Archive for August, 2008

Open Thread #1

August 31, 2008

Start a discussion, make a comment! Have you started listening yet? Favorite songs? Records you wish Harry had never bought? Having a nice Labor Day weekend? No need to be on topic – just say hello if that’s all you’ve got today.

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a video of a waulking song – these have been sung for centuries by women beating new cloth in order to soften it.


Discography’s Up!

August 30, 2008

The discography is not in alphabetical order, and, except for putting Harry at the top and Dylan at the bottom (an alpha and omega of sorts), I didn’t worry about the order at all. As with the bibliography, all these recordings are in my library, and all will be on my laptop by opening day, so anyone who wants to use them for a report is welcome to do so. I’ll have the laptop at each class, too, so if you want to put stuff on your iPod, that’s OK with me.

This doesn’t include stuff I have on LP but have not digitized, and doesn’t include stuff I think I’ll be using for assigned or in-class listening and haven’t picked up yet. I’ll keep you up to date on changes.

Bibliography is up!

August 30, 2008

Look under “Pages.” I had some formatting problems getting it from my research software to Word to WordPress, and italics didn’t make the transition, but I think it’s intelligible. Post a comment if you have questions. For those of you who like doing reports, the books and articles listed are all in my possession and available for your short-term research needs. Tomorrow is discography day, and Tuesday I’ll post what I have of the course syllabus.

The Art of Field Recording

August 27, 2008

The April 28th issue of the New Yorker carried an article entitled “The Last Verse: Is there any folk music still out there?” by Burkhardt Bilger. It can be read here, and I recommend that everyone in this class read it.

The article describes a company called “Dust to Digital” that—inspired in part by Harry Smith’s Anthology—finds collections of old 78 RPM records (mostly blues and gospel) and reissues them as CDs. The article also tells about the efforts of Art Rosenbaum, artist, banjo picker and ethnomusicologist (folklorist who specializes in music), who has made his own collection of field recordings of traditional folk musicians over the past 50 years. Dust to Digital has just released the first album (4 CDs) of Rosenbaum’s collection, called “The Art of Field Recording, Volume 1.” I was so inspired that I ordered it. I was not disappointed and I’ll be happy to share some of it with the class.

Meanwhile, read the article, look at the pictures and listen to some of the audio that comes with it.

His Real Name Was Walter…

August 24, 2008

…but he got the nickname “Furry” as a child and it stuck. Furry Lewis sings a very idiosyncratic version of Kassie Jones on the Anthology, combining verses about the famous engineer with verses from another ballad, I’m a Natu’al Born Eastman, and in the process portraying Casey as something less of a hero than we expect. Furry is another of the Anthology singers rediscovered during the 1960’s and he had an eventful second career as a musician: he opened for the Rolling Stones (in his hometown of Memphis, where he’d worked many years as a streetsweeper), appeared on the Johnny Carson show, had a role in a Burt Reynolds movie (W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings) and sued Joni Mitchell for royalties on a song she wrote about him. Not bad, eh?

Anyway, here’s a video of Furry Lewis performing Kassie Jones. He’s toned down the lyrics some, but streetsweeping seems not to have hurt his guitar playing much at all.

Are You From Dixie?

August 20, 2008

Uncle Dave Macon was one of the oldest musicians recorded on the Anthology – he was born in 1870. Uncle Dave’s father ran a hotel in Nashville where young Dave learned to play the banjo from the touring musicians who stopped there. He didn’t begin to play professionally until the early 1920’s, after his freight company failed (he used mules, which were falling out of fashion). Since his playing style and repertoire were established so early, he represents a rare link to the minstrel era of the mid-1800’s. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good video of Uncle Dave, but here’s something by Grandpa Jones, whose performing persona owes a lot to Macon’s. Grandpa Jones was a Grand Ole Opry performer for many years and achieved his greatest fame as a regular on the 1970’s series Hee Haw. Grandpa plays banjo in the old frailing style and while we can’t be sure how close his performance style is to Uncle Dave’s, my guess is they have a good deal in common. Have fun!


August 15, 2008

I’m away from Sunday the 17th to Sunday the 24th for a week in the Berkshires, and while I expect to have internet access for most of the time, you can expect posting to be light. Be assured that behind the scenes, the wheels of our little group continue to turn, even while I am away. In honor of my Berkshire visit and one of America’s great folk families, I’ve added a link for the Guthrie Center, established by Arlo in the Great Barrington church where Alice Brock (you know her!) lived back in the 1960s. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

I can’t leave you without some music. This might be the best solo fiddle tune ever recorded – Eck Robertson recorded “Ragime Annie” on July 1, 1922, and it comes to you courtesy of the Internet Audio Archive. Please enjoy!

Eck Robertson – Ragtime Annie -it will open in a new window!


August 12, 2008

Clarence Ashley appears on three Anthology songs: solo on "The House Carpenter" and "The Coo Coo Bird" and as a member of the Carolina Tar Heels (listed as Tom Ashley) for "Peg and Awl." He was one of a number of musicians whose Anthology performances inspired fans to seek them out, and Ralph Rinzler found Ashley in 1960. Mississippi John Hurt (see post below) was another such rediscovery.

This song is from The Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, which not only presented Ashley to a new generation, but introduced the incomparable Doc Watson, still going strong at 85 years of age. Every home should have a copy!

Advice Worth Taking

August 11, 2008

Richard "Rabbit" Brown made his living singing and playing guitar in the streets and sporting houses of New Orleans. He performs "James Alley Blues" on the Anthology, and "Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice" for you here today. Sounds like he learned this lesson the hard way. Just click the arrow on the bar below to play the song.

BTW, please note that the week 1 syllabus is up as a separate page.

The Right Side of the Page

August 9, 2008

Take a look at the right side of the page and you’ll see the headings “Blogroll”, “Get Music”, “Related Links”, and “Web Radio.” Here’s a quick survey of what’s there right now.

There’s only one relevant listing on the Blogroll right now, but it’s a good one, The Celestial Monochord, chronicling one man’s obsession with the Anthology.

The Internet Audio Archive (listed under “Get Music”) claims to have over 100,000 free digital recordings, and many of those are blues and folk recordings from the 1920’s and before.

The related links list includes the Old Time Herald, the leading magazine of Old Time Music, the Smithsonian Folkways home page, and one of my absolute all-time favorites, the Cylinder Preservation Project. The Project site has more than 8,000 cylinder recordings available for streaming or download, all free and most with surprisingly good sound. There’s some old time and country music, a few fiddle tunes, and a number of minstrel and rag tunes that would have influenced many of the musicians on the Anthology.

“Web Music” leads off with Sugar in the Gourd, “Old Time all the Time,” streaming old time music 24/7/365. They play a good mix of contemporary and “classic” artists – the last hour included selections from Roscoe Holcomb (you’ll meet him on September 23), Uncle Dave Macon and Dock Boggs. Venerable Music features Venerable Radio, which also streams vintage music, but is way more eclectic than Sugar in the Gourd. They do mostly jazz, blues and country music from the 20’s to the 40’s.

I’ll be adding links to all these categories as we move along – keep watching and do some exploring!