Posts Tagged ‘Tony Russell’

“Ten Days in Mississippi,” pt. 4

June 23, 2012

Jimmy Carter, of the Carter Brothers and Son, continues his reminiscences from part 3:


“Ten Days in Mississippi,” pt. 3

June 17, 2012

Ila and Andrew Carter (of the Carter Brothers and Son)

Jimmy Carter, of the Carter Brothers and Son, continues his reminiscences from part 2:

“Ten Days in Mississippi,” pt. 2

June 5, 2012


Blacks, Whites, and Blues

June 3, 2012


“Blacks, Whites, and Blues,” by Tony Russell (Stein and Day, 1970)

The man whose efforts crystallized the blue yodel, and the white blues form, and ensured its future in country music was Jimmie Rodgers.  Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi in 1897, the son of an M&O gang foreman.  Rodgers’ musical environment has often been described; how he fetched water for the black gandy dancers in the Meridian yards; how he heard their songs and slang, and was taught the banjo by them.  Rodgers’ career on the tracks was curtailed by tuberculosis in 1925, and he took up, full time, the musical life which he had for some years enjoyed as an amateur.

The blue yodels were a foundation upon which countless white country singers built.  David Evans has suggested, very reasonably, that the blue yodel synthesized Swiss (yodelling) and African (falsetto) traditions; the falsetto “leap” was established among blacks since the days of the field holler — consider Vera Hall’s “Wild Ox Moan” — and (Jimmy) Rodgers, hearing it, thought it analogous to the yodel and inserted both into his blues.

“The identifying characteristics of the ‘blue yodel,'” John Greenway has written,” are (1) the slight situational pattern, that of a ’rounder’ boasting of his prowess as a lover, but ever in fear of the ‘creeper,’ evidence of whose presence he reacts to either with threats against the sinning parties or with the declaration that he can get another woman easily enough; and (2) the prosodic pattern, the articulation of Negro maverick stanzas dealing with violence and promiscuity, often with double meaning, and followed by a yodel refrain.”

Jimmy Rodgers sings “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel,” recorded May 18, 1933, NYC:

Jimmie Rodgers

“Ten Days in Mississippi”: Tony Russell (pt. 1)

May 29, 2012

In the spring of 1976 Tony Russell published a special 5th birthday issue of the British journal “Old Time Music.”  The issue documented a research trip to Mississippi taken by Russell and Carl Fleishhauer in 1975.  Here is the introduction to that issue.  More to follow.

by Tony Russell

The history of old time music in Mississippi has fascinated me for years, and I began trying to trace it in 1973, with articles on Freeny’s Barn Dance Band (OTM8) and the Nations Brothers (OTM10).  These initiated a series on Missisippi String Bands which then lapsed for a time but is carried forward in the following pages.

This research, though based on much preliminary work, was chiefly carried out in two spells, 10 days in all, in October 1975.  Many people gave their help, and they are thanked elsewhere.  My special thanks, here and now, must go to Carl Fleischhauer, whose assistance — much more than just photographic — and companionship made this journey of discovery a truly cooperative effort.

Tony Russell is the author of “Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost,” “Blacks, Whites, and Blues,” and co-author of “Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942.”

Carl Fleishhauer is co-author of “The Hammons Family” (on Rounder Records), and author of the videodisc “The Ninety-Six: A Cattle Ranch in Northern Nevada,” and the photographic book “Documenting America, 1935-43.”

Tony Russell: Early African-American Fiddlers

March 11, 2012

by Tony Russell (edited from

An idle speculation on my part is that African born fiddlers in the southern states continued playing one-string African fiddles which are easy to make, but that these were mostly played among Africans and African Americans.  There has been at least one such instrument recovered  from the colonial period and African Americans in Louisiana and elsewhere seemed to be able to reproduce instruments quite similar especially bows that look identical to that of the Gambian one-string fiddle I own.

As I point this out below, this was probably true with banjos.  Until around 1720-40 there was little observation of what African Americans did among themselves by European Americans.  However, a series of slave rebellions and other events in the 1720s and 1730s led to both greater scrutiny of slave
activities and greater general interest in what African Americans did.

One of the conclusions that we have reached especially based on the research of Laurent Dubois who is at Duke is that the fiddle was an instrument that was much more played for whites than the banjo which seemed to be an instrument that was chiefly used for dances among the Blacks.  The prominence of Black fiddlers among the runaways, probably over represented, speaks to the fact that they were fiddlers who could make a living at fiddling and their was a place for a Black fiddler playing at public assemblies or in taverns that there was not for a black vagrant looking for regular work.   (more…)

Tony Russell: Country Music Originals

October 4, 2011

Country Music Originals: the Legends and the Lost by Tony Ruseell (Oxford University Press, 2010).  Available here.

Tony Russell on Earl Johnson: