Posts Tagged ‘Tompkins Square’

“I’m Going Down To North Carolina: The Complete Recordings of The Red Fox Chasers [1928-31]”

May 19, 2012


I’M GOING DOWN TO NORTH CAROLINA – The Complete Recordings Of The Red Fox Chasers 1928-1931 (2 CD SET), Tompkins Square (TSQ2219 )



The Red Fox Chasers began when a bunch of mountain boys from the north-west corner of North Carolina met at the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention in 1928. Fiddler Guy Brooks, banjo picker Paul Miles, guitarist AP Thompson and harmonica player Bob Cranford quickly developed into a solid unit with a wide repertoire of songs and tunes and one big burning ambition – to make records.

Paul Miles fired off letters to Columbia and Victor etc with no luck until Gennett came back with an offer and the boys scooted up to Richmond, Virginia to record a total of 32 sides over three sessions during the next couple of years. Those sides are on this 2CD set alongside 10 songs recorded in 1931 by Cranford and Thompson after the Red Fox Chasers disbanded. The records sold well on Gennett and on their budget labels Champion, Supertone and Conqueror where they were, for some unknown reason, released under pseudonyms such as The Virginia Possum Tamers and The Boone County Entertainers.

This music is classic old-time mountain stuff – minstrel tunes, murder ballads, folk songs, breakdowns, tin pan alley tunes, reels, country gospel and current ‘hits’ learned from the Carter Family, Charlie Poole and the Carolina Tarheels. The band was particularly adept at re-jigging old numbers like Omie Wise, We Shall Meet On That Beautiful Shore and Devilish Mary but they also wrote some notable items like Mountain Sweetheart, Two False Lovers and the Gid Tanner inspired skit Makin’ Licker In North Carolina.

One of their most notable compositions is the ballad Stolen Love which sounds pretty advanced musically, thanks to its beautiful shift in meter between the verse and chorus. In fact, The Red Fox Chasers revelled in their instrumental skills as you’ll hear on numbers like the jumping Mississippi Sawyers with Bob Cranford displaying his amazing technique of playing two harmonicas as the band move from the D part to the A part. They even brought a new twist to the old warhorse Turkey In The Straw with Guy Brooks hot fiddle manoeuvrings and Paul Miles quirky banjo runs making this one of the Chaser’s best selling records.

The CD is completed by the ten sides recorded by Cranford and Thompson in 1931. These are a treasure trove of old-time tunes including murder songs like Pretty Polly, Lula Wall and Murder Of The Lawson Family, the great bad-man ballad Otto Wood and a blissful rendition of the Carter Family masterpiece Sweet Fern.

Up until now The Red Fox Chasers music has been very hard to find so fans will be thrilled that these precious vintage tracks have been painstakingly remastered for Tompkins Square by Grammy Award winning Christopher King – of County and Revenant Charley Patton box fame! And the notes are by that champion of old-timer music Kinney Rorrer. This package is unmissable!


Tompkins Square Rolls Out Line of 78RPM Records

March 29, 2012

San Francisco-based record label Tompkins Square announces the first in a series of releases in the 78 rpm 10″ vinyl format.

The first two will feature previously unreleased recordings from Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), and Ralph Stanley. Both 78’s will be released as a limited edition of 500 copies on Record Store Day, April 21, 2012. Please note : These 78’s will not be sold on this site – they will only be available via independent record stores.

Luther Dickinson plays medleys of Southern melodies on his 78, including “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah/Beautiful Dreamer” on the A side and “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen/Peace in the Valley” on the B side. Ralph Stanley’s 78 features “Single Girl”, with “Little Birdie” on the B side.

Tompkins Square owner Josh Rosenthal comments, “A lot of new turntables play 78’s, and many 78 collectors listen to their records on modern equipment. Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe have all recently released 78’s. So I thought it would be fun to start a line of them.”

People, Take Warning

March 15, 2012

“People Take Warning!” from Tompkins Square Records


The news media in the early 1900s in America was every bit as dogged and sensational as it is now, and these tragic songs didn’t carry the news so much as give it all a community focus, functioning as street-corner sermons, cautionary tales, or just plain gossip given melody. Some of these songs are straight observational narratives, but some of them have definite agendas.

There’s a big difference here, for instance, between Charley Patton’s two-part personal epic “High Water Everywhere,” recorded in 1929 and containing Patton’s chilling appraisal of the Mississippi flood from two years earlier and the way it was handled, and Elder Curry’s sanctified “Memphis Flu” from 1930, which determines the influenza epidemic of that same year was God’s stern judgment on the moral paucity of the human species. Both songs carry news, and news that is deeply tragic, but to quite different ends and purposes.

There are easily a dozen songs here about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, an event that could be said to metaphorically carry the Victorian era with it to the bottom of the sea and usher in a world where industrial disasters, whether they be sinking ships, derailing trains, planes falling from the sky or cars wrecking on the highway, became central symbols in a seemingly endless procession of misfortune.

Then there are the murder ballads that make up most of disc three here (the first disc contains songs about the crashing, sinking, and wrecking of various machines and motor vehicles while the second covers floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and other natural world-related calamities, and the third, easily the creepiest, deals with violence between people), many of which have to do with the murders of young and unmarried pregnant women and end with no discernible moral position being taken, and one realizes that tragedies like the sinking of the Titanic are full of terror while the murders of Laura Foster (as chronicled by Grayson & Whitter in their 1929 “Tom Dooley”), Naomi Wise (Clarence Ashley’s “Naomi Wise,” also recorded in 1929), and Ellen Smith (“Poor Ellen Smith,” tracked by the Dykes Magic City Trio in 1927) are full of something closer to pure horror and have to be viewed as cautionary tales, or else there is nothing spiritually or emotionally redemptive in them at all.

Is this kind of a morbid collection? Yes, it is, but it is also fascinating for what it reveals about our concepts of mortality, an afterlife, redemption, survival, and abstract looks at things like bravery, heroism, and even a kind of powerful fatalism. In guitarist Frank Hutchison’s version of the Titanic disaster, “Last Scene of the Titanic,” recorded in 1927, he has people below decks dancing to the sound of fiddles as the ship goes down. Life is full of unexpected tragedies, he seems to be saying, but nothing is really lost by dancing because fate will do what fate always does anyway.

If there’s an overriding moral point to all of these old songs, maybe that’s it. Take warning, but don’t stop dancing as long as the fiddles are still playing. Thanks to Tompkins Square for assembling this marvelous collection (it was released in 2007). It may be dour and morbid on the surface, full of floods, shipwrecks, hurricanes, suicides, murders, and uncountable disasters, but it is somehow strangely redemptive, too, reminding us that we are all survivors even as it also reminds us that when the music stops, we all have to sit down.

To Love and To Lose

February 2, 2012

If you haven’t already, please check out Josh Rosenthal’s Tompkins Square Records

This label is a one-man operation, and has dozens of fascinating releases, including their newest, “Aimer et Perdre : To Love & To Lose, Songs 1917-1934.”

Produced by Chris King (Charley Patton, Bristol Sessions, People Take Warning)
Original Artwork by Robert Crumb

This is one from the heart. The unique pre-war music of the Cajun bayous, the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and Poland, and the American rural countryside has been collected to narrate the human odyssey of love gained and love lost. Early songs of unbridled anticipation and desperate longing color the canvas of love, courtship, dejection and marriage… a never-ending cycle. The accompanying 60-page booklet features many rare, previously unpublished images and comprehensive lyrical translation. Three original artworks by Robert Crumb provide a backdrop for these sublime songs of passion and despair. Respectfully crafted by Christopher King and Susan Archie for Tompkins Square. 36 Songs on 2CDs.

Also available from Tompkins Square Records:

Red Fox Chasers

E.C. Ball

“Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939”

January 27, 2012

Soldier’s laments, heart-songs, and patriotic tunes have been an essential part of the American soundscape for many generations.  Most of these compositions, however, have been identified with the Vietnam war or with World War II.  This newly minted collection presents performances captured between 1924 and 1939 of songs originating from the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the “war to end all wars,” the First World War.  These recordings were the folk foundation both of the common soldier’s perspective of the battlefield and of the family and loved ones that were left behind.

‘Bloody War’ recreates the musical panorama of the early 20th century with songs of warfare that are humorous and tragic, sardonic and vivid.  Many of these songs have not been heard since they were originally issued in the 1920s and 1930s and are as relevant today as they were when they were first composed.

Highlights of this collection include the masterpiece “Dixie Division” by Fiddlin’ John Carson, the legendary Atlanta, GA entertainer that was among the first rural performers to wax country music.  His idiosyncratic fiddling meshes together a paean for Southern soldiers that have fought in the American Civil War to the First World War, held together with a medley of “Dixie,” “Swanee River,” and “Yankee Doodle.” Contemporary banjoist and singer, Wade Mainer, contributes the poignant “Not A Word Of That Be Said” a mere two years before the outbreak of World War II.

A deep diversity of artists & performances are to be found in this anthology: from the inspired street-singing of William & Versey Smith to the plaintive balladry of Buell Kazee and from the red hot breakdown of Earl Johnson to the mesmerizing guitar blues of Darby & Tarlton.  Produced by Christopher King and Josh Rosenthal, with art-design by Susan Archie and liner-notes by country music historian Tony Russell.

A portion of all proceeds from the sale of this album will be donated to Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (

Available from