Archive for the ‘Yank Rachell’ Category

Early Mandolin Classics

July 16, 2012

Early Mandolin Classics (Rounder 1050) features Yank Rachell, the Dallas String Band, Doc Roberts & Asa Martin, King David’s Jug Band, Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers, Sleepy John Estes, Arizona Dranes and others. This album fills a void in the realm of old-time music reissues. Examples of bands featuring mandolin in the pre-bluegrass days of the ’20s and ’30s are much rarer than their fiddle-led counterparts, and rarely collected. This collection brings together a prime selection of both black and white styles (from Rounder notes).

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James “Yank” Rachell  was one of the few blues musicians to play mandolin as a primary instrument . Blues mandolinists are not exactly commonplace and because he was also largely self-taught, his music was even more unique and a testament to his prowess as an instrumentalist. He was born in 1910 on a farm outside of Brownsville, Tennessee. How Rachell chose the mandolin is a classic blues story. Rachell’s mother had given him, then eight, a young pig to be raised for butchering that fall.

One day he was walking down the road and saw a neighbor playing a mandolin on his front porch. He loved the sound and was determined to get the mandolin. Rachell asked how much he wanted for the instrument, and the man said five dollars. He didn’t have the money so he offered to trade the pig for the instrument. When Rachell went home his mother was very upset. He recalled her saying “Next fall when we’re all eating pork, you can eat that mandolin”. It turns out he didn’t have to eat the mandolin. Rachell taught himself to play the mandolin and soon was making a living as a musician.

Because Rachell’s musical partner Sleepy John Estes sang mostly in the key of E, he tuned his mandolin 1  1/2  steps  down so he could play in G position.  This lower tuning combined with his unique up-stroke attack (and often slightly out-of-tune strings) gave him a deep, eerie sound all his own.  Mr. Rachell died in 1997.