michael Doucet, from Flaco Jimenez to the Pine Leaf Boys, playing songs that are endemic to their place and circumstance, to dialect and class, to climate and landscape. Their music is now highly endangered by the merciless steamroller of pop culture, assimilation and commercialism, which makes Strachwitz’s desperate pursuit to track down every last artist all the more urgent. But these songs aren’t meant to be locked away in a Smithsonian vault to be decoded by folklorists and musical anthropologists. This film is a living cultural history with a soundtrack that bites and kicks and screams. Even 50 years later, Arhoolie’s records remain alive, unruly and still so sharp that some songs can cut you right down to the soul.

Always Been a Rambler

April 21, 2012

“THE NEW LOST CITY RAMBLERS: Always Been A Rambler” (DVD: Arhoolie Foundation AFV-204)


Presented by the Arhoolie Foundation, this is a beautifully produced DVD that is successful both as a documentary of a very important and influential group and as a storehouse of good music (there are around 50 full or partial songs & tunes, some in black & white and others in full color). It is certainly a worthy tribute to a band that took rural American music (what Arhoolie’s Chris Strachwitz calls “the real stuff”) to a new generation –not for their own aggrandizement, but because of a wish to share some amazing music that otherwise might have been lost. In addition to playing numerous concerts all over the world in a career that spanned 50 years, the group discovered and introduced such old-time giants as Dock Boggs, Tom Ashley, Roscoe Holcombe and Elizabeth Cotton to an ever growing and appreciative young audience.

This well-edited film includes interviews with Ramblers Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Tom Paley and Tracy Schwarz, as well as other contemporary and later artists; it makes use of some rare film footage from the band’s earliest days and more recent shows, but it also provides musical performances by a lot of other folks from Doc Watson and Tom Ashley to Ricky Skaggs. Especially nice is a song by Sara & Maybelle Carter, and some precious color footage of Cajun artists Dewey & Rodney Balfa. Toward the end of the DVD (which runs over 80 minutes) there are snippets of performances by several of today’s young “old-time” groups including Rayna Gellert, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Stairwell Sisters (though it’s kind of amusing and incongruous to see a group of five young ladies singing about “climbing ole SugarHill”!). The quality of both video and sound is excellent on this fine film by Yasha Aginsky.

Club 47 Documentary

March 9, 2012


“For The Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival,” is a documentary exploring the rich history of Club 47, the iconic Cambridge, Massachusetts folk music mecca from 1958-1968. Narrated by Peter Coyote, it explores the influence the Club had on a unique group of folk musicians, from the evolution of the 60s folk revival to the singer-songwriter era. Featured are interviews with Joan Baez, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Maria Muldaur, Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Jackie Washington, Jim Rooney, Peter Rowan and many more. The film features previously unreleased audio recordings and photographs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Eric Von Schmidt and new performances from the still-performing stars of Club 47 with today’s emerging folk performers, as the folk process continues.

View clips here.

“Signs, Cures, and Witchery”

February 13, 2012

Signs, Cures & Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore (by Gerald Milnes)

DVD 60 minutes – $20,  from

A fascinating glimpse of some little-known Appalachian beliefs and practices among descendents of early German pioneers.  This hour-long documentary traces Germanic belief systems from Europe to West Virginia, from the fifteenth century to present practitioners.  Signs, Cures and Witchery opens a window into our ancient past, revealing the courage, resourcefulness and humor of people whose survival depended on their ability to “read signs,” cure their own ills, and find explanations for life’s mysteries. 

Local community practices in West Virginia such as witch doctoring, “belsnickling,” shanghai,” and folk healing are connected to their medieval counterparts in woodcuts and other works of art. In tracing immigration to remote mountain communities, we learn how expressions of folk art and occult belief survive. This work specifically examines aspects of Appalachian oral tradition and folklore that draw from German culture. This informative, entertaining film is an invaluable aid to all who have interest in religion, psychology, folklore, metaphysical, regional, gender, and ethnic studies. Produced by Gerald Milnes.

Roscoe Holcomb

October 26, 2011

John Cohen’s new film, “Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy, Kentucky” is out.  It has been released by Shanachie Video and is available for purchase by CLICKING HERE.

The film has been packaged by Shanachie as “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb.”  The DVD includes John’s new film about Roscoe as well as his classic 1962 film about Holcomb, “The High Lonesome Sound.”

From liner notes to “The High Lonesome Sound,” notes by John Cohen.

Listen to Roscoe Holcomb sing “The Village Churchyard”:

Sara and Maybelle

October 1, 2011

Sara and Maybelle,” (10 min., 1981.) excerpt from the sublime film  by John Cohen.

If ever a foul mood overtakes you, please watch this video.

Complete Carter Family lyrics online:

Carter Family biography:   Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family & Their Legacy In American Music by Mark Zwonitzer

Lowell Banjo & Fiddle Contest Documentary

September 23, 2011

Friends and fellow pickers, I’m trying to promote a documentary about the Annual Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contests I just finished and got up on the web earlier this week. Please take a look and share the link with anyone you think might enjoy it. The doc is 42 minutes long and provides a good overview of this enduring (32 years) regional music festival.

Thanks so much for your help! I welcome any and ALL critical feedback. I can only improve as a film maker if I know what people DON’T like! Please be kind but uncompromising with your constructive criticism.

Chuck Interrante
(Aspiring) Documentary Filmmaker


September 1, 2011  offers free streaming video of documentary films about American Roots Cultures.  Dozens of their films relate to Appalachian and old time music, including:

Almeda Riddle : Now Let’s Talk About Singing

Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old (featuring Tommy Jarrell, Sam Chatmon, etc.)

Homemade American Music (featuring Tommy Jarrell, Roscoe Holcomb, etc.)

Morgan Sexton : Bull Creek Banjo Player

Prince Albert Hunt

Remembering The High Lonesome (John Cohen)

New Films on the Highwoods String Band and Green Grass Cloggers

August 20, 2011

Horse Archer Productions, the documentary company that brought you Why Old Time and The Henry Reed Legacy are now in production on two separate documentaries.  The first is on the Highwoods String Band and the second is on the Green Grass Cloggers.  Both films will look their legacies, histories and influences on the old time scene.    You can get more info at the link below.  You can get DVDs or our previous films, posters, t shirts, and pre orders of the two up coming films at that link below as well.   If you knew either the HWSB or the GGCs along the way or were influenced by them, or just want to support a filmmaker dedicated to documenting old time music. Please go to the link and help out.  (from Chris Valluzzo)

St. Patrick’s Day Special for Why Old Time? and Henry Reed DVDs

March 17, 2010
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the drunken stereotypes, exaggerated accents or predictable references to Lucky Charms cereal, we thought we’d offer a limited time special on our films “Why Old Time?” and “The Henry Reed Legacy.” Through the 18th (tomorrow!) you can get either film on DVD for just $15 each . . . or both for $25. That’s our lowest price ever.

However, you must use this link:;

Feel free to share it!

(. . . now, ware’s me moonshine?)

Sean Kotz

Highwoods String Band Documentary

February 12, 2010

“Hello fellow Old Time fans.  Thanks for being a part of the Why Old Time? documentary facebook group.  In an effort to produce one old time related documentary a year we are pleased to announce that we will be producing a feature length documentary on the Highwoods String Band.  It’ll be a look into their time on the old time scene, their impact during and after their time together, the legacy and importance of their music and what they’re up to now.  These guys, for me, seem to be a real spark in the old time revival and as one friend told me who was around when they first started…”everywhere you turned highwoods was there”  Highwoods was very influential on the old time scene and I feel their story should be told. Oddly enough, there’s not much out there on them.  All 5 band members viewed why old time and the Henry Reed Legacy, enjoyed them both, and have signed on to be a part of this doc.  We’ll be putting up a highwoods doc face book page soon and I’ll let you know when that happens.  If you have any memories, stories, pictures, audio, or video of Highwoods that you’d like to share on or off camera, please contact me.  Thanks again.”  – Chris Valluzzo