Monday, November 28, 2011

Bill Williams - Low and Lonesome & Blues, Rags and Ballads (Blue Goose, 1970 & 1974)


People sometimes forget that not all of the geriatric musicians who received a wider degree of exposure during the blues revival of the 1950s and 1960s had been recording artists prior to World War II. Those who had made 78s in the 1920s and/or 1930s - e.g. Furry Lewis, Skip James, and Son House - came to be referred to as "rediscoveries." On the other hand, a "discovery" applied to the likes of performers such as Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, and Blind Connie Williams, each of whom had never sat in front of a studio microphone prior to the aforementioned movement that, among other things, spurred the efforts of particular revivalists to record rapidly disappearing styles of rural African-American music. Guitarist Bill Williams (1897-1973) belonged to that latter group of musicians and would be a more familiar name today if not for his late start at making records and noted reluctance for performing anywhere other than at informal gatherings.

A RARE EXAMPLE OF WILLIAMS PLAYING AT A MUSIC FESTIVAL

Going by his repertory, it would be inaccurate to describe Williams as a bluesman; referring to him as a songster would be far more appropriate since he played folk, ragtime, gospel, hillbilly, pop, and blues with equal skill and passion. His diverse songbook and guitar chops left the Richmond, Virginia native sounding like an East Coast equivalent to Mississippi John Hurt, making it a pity that he did not live longer and record more extensively. Williams apparently never had any aspirations to become a professional musician and was content to use his talent as both a pastime and a way to entertain friends. During his younger days, he worked at a number of professions, including waterboy, miner, and cook while spending time in Delaware, Colorado, and Tennessee. Ultimately, he settled in tiny Greenup, Kentucky in 1922, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Although associates and neighbors were well aware of Williams's musical abilities, the remote area where the guitarist made his home allowed him to exist in, as blues historian Stephen Calt puts it, "contended oblivion" essentially throughout the 1950s-1960s blues revival. It was only after a local guitar instructor contacted Yazoo-Blue Goose head honcho Nick Perls in 1970 that this extremely impressive songster discovery became properly recognized as the "most technically accomplished living" musician of his kind during his brief moment in the sun prior to passing away.

WONDERING WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT

Evidently, Williams was his own toughest critic in regard to his musical abilities and was incredulous that anyone would have interest in recordings of his music. As Low and Lonesome and Blues, Rags and Ballads (with the latter being the better-sounding rip of the two) readily make clear, he was being way too hard on himself since both albums show his guitar-playing skills and earthy singing voice to be remarkably well-preserved. The instrumentalist with which Williams is most often compared is Blind Blake, and the two allegedly spent time playing together while they both briefly lived in Bristol, Tennessee during the early 1920s. The visually-impaired guitarist's influence can clearly be heard on "My Girlfriend Left Me," "Too Tight," "Bubblegum," and "Blake's Rag," although they are obviously not the work of a mere copyist. Given his pre-1900 birthdate, Williams featured a large number of minstrel songs and ragtime-era numbers in his repertory, including "Chicken" (aka "Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon"), "Frankie and Johnny," "
Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," "Darktown Strutter's Ball," "Nobody's Business," and "Railroad Bill." The flawlessly-executed instrumentals "Banjo Rag," "Bill's Rag," "Pocahontas" (arguably his finest performance), "Up a Lazy River," "Total Rag," "Listen to the Mockingbird," "That's the Human Thing to Do," and "Buckdance" present him at his most eclectic considering the wide-ranging music styles from which these pieces are derived. "St. Louis Blues" and "Salty Dog" are apparently two songs with which Williams became familiar by listening to them on record, whereas "I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome" and "When the Roses Bloom Again" come from bluegrass and mountain ballad (i.e. white) sources. As with any worthwhile songster, blues constituted an important part of this musician's stock of material, whether they were learned from other sources ("Lucky Blues") or resulted from his own creativity ("I'll Follow You," the magnificent "Low and Lonesome," and "Corn Liquor Blues"). Judging by the biographical details I've read, religion may not have been a big part of Williams's life, but you wouldn't know that from listening to his moving interpretation of the spiritual "Some of These Days."

**I'd like to express copious amounts of gratitude and appreciation to Rambling Rolf for sharing copies of these albums with me.

DURING THE LOW AND LONESOME RECORDING SESSIONS

Low and Lonesome
(1970)
1. The Chicken
2. Banjo Rag
3. My Girlfriend Left Me
4. Bill's Rag
5. St. Louis Blues
6. Pocahontas
7. Lucky Blues
8. I'll Follow You
9. Up a Lazy River
10. Too Tight
11. Low and Lonesome
12. Total Rag
13. I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome
14. Frankie and Johnny

Blues, Rags and Ballads (1974)
1. Salty Dog
2. Corn Liquor Blues
3. Listen to the Mockingbird
4. Make Me a Pallet on the Floor
5. That's the Human Thing to Do
6. Bubblegum
7. Darktown Strutter's Ball
8. Nobody's Business
9. Buckdance
10. Some of These Days
11. Blake's Rag
12. Railroad Bill
13. When the Roses Bloom Again

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Naptown Blues 1929-1934 (Yazoo, 1973)


Although the names of pianist Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell tend to register with most prewar blues aficionados, I feel like these Indianapolis-based musicians still don't get the full respect they deserve nor is their influence on other artists sufficiently acknowledged. Much of this may have to do with the view that they were over-recorded, resulting in their being taken for granted and dismissed as overly-commercial. Sure, the pair remade "How Long - How Long Blues " a few too many times and were also guilty of settling into more of a formulaic approach as the 1920s progressed into the 1930s, but their best sides remain among the greatest guitar-piano duets in blues history. Indeed, many of their songs have become standards of the genre, even if a lot of people don't realize that Carr and/or Blackwell wrote or were the first to record them. Perhaps the best example of their influence is the music of Robert Johnson. While other writers have endlessly rehashed the role that the styles of other Mississippi Delta blues guitarists had played in his development, it can persuasively be argued that material by Carr and Blackwell shaped Johnson's approach more than any other single source.

LEROY CARR TINKLING THE IVORIES

Leave it to Yazoo to put together a first-rate collection of the duo's late-1920s and early-1930s material that doesn't include better-known but perhaps overly-familiar sides such as "How Long - How Long," "You Got to Reap What You Sow," and "Blues Before Sunrise." To wit, the imaginatively-compiled Naptown Blues 1929-1934 emphasizes Carr and Blackwell's less-celebrated uptempo songs that to my non-musician ears sound insufficiently low-down to be considered blues in the traditional 12-bar sense. However one assesses these 14 tracks, they demonstrate how perfectly the musicians complemented each other and why they are the standard by which all other contemporary piano-guitar combinations are judged. This is especially apparent on irresistibly rhythmic numbers clearly intended for dancing including "Carried Water for the Elephant" and "Low Down Dog Blues," with the circus-themed lyrics of the first title giving it an almost novelty-tune feel. The similar "Papa Wants a Cookie," "Gettin' All Wet," "Memphis Town," and "Papa Wants to Knock a Jug" maintain the joyous mood and feature the added bonus of some infectious duet vocals. The laid-back melancholia of the title track, "I Keep the Blues," "What More Can I Do," "Fore Day Rider," and "Hold Them Puppies" find Carr and Blackwell performing in the somber vein with which they are more generally associated, while "Longing for My Sugar" and a cover of Irving Berlin's "How About Me?" show how they can successfully interpret even sentimental pop-oriented pieces such as these. Josh White plays second guitar (a National, to be precise) on the former and replaces Blackwell entirely on the Charlie Spand-esque "Bread Baker."

**A sincere THANK YOU to Pieter making an exquisite-sounding rip of this album available to me.

THE CRIMINALLY-UNDERRATED FRANCIS "SCRAPPER" BLACKWELL

1. Carried Water for the Elephant
2. Low Down Dog Blues
3. Papa Wants a Cookie
4. Naptown Blues
5. Bread Baker
6. I Keep the Blues
7. Gettin' All Wet
8. What More Can I Do?
9. Longing for My Sugar
10. Fore Day Rider
11. How About Me?
12. Memphis Town
13. Hold Them Puppies
14. Papa Wants to Knock a Jug

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Drove from Home Blues (Flywright, 1988; 1992)


Not every great blues collection needs to be compiled on a regional or thematic basis. Sometimes it's possible to throw together a bunch of songs that end up perfectly complementing each other without any advanced planning. I speak from experience on this one, having made innumerable improvised Blues Archives cassette samplers for friends back in my high school and college days in an attempt to convert them into becoming fans of this particular musical genre.

WRIGHT HOLMES, 1967

The common thread running through the 23 tracks on Drove from Home Blues are the 1946-1952 time frame during which they were recorded as well as their having been originally released on 20th Century and Gotham labels. Additionally, the selections presented here all serve as fine examples of material by performers who were old enough to have been raised on prewar blues styles but were also adapting their approach to the increasingly-electrified immediate postwar era before the Chicago formula (a la Chess Records) became established. As such, these songs bear some similarity to those on the equally worthwhile Rural Blues Vol. 1 (1934-1956) on Document.



Varied collection that it is, this CD includes performances by bluesmen from all over the United States. The stark and at-times Lightnin' Hopkins-esque "Good Road Blues," "Alley Special," and "Drove from Home Blues" by Wright Holmes demonstrate that Houston, Texas produced nearly as many fine musicians as did the Mississippi Delta, while the mysterious Sonny Boy Johnson's "Quinsella," "Netta Mae," "She's Alright with Me," and "I Done Got Tired" display the twin influences of Hammie Nixon and Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1, suggesting a possible Tennessee origin for this harmonica player. Although Nathaniel "Stick Horse" Hammond was born in Dallas, Texas, he is generally thought of as a Shreveport, Louisiana blues artist. The archaic-sounding "Little Girl" and "Truck 'Em on Down" are in keeping with his reputed 1896 birth date, putting him somewhere in his early 50s when these tracks were recorded. According to Larry Hoffman's booklet notes, the little-known David Pete McKinley also hailed from Shreveport and, judging by my ears, was likely to have been around the same age as Hammond since "Ardelle" and "Shreveport Blues" both seem to have been cut from a musical cloth similar to that of the aforementioned two tracks. Nearly half of this album is devoted to musicians associated with the East Coast Piedmont region, with the greatest number of selections belonging to the Blind Boy Fuller-influenced guitarist Ralph Willis, including "So Many Days," "That Gal's No Good," "Goin' to Chattanooga," "New Goin' Down Slow," "Steel Mill Blues," and "I Will Never Love Again." Doug Quattlebaum's "Don't Be Funny, Baby" deserves recognition as one of the most menacing blues ever recorded, whereas "News for You Baby," "No Love Blues," "Lonesome Room," and "Baby Let's Have Some Fun" qualify as some of harmonicist Sonny Terry's finest pre-folk revival sides. Thrown in for good measure, Drove from Home Blues closes with Muddy Waters' debut as a commercial artist from 1946, the embryonic "Mean Red Spider" (a song that he would re-record for Chess a couple of years later), which was erroneously attributed to "James 'Sweet Lucy' Carter and his Orchestra."

**Many thanks to ND, MD for providing this generous share.

THE YOUNG MUDDY WATERS DURING HIS
EARLY DAYS IN CHICAGO, CIRCA LATE 1940s


1. Good Road Blues - Wright Holmes
2. Alley Special - Wright Holmes
3. Quinsella - Sonny Boy Johnson
4. Drove from Home Blues - Wright Holmes
5. Ardelle - David Pete McKinley
6. Little Girl - Stick Horse Hammond
7. Truck 'Em on Down - Stick Horse Hammond
8. Netta Mae - Sonny Boyd Johnson
9. She's Alright with Me - Sonny Boy Johnson
10. I Done Got Tired - Sonny Boy Johnson
11. Shreveport Blues - David Pete McKinley
12. So Many Days - Ralph Willis
13. That Gal's No Good
- Ralph Willis
14. Don't Be Funny, Baby! - Doug Quattlebaum
15. Goin' to Chattanooga
- Ralph Willis
16. New Goin' Down Slow
- Ralph Willis
17. News for You Baby - Sonny Terry
18. No Love Blues - Sonny Terry
19. Steel Mill Blues
- Ralph Willis
20. I Will Never Love Again
- Ralph Willis
21. Lonesome Room - Sonny Terry
22. Baby Let's Have Some Fun - Sonny Terry
23. Mean Red Spider - Muddy Waters

Product Plug: Ugly Things #32...and what you can do to stop the Internet Blacklist Bill


OK, I'll start this announcement out by addressing the more pleasant of the two topics. I'm pleased to tell you that my definitive historical piece (written under my print media nom de plume) on 1960s-early 1970s downstate Illinois rock legends the Finchley Boys is one of the articles featured in issue #32 of Ugly Things magazine. Check it out. And as usual, there's loads of other great reading material in Mike Stax's labor of love.

"DUDE, THE CAMERA'S THAT WAY!" - FINCHLEY BOYS AT THE "CHANCES R"
CLUB, CIRCA 1966 - CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: JIM COLE, GLENN CRONKHITE,
MARK WARWICK, GEORGE FABER, STEVE DYSON, & LARRY "TABE" TABELING



FINCHLEY BOYS MK. II, CIRCA 1968 - L TO R: J. MICHAEL
POWERS, TABE, GEORGE FABER, & GARRETT OOSTDYK


On a more serious note, we here in the United States are once again under serious threat from corporations and the lapdog politicians at their beck and call. This time they want to curtail the information that people can post on the internet. The Protect IP Act (aka the Internet Blacklist Bill) is currently being considered by Congress. The bloated entertainment industry, which does their part in providing the bread and circuses that help keep Americans from thinking about more important matters, wants to have the unchecked ability to censor anything that they claim infringes on their so-called intellectual property rights. Whatever legitimate claims they might have, it's another piece of legislation that throws out the baby with the bathwater since it would essentially give them the power to control how people communicate, thus raising serious issues about violating our cherished freedom of speech. This blog is supposed to be a refuge from unsavory things like politics, so I'm not going to dwell on this depressing subject any further other than to encourage all of you to contact your Representatives and Senators, and tell them to vote against this totalitarian bill.

Read more about what you can do: HERE.

Also, take five minutes to watch this video to learn the pertinent details:

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Mystery Trend - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - December 2, 1965


The Mystery Trend are rightly recognized for their importance as one of the earliest first-wave underground bands from 1960s San Francisco who emerged around the same time as other trailblazing groups such as the Charlatans and the Great Society. I regret not liking these guys more than I do, although it's not for lack of trying. At one time, their So Glad I Found You CD was part of my music collection, but it so underwhelmed me that I included it as a throw-in as part of a trade with a fellow collector several years ago.

THE MYSTERY TREND, LATE 1965 - L TO R: BOB CUFF, RON
NAGLE, LARRY WEST, JOHN LUBY, & LARRY BENNETT

While musical iconoclasts are usually right up my alley, the Mystery Trend's unique characteristics unfortunately worked against them in regard to their Bay Area contemporaries. The "San Francisco Sound" remains difficult, if not impossible, to define in a technical sense, although two of its most important components, folk rock and psychedelia, essentially remained absent from the list of ingredients that contributed to this band's stylistic approach. Indeed, other writers have pointed out that the Trend possessed an oeuvre that was instead primarily influenced by the British Invasion, R&B, and contemporary pop music as filtered through a sensibility that can best be described as equal parts garage band-ish and art student-esque. Folk rock and psych have consistently appealed to me more than 1960s proto-punk throughout my time as a record collector, so that probably explains why I've always had more respect than love for this particular aggregation.

PERFORMING AT THE STUDIO OF CERAMICIST PETER VOULKOS ON NOV. 27,
1965, JUST A FEW DAYS BEFORE THEIR GIG AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

That said, I figured that somewhere there had to be some in-concert material that presented the Mystery Trend in a better light than what's currently available in an official capacity. Sure enough, something eventually turned up among my network of bootleg traders. Although its total running time spans only 26 minutes, this live set recorded at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art on December 2, 1965 goes a long way to show why some people hold this band in such high regard. The sound quality is pretty good all things considered, and the general rawness of the performances adds to their appeal as far as I'm concerned. At this point in their history, the Trend still featured a five-man lineup, with Ron Nagle on keyboards/vocals, Larry West on lead guitar, Bob Cuff on rhythm guitar/vocals, Larry Bennett on bass, and John Luby on drums. Things start off with a ten-minute question-and-answer session with the audience in which the group talks about the origin of their name, how they write their songs, their disdain of folk rock, and other pertinent matters. In the accompanying notes, the trader who originally converted his tape of this concert to digital format points out, "At the end of the Q&A sessions, the moderator announces they are going to close the talk with a song by the band, at which point you can hear the band discussing the fact they thought they would get to play a set." As things turned out, the Museum did allow them to perform several titles (all of which seem to be unique to this recording), although the five pieces included here might be only a partial representation of what the group presented to the audience on that evening. In his authoritative article on the Trend in the first issue of Cream Puff War magazine, the esteemed Bay Area music historian Alec Palao describes "Love Moves Around" and "Never" (which unfortunately cuts out before it reaches its conclusion) as "rip-roaring garage blasts with great lead work from Larry West." I'd say that this assessment could also apply to the similar "Do I." Concerning the remaining material, Palao states, "Concurrent with the Great Society, the Trend seemed to have absorbed an experimental, easternish feel to their songwriting by late 1965. Both 'I Wish I Knew' and 'Casbah' reflect this, with droning guitars and sighing harmonies, not unlike some of the Velvet Underground's early stuff; not as noisy or distorted as that band but with similar crescendos of sound." I couldn't have said it better myself.

**Once again, I am indebted to ARK for making yet another musical obscurity available to me. Thanks, man.


1. Question and Answer Session
2. Band Introduction
3. Love Moves Around
4. Do I
5. I Wish I Knew
6. Casbah
7. Never

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Field Recordings Volume 5: Louisiana, Texas, Bahamas 1933-1940 (Document, 1997)


The third installment in this round of reviews on Document's Field Recordings series, Volume 5 compiles an eclectic mix of folk music collected by John and/or Alan Lomax while they conducted research during visits to Louisiana, Texas, and the Bahamas in 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1940. Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter completists will especially enjoy this CD since it contains some of his relatively obscure tracks as well as performances by two of his relatives. Moreover, much of the other material from Louisiana consists of the remaining Library of Congress recordings by three of the musicians featured on I Can Eagle Rock - Jook Joint Blues from Alabama and Louisiana, making it a perfect complementary listening experience. The remaining selections will also be of interest to anyone who enjoys music with roots in the African diaspora.

LEAD BELLY (OUTLINED IN RED) PHOTOGRAPHED AMONG OTHER CONVICTS
IN
COMPOUND NUMBER ONE AT
ANGOLA STATE PENITENTIARY, JULY 1934

Most, if not all, of the titles by Lead Belly will be familiar to even the most casual of his fans. What makes these particular versions significant is their status as his earliest recordings. The CD's second and third tracks are comprised of fragments of the very first songs he performed for the Lomaxes during the legendary 1933 sessions at Angola State Penitentiary. The deteriorated condition of the original discs unfortunately renders much of them nearly unlistenable. Nevertheless, they retain their historical importance. The a cappella "Shake, Shake Mattie" by an anonymous female inmate also comes from the folklorists' initial visit to the infamous Louisiana prison, although no other information is available. "Mr. Tom Hughes' Town," "I Got up This Morning, Had to Get up Soon," "Western Cowboy," "Blind Lemon Blues," and "Matchbox Blues," which date from a follow-up visit to Angola in 1934, feature considerably improved sound quality as a result of using more advanced recording equipment and are arguably the best renditions of these songs that Lead Belly ever did.

LEAD BELLY PERFORMS FOR JOHN LOMAX WHILE TWO
OTHER ANONYMOUS ANGOLA INMATES OBSERVE, 1934

The remainder of the Louisiana tracks also include "(Don't) The Moon Look Pretty," an appealingly ragged piece from the "spasm band"
(which consists of harmonica, kazoo, washboard, and various homemade percussion instruments) Curtis Harton & Group, and the French vocal performance "Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales" by an aggregation that Howard Rye's booklet notes refer to as as "Jimmy Peters And Ring Dance Singers." Whereas the previously-cited I Can Eagle Rock focuses on the blues songs of Joe Harris, Kid West, and Noah Moore (Lead Belly's cousin), the still-worthwhile "Railroad Rag," "Nobody's Business If I Do," "Bully of the Town," "Old Hen Cackled and Rooster Laid an Egg," and "I Done Tole You" represent the folk material that the elder Lomax preferred gathering for the Library. Moore accompanies his grandfather (and uncle of Lead Belly) Bob Ledbetter on another version of "(Goodnight) Irene", which proves interesting for the sake of comparison despite the latter's suspect recollection of how he learned it. A stark version of the well-documented "Boll Weevil" by unaccompanied singer Willie George Albertine King concludes the field recordings from Louisiana. The irresistibly-named Sin-Killer Griffin and his congregation represent Texas on the sanctified titles "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm" and "The Man of Calvary," which were both recorded during a visit to Darrington State Farm in Sandy Point on Easter Sunday 1934. The featured musicians from the Bahamas - David Pryor, Elizabeth Austin, the Nassau String Band, and others - perform a variety of material including a launching tune ("Roll 'im on Down"), gospel ("Dig My Grave"), sea shanties ("Round the Bay of Mexico," "Bowline"), a ring game song ("Sail, Gal"), a dance number ("Hallie Rock"), and a relatively sophisticated ensemble performance ("Bimini Gal"). Although these selections possess some similarities to the material by the American musicians on this CD, they remain distinctively Bahamian enough to be interesting on their own merits, even if the notes somewhat dismissively describe them as "mainly functional."

UNCLE BOB LEDBETTER, 1940

LOUISIANA
1. Shake, Shake Mattie - Unidentified Female Singer
2. a) The Western Cowboy b) Honey, Take a Whiff on Me c) Angola Blues d) Angola Blues e) Frankie and Albert - Huddie Ledbetter
3. a) Irene b) Take a Whiff on Me c) You Cain' Lose Me, Cholly d) Irene e) Irene f) Ella Speed - Huddie Ledbetter
4. Mr Tom Hughes' Town - Huddie Ledbetter
5. I Got up This Morning, Had to Get up Soon - Huddie Ledbetter
6. Western Cowboy - Huddie Ledbetter
7. Blind Lemon Blues - Huddie Ledbetter
8. Matchbox Blues ("Hawaiian Blues") - Huddie Ledbetter
9. Don't the Moon Look Pretty - Curtis Harton & Group
10. Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales - Jimmy Peters
11. Railroad Rag - Joe Harris & Kid West
12. Nobody's Business If I Do
- Joe Harris & Kid West
13. Bully of the Town
- Joe Harris & Kid West
14. Old Hen Cackled and Rooster Laid an Egg
- Joe Harris & Kid West
15. I Done Tole You - Noah Moore
16. Irene - Uncle Bob Ledbetter & Noah Moore
17. Boll Weevil - Willie George Albertine King

TEXAS
18. Wasn't That a Mighty Storm - Sin-Killer Griffin
19. The Man of Calvary (Easter Service) - Sin-Killer Griffin

BAHAMAS
20. Roll 'im on Down - David Pryor
21. Dig My Grave - David Pryor
22. Round the Bay of Mexico - David Pryor
23. Bowline - David Pryor
24. Sail, Gal - Elizabeth Austin
25. Hallie Rock - Group from Nassau, w/drum
26. Bimini Gal - Nassau String Band

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Field Recordings Volume 4: Mississippi & Alabama 1934-1942 (Document, 1997)


In the present malaise that the United States currently finds itself, almost every taxpayer-funded federal program has come under attack regardless of the critics' political persuasions. Socialism has always been a dirty word in my country despite the fact that the government has practiced it to one degree or another since at least the 1930s. Although our corrupt elected officials bear most of the blame for all the wasteful expenditures that are contributing to the humongous national debt, that does not mean every project financed with public money necessarily has to be a boondoggle. One of the best examples that supports my belief is the vast collection of folk music recordings collected for the Library of Congress primarily by John and Alan Lomax during the 1930s and early 1940s. That this monumental undertaking was achieved during the depths of the Great Depression and the difficult early days of US involvement in World War II makes it even more remarkable. While there are those who might question the economic return on this kind of project, there is no question that America - and the rest of the world for that matter - is aesthetically and culturally richer because of these audio documents. And when it's all said and done, these things that preserve our heritage are far more important than money ever will be.

"HUMOROUS" SIGN OUTSIDE OF PARCHMAN FARM, CIRCA MID 1960s

As its full title indicates, Field Recordings Volume 4 contains material gathered by the elder Lomax in Mississippi and Alabama during the years 1934, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1940, and 1942. Frank Jordan's "I'm Going to Leland," Jim Henry's "
I Don't Mind the Weather if the Wind Don't Blow," and Big Joe Butler's "Diamond Joe" provide three more outstanding examples of the seemingly limitless number of unaccompanied vocal performances obtained from Parchman Farm, whereas "Old Cold 'Taters" by Lester Fairley, J.B. Thomas, Clyde Smith, and Theodore Smith and recorded at the Piney Woods School near Jackson, Mississippi sounds like a coon song done in the style of a gospel quartet. On the Eva Grace Boone tracks, which Tony Russell's booklet notes describe as "game songs and folk rhymes," she is backed by a group of children and their polyrhythmic hand-clapping. The recordings by Anne Williams and the (sister?) duo of Catherine and Christeen Shipp are in a similar vein and close out the set of material from Mississippi.

VERA HALL

Leading off the Alabama tracks, "
It Ain't Gonna Rain No More" by an unknown group of children more or less picks up where the preceding selections left off. The Blind Jesse Harris performances that were recorded in Livingston, however, are fascinating in spite of their limitations. The ancient-sounding songster is hardly a virtuoso on accordion, and the poor sound quality of the material does not exactly help matters. Nevertheless, there is something very moving about his singing voice. Although obviously compromised by the ravages of time, it still retains a salt-of-the-earth vitality in its ability to provide the listener with an opportunity to hear echoes from a distant past. Of all the tracks, I find "Spanish War" to be the most interesting since it's a rare recorded example of piece on the Spanish-American War, while bad-man ballads such as "Railroad Bill" and "Stagolee" in addition to other late-1800s/early-1900s songs including "Boll Weevil" and "Take a Whiff on Me" place Harris in similar company with Henry Thomas, Lead Belly, and other proto-bluesmen. The titles by Richard Amerson, Henry Hankins, the McDonald Family, the Doc Reed-Henry Reed-Vera Hall trio, Harriet McClintock, and Hettie Godfrey consist of wide-ranging examples of Alabamian a cappella traditions, including work songs ("Steamboat Days," "Ho Boy, Caincha Line?"), gospel music ("Down on Me," "Certainly Lord"), and even a lullaby ("Go to Sleep").

DISC-CUTTING MACHINE (ON LEFT) AND RECORDING EQUIPMENT
INSIDE OF THE LOMAXES' CUSTOMIZED CAR USED FOR FIELD RESEARCH

MISSISSIPPI

1. I'm Going to Leland - Frank Jordan
2. I Don't Mind the Weather if the Wind Don't Blow - Jim Henry
3. Diamond Joe - Big Charlie Butler
4. Old Cold 'Taters - Lester Fairley
5. We're Goin' Around the Mountain - Eva Grace Boone
6. Sissy in the Barn
- Eva Grace Boone
7. Little Rose Lee
- Eva Grace Boone
8. Old Lady Sittin' in the Dining Room
- Eva Grace Boone
9. Little Sally Walker
- Eva Grace Boone
10. All Around the Maypole
- Eva Grace Boone
11. Ol' Uncle Rabbit - Katherine & Christeen Shipp
12. See-Lye Woman (Sea Lion)
- Katherine & Christeen Shipp
13. Gwan Roun' Rabbit - Anne Williams
14. Satisfy - Anne Williams

ALABAMA
15. It Ain't Gonna Rain No More - Unidentified Group
16. Boll Weavil - Blind Jesse Harris
17. Railroad Bill
- Blind Jesse Harris
18. Tilas Mack
- Blind Jesse Harris
19. Stagolee
- Blind Jesse Harris
20. Spanish War
- Blind Jesse Harris
21. All the Friends I Got Is Gone
- Blind Jesse Harris
22. Goin' to War
- Blind Jesse Harris
23. Brady
- Blind Jesse Harris
24. Sun Going to Shine in My Door Some Day
- Blind Jesse Harris
25. Meridian Jail House
- Blind Jesse Harris
26. Didn't He Ramble?
- Blind Jesse Harris
27. Take a Whiff on Me
- Blind Jesse Harris
28. Kansas City
- Blind Jesse Harris
29. I'm Gwine to Texas - Richard Amerson
30. Steamboat Days (Steamboat-Loading Holler) - Richard Amerson
31. Ho Boy, Caincha Line? (Lining Track) - Henry Hankins
32. Rosie - The McDonald Family
33. Knock John Booker to de Low Ground - The McDonald Family
34. Trouble So Hard - Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
35. Choose Yo Seat
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
36. Handwriting on the Wall
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
37. Another Man Done Gone
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
38. Boll Weavil Blues
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
39. Down on Me
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
40. Certainly, Lord
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
41. Job, Job
- Doc Reed, Henry Reed, & Vera Hall
42. Poor Little Johnny - Harriet McClintock
43. Go to Sleep - Harriet McClintock
44. All Hid - Hettie Godfrey

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Field Recordings Volume 3: Mississippi 1936-1942 (Document, 1997)


And so we continue with our posts on Document's excellent series of Field Recordings, which primarily consist of material gathered for the Library of Congress during the 1930s and early 1940s. A review of Volume 1: Virginia 1936-1941 appeared back in June, but I'm going to have to skip over Volume 2: North & South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas since I don't have it in my collection. That title has been out of print for some time now, and I'd appreciate it if anyone who has this CD for sale or who would be willing to make me a copy to get in touch with me.

COLOR-TINTED POSTCARD SHOWING THE CAMPUS OF
THE SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN INSTITUTE, CIRCA 1900

Field Recordings Volume 3 provides numerous examples of Mississippi's incredibly rich black musical heritage. There is a tremendous deal of diversity among the tracks presented here, with the common thread being John or Alan Lomax's involvement in collecting nearly all of them for the LOC's Archive of Folk Song. Once again, a visit to the notorious Parchman Farm State Penitentiary yielded several fascinating performances, including an example of the lost art of train calling (in this instance, the unnamed convict shouts out various stops on the Illinois Central line), a gospel tune ("Lead Me to the Rock" by Wash Dennis, D.B. Prowell, and Charles Sims), and what sounds like a work song ("Rosie [Big Leg Rosie]" by Jeff Webb et al.). Outside the prison walls in other parts of Mississippi, Lomax obtained several more a cappella pieces such as Joe Shores' "Sounding Calls" and Sam Hazel's "Heaving the Leadline" (which were originally used by leadsmen on riverboats to announce water depth measurements to the helmsman) as well as Thomas J. Marshall and Samuel Brooks' field hollers "Arwhoolie," "
Oh the Sun's Goin' Down and I Won't Be Here Long (Quittin' Time Song)/(Another) Quittin' Song," and "Mealtime Call." The latter two performers were recorded at the now-defunct Southern Christian Institute near the town of Edwards. Ora Dell Graham apparently was a school teacher who carried on the old tradition of calling, and her obviously thoroughly trained students provide perfect backing vocals on the delightful fragments "Little Girl, Little Girl," "(Jes' A) Pullin' the Skiff," and "Shortenin' Bread." Unfortunately, no information exists regarding the anonymous woman who sings the sonorous "Angel Child."

ALAN LOMAX, 1941

This CD also includes several instrumentals and vocal performances with instrumental accompaniment. As Howard Rye states in the booklet notes, Clarksdale pianist Howard "Jaybird" Jones "comes out of the crossroads at which ragtime, blues, (and) jazz met and merged," which is clearly reflected in his repertory. "The Keghouse Blues" (a revisitation of a number he had originally waxed in 1928 with the similarly-named singer) and "How Long" were recorded by Lewis Wade Jones of Fisk University in 1941 and feature him with guitarist Ollie Upchurch, while the remaining titles date from the following year and were produced under Alan Lomax's supervision. "The Worried Life Blues" (featuring the vocals of Minnie Lee Whitehead), "Fo' Day Blues," "Ragtime Tune," "Walking Billy," "Corrina," and "Careless Love" all have their merits, but the folklorist's endless questioning throughout many of the pieces detract from their listenability. In his attempt to obtain details on the history of Clarksdale piano players from the late 1800s and early 1900s, Lomax was probably trying to produce results similar to what was achieved during Jelly Roll Morton's legendary 1938 sessions for the Library of Congress. The only problems are that he talks too much and Jones proves to be a much less interesting interview subject than his more celebrated counterpart from New Orleans. Volume 3 concludes with seven tracks by multi-instrumentalist Sid Hemphill accompanied by banjoist Lucius Smith, guitarist Alec Askew, bassist Will Head, and various unknown percussionists. "
The Carrier Railroad," "The Arkansas Traveler," "Leather Britches," "Rice Straw," and "Soon in the Mornin'" can best be categorized as almost hillbilly-sounding string band performances on which the group leader plays fiddle. On the other hand, "The Devil's Dream" and "When the Ball Is Over" are examples of the considerably more African-derived fife and drum music (or in the case of the first title, quills and drum music), more of which can be heard on the highly recommended Traveling Through the Jungle, an album that includes the remaining material from this 1942 field recording session.

SID HEMPHILL (L) & LUCIUS SMITH, 1959

1. Calling Trains - Old Train Caller from New Orleans
2. Lead Me to the Rock - Wash Dennis
3. Rosie (Big Leg Rosie) - Jeff Webb
4. Mississippi Sounding Calls (A-1) - Joe Shores
5. Mississippi Sounding Calls (B-1) - Joe Shores
6. Arwhoolie (Cornfield Holler) - Thomas J. Marshall
7. Oh the Sun's Goin' Down and I Won't Be Here Long (Quittin' Time Song)/(Another) Quittin' Song - Samuel Brooks
8. Mealtime Call - Samuel Brooks
9. Heaving the Leadline (Calls and Song to the Pilot) - Sam Hazel
10. Little Girl, Little Girl - Ora Dell Graham
11. (Jes' A) Pullin' the Skiff -
Ora Dell Graham
12. Shortenin' Bread - Ora Dell Graham
13. The Keghouse Blues - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
14. Interviews: How Long (two parts) -
Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
15. The Worried Life Blues - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
16. Interview: Fo' Day Blues - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
17. Unidentified Ragtime Tune - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
18. Walking Billy - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
19. Unidentified Ragtime Tune / Interview - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
20. Interview (1, 2, 3) - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
21. Corrina - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
22. Careless Love - Thomas "Jaybird" Jones
23. Angel Child - Unidentified Female Singer
24. The Carrier Railroad (The Carrier Line) - Sid Hemphill
25. The Arkansas Traveler -
Sid Hemphill
26. The Devil's Dream - Sid Hemphill
27. Leather Britches - Sid Hemphill
28. Rice Straw - Sid Hemphill
29. After the Ball Is Over - Sid Hemphill
30. Soon in the Mornin' - Sid Hemphill