Posts Tagged ‘Dust-to-Digital’

Gospel legend, Rev. Johnny L. ‘Hurricane’ Jones: 1936-2015 – Atlanta’s Singing Preacher

November 17, 2015


An Atlanta minister and musician known as “The Hurricane” has died.

Rev. Johnny L . Jones preached to small congregations in the latter part of his life, but his charismatic style and prodigious musical talents earned him wider recognition.

When people talk about Rev. Jones, often, they talk about the music. See this tribute made in 2009 by Dust to Digital’s Lance Ledbetter:

Fannie Wair, who listened to Rev. Jones’ music and preaching at Second Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta for nearly six decades, explains it: “He don’t only sing. He plays the guitar, he plays the organ, and can’t nobody play no piano like him.”

Wair first met Jones in 1956, when she hired the gospel group he was singing with at the time to perform at the church she then attended. A little while later, she heard him preaching on a local radio program.

For her, that was it.

She went to see him at Second Mount Olive Baptist Church, and never looked back. “You go hear him preach or sing one time, you want to go back again,” she says.

Rev. Johnny L. Jones drew upon the influence of the gospel groups he sang with before becoming a minister, including The Jolly Four Gospel Singers and The Sensational Five.
Credit Dust to Digital Records

The Birth of “The Hurricane” and Musical Fame

Through the years, Jones had gospel programs on WAOK and WYZE in Atlanta. According to Walter Russell, a deacon at Second Mount Olive, it was WAOK’s Esmond Patterson who gave Jones the nickname he’d carry throughout his career.

“He named him ‘The Mighty Hurricane.’ Because when he preached, a lot of times he’d go into a spin like a hurricane. The Mighty Hurricane, Johnny L Jones,” Patterson says. “[A] lot of times, he’d stop playing and just start singing old time hymns that most people never did use music by. But he could sing those also.”

Rev. Jones recorded his services, and in the 1960s, Jewel Records released some 45s of his work. In 2010, Dust-to-Digital Records released several remastered CDs of his music and preaching. In a review, The New York Times called the sound of one of those sets “electrifying from start to finish.”

Rural Beginnings…and a Piano Not Meant for Boogie-Woogie

Jones grew up in a farming family in Howell Crossroad, Alabama. He sang in the choir of his Baptist church, and when he was 17 or 18, more than anything else, he wanted a piano. But, as his wife, Dorothy Jones tells it, his family was poor. So his mother devised a plan, around the family’s cotton harvest. “She said, ‘John? We’re gonna all pick this cotton. And if we have any extra money… we’re gonna buy you a piano.’”

The plan worked. They got the piano, and Jones taught himself to play by ear. But one day, his wife Dorothy Jones says, he was messing around, and played a few bars of boogie-woogie music.

His mother heard it. She was not amused. The family had not bought their son a piano on which to play boogie-woogie.

Dorothy Jones laughingly tells the story: “And she came in there with a stick, and hit him across his hands and said, ‘Don’t you ever try to play no blues!’ So from that day on, he started playing gospel. He was a pianist and he sang.”

He sang with several gospel groups before moving to Georgia in the mid-1950s where he became a minister at Second Mount Olive Baptist, drawing crowds with his captivating style.

The Fire that Burned the Sanctuary, but Not the Church

Rev. Johnny Jones would frequently tell people, “The fire burned the building, but not the church.”
Credit Dust to Digital Records

One Sunday in 1973 while Jones was preaching, a fire broke out. No one was hurt, but the West End church was completely destroyed, and many people stopped coming to the new, smaller spaces where they’d hold church. But Jones kept preaching.

“He said ‘The fire burned the building, but not the church,’” says Deacon Walter Russell, describing how, in the 42 years that followed, “he would preach and sing and play the organ, just like he did when the church was standing, and we all enjoyed and had a good time.”

Those who knew him best will remember that voice and climactic preaching. But they say they’ll also remember his unflaggingly upbeat personality, his devotion to his faith and five children, as well as, a commitment to his congregation that endured, even when times got hard.

On Nov. 8, Jones preached from the first sermon he ever wrote at Second Mount Olive. That night, he passed away. The family believes the cause to be a brain aneurysm. He was 79 years old.



Liner Notes That Changed His Life (Anthology of American Folk Music) – Lance Ledbetter

November 11, 2015

From which includes audio version of this story.

Lance Ledbetter runs the record label Dust to Digital here in Atlanta, along with his wife, April. They specialize in high-quality reissues of music from all over the world, and they are probably best-known for the 2004 box set, “Goodbye, Babylon,” which was nominated for two Grammy awards.

“To me, the design, it’s a thing of genius,” says Lance Ledbetter of the the liner note booklet that accompanies the anthology.
Credit Kate Sweeney / WABE

But there would have been no “Goodbye, Babylon” without Harry Smith. And that’s the story Ledbetter tells in this installment of Page-Turners.

In 1952, Smith produced three records known collectively as “The Anthology of American Folk Music.” It’s known today as one definitive collection of American roots music of the early 20th century.

Ledbetter bought the box set when it was released on CD in 1997. That night he discovered, packed alongside the discs, a booklet, which was stapled and photocopied and covered in weird collages of cut-and-pasted images. These were the liner notes for the anthology, and it was curator, Smith, himself who had originally cut and pasted all the images.

It was also Smith who had investigated and typed footnoted stories, annotations and personal commentary for each of the set’s 84 tracks. This booklet represented years of his painstaking research into the nation’s country, folk, and so-called “race” tunes, and formed one of the authoritative sources of American music for the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

For Ledbetter, the experience of just listening and reading along felt electrifying.

“I felt like I was going into this big, beautiful house for the first time,” he says. “I got to look out all the windows and hear all the sounds, and it was just a life-altering event.”

One of the things that struck him most was the way the liner note booklet was laid out.

“It was a thing of genius,” he says. “You can read it and get little hints of how this music is connected to this music.”

The night he bought the anthology, he stayed up all night, playing musical detective and marveling at the detail and design.

That experience was the inspiration for the idea that became Ledbetter’s own box set, “Goodbye, Babylon,” seven years later—as well as his life’s work with Dust to Digital.

Even now, “The Anthology of American Folk Music” has a hold on him.

“This is a set I recommend to everyone,” he says.

“The energy that had been distilled into this book was palpable,” says Ledbetter, “and I could feel it.” The liner note handbook accompanying the anthology includes cut-out collages from sources including (but not limited to) 78 RPM record catalogs, farmers almanacs, department store catalogs, and the covers of songbooks.
Credit Kate Sweeney / WABE

“I do believe this is something that can have a positive impact on anyone that’s into music. It doesn’t have to be folk music or music from the past. To me, it’s just…music.”

Web Bonuses (See link for audio)

Reality check: Are you amassing a healthy record collection, or are you just … amassing?
In this web bonus, Dust to Digital’s Lance Ledbetter talks about what he sees as the difference. He mentions Joe Bussard, a collector of 78 RPM records who lives in New Jersey.

Atlanta in the early days of folk and country
In this web bonus, Lance Ledbetter tells a story about Atlanta and the skyrocketing career of a fiddler whose work appears on “The Anthology of American Folk Music.” Also: Harry Smith’s account of how the term “race record,” once used to describe music performed by African-Americans, came to be.

Dust to Digital has recently released a collaboration with record collector Joe Bussard, titled “The Year of Jubilo: 78 RPM Recordings of Songs from the Civil War.”

Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM

June 16, 2012

Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM (Recordings from 1909-1960s)

Dust-To-Digital CD 22

112 page book with 4 CDs, dozens of full-color images from the era, the CDs feature 100 never-before-reissued recordings from the 1920s-1960s.  Compiled by Jonathan Ward.

by Jonathan Ward

It is truly astonishing to consider the tremendous variety of music that was pressed to shellac discs on the continent of Africa. Popular songs, topical songs, work songs, comic songs, songs of worship, ritual, dance, and praise—the sheer range of musical styles resists any easy categorization. Further, African geography itself resists boundaries. The boundaries of cultures and languages are often far more complex than political boundaries. Complicating things further, entire countries seem to have been skipped over by both commercial 78 rpm record companies and ethnographers during the 78 rpm era. No doubt it was the same with many cultures. But that doesn’t mean that 78s weren’t everywhere, even in remote parts of the continent. By the mid-1960s, 78s were still a popular if not preferred medium in much of Africa, as a significant amount of the population still used wind-up gramophone players.

I have created this compilation with one simple goal in mind: to showcase a diverse amount of long-forgotten music from Africa that transports me as a listener. It is one person’s offering of music that is wholly unavailable except in its original elusive and fragile format. While it is not definitive, nor am I attempting to construct or invent a narrative, there are important connections to be made. Around one musical corner is another corner, and another. Within these 100 tracks, traditional music stands side by side with popular music as traditional culture coexists with so-called modernity. As a non-African, I offer this set as an example of the riches that lay in waiting when considering the tens of thousands of phenomenal African 78 rpm discs that were issued, played, dispersed, and in large part, forgotten.

“Opika Pende,” is a saying in the Lingala language that means “be strong” or “stand firm.” It can also mean “resist.”

How Low Can You Go?

April 2, 2012

How Low Can You Go? : Anthology of the String Bass (1925-1941) 

Dust-to-Digital (3CDs) DTD-04


Not so long ago, the string bass stood tall and proud — roughly the length and breadth of a poor man’s pine coffin — in every musical aggregation throughout the land from Bangor to Buenos Aires, from the highest high life to the lowest lowdown: From tuxedoed symphony ensembles to tipsy calypso bands to honkytonkers in oil-field dives, from elegantly gelled tango orchestras to jazz combos in unspeakable speak-easys to methed-out rockabilly trios right off some flatbed.

This three-CD box set, the first ever anthology of the upright bass, explores the earliest recorded history of the instrument. Without it, the revolutionary sound of American mongrel music of the last century would have been thin gruel indeed.

The personal feel of this project is evident even in the whimsical packaging that recalls the early Victrola era. A 96-page book contains notes on each track and bios and photos of most of the players, as well as short essays on the evolution of the string bass and the life of Bill Johnson… Oddities like the kazoo choir of Dickie Wells’ Shim Shammers and the jazzy South Pacific sounds of Andy Iona and His Islanders hold their own against the driving big band jazz of Luis Russell. Alongside the rumble and slap of the upright bass, they all contain the magic spark peculiar to the 78 rpm record, the indefinable phantom thrill that somehow went missing as the music and recording studios became more sophisticated.

Never a Pal Like Mother

February 8, 2012

Dust-to Digital CD (DTD-19)
96 page hardback photo book with 2 CDs
Essay by Sarah Bryan; Foreword by Rosanne Cash
65 sepia photographs
The CDs feature 40 vintage recordings from 1927-1956.

Reviewed by (

The Atlanta-based independent record label Dust-to-Digital is chiefly known, for better and for worse, for its 2003 gospel box set “Goodbye, Babylon.” It’s for the better because the set’s meticulous presentation (songs compiled by the label’s founder, Lance Ledbetter, and released in a cedar box designed by Susan Archie) was without compare; it established a standard that other labels have tried, mostly in vain, to emulate. It’s for the worse because the label has continued to release impressive sets of vintage music that don’t always get the attention that “Goodbye, Babylon” received (though Dust-to-Digital’s “Art of Field Recording” series, which drew on the work of the folk revivalist Art Rosenbaum, was the subject of a New Yorker piece by Burkhard Bilger in 2008).

Never a Pal Like Mother,” the label’s nineteenth release, collects forty songs about motherhood from the first half of the twentieth century; the music—furnished by famous collectors like Joe Bussard—is complemented by a book of liner notes, essays, and vintage photographs. The folklorist and collector Sarah Bryan, who provides some of the photographs, also supplies an essay focussing on the way the period shifted the concept of motherhood: how wars, Westward expansion, and immigration divided families just as advances in technology, especially cheap cameras, made it easier to remember them. “Each generation knew what it was to miss home and mother,” she writes. “This shared nostalgia became a mainstay of pop culture.”

Some of the songs in “Never a Pal Like Mother” will be familiar to even casual fans, such as Robert Wilkins’s “That’s No Way To Get Along,” the basis for the Rolling Stones’ “Prodigal Son.” Others won’t be, like the rare calypso “Mother’s Love,” by Mighty Destroyer. Elsewhere, there is close-harmony country (“God Bless Her (’Cause She’s My Mother),” by the Louvin Brothers), hillbilly exemplum (“Mama Says It’s Naughty,” by The Maddox Brothers & Rose), sentimental balladry (“The Pal That’s Always True,” by Doc Hopkins, which gives the set its name), and idiosyncratic gospel (“A Mother’s Last Word To Her Daughter,” by the great Washington Phillips, who accompanied himself on a strange stringed instrument, possibly of his own construction, that no one has ever been able to exactly identify).

Many of the groups were popular in the twenties and thirties and have since faded from memory: the McNulty Family, the Dixieland Jug Blowers, Leo Soileau. There’s even “Mama Don’t Allow It” by the legendary Frankie (Half-Pint) Jaxon, who sang in a high, feminine voice and in fact worked as a female impersonator before retiring from music and going to work at the Pentagon, of all places.

Though motherhood is the dominant theme—this is roots music about the root of the species—it’s not the only one: songs touch on sex, money, politics, and (frequently) religion. Roseanne Cash’s short, sharp introduction laments the disappearance of the world that produced music like this. “These songs,” she writes, “could never be written in the age of jet travel, therapy, delayed adolescence, the internet, nor could they survive current popular ideas of human psychology.” Her point is taken (songs like “Little Moses,” popularized by the Carter Family but heard here in a version by Mr. and Mrs. Harmon E. Helmick, sound especially ancient), but many songs do suggest later treatments of the same topics. The Carter Family’s “Hold Fast to the Right,” with its scene of maternal advice, points to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Got a Job”; “Mother Bowed” by the Pilgrim Travelers looks ahead to Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock”; and the Carolina Twins’ “Where Is My Mamma?” is a direct ancestor of John Lennon’s “Mother.”

Songs of Love, Lust, and Contempt

January 6, 2012



Bo Carter, Mississippi Maulers, Norridge Mayhams & His Barbecue Boys, Dock Walsh, Joe Falcon, Davey Miller, Oscar Ford, Taylor’s Kentucky Boys, Dick Reinhardt, Eddie South, Kid Smith & Family, George Shortbuckle Roark, Eddie Peabody, Frank Quinn, Burnett & Rutherford, Fess Williams, Frank Stokes, Asa Martin, Robert Hill, State Street Boys, Doc Cook & His Fourteen Doctors  Of Syncopation, Broadway Bell-Hops, Lowe Stokes & His North Georgians, Mississippi Matilda, Crowder Brothers, Chippie Hill, Alphonse Trent  and His Orchestra, Hartman’s Heart Breakers, Harry Roy & His Bat Club Boys and many more.

There are some record labels that are loved and trusted by collectors because they always deliver the most exciting material with scrupulous attention to detail and quality. I’m talking about labels like Yazoo, Folkways, County, Revenant and Arhoolie, which all aim to deliver the musical past of America in the best possible way and when you look at the back-catalogue of Dust To Digital, there’s no doubt that they belong with these labels.

Over the past few years, they have issued a dozen stunning award winning releases ranging from the blockbuster gospel box set Goodbye Babylon and the stunningly rare sacred harp recordings I Belong To This Band to the history of the double bass in early jazz How Low Can You Go. Then there’s my favourite: Fonotone Records – the 130 track bumper-bundle of mountain music recorded by legendary record collector Joe Bussard for his own label in the 1960s. Every release is the kind of gem that gets collectors drooling for more.

Baby How Can It Be explores the things that go on between ladies and gentlemen in 66 diverse tracks with rural blues and mountain songs jostling alongside urban jazz pieces, hokey Hawaiian items, big band boogie woogie, jugband music, some madcap Irish tiddledelumptydum and groovy quartet harmonies. (more…)