Freight Train, Freight Train

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Our last meeting takes place on December 16, and my hope is that the CD I hand out on the 9th will have a contribution from each of us, and serve as a kind of keepsake of what has, for me at least, been a wonderful experience. Your song doesn’t have to be a folk song or be directly related to our class topics, just a piece that has some significance to you and has affected how you relate to the music we’ve been listening to and reading about. It won’t affect your final grade if you don’t participate, but I hope you will. If you do, I need to have your song by December 2nd. If you have a digital copy, bring it in and I’ll throw it on my machine during the break or after class. If I have a digital copy, that’s even easier. If no one has a digital copy, I can only include it if there’s an mp3 copy available on Amazon or somewhere else that will let me make 12 copies (iTunes doesn’t).

Mark left a comment on Sunday directing us to Ben Ratliff’s mostly positive New York Times review of Ted Gioia’s new book on the Delta blues, imaginatively titled Delta Blues. I looked at his Work Songs as part of my research for this group, and it was well done.

Last week George Cha asked to hear Elizabeth Cotten doing Freight Train (which she wrote at the age of 12!). Here it is on a remarkable YouTube video. Notice, please, that her guitar is upside down – bass strings at the bottom – so that she is playing the melody with her thumb and the bass with her index finger. Don’t try this at home!

The story of Ms Cotten’s discovery is almost beyond belief. While working in a department store, she found a lost child, and returned the young girl to her mother. The child was Peggy Seeger, and Ms. Cotten’s good deed earned her a job as the Seeger’s maid. After a few years with the Seegers (I have no idea how she kept her talent secret for so long) she picked up a guitar for the first time in many years. Mike and Peggy heard her play and the rest is history. Mike Seeger first recorded her in 1952.

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