Domo Arigato Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard

Blog MS 5

Two tapes from the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection’s ongoing project “From Piedmont to Swamplands,” supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities, recently caught the attention of audio engineer John Loy. The first, call number FT14237, features an interview/performance by Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard on November 21, 1970 at the Kinro Kaikan in Kyoto Japan. It contains 90 minute concert and interview with commentary in Japanese. The program intended provide Japanese listeners with an introductory survey of American old time and vernacular music styles. A wonderful document of cultural exchange.

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Another recent find is a tape master sent to Mike in 1969 by the ‘Styx River Ferry ‘ a prominent “Hippy Country” group in the San Francisco/Berkeley area. This band features a who’s who of Bay area bluegrass fixtures rounded up by Bob and Ingrid Fowler. For this recording, call number FT14220, the group enlisted the help of legends of the day with guest performances by “Uncle Josh” Graves and “Cousin Jake” Tullock of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Of particular interest to us is the contextual information on the label, not only including song titles and band members, but also the recording studio, production personnel and a short list of bay area local venues at which the group was performing at the time. Catching Styx River Ferry at the Drinking Gourd would have been quite a time. Listen:

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FT14220Blog MS 7

 

All rise for the piping of the haggis: Burns Night at the SFC

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It’s Burns Day, and I hope you have been practicing your “Address tae the Haggis.” Folklorist, teacher, author, and friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Burgin Mathews, hosts a Burns Supper that I will someday be lucky enough to attend, however this year I’ll have to offer the Immortal Memory address to myself in a quiet kitchen. Thankfully I found a wealth of supporting materials in the SFC to assist in my Burns Night activities. The LP pictured above, call no. FC18057, offers a great start with Frederick Worlock reading some of Robert Burns best, including “To a Louse (on seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church).” Listen to the clip above.

Thanks to inspiration from the SFC’s recent Fiddle Concert and Symposium, I pulled out a record, call no. FC1508, produced by Mark Wilson that features some of his excellent recordings of Cape Breton musician Joseph CormierScottish Violin Music from Cape Breton Island, kicks off with a perfect set of reels for Burns Night, “Haggis; Glennville’s Dirk; Bird’s Nest.” Listen to “Haggis” here:

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Your guests will likely need some source material for their Burns recitations after dinner, so you may want to reference The Merry Muses of Caledoniacall no. PR4322.M42 1965, and possibly copy the glossary for those less familiar with the particulars of Scottish vocabulary.  (click images to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

Finally, no Burns Supper is complete without a rousing rendition of Robert Burns most famous and most misunderstood poems, “Auld Lang Syne.” I never imagined that I would someday offer the following advice, but take a cue from Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians and pour your heart and soul into the song (it may help if you have a cup of “uisge beatha,” aka the “water of life, aka Scotch whisky, in advance). Sing along won’t you? 

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For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Cataloger’s Corner

Michel Pruvot, Record Musette (1991), CD9567, Southern Folklife Collection

The Southern Folklife Collection has just cataloged a unique collection of French accordion music CDs. Some of them are re-releases of 1930s recordings, primarily accordion-plus-big band arrangements of foxtrots and waltzes. Others come from the 1980s and 1990s and feature the instrument in genres like disco, boogie, and samba.

Especially noteworthy among this group of CDs is the 1991 reissue of the album Record Musette by accordion virtuoso Michel Pruvot (originally released in 1984). Though he is perhaps best known as the host of the French television show Sur un Air d’Accordéon (On the Accordion), Pruvot has also distinguished himself as a repeat winner of the international Accordion Endurance Competition, able to play continuously for over 117 hours.

CD9567, Southern Folklife Collection

Record Musette features a combination of original Pluvot compositions and covers. The clip included here is his interpretation of “Orange Blossom Special,” a song originally for bluegrass fiddle.

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The SFC is proud to be the only repository in North America to have a cataloged copy of Record Musette. 

Thursday 10″: Leadbelly*

* the album title is “Leadbelly,” however, Mr. Ledbetter himself spelled his name as two words, “Lead Belly”

Earlier this week, we had the good fortune of revisiting this remarkable Huddie Ledbetter 10″ LP from the Capitol Records “Classics in Jazz” series, Southern Folklife Collection call number FC14651. Issued in 1953, almost four years after Lead Belly’s death, the album is remarkable not only because of the striking portrait of Ledbetter and his famous 12-string guitar, but also because of Ledbetter’s accompaniment on the recordings. In the liner notes, Paul Mason Howard is credited with playing the zither on “these historic performances.”  The interplay of zither with Ledbetter’s booming 12 string is highly enjoyable and these recordings (made in California in 1944) showcase Ledbetter in top form. Listen to the intro to “Back Water Blues” from side 2:

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Mr. Howard, a pianist and composer who worked in vaudeville and collaborated with Tin Man and Beverly Hillbilly, Buddy Ebsen, before working extensively as a songwriter for the Walt Disney Company, is actually playing the Dolceola. Mr. Howard supplemented his songwriting career performing on hybrid string instruments like the Dolceola and Cithare. These recordings of Lead Belly and Howard are likely the first commercial recordings of the Dolceola. The solo on the duo’s recording of “Ella Speed” highlights the unique tone of the Dolceola:

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It was once thought that legendary Texas gospel singer Washington Phillips performed on the Dolceola, but his instruments were later confirmed to be two Celestaphones, More on Phillips and the Celestaphone another time, but for now we leave you with the final track from the LP, Lead Belly’s arrangement of the classic cowboy tune “Western Plain”. To recap, this is a recording of a performer identified as a blues musician, playing a cowboy song, released on a jazz record…. as another classic cowboy song says “Don’t fence me in.” Come a cow-cow yicky. come a cow-cow yicky, yicky yea.

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* the album title is “Leadbelly,” however, Mr. Ledbetter himself spelled his name as two words, “Lead Belly”

Bobby Rush Raw and in Person

Bobby Rush visited the Southern Folklife Collection yesterday and gave a fantastic solo performance to a few lucky listeners (I see you, “Clarksdale”) who braved the storm to attend the first concert in the 2012 Southern Journey Fall Concert Series.

It was a rare opportunity to see and hear Bobby Rush performing acoustic and sharing stories of his long and remarkable career as a bluesman, as a runner for Elmore James, getting guitar lessons from Howlin’ Wolf, riffing on Tony Jo White, and even a story of how he got his name, Bobby Rush.

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We also picked up a copy of one of his recent albums (Bobby Rush has released over 250 albums in over 50 years of recording music).  Entitled Raw, Bobby Rush strips down the songs to their fundamentals, using only his guitar, harmonica, voice, and feet percussion. This is a different side of Bobby Rush, but we like it just as much as the master showman of southern R&B that we are used to (although we did kind of miss the costume changes and backup dancers).

Hear for yourself; listen to some more clips of Bobby Rush’s performance below and remember Tommy Edwards will be here playing North Carolina bluegrass in our second installment of the Southern Journey Concert Series on October 2. See you at Wilson Library at 11 AM, October 2!

 

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SFC Spotlight: Barbara Allen, the Song Without a Single Tune

A map of the recording locations in Seeger's Versions and Variations of Barbara Allen

As one of the most oft-played folk ballads in the Western tradition, the commonly titled “Barbara Allen” has spawned so many variations it’s nearly impossible to identify a primary tune. Reaching the height of its popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries in the British Isles and America, the ballad has been sung in parlors and on front porches for hundreds of years. It has branched into countless forms, known variously as “Barbary Allan,” “John Armstrong’s Last Good-night,” and “The Cruelty of Barbara Allen,” among many others (Source: Francis Child’s English and Scottish Ballads ).

Charles Seeger, the renowned American musicologist (1886 –1979), visited these parlors, collecting field recordings from all over the country on a quest to locate the definitive “Barbara Allen” tune. Drawing samplings from North Carolina to Michigan to California, he selected 30 renditions to study, 15 sung by women and 15 by men. The Southern Folklife Collection houses his compilation of the recordings on the Versions and Variants of Barbara Allen , accompanied with a detailed draft brochure.

After listening to the recordings and categorizing them according to musical mode into versions and variants, Seeger concludes that “no such entity as ‘the Barbara Allen tune’ can be set up…, however, two versions have such distinct characters.” The first version sounds completely unlike any of today’s more popular recordings of the ballad because of its archaic melody. Seeger states, “Version I in the AAFS seems to bear no relationship to conventional major or minor modality and the concept of tonality.” Here is a recording of a middle-aged man singing a variant of Version Ia “Barbara Allen”:

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In contrast, the second version sounds much more pleasing to the ear because “Version II will seem…closely related to our conventional major mode.” Here is a recording of an older woman singing Version IIa:

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The lyrics of this ballad tell the haunting story of Barbara Allen’s cold rejection of a dying man’s love, and her regrets as she hears the death bell toll. Realizing her mistake, she chooses death also and is buried next to her unrequited lover. Two examples of the opening verse of the ballad include:

Oh don’t you remember the month in May
The red buds they were swelling
Sweet William upon his dead bed a lie
For the sake of Barbry Allen
When I first came to this country
When all the flowers were a blooming
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen

 

While the lyrics vary from recording to recording, all versions share the same central plot. But, because the story’s spirit changes as the tune evolves, listening to the 30 variants remains captivating. The differences between minor and major modes, quick or dragging tempos, and the color of each singer’s voice uncover multiple levels and moods of Barbara Allen’s tragic story. One man sings the ballad like a cautionary tale to young lovers; another woman sings as if she were Barbara Allen herself, mourning a personal experience. In this way, Charles Seeger’s Versions and Variations of Barbara Allen celebrates how a ballad is neither singular nor static but a living history of time and place.

A Tribute Concert to Rev. Gary Davis: November 17, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jorma Kaukonen will headline a Nov. 17 tribute concert and symposium in honor of blues legend Reverend Gary Davis. Schedule and information follows at the end of this post.

The Southern Folklife Collection and the Friends of the Library will sponsor the evening devoted to the master of finger-style guitar who influenced musicians such as Blind Boy Fuller, Taj Mahal, and Bob Dylan.

The 7:30pm concert will feature musicians who studied with Davis or were directly inspired by him, including Hot Tuna and former Jefferson Airplane member Jorma KaukonenStefan Grossman, and Ernie Hawkins. Tickets to the concert can be purchased from the Carolina Union Box Office.

Prior to the concert, a free public symposium will take place in Wilson Library. At 5:30 p.m., blues scholar Elijah Wald will give a keynote lecture on Davis’s life and music. A panel discussion at 6:30 will include Kaukonen, Grossman, and Hawkins.

Wald, a musician and writer, has written for The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, and his books include How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (Oxford University Press, 2009), The Blues: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2010), and Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (Amistad, 2004). In 2001, he won a Grammy award for his liner notes for The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection: The Journey of Chris Strachwitz 1960-2000.

The concert is the second event in the Southern Folklife Collection’s Blues Legacy Series. A third event is planned for Feb. 2012 for Eddie James “Son” House.

Davis was born in 1896 in Laurens, S.C., and lost his vision before adulthood. He moved to Durham, N.C., in the 1920s, and worked with a number of musicians in the Piedmont blues scene. In 1933, he became an ordained minister of the Washington, N.C., Free Baptist Connection Church. His best-known songs include “Baby, Can I follow You Down,” “Candy Man,” and “Samson and Delilah.”

The Southern Folklife Collection is fortunate to hold a variety of recordings and materials related to Rev. Gary Davis, including FT-4600 from the Bob Carlin Collection (#20050).  This open reel audio tape features a young Carlin interviewing one mentor (and former camp counselor) Roy Book Binder, a friend, student, and chauffeur of Gary Davis. The interview includes live concert recordings of Davis and Book Binder offering contextual information and sharing his personal experiences with Davis.

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 FT_4600_Roy Book Binder interviewed by Bob Carlin, WBRC New Milford, Connecticut, Summer 1969 

SymposiumWilson Special Collections Library, (Free and open to the public)
5 p.m. Reception
5:30 p.m. Keynote with Elijah Wald
6:30 p.m. Panel Discussion with Jorma Kaukonen, Stefan Grossman, and Ernie HawkinsConcertStudent Union, Great Hall, with Jorma Kaukonen, Stefan Grossman, and Ernie Hawkins
7:30 p.m.
Purchase concert tickets from Carolina Union Box Office, ($5 for students; $12.50 for others)Information: Liza TerllFriends of the Library, (919) 548-1203

Facebook event

SFC Spotlight: Back to school with Jimmy Boyd and the School for Workers

78-5076. Jimmy Boyd, “(I’ve got those “wake up, seven-thirty – wash your ears they’re dirty – eat your eggs & oatmeal – rush to school”) blues”

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School is back in session here at UNC, and we are more happy about that than the incomparable Jimmy Boyd (probably best known as the amazing voice of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”). Boyd recorded this tune in 1953, one of a number of popular country and novelty tunes he recorded for Columbia throughout the 1950s, including duets with Rosemary Clooney and Frankie Laine. While some of the novelty tunes have not aged terribly well, this track is country pop candy with the Norman Luboff Choir and pedal steel likely performed by the equally incomparable Speedy West.

Steel solo, 78-5076. Jimmy Boyd, “(I’ve got those “wake up, seven-thirty – wash your ears they’re dirty – eat your eggs & oatmeal – rush to school”) blues”

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We have an exciting fall of projects and programs ahead.  “From the Cradle to the Cave,” our exhibit of North Carolina poster art from the SFC collections opened last week in Davis Library and will hang until next may. It was an excellent event with all five artists present and sweet sounds courtesy of The Kingsbury Manx.

Tickets are on sale for our concert tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. Scheduled for September 19 in the Great Hall of the UNC Student Union, the concert will feature Alvin Youngblood Hart, Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, Jody Williams, and Henry Gray.  Prior to the concert, a free public symposium will take place in Wilson Library. At 5:30 p.m., blues scholar Peter Guralnick will discuss Howlin’ Wolf’s life and music. Guralnick is currently writing a book about Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder who discovered not only Howlin’ Wolf, but also Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.

Guralnick will then be joined for a Q&A conversation with Phillips’s son Knox Phillips, who learned the music business from his father before embarking on his own career as an engineer, producer, and studio owner. The concert is the first in a series of blues tributes hosted by the Southern Folklife Collection in 2011 and 2012.

In honor of the first Monday of the school year, we wanted to share some items to inspire the coming work ahead.  What better inspiration than Labor Songs for All Occasions, produced by The School for Workers at the University of Wisconsin in 1940.  Part of the SFC Song Folios Collection #30006, circa 1882-1983call no. FL-409. 

There are songs for all occasions, “March of the Toilers,” for walking to classes, “Soup Song” for trips to Lenoir, “Put on Your Smart Now Bonnet” for homework and test preparation, and “We’ll Not Be Fools” as and “The Cudgel Song” for mid-term exams and finals.  Choose your favorite from the the contents below.


 

 

SFC Spotlight: Kenny Baker

**click photo to enlarge**

World renowned fiddler Kenneth Clayton Baker of Jenkins, Kentucky passed away on July 8, 2011.  Master of the “long bow” style of bluegrass fiddling, Baker joined up with Bill Monroe in 1957, becoming the longest lasting member of The Bluegrass Boys when he left the group in 1984.  Best known as a bluegrass fiddler, Baker’s reputation as a musician reached far beyond bluegrass into swing, country, and beyond, earning him a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993. Baker’s influence on American music is immeasurable.

We are fortunate to hold a wide array of Baker’s recordings a the Southern Folklife Collection spanning his entire career, including his fantastic solo LPs of fiddle tunes recorded for the County label in the 1970s, like Dry and Dusty, call no. FC_4221, pictured above.  The Becky Johnson Collection (#20405) includes some wonderfully candid performance photos of Baker and countless other bluegrass heroes, and the always astounding collection of materials assembled by the late Mike Seeger includes priceless recordings of performances by Baker and his fellow Bluegrass Boys.

While scanning through Seeger’s recordings, we came across a bluegrass fiddling workshop hosted by Seeger at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom festival, 21 June 1969, call no. FT_12857.  In the two clips below, Baker first expresses his love for the fiddling of legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, and in the second, we are treated to Baker’s rendition of the classic fiddle tune “Fisher’s Hornpipe.”  May he rest in peace.

Kenny Baker, workshop at Bean Blossom, 21 June 1969

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Kenny Baker, “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” live at Bean Blossom, 21 June 1969

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SFC Spotlight: Alva Greene, Fiddler’s Conventions, and Guthrie T. Meade

2nd Annual Old time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, 1970, Marion, VA.  Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.

While looking for information about the great Kentucky fiddler Alva Greene, recorded by Kevin “Chris” Delaney (see SFC tapes call nos. FT-284 and FS-7169) as well as Guthrie Meade and Mark Wilson in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to spend a brief moment with a few of Guthrie Meade’s vast fiddle files.

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“Grampaw” performed by Alva Greene, from SFC open reel tape call no. FT-284, side 1. Recorded by Chris Delaney at Mr. Green’s home in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Sept. 20 1973.  Mr. Green was 78 years old at the time of the recording.  He was born in Elliot Co., Kentucky.  For a fuller fiddle fix, hear more recordings of Alva Greene by Delaney at the Digital Library of Appalachia.

A seemingly inexhaustible scholar, Meade was constantly developing his discographical research, as documented by a page from this early 1970s spiral notebook (below). The notebook also chronicles some of Meade’s 1970s fieldwork exploring his lifelong interest with fiddling contests and fiddlers conventions so we pulled out a few fliers and programs from Meade’s festival files, including the “Creed of Civitan” according to the Marion Civitan Club, to share with you as well (further below).  Our continuing tribute to Hazel Dickens will conclude next week. Have a great weekend.

** CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE **

Fieldnotes, Guthrie T. Meade, 1970s. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.3. Kentucky Fiddling, 1919-1990. Folder 178: Kentucky fiddlers and tunes: General research

Program, 1st Annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, Marion, VA, 1969. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.
“Civitan Creed,” back of program, 1st Annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, Marion, VA, 1969. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.

 

Flier, WHBN’s 3rd Annual Ole Time Fiddlers Contest, Harrodsburg, KY, 1990. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197, 1960s-1990s.
Registration form, WHBN’s 3rd Annual Ole Time Fiddlers Contest, Harrodsburg, KY, 1990. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197, 1960s-1990s.