Archive for the ‘recordings’ Category


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.



April 3, 2015

index from

This month only we are offering all records in COUNTY’s 3500 series at a SPECIAL SALE PRICE
of just $ 7.00 per CD.  That means a savings of $ 6.50 per CD off our already discounted price!
There is no minimum and no limit as to how many you can buy, and any items you order here
can be applied to your special offer (buy 6 records and get a 7th CD free).
This offer ends MAY 5, 2015.
COUNTY’S 3500 SERIES is devoted to outstanding collections of Old-Time music re-issues
(Most from old recording of the 1925-1935 period, and featuring some of the finest musicians
of our time).
You have heard the warnings about many CDs going out of print these days, and they are real.
Check our list carefully, as most of these albums will not be reprinted when supplies run out.
CO-3501 CHARLIE POOLE & NC Ramblers
CO-3503 DARBY & TARLTON “On The Banks Of”
CO-3505 UNCLE DAVE MACON “Go Long Mule”
CO-3508 CHARLIE POOLE—Volume 2
CO-3515 ECK ROBERTSON Texas Fiddler
CO-3516 CHARLIE POOLE—Volume 3
CO-3517 GRAYSON & WHITTER “1928-1930”


March 28, 2015


by Jonathan Ward (

The Congolese version of the cha-cha-cha was born out of the continued influence of Cuban and Caribbean music on the popular musicians of the Congo. And by the late 1950s, that influence was pervasive across Sub-Saharan Africa. The popularity of the hundreds of Congolese rumbas issued on labels like Ngoma, Opika, and Loningisa was so strong that their distribution and influence spread across to Kenya, into West Africa, and to the nightclubs of France, with much success.

The Congolese cha-cha-cha apparently began in the studios of the short-lived but influential Esengo label. In late 1956-early 1957, the Greek-owned Esengo had purloined many of the area’s most popular stars from other labels, essentially creating stellar supergroups with a stock of talent that would become the mainstays of music in the Congo for decades:

Joseph “Grand Kalle” Kabasele, Nico Kasanda (aka “Dr Nico” or simply “Nico”), Nedule “Papa Noël” Montswet on guitar, Tino Baroza, Jean Serge Essous, and Nino Malapet on saxophones, and Moniania ma Muluma, also known as “Roitelet” on bass. This group, with additions and subtractions, in various shapes and forms, became the famous Orchestre Rock-A-Mambo, contributing to or issuing about 250 records on Esengo over approximately 4 years.

The first cha-cha-cha in Congo came quickly – “Baila” written by Essous, and the 7th release on the Esengo label – and it was a major success. The Orchestre Rock-A-Mambo eventually disbanded, and in the meantime members had siphoned themselves across the river to Brazzaville to form the Orchestre Bantou Jazz, another crack outfit continuing the trend of electrified rumbas, merengues, and cha-cha-chas.

This track, “The Moon and the Sun” (certainly it should be “y el” as opposed to “yel” on the label – but I’ve kept the original spelling), was written and performed by guitarist Papa Noël accompanied by the Bantou group sometime in the early 1960s. Nothing is quite as enjoyable as their perfectly timed, overlapping electric guitars – Papa Noël wasn’t quite as adventurous as Nico as a guitarist, but he was refined and perfectly timed. Seeing this band in its prime must have been simply incredible.

Listen: Papa Noël et l’Orchestre Bantou Jazz – La Luna Yel Sol

Kyle Creed’s “Liberty” LP

December 25, 2014

Track Listing:


Tennessee Folk Music Recordings: A List

September 25, 2014

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 3.14.48 PMCLICK HERE FOR PDF:

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“Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions”

August 31, 2014


by Elijah Wald:

Classic Kikuyu Music:  Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions (available from

This CD combines two extremely varied cassettes of Kikuyu music sold in Nairobi in 1990. The music ranges from the wonderful Jimmie Rodgers yodeling of Sammy Ngako (the only performer I could identify by name) to a cappella choruses and accordion numbers.

Many of the songs show a clear debt to American country and western, in one case even including a fiddle intro. Others are obviously based on traditional local rhythms, and still others reflect combinations of these styles and even a hint of Harry Belafonte-style calypso.

There is both fingerstyle and flatpicked guitar, and while none of the performers are astounding virtuosos, there is a startling variety of approaches to the instrument. As for the accordion, it sometimes suggests a relationship to zydeco, though that is clearly a matter of shared roots rather than direct interaction.

The a cappella pieces sound quite traditional, and include two by a wonderful female singer with responses by a backing chorus. There are also two electric numbers, including one that uses the tune of the old English children’s song “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.”

All in all, while the sound is sometimes muddy, it is well worth it for the startling mix of music. Much like American “hillbilly” or country music, this collection reflects a rural population that loved its traditional styles but also sought to blend them with the new sounds arriving on the phonograph and radio, and the breadth of styles reflects the broad tastes of the Kikuyu audience of the time.



Peter Francisco

July 28, 2014

edited from


The tune “Peter Francisco” (listen below) appears in George P. Knauff’s Virginia Reels, volume II (Baltimore, 1839) in the key of F Major. It is known as a North Carolina tune, perhaps in part because Peter Francisco, who was from either North Carolina or Virginia, was a Revolutionary War legend whose deeds were widely celebrated.

Francisco’s history is remarkable. It is probable that he began life as Pedro Francisco on July 9, 1760, born at Porto Judeu, on Terceira Island in the Portuguese-held Azores.  He was either kidnapped as a boy, or was sprited away to the New World—no one is sure—but he eventually came to the attention of Anthony Winston, a local Virginia judge and uncle to firebrand Patrick Henry. Winston put the boy to work at chores around his 3,600 acre plantation of Hunting Tower in Buckingham County, Virginia, taught him English and guided his growth to manhood.

His growth was prodigeous: it is said he grew to six feet, six inches, nearly a foot over the man of average height in his day, and he weighed 260 lbs. He was as strong as he was large, performing legendary feats of strength throughout his life; yet he was also known for being good-tempered, temperate and charitable.

After hostilities broke out with England, Francisco at the age of 16 received Winston’s consent to enlist in the 10th Virginia Regiment as a private. He subsequently fought at Brandywine (where he was wounded), Germantown, Fort Mifflin, Monmouth (where he was again wounded), and Stony Point (wounded a third time). His three year enlistment being up in 1779, Francisco returned to Virginia.

Soon, however, the active portion of the war shifted South, and Francisco joined Continental forces in the Carolinas, fighting in the disaterous defeat of the Battle of Camden under Gates, and the more successful action at Guilford Courthouse with Greene. He became the most famous enlisted man of the war. Benson Lossing reported in his 1850 Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, that Francisco, “a brave Virginian, cut down eleven men in succession with his broadsword. One of the guards pinned Francisco’s leg to his horse with a bayonet. Forbearing to strike, he assisted the assailant to draw his bayonet forth, when, with terrible force, he brought down his broadsword and cleft the poor fellow’s head to his shoulders!”

Francisco was wounded a total of five times, but survived to attended the British defeat at Yorktown. After the war he worked as a blacksmith and continued his education, marrying several times after the death of each wife and fathering several children. In 1825 he was made Sergeant-at-Arms for the Virginia Legislature. He passed away on January 16, 1831. His shoes are preserved to this day at the Guilford Courthouse Battlefield, near Greensboro, N.C.

The New Barnyard Serenaders play “Peter Francisco”:

Wayne Perry (#2)

June 21, 2014
Wayne Perry

Wayne Perry

Looks like the complete Wayne Perry  Library of Congress recordings are available here.  More about Wayne Perry here.


This site is a digital resource for the study of the 1934 John and Alan Lomax trip to lower Louisiana, where they recorded a diverse array of songs in English and in Louisiana French. The recordings they made are part of the Lomax Collection, housed at the Library of Congress in the American Folklife Center. This website was developed by Joshua Clegg Caffery, author of Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana, which contains transcriptions, translations, and annotations of these recordings.

The audio on this site is organized by parish and performer name, and it corresponds, more or less, with the Table of Contents in Caffery’s Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana. An image of the Library of Congress cards from the original catalog of the Archive of American Folk Song accompanies each audio selection. These images are hyperlinked to the corresponding record in the American Folklife Center’s online interface. All Library of Congress photos of performers are also hyperlinked to their corresponding page in the Library’s Division of Prints and Photographs.

In many cases, the titles and information given on this website may conflict with information in the original card catalog. The original cataloging of these materials contained a number of mishearings, misspellings, misidentifications, and other errors. This cataloging was done, after all, at a time when there was practically no scholarship at all on the vernacular music of south Louisiana.

The goal of this site, and of the book Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana, is to update these efforts in light of contemporary knowledge and to make corrections where appropriate.

See also here.



Black Bottom Rag

June 18, 2014

From the Green Mountain wilderness.  I hear music….

Spike Driver Blues: Ramata Diakite

May 9, 2014

Ramata Diakite

edited from

Taj Mahal’s 1999 CD “Kulanjan” features this version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver’s Blues” (the original is included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.)  Malian musicians Toumani Diabite, Ballake Sissoko, Bassekou Kouyate, and Ramata Diakite join him on this song to create a sublime fusion of Mississippi, Manding, and Wassoulou musical sensibilities.

Taj writes that in the studio he “begins to play a blues number and the Malians instinctively fall in with him.”  Of particular note are the gorgeous improvised vocals of the late Ramata Diakite.  With no prior exposure to the song, Ramata creates a haunting melody that takes the song to a completely new level.

During a weeklong session in an Athens, Georgia, home, Mahal and Diabate, plus a small Malian string band, achieved an unusually relaxed collaboration. Mahal’s finger-picking acoustic guitar, thick rust-bucket vocals and simmering sense of tempo bring a languid, sensual air. Diabate dials down his lightning-quick, aggressive tone slightly, so that he embroiders the songs — a mix of Malian and blues traditionals – rather than running away with them.

A jam-session informality prevails, from the quiet trio intimacy of “Mississippi-Mali Blues” to the jovial, Cajun-style “Fanta Sacko,” with Lasana Diabate prancing on the xylophone-like balafon. Cultural exchanges don’t sound more organic or revelatory than “Ol’ Georgie Buck,” which melts a spirited Southern dance tune into a hand-clapping thirteenth-century Malian groove; Mahal grunts along to a driving six-string hunter’s harp and mutters approval as Diabate does a little dancing of his own on the kora. The West African vocalists nearly steal the show, particularly Ramata Diakite, whose voice just about breaks Mahal’s heart as she floats through “Queen Bee” and “Take This Hammer.”

Taj Mahal and friends play “Take This Hammer (Spike Driver Blues)”:


Here is a glimpse of Ramata Diakite in a more familiar Wassoulou musical element:


Gay Life in Dikanka

May 4, 2014

Sweet Shellac

May 3, 2014

R. Crumb’s Sweet Shellac – American Black String Bands Of The 20’s & 30’s (BBC radio episode)

The American Country Waltz

August 11, 2013

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excerpt from JEMF Quarterly VOL. V, PART 1, SPRING,1969, NO.13:

We all know the waltzes of art music, and many of us are familiar with the popular and folk waltzes of Germany, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Few folklorists know, however, that country dancers and musicians in our own Southern states are as fond of the waltz as they are of any of the livelier steps one usually associates with old-time fiddle music.

Few dances or old-time fiddlers’ contests pass without such favorites as “Over the Waves” and “Wednesday Night Waltz.” And yet even those few collectors who have carefully noted down the country reels and breakdowns have been content to let the waltz go with a passing mention, if indeed they mention it at all.

The typical “Wednesday Night Waltz” melody is a strain of 32 bars. Considered in the key of C, its range is from middle C up an octave and a fifth to G.  Its first three bars have three long notes; the first and third are double-stops on the high C chord, and the second is usually a half-tone below or a full-tone above the other two.

These are followed by a rapid descent to the low C.  At the fifth bar the melody jumps up to A, then drops stepwise to the E of the low C chord. The second 8 bars are the same except that the concluding bars form a G7 or dominant-seventh chord. The third 8 bars repeat the first 8 exactly. The final 8 can vary considerably, but nearly always end with a stepwise passage from the high E down to the high C.

Rather than going through that again, This is a recording made by the Leake County Revelers in 1926, which was in the catalog for over twenty years and is one of the all-time best-selling country records. 

The usual methods of classifying folk tunes—incipits, contours, emphasized and neglected pitches, and so on—are dependent on melody alone. And when we are studying music which is purely melodic, and not traditionally performed with harmony (such as Child ballads) we should certainly stick to these methods. But in the country waltz we are dealing with an essentially harmonic form.

We see this both historically and empirically: first by the historical connection of the country waltz with the obviously harmonic waltzes of Europe, and secondly by the inevitable presence in country waltz performances of a harmonic support
(usually a guitar or banjo) behind the melodic fiddle lead.

And if we can judge by the Leake County Revelers, the harmonic method represents not only a fast way of classifying tunes, but a way that agrees (at least subconsciously) with the folk attitude toward them.


Prater and Hayes

June 17, 2013


from and

In February of 1928, guitarist Napoleon “Nap” Hayes and mandolinist Matthew Prater, two black musicians from Vicksburg, MSi, recorded four instrumental tunes in Memphis. The tunes — “Somethin’ Doin’,” “Easy Winner,” “Nothin’ Doin’,” and “Prater Blues” — showcase the clean musicianship of both players, with Hayes’ guitar providing a steady rhythmic accompaniment for the skillful mandolin lead.

The performances, while comprising only a small body of recorded work, reveal a unique and carefully stylized repertoire, fusing elements of string band, ragtime, and blues forms: the first two sides directly borrow themes and phrasings from Scott Joplin rags, “Something Doing” and “The Entertainer,” respectively.

Little biographical information is known regarding Hayes and Prater, who recorded as the Johnson Boys and the Blue Boys. The duo also recorded two numbers with popular bluesman Lonnie Johnson on violin, but those sides were not issued (they have only become available in recent years). The four duet recordings of Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater are collected on Document’s String Bands (1926-1929).

Bob Eagle has dug into Prater a little with no concrete results. He found records that could have been for Prater but not at all certain. He found a record for someone named Matt Prater, black, born 1886, who was boarding with one Sam Harris in Beat 2 of Leflore County, MS in 1900. Matt and parents were born in MS.

He also found a record for a Nap Hayes. “The most likely Hayes is Nap Hayes, black, born 1885, residing in Lee County, MS in 1918. He was working for one Ben Whitehead and his nearest relative was Lucinda Taylor, of Tupelo.”

Easy Winner and Somethin’ Doin’, like the recordings of Evans and McClain, used the mandolin guitar duet form widely popular among white musicians, such as the Callahan, Shelton and Monroe Brothers. Hayes was probably exposed to ragtime when working with the pianist Cooney Vaughn, and he ably supported Prater’s fluent mandolin runs.

Both The Easy Winners and Something Doing (to give them their exact names) are by Scott Joplin; and this version of the latter composition was the only one to appear on record between the piano-roll era and the Second World War. The same would be true of Easy Winner, were it not that Hayes and Prater do not play this tune at all, but assemble under its name two strains from Joplin’s The Entertainer and one from J. Bodewalt Lampe’s Creole Belles.

As it happens, this is the only record of The Entertainer from the cited period, too. Creole Belles was recorded by Mississippi John Hurt, soon after his reappearance in the musical world in I963; his guitar treatment may be compared with a 1902 version, by banjoist Vess L. Ossman .

Prater and Hayes play “Somethin’ Doing”:

H. Wylie: “Come By Here”

June 3, 2013

from and

Regional Song Sampler: The Southeast

Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Nearing 40 and nearly broke, ousted from his last job as an English professor, a folklore buff named Robert Winslow Gordon set out in the spring of 1926 from his temporary home on the Georgia seacoast, lugging a hand-cranked cylinder recorder and searching for songs in the nearby black hamlets.

One particular day, Mr. Gordon captured the sound of someone identified only as H. Wylie, singing a lilting, swaying spiritual in the key of A. The lyrics told of people in despair and in trouble, calling on heaven for help, and beseeching God in the refrain, “Come by here.”

With that wax cylinder, the oldest known recording of a spiritual titled for its recurring plea, Mr. Gordon set into motion a strange and revealing process of cultural appropriation, popularization and desecration. “Come By Here,” a song deeply rooted in black Christianity’s vision of a God who intercedes to deliver both solace and justice, by the 1960s became the pallid pop-folk sing-along “Kumbaya.” Click below to listen.

  • Come by Here,” sung in Sea Islands Dialect (Gullah) by H. Wylie. Recorded by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1926. This is the earliest known recording of the song that came to be known as “Kumbayah.” Noise on the wax cylinder recording obscures the song in the middle. No location given, but Wylie was probably from coastal South Carolina or Georgia. (audio)
  • The Southern Soldier,” a Civil War song sung by Minta Morgan. Recorded by John A. Lomax, 1937. (audio)
  • I Ain’t Got Nobody Much,” composed by Spencer Williams, sung by Marion Harris. Victor, 1916. Spencer Williams was a performer and composer born and educated in New Orleans, Louisiana. Like a number of African American artists of his era, he moved to Chicago to pursue his career. Better known today as “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” this was one of his most popular songs. (audio)
  • Are You from Dixie?” performed by Buster Ezell. Recorded by John Wesley Work, III, 1941. This song by New York composer George L. Cobb with lyrics by Polish-born Jack Yellen is one of many popular songs about “Dixie” written primarily for Northern and Midwestern stages in the early twentieth century (1916). Here, blues artist Buster Ezell, from Georgia gives his southern take on the song. (audio)
  • What a Time,” performed by the Golden Gate Quartet. Recorded by Willis James, Fort Valley Georgia, 1943. The singers were from the tidewater of Virginia. This song about World War II was performed during the war at the Fort Valley African American music festival. At this time during the war, German U boats were sinking vessels off of the United States coast, so the song ends with a verse about Hitler trying to rule the seas. Singers Willie Johnson and Orlandus Wilson both served in the Navy in the war in the Pacific. (audio)
  • Carrie,” performed by Vera Hall. Adell Hall Ward, known as Vera Hall, worked as a cook and laundress in Livingston, Alabama, but was sought after by folklorists because of her singing ability and repertoire of sacred and secular songs. This recording was made by John A. and Ruby Lomax in 1939. (audio)
  • Carolina,” by A.E. Blackmar, (no date, ca. 1865). A.E. Blackmar was a composer of patriotic music for the Confederacy during the Civil War. This song is about the destruction in South Carolina, and hope for a better future. (sheet music)
  • Hesitation Blues,” sung by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Recorded by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1925. This blues song has many variations and was both published and performed by many artists. Folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford of North Carolina learned and documented folksongs throughout the Southeast. This song includes a verse about the boll weevil, which was causing widespread devastation to cotton crops in the early 1920s. (audio)
  • The Old Ninty Seven,” sung by Fred J. Lewey. Recorded by Robert Winslow Gordon in Concord, North Carolina, 1925. The Southern Fast Mail train number 97 derailed near Danville, Virginia in 1903, falling from a trestle bridge. The song, with several people claiming authorship, became the first song copyright suit to be appealed before the Supreme Court. Folklorist Gordon testified during the initial litigation. (audio)
  • Dale Jett and the Carter Singers perform a Carter Family Tribute, performed at the Library of Congress, 2005. Dale Jett is the son of Janette Carter and the grandson of A.P and Sara Carter of the Carter Family performers. (webcast)
  • Little David,” performed by the Halloway High School Quartet of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Recorded by John Wesley Work, III, 1940. (audio)
  • Roll on Buddy,” performed by Aunt Molly Jackson. The singer is from Clay County, Kentucky. Recorded by Alan Lomax, 1939. (audio)
  • Gandydancer: String Band Music from West Virginia, performance at the Library of Congress, 2007. (webcast)
  • Sprinkle Coal Dust on my Grave,” performed by Orville J. Jenks. Recorded by George Korson in in Welch, West Virginia, 1940. (audio)(this is the audio link. Use the montage if it is available).
  • Hunting Song,” sung by John Josh, Richard Osceola, Robert Osceola, and Barfield Johns. Seminole song recorded by Corita Doggett Corse and Robert Cornwall, July 25, 1940. (audio)
  • First Time I Come Into This Countree,” sung by an unidentified Bahamian American quartet. Recorded by Stetson Kennedy, in Key West, Florida, January 23, 1940. Bahamian American settlers of southern Florida formed the largest population of free African Americans in the United States before emancipation. (audio)
  • Duermate mi niño,” a Cuban lullaby sung by Zenaida Beuron. Recorded by Stetson Kennedy in Tampa, Florida, August 23, 1939. (audio)
  • Merce,” sung in Spanish by Adela Martinez with band. A Cuban dance song. Recorded by Herbert Halpert in Tampa, Florida, June 21, 1939. (audio)
  • Misirlou,” a traditional love song sung in Greek by Jennie Castrounis. Recorded by Alton Morris and Carita Doggett Corse in Tarpon Springs, Florida, October 4,1939. (audio)
  • Halimuhfack,” sung by anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. She describes to folklorist Herbert Halpert how she learned the song and how she collected songs. Hurston was born in Alabama and grew up in Florida. She documented African American songs, stories, and lore throughout the south and in the Caribbean. Recorded by Herbert Halpert and Stetson Kennedy in Florida, June 18, 1939.
  • My Old Kentucky Home,” sung by Edward Favor. E. Berliner’s Gramophone recording, 1897. This song by Stephen Foster is the state song of Kentucky, famously sung at the opening of the Kentucky Derby. In 1986 the Kentucky Legislature officially changed the offensive word “darkies” to “people.”

Ry Cooder and the Seegers

April 20, 2013

Ry Cooder, Mike Seeger, and Pete Seeger play “J. Edgar.”


Ry Cooder: I took lessons from Mike Seeger when I was a kid — also from one of the other Ramblers, Tom Paley. The Ramblers used to play the Ash Grove all the time. I learned a lot of songs from those guys, sure did.  I’ve known Pete Seeger a long time, too, because I used to see Pete Seeger everywhere.

I saw him when I was six, and then at folk festivals later on. It’d be just like you’d think. You’d go up to him and say, “Hi, Pete, how ya doin’?” And he would say, “Well, I’ll tell you something.” And off he’d go on a long speech.

Mike, Pete and I recorded Pete’s song, about a pig named J. Edgar at Pete’s house in Beacon. Pete doesn’t travel to LA — hell, he’s pushing 90. We had lunch, and Pete wanted to talk about how there are too many people in the human race and they’re pressing down on the earth and here’s how you measure that force, and I’m like, “Man, we have to record. You’re wearing me out. Let’s play this song, and then we can get back to this.”

Which he did when the tune was done. Pete didn’t understand it. He said, “What’s all this about J. Edgar?” “It’s a pig, Pete,” I said. “Well, I… I just don’t understand,” he said. So I wrote out the words for him on a piece of paper. Then he understood. “Oh, I see,” he said. “This is a joke, it’s a gag.” Very literal-minded cat.

SS: Recently you said that those old union songs meant a lot to the movement at the time, and they can mean a lot to us now.

RC: Well, songs empower people. Civil rights certainly needed music on the spot, like an injection. Pete Seeger’s theory is if you sing you become unified — within minutes. It’s an amazing phenomenon. So we’d better utilize it, because we need to do something to overcome this terrible isolation of people from one another today, and the misunderstanding and the ignorance.

Mayan Fiddle

April 16, 2013

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from notes to “Wood That Sings” (Smithsonian Folkways):

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Population: Chuj Indians.

Date of recording: September 19, 20, 21, 1964

Circumstance of recording: Fiesta de San Mateo (September 18 through 22).

Violin and guitar from the neighboring village, Santa Eulalia. They were playing at the market and at the comedores (restaurants) and bars for 5 cents a tune.

Chuj Indian musicians, from “Music of Guatemala, Volume 2” (Folkways):

“Ragtime 2: The Country”

April 10, 2013


from notes to “Ragtime 2: The Country” (Folkways RBF 18) by Samuel Charters:

Country ragtime in the 1920’s and 1930’s has some of the feel of an old farm house that was on the land for years, then was added-to and redone, until finally it wasn’t quite the old house any more – but it wasn’t quite a new house, either. It has some of the look of the old house and some of the look of the new house, and in some places it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

Ragtime seems to have been once a kind of style of playing that went on in the black slave cabins and the isolated country towns of the South. It had the melodic structure and the kind of harmonic patterns that characterized European dancing and march music, but it was different from it both in rhythm and scale.

Instead of the simple four beat or dotted accent of the European jigs and reels the ragtime melody was more subtly syncopated, perhaps as a reflection of some earlier time when African drums were still played surreptitiously along with the banjos and the violins.

The more complex, multi-layered, texture of African drumming could lead to a free-flowing sense of melody, which was more strictured in the European context. And some of the same scale patterns that characterize the blues also turn up in early ragtime – the ambiguous major-minor resolutions of James Scott’s rags, and the gapped scales in some of the strains of the early St. Louis rags.

“Lindy”  played by the Proximity String Quartet (from “Ragtime 2: The Country”):


April 6, 2013


from and

FRC700 – The Hellbenders   $15 (available here):
The Hellbenders, Bruce Molsky and James Leva (fiddles), David Winston (banjo), Mary Winston (guitar) and Dave Grant (bass) made these recordings in Charlottesville, VA released on cassette in 1990 and digitally remixed and remastered by Al Tharp from his original recordings for this CD.

Dave Grant, who was the soul of the band, was killed in a work accident in 2002. He was an inspiration in music and in life. This album is dedicated with love and appreciation to Dave Grant.

The Hellbenders was a unique old-time musical feast. Inspired by players heard from all over Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and by the classic old recordings of southern mountain music, they went in the studio in 1989 and recorded a cassette, kind of a testament to the music scene and everything that was happening around them at that time. High energy, no holds barred string band music, fiddles blazing.

1. Altamont
2. Train on the Island
3. Chinquapin
4. Tight Old Sally Gal
5. Red Mountain Wine
6. Betty Baker
7. She Took it Off
8. Indian War Whoop
9. Cider
10. Baby Waltz
11. Poor Little Mary (Sittin’ in the Corner)
12. Bravest Cowboy
13. Sambo
14. Woop Reprise

The Hellbenders play “Cider”:

Gid Tanner Interview, pt. 2

March 28, 2013


Part 2 of Gid Tanner’s (1885-1960) final 1959 interview features him doing some fiddling.  Thanks again to Matt Downer, Itamar Silver, Dave Leddel, and interviewer Oscar Huff  :

Listen to part 1 here


In later years when Gid had false teeth, he would take them out so he would look funny. The story goes that a lady walked up to him and after looking at his mouth shouted, “You haven’t got any teeth!” Gid replied, “No ma’am, I was born that way.”

Although Gid stopped recording, he remained active and attended fiddle competitions. As late as 1955 when he was 70 years old, Gid won the Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Atlanta. He died in 1960, just three weeks shy of his seventy-fifth birthday.

Six and Seven Eight String Band

March 22, 2013

6 7:8 photo

from notes to “The Six and Seven-Eight String Band of New Orleans” (Folkways 2671) by Samuel Charters:

Dr. Edmond Souchon, the guitarist, is a prominent New Orleans surgeon; the mandolin player, Bill Kleppinger, is customs inspector of the Port of New Orleans; the string bass man, “Red” Mackie, is head of a pine oil manufacturing firm; the steel guitarist, Bernie Shields, heads a department of a large ship- ping concern. Their music-making has been a hobby, pursued with all the devotion and consuming all the time that only very busy men can find for such things.
Undoubtedly, there were other groups of southern musicians who transposed their impressions of jazz and folk strains for performance in small string bands.  Remnants of the tradition have been found in other areas (see “Music from the South,” Volume 5, Folkways FP 654), and the folksinger, Leadbelly, has said that he played with a small string band that roamed the streets of Dallas, in 1910. In this group, he played guitar, accordion, mandolin, mouth harp and string bass, – as required by changing personnel.
But the lives of all the early Negro string bands that roamed the South were short, and none of these bands, whose musicians underwent a variety of adventures, ever achieved any historical continuity.
This is a blank that has been filled in by the members of the Six and Seven-Eights group, whose more fortunate position has enabled them to stay with music over a longer period of time. How long the period has been can be imagined by Dr. Souchon’s recollections of some of the first guitar-mandolin music he knew, on hearing string duets in Volume 5 of “Music from the South:”



“… the mandolin-guitar duets brought back many fond memories, for I used to pay a Negro mandolin and guitar player 25¢ an hour to let me come over to his cabin, back of Pass Christian, and play along with him. He taught me much, and a great deal of his style was exactly as these two players on the record. ”



Six and Seven-Eight String Band plays “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band One-Step”:

Fathers and Daughters

March 16, 2013

Video: Rayna and Dan Gellert play “Old Mose.”



Clelia and Rafe Stefanini

Clelia and Rafe Stefanini play “Poplar Bluff” (from Lady on the Green):


The Speckers:  John Specker, Lila Specker, and Ida Mae Specker play “In the Pines” (from “The Speckers: Volume 1”): 

“Stagolee Shot Billy”

March 13, 2013


edited from “Stagolee Shot Billy,” by Cecil Brown (Harvard University Press):

There was indeed a real Stagolee, Lee Shelton, a thirty-one-year-old well-known figure in St. Louis’s red-light district during the 189os, a pimp who, when he shot and killed William Lyons, was the president of a “Colored Four Hundred Club,” a political and social organization.

Charles Haffer, of Coahama Counry Mississippi, recalled having first heard of a Stagolee ballad in 1895.  As a ballad, Stagolee evolved from then to the 1970s, when it was appropriated by black revolutionaries like Bobby Seale, who used it as a symbol of the enduring black male struggle against white oppression and racism. Seale not only named his son Stagolee but used the narrative toast version as a recruiting device to get young black men into the Black Panther party.

The first Stagolee ballad ever collected consisted of eight stanzas sent to John Lomax in February 191o by Miss Ella Scott Fisher of San Angelo, Texas, with the following note:

“This is all the verses I remember. The origin of this ballad, I have been told, was the shooting of Billy Lyons in a barroom on the Memphis levee by Stack Lee. The song is sung by the Negroes on the levee while they are loading and unloading the river freighters, the words being composed by the singers. The characters were prominently known in Memphis, I was told, the unfortunate Stagalee belonging to the family of the owners of the Lee line of steamers, which are known on the Mississippi River from Cairo to the Gulf. I give all this to you as it was given to me.”


To listen to music, you will need the Realplayer Plugin   

Taj Mahal - Berkeley, California, (London, England), 2002, and 1988 Toast - New York, 1967 Bob Dylan - Los Angeles, 1993 Dave Van Ronk - New York City, 1966 Papa Harvey Hull and the Down Home Boys - Memphis, Tenn., 1927 Unidentified Negro convict - Arkansas, Gould, 1934 Duke Ellington - Washington DC, 1929 Stagger Lee&, Nick Cave - Melbourne, Australia, 1997 Fruit Jar Guzzlers - North Carolina, 1927 Lucious Curtis - Mississippi, Natchez, Oct. 19, 1940 Bill hunt and Frank Hutchinson - West Virginia, 1927 Ma Rainey - Georgia, 1927 Hogman Maxey - Louisiana, 1959. Angola State Penitentiary Mississippi John Hurt - Mississippi, 1927 Sidney Bechet - New Orleans, 1934 Lomax, Pianist, (700 AFC) - New Orleans, 1937 Buena Flynn, female inmate - Florida, Raiford., may, 1936 The Clash - London, England Bully of the Town, Sid Harkreader and Grady Moore - St. Louis, 1895 Albert Jackson, convict - Alabama, State Farm Prison Oct 1937 Furry Lewis - Mississippi, 1928 Lloyd Price - New Orleans, 1959 Bama, a Black convict - Parchmen Prison Farm, Mississippi, 1947

“Bully of the Town,” Sid Harkreader & Grady Moore – St. Louis, 1895
Papa Harvey Hull and the Down Home Boys – Memphis, Tenn., 1927
Fruit Jar Guzzlers – North Carolina, 1927
Ma Rainey – Georgia, 1927
Bill hunt and Frank Hutchinson – West Virginia, 1927
Mississippi John Hurt – Mississippi, 1927
Furry Lewis – Mississippi, 1928
Duke Ellington – Washington, D.C., 1929
Unidentified Negro convict – Arkansas, Gould, 1934
Sidney Bechet – New Orleans, 1934
Buena Flynn, female inmate – Florida, Raiford., may, 1936
Albert Jackson, convict – Alabama, State Farm Prison., Oct. 1937
Lomax, Pianist, (700 AFC) – New Orleans, 1937
Lucious Curtis – Mississippi, Natchez, Oct. 19, 1940
“Bama”, a Black convict – Parchman Prison Farm, Mississippi, 1947
Hogman Maxey – Louisiana, 1959. Angola State Penitentiary
Lloyd Price – New Orleans, 1959
Dave Van Ronk – New York City, 1966
Toast – New York, 1967
Bob Dylan – Los Angeles, 1993
Taj Mahal – Berkeley, California, (London, England), 2002, and 1988
“Stagger Lee”, Nick Cave – Melbourne, Australia, 1997
The Clash – London, England

Maskanda Guitar

March 10, 2013

Shiyani Ngcobo, with acoustic guitar

Lovers of traditional guitar styles will appreciate the virtuosity displayed by South African Maskanda guitarist Shiyani Ngcobo on this solo recording of “Kheta Eyakho”:

edited from,, and Kathryn Olsen:

Maskanda is a subgenre of Zulu folk music, born in South Africa. Often played on acoustic guitars, there is a specific technique to playing Maskanda music. The guitarist uses his thumb and index finger independently of each other, the thumb playing double-time staccato bass runs, while the index finger picks a countermelody.

There is a very percussive quality to the guitar playing. Some Maskandi play with finger picks, to get a more percussive attack on the strings. Other common Maskanda instruments include violins, concertinas, mouth organs, and jaw harps. Male Maskandi traditionally play guitar, concertina, or violin, while women Maskandi more often play mouth organs or jaw harps.

The music has improvisational elements, allowing musicians to compose and compete with one another. And while the guitarist is considered the quintessential Maskandi musician, there are many virtuosic, well-respected Maskandi who play violin or concertina.

The tunings vary from guitarist to guitarist; many invent their own and become fiercely protective of them. There are some widely shared tunings. The most common drops the first treble E string down to D. One variation on this replaces the D fourth string with a nylon first string and tunes it in unison to the D first string. This is known as “double first” tuning, pronounced dabul fersi.

Harmonies based on a hexatonic scale rise out of the juxtaposition of triads a tone apart,the interwoven rhythmic pulse, and the inclusion of izibongo (praisepoetry)

Arcade Blues

February 19, 2013


by Stephen Wade (from “Banjo Diary):

In September 1926 Uncle Dave Macon, the first star of the Grand Ole Opry, recorded this folk blues, performing it as a solo banjo song. He made it his own by localizing it to the Nashville Arcade, a nearby mercantile center (still in use), and dedicating it to two of its current tenants: “Mr. Charlie Keys and Mr. Hyde . . . who will play you records on both sides!”
One of Uncle Dave’s sources for “Arcade Blues” may have been Leroy “Lasses”White, a black- face vaudevillian who by 1928 began performing on the Grand Ole Opry. Long before Uncle Dave recorded the song, however, White copyrighted its prototype in 1912. The following year White published “Nigger Blues” and by 1919 saw it is- sued on four recordings as well as four piano rolls.

The song continued to proliferate on race and hillbilly recordings, bearing such titles as Ida Cox’s 1924 “Blues Ain’t Nothin’ Else But!” followed by Georgia White’s 1938 remake. Its white vernacular music performances count Jess Young’s “Old Weary Blues” (1929), the Brock Sis- ters’“Broadway Blues” (1929), and Milton Brown’s “Texas Hambone Blues” (1936).

What musically distinguishes Uncle Dave’s version from these re- leases, as well as from the original sheet music, is his omission of the characteristic blue note. In ef- fect, Uncle Dave performed a blues in structure but not in sound.

In August 1979, I visited with members of Uncle Dave Macon’s family, calling on his sons Eston and Dorris, the family of his eldest son, Arch, grandson David Ramsey Macon, and great- grandson Dave Macon IV. During that trip, I also investigated the Nashville Arcade.This building, a handsome two-story shopping center of an earlier age, seemed as haunted then by lost souls and illicit trafficking as it did by the figures appearing in “Arcade Blues” from more than a half-century earlier.

The song’s juxtaposing currents—its blend of blues and pre-blues, its combination of urban and rural milieus, and its upbeat treatment of forbidden attraction, prostitution, and death—seemed all the more striking in conjunction with some of Uncle Dave’s letters I read at that time. Hand- written by the famous showman during his travels, they echoed the creative tension in “Arcade Blues”—words indicative of a complex personal alchemy. Almost always he signed them, “Your loving father, Uncle Dave Macon.”

Dave Macon plays “Arcade Blues”:

Gid Tanner Interview: Part I

February 18, 2013


Part 1 of 2 – Second part forthcoming.  Sincere thanks to Matt Downer for sharing this interview, Dave Leddel and Itamar Silver for their help, Oscar Huff for getting there just in time, and Gid Tanner for his endless inspiration.

from The Southern Folklife Collection (UNC):

Gid Tanner, Anglo-American fiddle player, and member of the Skillet Lickers, a string band from north Georgia active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Oscar Huff’s 1959 recording of an interview with Gid Tanner (1885-1960), including a discussion about hunting and Tanner’s hunting dogs, his fiddles, and his early recording and musical experiences.


Love Henry

February 15, 2013



by Bob Dylan:

LOVE HENRY is a “traditionalist” ballad.

Tom Paley used to do it.

A perverse tale.

Henry — modern corporate man off some foreign boat,

Unable to handle his “psychosis” responsible for organizing the Intelligentsia,

Disarming the people, an infantile sensualist — white teeth, wide smile, lotza money, kowtow to fairy queen exploiters & corrupt religious establishments, career minded, limousine double parked, imposing his will & dishonest garbage in popular magazines.

He lays his head on a pillow of down & falls asleep.

He shoulda known better, he must’ve had a hearing problem.

Banjo Bill Cornett sings “Love Henry”:

Ed Young

February 8, 2013

Ed Young (fife)

Untitled fife tune played by Ed Young, cane fife; Bessie Jones and Georgia Sea Islanders, clapping:

from notes to “Old Mother Hippletoe: Rural and Urban Children’s Songs” (New World NW 291):

The late Ed Young was born in 1910 into a musical family. The whole family sang religious music together, and two maternal uncles were also banjo players. Though widespread and popular, the banjo was by no means the only musical instrument played in Ed Young’s home country, the Yazoo Delta of northwestern Mississippi. Fife and drum, originally instruments of martial music, were played in the Youngs’ community for dancing at picnics.

Of his first encounter with fife and drum at age eight or ten, Young recalled, “When that drum started playing, I didn’t know what to think of it…. I remember my mother holding me….I was just fixing to run.”

He and his brother Lonnie rapidly mastered the instruments and became favored performers at picnics. Other musicians “… didn’t want to see us around… drummers just fall out with us on that account…. …I was a pretty testible little fellow anyhow, and I liked to blow sort of fast pieces that people could get out there and clown some on…. I never tried to run no races or beat no one doing anything, but whatever I was going to do, I just loved to get out there and do whatever I can.”

Ed Young made his cane fife with six holes but played only five; the sixth improved the tone quality. He developed a unique style, playing some of the notes by either sliding his fingers on and off the holes or using his tongue to bend the notes and create a tremolo. “I always had a way of making [the sound] go this way this time, and the other way the next….I don’t care who’s playing fife, if I pick it up, everybody will tell you who got it.”

On this recording Bessie Jones backs up Ed Young with clapping. Clapping, stamping, and pounding a stick on a resonant floor constituted the basics of a polyrhythmic percussive accompaniment for songs on plantations, where slaves were not allowed to make and play drums . The slave owners feared the potential use of “talking drums” to send messages from plantation to plantation, so the percussion music of Africa was adapted to the mediums at hand – proof that you can deny a people their musical instruments, but you cannot take away their music making.

New Time

February 3, 2013


Respectfully submitted by an intrepid OTP reporter:

The following MP3 seems to be a performance including a frailed banjo, a fiddle,  and an unidentifiable reed and stringed instrument. Our researchers have narrowed down its possible origins this far:

1.  Pat Conte, Frank Basile, Kim Basile, and Mike Hoffman around the campfire at Lake Genero, PA

2.  The New Apocalypsonians  at the Round House in Colrain, MA

3.  Anthony Pasquarosa and friends at the Flywheel open mic in Easthampton, MA

4.  Taj Mahal jamming with the  Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar

5.   Bela Fleck and others, somewhere in The Gambia,  in an out-take from the film, “Throw Down Your Heart”

Please weigh in with your best judgement, so this issue can be laid to rest:

The recording:


February 2, 2013



by Bob Dylan:

DELIA is one sad tale—two or more versions mixed into one.

The song has no middle range, comes whipping around the corner, seems to be about counterfeit loyalty.

Delia herself, no Queen Gertrude, Elizabeth I or even Evita Peron, doesn’t ride a Harley Davidson across the desert highway, doesn’t need a blood change & would never go on a shopping spree.

The guy in the courthouse sounds like a pimp in primary colors.

He’s not interested in mosques on the temple mount, armageddon or world war III, doesn’t put his face in his knees & weep & wears no dunce hat, makes no apology & is doomed to obscurity.

Does this song have rectitude?

You bet.

Toleration of the unacceptable leads to the last round-up.

The singer’s not talking from a head full of booze.



“Delia’s Gone,” sung by Pat Conte (from “American Songs with Fiddle and Banjo”):

Georgia Buck

January 12, 2013


edited from liner notes to “Kulanjan”(Hannibal CD 1444) by Lucy Duran and Taj Mahal:

When he was 19, and she was 67, Taj Mahal learned this old banjo dance tune (“Georgie Buck”) from Elizabeth Cotten.  During the recording of the CD “Kulanjan” he played it to the Malian musicians who were recording with him, then put down his guitar, and they started to play their own version based around the 6-string hunter’s harp [kamalengoni, see above].

This may be as close as one gets to how the blues once sounded–long before even the wax-cylinder recordings at the turn of the century–but it’s also unquestionable contemporary.  As Taj declared after the last notes of “Ol’ Georgie Buck” faded, “That’s five centuries there, the music just went around in a big ring.”

“To complete a cycle, to return to the intact original, to have been visited by very powerful visions of ancestors and their music, to realize the dream my father and mother had along with many other generations of Africans who now live outside of the continent of Africa.”

Taj Mahal, Ballake Sissoko, Dougouye Koulibaly, and Bassekou Kouyate play “Ol’ Georgie Buck”: 


Stranger on a Mule

January 4, 2013


“Stranger on a Mule – 31 Traditional Fiddle Tunes from the Southern Appalachians” by Bruce Greene (fiddle) with Don Pedi (mountain dulcimer)


Born in New York City in 1951 and raised in New Jersey, Bruce Greene would seem an unlikely person to become one of the finest old time southern Appalachian fiddlers of his generation. As did many of his peers, he began to learn folk music as a teenager during the folk revival of the fifties and sixties, mastering the guitar and banjo. His interest drifted into the fiddle music he began to hear, and by the time he was twenty years old, he was “hooked” thoroughly enough to move to Kentucky in search of the source of the music he had come to love and identify with.

Bruce attended Western Kentucky University, intending to become a folklorist, but his interest in fiddling was stronger than his scholarly ambitions, and he soon made the transition from learning about traditional fiddling to learning fiddle music in a traditional way. His travels around Kentucky led him to a number of old time fiddlers, and the next several years were taken up with informal apprenticeships with these old timers. In the process of learning from them, Bruce also recorded a great deal of their music, preserving a rich, often previously unknown part of our pioneer musical heritage.

One of Bruce’s greatest discoveries was the family of John Salyer of Magoffin County, Kentucky. Salyer was a true giant of a fiddler whose distrust of the commercial music industry had kept his music a secret from the outside world. However, the Salyers had home recordings of their father, which they let Bruce listen to and learn from. For a number of years, the old time music revival community was treated to these tunes through Bruce’s playing without ever getting to hear the true source. But Bruce’s long term friendship with the family has recently paid off for the rest of us, since the family gave permission to the Appalachian Center of Berea College to issue a cassette album of John Salyer himself. The music of the Salyer Family has been Bruce’s greatest inspiration over the years.


This CD is a selection of fiddle tunes, most of which come from fiddlers who were born in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds in Kentucky and Western North Carolina. We have been stubbornly carrying them on for the better part of a lifetime in our rural communities, where we have had the pleasure of playing at local dances, weddings, funerals, birthdays, potlucks, ramp festivals, and sorghum makings – all the places where homemade music has long been a part of everyday life. It is a joy and a privilege to be part of the mule-paced and timeless graciousness of this living memory and to carry it into the twenty-first century.

Tune list
Boogerman – Old Red Rooster – Nancy Dalton – Pretty Little Widow – Roosian Rabbit – Grey Squirrel Eating Up the New Ground Corn – Twine Mid the Ringlets  Little Boy Working on the Road – Ten Steps – Stranger on a Mule – Christmas Eve – Little Lizee Anne – Laurel Lonesome – John Henry – Hog Eyed ManFrolic of the Frogs – Sleeping on a Corn Cob Bed – Run Johnny RunCome Along Terrapin – Three Forks of the Cumberland  – The Old Folks Played and the Young People Danced Say Old Man I Want Your Daughter  – Betty Baker – John Salyer’s Shady Grove – Shady Lane – Lee Sexton’s Shady Grove – Old Aunt Jenny with Her Night Cap OnMcKinley Waltz – Old Beech Leaves – Hello John D
Old Tobacco Hills

Available here.

“Down the Dirt Road”

December 29, 2012

Charley Patton and Bertha Lee by Robert Crumb

edited from “Charley Patton: Folksinger,” by Elijah Wald

Patton’s way with pre-blues, “songster” material is even more interesting, and it is not a stretch to say that, had things worked out differently, he could have appealed to the same audience that made Leadbelly a folk icon. Admittedly, his recordings do not include a “Goodnight Irene” or “Midnight Special,” but it is worth remembering that Leadbelly only learned the latter song after being taken up by John Lomax as a folksong demonstrator.

We have no idea how much more “folk” material Patton might have known, or how he might have adapted his formidable skills to suit a Greenwich Village audience. He was a notably versatile performer and musician and, unlike virtually any major blues singer besides Leadbelly, he was given to composing lengthy ballads about current events in his world, just the sort of thing the New York crowd would have prized and encouraged.

Patton’s masterpiece is “Down the Dirt Road,” which for sheer rhythmic complexity is the most striking performance in the whole of blues. At times, Patton seems to be singing one rhythm, tapping another on the top his guitar, and playing a third on the strings, all without the slightest sense of effort. This is the work that distinguishes him from his peers, and that sets his circle of Mississippians aside from all the other players in the early blues pantheon. While no other player equalled his abilities, Mississippi consistently produced the most rhythmically sophisticated players in early blues. Perhaps this was due to the regional survival of African tradition exemplified by the “fife and drum” bands of the hill country to the Delta’s east, perhaps to the proximity of New Orleans and the Caribbean, perhaps in a large degree to the influence of Patton himself. 

His rhythms are a world–or at least a continent–away from the straight-ahead, 4/4 sound that defines virtually all modern blues. That is why so few contemporary players can capture anything of his greatness. There is the tendency to play his tunes for driving power, missing the ease, the relaxed subtlety that underly all of his work. It is a control born of playing this music in eight or ten-hour sessions, week after week and year after year, for an audience of extremely demanding dancers, and of remembering centuries of previous dance rhythms–not only the complex polyrhythms of West Africa, but also slow drags, cakewalks, hoedowns, and waltzes.

Charley Patton plays “Down the Dirt Road”:

Old Christmas

December 24, 2012


from and

In 1752 England adopted the Gregorian calendar to replace the inaccurate Julian. The result was a loss of 12 days; September 2 was followed by September 14 and Christmas day moved from January 6 to December 25. It must have taken some time for the change to filter over to the American colonies and then to gradually penetrate the frontier. But eventually, as people began adopting the new calendar changes, the former celebration day was called Old Christmas Morning to reference what used to be.

Old Christmas refers to the celebration of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, on January 6, and was the date some old-time Appalachian communities celebrated Christmas (surviving into the latter half of the 20th century in isolated parts of eastern Kentucky) by lighting bonfires at night with much gunplay and fireworks. The custom was inported from North Britain, where the revelry of “Old Christmas” reached its climax in a rough and sometimes violent practice called “stanging,” in which a person was hoisted on a long pole and made to dangle in the air until he bought himself free.

Uncle Bud Landress and the boys perform “Christmas Time at Moonshine Hollow”:

Fred Cockerham

November 30, 2012

Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed

Thanks to Lane Ryan for sharing this recording with oldtimeparty:  Fred Cockerham (fiddle) and Kyle Creed (banjo) play “Sally Ann” at Brandywine (1974) :

by Ray Alden (

Fred Cockerham, one of the seven children of Elias and Betty Jane Cockerham, was born on November 3, 1905. He was the only one from the Round Peak community to attempt the difficult life of a professional rural musician. The way that Fred began playing the fiddle is similar to the way many country musicians began. Basically, this story can be heard on FRC101, but here the story is amplified somewhat so as to compliment the spoken word. Fred remembered this story from the time he was 8 years old:

“My older brother Pate fiddled, but not too well. Just about every time he’d set down to play he’d get disgusted before long and throw the fiddle on the bed and walk out. Well, I thought to myself, I’m going to learn to play that, but he was high tempered and didn’t want me messin’ with it. So I’d sneak his fiddle over into the hog range and go over the bank into the hollow and saw the hell out of it. I didn’t worry cause I knew he couldn’t catch me when I was barefoot like I was when I was caring for the hogs, back then I could outrun a haint.

Before very long I got so I could play a few tunes pretty well, and I just couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. So I asked my mother if she’d like to hear a tune and played “Sally Ann” for her. Now that tickled her the best of anything you ever saw, and that evening when Pate threw the fiddle down as usual, she said to him, “Sit down and let your brother play a tune.” He never touched the fiddle again and I just kept right on playing it.” (more…)

Westphalia Waltz

November 28, 2012

Cotton Collins

Pete Sutherland, of Monkton, VT,  fiddles “Westphalia Waltz” in 1978 with The Arm and Hammer String Band:


for B.B.


[see the website above for info on a documentary about “Westphalia Waltz”]

The melody of the Westphalia Waltz derives from a Polish song known by several titles — “Pytala Sie Pani,” “Wszystkie Rybki,” and others.  Citing references from Poland’s National Library in Warsaw and the Polish Museum of America in Chicago, the film shows the presence of the song in Poland and the United States in the early twentieth century. It includes interviews with descendents of the Polish immigrants who worked the mills in Massachusetts and the coal mines in the Alleghenies.  The grandson of the lead trumpet player from Victor’s 1930 recording recalls his grandfather’s musical and professional life.  The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner relates his father’s insistence that he learn music as a way out of their coal town.

From the mills of New England and the coal mines of Pennsylvania, to the farms of Wisconsin and the boisterous taverns of Chicago, “Pytala Sie Pani” was a unifying and bawdy favorite that the overworked, underpaid, ostracized and homesick Polish-Americans sang to forget the Great Depression. Victor (1930) and Columbia (1937) both recorded it.  Publishers in Chicago (Sajewski) and Philadelphia (Podgorski) sold the sheet music.  Steve Okonski, a fiddler from Bremond, Texas’s largest Polish settlement, brought the tune from Chicago to Bremond in the late 1930’s. But in Westphalia, just 35 miles west of Bremond, the locals gave it a different name.

Cotton Collins, a gifted Texas fiddler, recorded the piece in 1946 with the Waco-area band the Lone Star Playboys. Collins had re-interpreted the piece as a Texas fiddle waltz and named it after the small Texas village of Westphalia, just 34 miles south of Waco. After Collins registered the copyright in 1947, the tune gained great popularity in the country music arena. The Lone Star Playboys performed it frequently at gigs and on their daily radio show, broadcast at lunchtime on WACO in Waco. “Westphalia Waltz” was recorded by a long string of artists, notably Floyd Tillman (in 1947, on Columbia) and then Hank Thompson in 1955, on Capitol Records.  Thompson’s well-produced recording, with Capitol’s national promotion and distribution, elevated the “Westphalia Waltz” to national exposure, where it enchanted fiddlers and listeners alike.


November 19, 2012

Dewey Balfa plays “Colinda”:

edited from “Colinda: Mysterious Origins of a Cajun Folksong,” by Shane Bernard and Julia Frederick (Journal of Folklore Research 29, 1992):

The Calinda dance survives in several Caribbean locations, including Haiti, Bequia, Carriacou, and  Trinidad.  The main characteristic of the Calinda, according to Mina Monroe (in “Bayou Ballads,” 1921) is stick-fighting, which corresponds to present-day descriptions of the dance in Trinidad.  In 1760, in a study of the French colonies in the Americas,  Thomas Jefferys called it “a sport brought from the coast of Guinea, and attended with gestures which are not entirely consistent with modesty, whence it is forbidden by the public laws of the islands.”

The Provencal troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras composed a mildly erotic medieval dance song entitled “Calenda Maya” about 1200 A.D. Romanian rustic Christmas carols, called Colinda, descended from the ancient Roman New Year festival called the Calendae, which persisted in Eastern Europe several centuries after the downfall of Rome.

All these folk traditions are associated with themes of fertility and regeneration.

Harold Courlander suggests that the Calinda could be “an African dance with an African name, or a European dance taken over in part and adapted by the slaves, or a European name attached to a number of dances traditional among slaves.”

Speculation aside, the Calinda originated in Guinea prior to the late-seventeenth century.  It traveled to the New World on slave ships and arrived as several dances or as a single dance that evolved into many related dances in the Caribbean and Louisiana.

Plank Road Stringband

November 15, 2012

Plank Road Stringband plays “Going Down the River”:

edited from Odell McGuire (

’73 was the first summer of “The (Mongrel) Horde” as they called themselves. Musicians and their supernumeraries rented three large farm houses in various parts of the [Rockbridge] county. We traveled to festivals most every weekend and we entered three or even four bands with various personnel groupings and various names. For example, an all girl outfit, including Liz Shields and Becky Williams called themselves “The Leather Bitches.” Dave Winston and Brad Leftwich stayed in one of these houses near Fairfield until Al Tharp invited them to move into his little place on Plank Road. They did so, and the idea of a band called “Plank Road” probably dates from that time. Also, as many readers will be aware, Uncle Dave Macon once recorded a tune called “Way Down on the Old Plank Road.”

Almost from the start, they were joined by cello picker Mike Kott, who had never played with some members of the band before. Al Tharp tells that story on the back cover of the FRC Plank Road CD. I’d met Michael James the previous August at Galax. One night I crashed in a stall with Dave Winston. Early next morning I was awakened by horrible loud sounds from out-of-tune guitar and cello. My first thought was that we had died and gone to Hell and this was retribution for all those bad notes we hit on our banjers. I said as much to Dave. He said: “No! It’s only Michael James Kott.” We emerged from the stall. The guitarist was a rocker who called himself Johnny Bee. Michael James grinned and said: “I knew if we played the right tune it’d get y’ns up!” And we tuned properly up for a jam.

Plank Road quickly made a name for themselves on the road but it wasn’t til June of ’76, that they taped a cassette intended for public release. They used a very small studio at W&L University. There was no air conditioning and no windows and it was very hot and stuffy. Dave Winston engineered according to Al’s instructions. Michael James [Kott] was stripped to the skin playing his cello. The rest wore sweat drenched underwear. Some tunes were added in December in a more comfortable venue, and a few of those recorded in June were dropped. The product was released in April ’77 by Rounder. A second recording, “Plank Road 2”, same band, different tunes, was made in Doug Dorschug’s studio in August ’77 when we were all up to a Highwoods party. It was later released by Appalshop, I think. Also Plank Road , at some point during ’76-’77 played a gig in the White House.

Steve Gendron, Andy Williams, Brad Leftwich, Michael Kott, Al Tharp

Down Hill Strugglers

November 12, 2012




Some of you may have met a couple of these fellers at the HS Frolic in July.  They’ve got a new band and CD.  For all lovers of music from the 78 rpm era, this band is for you. Check out the recording below.

The Down Hill Strugglers’ new album “Home Recordings: Volume 1” was recorded around a single microphone over the course of 2 days while we were staying in a house on the former site of Sodom, KY.  At present it is only available for purchase at our live shows.
The Down Hill Strugglers play “Goodbye My Honey I’m Gone”:

“Ayeko, Ayeko”

November 7, 2012

Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton play “Iko, Iko”: 

According to linguist Geoffrey D. Kimball, the lyrics of the song are derived in part from Mobilian Jargon, an extinct Native American trade language consisting mostly of Choctaw and Chickasaw words and once used by Southeastern Indians, African Americans, and European settlers and their descendants in the Gulf Coast Region. In Mobilian Jargon, čokəma fehna (interpreted as “jockomo feeno”) was a commonly used phrase, meaning “very good.”

Louisiana creole lingua specialists believe now that the words originated as:

Ena! Ena!
Akout, Akout an deye
Chaque amoor fi nou wa na né
Chaque amoor fi na né

In English, this equates to:

Hey now! Hey now!
Listen, listen at the back
All the love made our king be born
All the love made it happen.

In a 2009 Offbeat article, however, the Ghanaian social linguist Dr. Evershed Amuzu said the chorus was “definitely West African,” reflecting West African tonal patterns. The article also notes that the phrase ayeko—often doubled as ayeko, ayeko—is a popular chant meaning “well done, or congratulations” among the Akan and Ewe people in modern-day Togo, Ghana, and Benin. 

Both groups were heavily traded during the slave trade, often to Haiti, which served as a way station for Louisiana. (Ewes in particular are credited with bringing West African cultural influences like Voudou rites from West Africa to Haiti and on to New Orleans.)

(edited from

John Brown’s Dream: The Devil is Dead

October 30, 2012
by  Jesse J. Gant (

On December 8, 1859, Brown was buried near his small cabin at North Elba, New York, following his one-week journey from the gallows at Harper’s Ferry.  Blacks and whites, men and women, came together in the Adirondacks to remember and mourn those executed for the raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Yet we rarely associate John Brown and the other conspirators in the raid with the hills and valleys of his upstate New York farm.

The lands near North Elba deserve space alongside the other frames of John Brown’s life–Harper’s Ferry and Bloody Kansas. On December 8, 1859, Brown’s body returned for the last time to a farm he had purchased in 1849.

Though the majority of Americans remain unfamiliar with this story, Brown had purchased the property with the explicit intention of living with and among freed African Americans, whom he hoped he could help in farming and living sustainably on the land.

The Adirondack lands were made available through the efforts of wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith, who hoped to distribute his lands to freed people. Brown believed that living in an interracial society was the most important step in overturning slavery.

John Brown’s memory is still alive in the hills and valleys of upstate New York. 

Listen to this tribute to John Brown played by Jeb Puryear, of Trumansburg, NY : “John Brown’s Dream”
                                                                                                                     Jeb Puryear

John Hardy

October 4, 2012

Leadbelly plays “John Hardy”on the diatonic accordion:


by John Harrington Cox  (From Journal of American Folk-Lore, Volume 32, No. 126, October-December 1919, pp.505-520)

The following statement was made to me in person in the summer of 1918 by Mr. James Knox Smith, a Negro lawyer of Keystone, McDowell County, who was present at the trial and also at the execution of John Hardy:—

“Hardy worked for the Shawnee Coal Company, and one pay-day night he killed a man in a crap game over a dispute of twenty-five cents. Before the game began, he laid his pistol on the table, saying to it, ‘Now I want you to lay here; and the first nigger that steals money from me, I mean to kill him.’ About midnight he began to lose, and claimed that one of the Negroes had taken twenty-five cents of his money. The man denied the charge, but gave him the amount; whereupon he said, ‘Don’t you know that I won’t lie to my gun?’ Thereupon he seized his pistol and shot the man dead.

“After the crime he hid around the Negro shanties and in the mountains a few days, until John Effler (the sheriff) and John Campbell (a deputy) caught him. Some of the Negroes told them where Hardy was, and, slipping into the shanty where he was asleep, they first took his shotgun and pistol, then they wakcd him up and put the cuffs on him. Effler handcuffed Hardy to himself, and took the train at Eckman for Welch. Just as the train aas passing through a tunnel, and Effler was taking his prisoner from one car to another, Hardy jumped, and took Effler with him. He tried to get hold of Effler’s pistol; and the sheriff struck him over the head with it, and almost killed him. Then he unhandcuffed himself from Hardy, tied him securely with ropes, took him to Welch, and put him in jail.

“While in jail after his conviction, he could look out and see the men building his scaffold; and he walked up and down his cell, telling the rest of the prisoners that he would never be hung on that scaffold. Judge H. H. Christian, who had defended Hardy, heard of this, visited him in jail, advised him not to kill himself or compel the officers to kill him, but to prepare to die. Hardy began to sing and pray, and finally sent for the Reverend Lex Evans, a white Baptist preacher, told him he had made his peace with God, and asked to be baptized. Evans said he would as soon baptize him as he would a white man. Then they let him put on a new suit of clothes, the guards led him down to the Tug River, and Evans baptized him. On the scaffold he begged the sheriff’s pardon for the way he had treated him, said that he had intended to fight to the death and not be hung, but that after he got religion he did not feel like fighting. He confessed that he had done wrong, killed a man under the influence of whiskey, and advised all young men to avoid gambling and drink. A great throng witnessed the hanging.

“Hardy was black as a crow, over six feet tall, weighed about two hundred pounds, raw-boned, and had unusually long arms. He came originally from down eastern Virginia, and had no family. He had formerly been a steel-driver, and was about forty years old, or more.”

National Jukebox: Library of Congress

October 3, 2012

The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. Recordings in the Jukebox were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.

At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others.  Here are just a few of the categories of recordings available:

British Library: Decca’s West African 78 RPM Recordings

September 2, 2012

British Ballads in the Caribbean

August 21, 2012

Excerpt from John Storm Roberts’ notes to “Under the Coconut Tree  – Music from Grand Cayman and Tortola,” (Original Music, 1982)

“Though recent music from both islands is heavy in calypsos… the traditional styles of both Grand Cayman and Tortola are fairly unusual in that they contain many purely British survivals and no purely African ones… In the case of Grand Cayman, this is presumably explained by the fact that there were no plantations on the island and only a fairly small number of domestic slaves, so that the percentage of people of African descent was relatively low.

The very strong British strain in Tortolan music is more baffling. Not only did the island have sugar plantations, and therefore a high African population, but a kind of ex-slaves’ revolt shortly after Emancipation caused virtually all the British settlers to leave. For almost 100 years, Tortola remained a de facto independent black state, British in theory but hardly at all in practice. Yet we found far more British survivals in Tortola than in Grand Cayman.”

“The Butcher Boy,” sung by Melcena Smith And Elias Fazer (from Tortola):

Wood That Sings: Indian Fiddle Music of the Americas

July 25, 2012

Wood that Sings: Indian Fiddle Music of the Americas Smithsonian Folkways CD SF40472

Listen to Gervasio Martinez fiddle “Araku,” from “Wood That Sings”:

Reviewed by Heather Horner (edited from

For me, the recordings presented here fall into two groups.  The first half of the recordings, from South and Central America and Mexico, are of folk making music.  The second half of the recordings, from the rest of North America, are of people playing folk music.

The first track, from Bolivia, is a solo of short phrases, each culminating in a wonderful single string vibrato of pure rippling sound. Then a band from Columbia is driven by drums and pushed along by horns, while the fiddle has the melody.  From Peru, part of a long and complex annual fertility ceremony, where women’s voices and the fiddle alternate, interspersed with animal horns; you can feel the intensity of the participants, play Sound Clipwho are totally absorbed in their task.  The seke-seke from the rain forests of Venezuela provides some lively dance music, and the 3-string rabel from NE Argentina is accompanied by the local 5-string guittarra (sound clip).

A remarkably complex sound from Equador is provided by the 2-string kitiar, play Sound Clipthe melody inextricably interwoven with the vocal of a song of short phrases, in triple meter but with a strong beat, and with a simultaneous drone providing a shimmering undulation (sound clip).  The small tribes of Mayan descent in present-day Guatemala are represented by two contrasting tracks of Fiesta music, of violin with harp, and violin with guitar.  The latter tune has a complex rhythm, on the surface in triple time, but broken into two followed by four beats – is there such a signature as 3/6?   Mexico gets 5 tracks, all of very different character.  The first, apparently with Mayan influence, is again in the complex 3/6 or perhaps even 6/12 meter, with short, staccato notes on the home-made violin, accompanied by bombo and tarola drums (wonderfully onomatopoeic names). (more…)

Bill Cornett

July 23, 2012

excerpt from John Cohen’s notes to “The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett” (Field Recorder’s Collective FRC304 )

Bill Cornett was born in East Kentucky in 1890. He started playing banjo at age eight. His musical flair, he reported, was inherited from his mother who sang ballads to him. He operated a country store two miles outside of Hindman. It is said that he’d rather sit and pick his banjo than wait on customers. In 1956 he was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature, representing Knot and Magoffin counties. A Democrat, he picked and sang his way to his first term. “You know how I win? I get the young folks with my music and the old-folks by fighting for old age benefits.

He was proud of his composition “the Old Age Pension Blues” which he sang on the floor of the Legislature. While serving in the House of Representatives in Frankfort, at age 69 he died of a heart attack while picking his banjo to entertain the customers at a downtown restaurant. The following day, his banjo was banked with flowers at his desk in the House chamber at the Capitol.

I first met him in 1959 at his home near Hindman,. Some officials from the United Mine Workers had brought me to his house to hear his music. I was in Kentucky to document local music and Bill was the first person I recorded. Although he was reticent about performing for my tape recorder, he respected the UMW men’s request and for about an hour, Bill played and sang a bunch of songs which I recorded and eventually issued on Folkways “Mountain Music of Kentucky”.

He would often announce during the song, that he was the performer and the composer of the music. He claimed that some of his original songs had been taken from him and plagiarized. He was wary of folksong collectors. He also told me that he had already recorded his best material – it was inside on his tape recorder.

Banjo Bill Cornett died before “Mountain Music of Kentucky” came out, and for many years I asked his family if I might hear Bill’s own recordings. I tried several times during the first ten years, and then gave up. In 1995 I visited the Hindman Settlement School, and asked about memories of Bill Cornett.

In 2002, forty three years after my initial recordings I heard from Bill’s son Brode Cornett who told me that he had listened to the tapes, and heard his father’s voice say that he wanted his music to be heard. The original quarter inch tapes had been destroyed, but eventually Brode sent me his own cassette copies of the tapes. That is how these recordings came to light, so many years after they were recorded.

Bill Cornett sings “Barbara Allen”:

High Water Everywhere

July 17, 2012

High Water Everywhere

by Charley Patton

Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now,
drove me down the line
Backwater done rose at Sumner,
drove poor Charley down the line
Lord, I’ll tell the world the water,
done crept through this town

Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed
Lord, the whole round country,
man, is overflowed
You know I can’t stay here,
I’ll go where it’s high, boy

I would go to the hilly country,
but, they got me barred
Now, look-a here now at Leland
river was risin’ high
Look-a here boys around Leland tell me,
river was raisin’ high

Boy, it’s risin’ over there, yeah
I’m gonna move to Greenville
fore I leave, goodbye
Look-a here the water now, Lordy,
Levee broke, rose most everywhere
The water at Greenville and Leland,
Lord, it done rose everywhere

Boy, you can’t never stay here
I would go down to Rosedale
but, they tell me there’s water there
Now, the water now, mama,
done took Charley’s town

Well, they tell me the water,
done took Charley’s town
Boy, I’m goin’ to Vicksburg
Well, I’m goin’ to Vicksburg,
for that high of mine
I am goin’ up that water,
where lands don’t never flow

Well, I’m goin’ over the hill where,
water, oh don’t ever flow
Boy, hit Sharkey County and everything was down in Stovall
But, that whole county was leavin’,
over that Tallahatchie shore Boy,
went to Tallahatchie and got it over there

Lord, the water done rushed all over,
down old Jackson road
Lord, the water done raised,
over the Jackson road
Boy, it starched my clothes
I’m goin’ back to the hilly country,
won’t be worried no more

Charley Patton sings “High Water Everywhere, pt. 1”:


June 21, 2012

“Fresh Oldtime String Band Music” was released in 1984, and included “Wagnerd” by the Horseflies, featuring fiddler Judy Hyman. 


edited excerpt of interview with Judy Hyman from

“People get into this stuff in different ways. Some people get really attracted by the ancientness and the history of it, and all the stuff that goes along with that. I was really fascinated by the rhythm. I had always been fascinated by drumming and rhythm, but just happened to play the violin. I was never a reproductionist. I really liked the tunes, I really liked the rhythmic thing, and I always just did it pretty much how it came out. I figured the integrity to it was to try and get it to sound like fiddling and not like violin playing, and I was really interested in the southern repertoire.

I like to think of it as the whole thing being a rhythm bed, and the fiddle is in there with everything else.  I think that what we all see in it and what we’re all trying to communicate is something that makes you feel and enjoy rhythm, and that has a lot of float and a lot of interesting things poking out of it, but doesn’t have any one thing that’s driving it. And melody is not the main thing for us, and harmony certainly isn’t the main thing for us, although how the chords work is very important to us.

People who grew up with it and learned it from their ancestors, that was the natural thing for them to do. And what we ended up doing and have continued to do, if you put together all the pieces, is just exactly right and the natural thing for us to have done. I think a lot of people have thought we were disrespecting the music and trying to do all these oddball things. Not really.”