Photo of the Week: The Farr Brothers

Texas-born brothers Hugh Farr, Glen Farr, and Karl Farr (along with their brother-in-law Billy Weir, wearing the hat), photographed in 1927 in Van Nuys, California. Hugh and Karl would later join Roy Rogers in the Sons of the Pioneers and record an obviously autobiographical fiddle tune called “The Texas Crapshooter”:

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Clip from TR-873 in the Sons of the Pioneers Transcription Disc Collection.

Bluegrass Throwdown

One of the great things about archives is that you can run across interesting information in places you’d never expect.  For example, the Mike Seeger tape logs in the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes (30025) are largely comprised of long lists of the song titles and performers which make up the track listings of his numerous field recordings.  But hidden among the pages and pages of track listings are occasional gems of personal musings, background stories, or random anecdotes like the following:

In August 1988, I spoke with Bud Reed about the Monroe Brothers engagement in the 1950s at the New River Ranch.  . . He said that they booked them separately for the same day, then somehow they sang together on stage. . . Bud said that some of the public attended because of the widely circulated folklore that they had fought and broken up – and that the big scar on Charlie’s neck was from a knife wound from Bill.  These people wanted to see them fight again. I’ve heard many such stories about these two.”

Listen below to a clip from the brothers’ (fratricide-free) collaboration that day:

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The  entire concert is recorded on SFC field tape FT-12917.

Jesse Rodgers, the Cousin of the Father of Country Music

When Jimmie Rodgers finally succumbed to tuberculosis on May 26, 1933, the world of country music was left without it’s founding father, and Victor records was left without one of it’s biggest stars.  If an effort to fill the void, Victor quickly signed Jimmie’s cousin, Jesse Rodgers, to their Bluebird record label. Similarities between the two were emphasized, with rumors circulating that they had grown up in the same household (they hadn’t), and that Jimmie had taught Jesse to play the guitar (he probably didn’t). Sides were recorded with distinctly Jimmie Rodgers-esque titles (“Yodeling Railroad Blues”), and Jesse even signed his early promotional photographs with Jimmie’s trademark “Yodelingly Yours,”.

But as time wore on Jesse must have found the comparisons to Jimmie constricting, or perhaps waning commercial interest in Jimmie Rodgers imitators made them less desirable. He developed his own “singing cowboy” persona, and by 1938 had dropped the “d” from his last name in an effort to further distance himself from his cousin (and likely to associate himself with that other singing cowboy, Roy Rogers).

While he never came close to being the national star Jimmie was, the singing cowboy Jesse Rogers had a successful career as a featured performer on the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago and on WFIL’s Hayloft Hoedown in Philadelphia (where he would go on to host the children’s television show Ranger Joe). His recording career continued into the early ’60s, when emphysema forced him to retire.

Listen below to clips from two of Jesse Rodgers’ 1934 Bluebird recordings, the heavily Jimmie Rodgers-influenced “San Antonio Blues”:

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And the cowboy song “Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal”: 

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(Both sound clips from SFC 78-828; 1946 Bourne Music Publishers song folio from the SFC Song Folios Collection.)

Two New Radio Streams: Jimmie Rodgers and New Orleans

Fans of SFC streaming radio will be happy to hear we have two new streams up and running:

Jimmie Rodgers, The Father of Country Music, will be streaming in concurrence with the exhibit of the same name (on view at Wilson Library until July 13th). This stream features original recordings by Rodgers, cover versions, and songs by Rodgers-inspired contemporaries .

New Orleans, the first in an upcoming series of geographically-oriented radio streams, features the distinctive jazz, R&B, barrelhouse boogie, and brass bands of New Orleans, Louisiana, and surrounding areas.

The links work best with iTunes, Winamp, or VLC media players. Happy listening!

A Stack o’ “Stack O’Lee”

Well, it seems there really was a Stetson hat.  And one cold night in 1895, William “Billy” Lyons and Lee Shelton (otherwise known as “Stack Lee”) fought over that hat in what would become one of the most infamous altercations in folk history.  You know which one of them walked away, because Mississippi John Hurt, Ma Rainey, Champion Jack Dupree, Woody Guthrie, The Fruit Jar Guzzlers, Furry Lewis, and countless others immortalized the story in song.

The Southern Folklife Collection has recordings of the grim tale by at least 30 different musicians; there’s a version for every taste.  In the mood for a little Hawaiian guitar? Sol Hoopii recorded an instrumental version in 1926:

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(Clip from SFC FC-4006, Master of the Hawaiian Guitar)

Want something with a little more blues flavor? Try Ma Rainey’s iconic 1925 telling of the tale:

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(clip from SFC CD-3845, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Mississippi John Hurt got in on the act in 1928, and brought the song to live audiences throughout the country in the 1960s:

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(clip from SFC CD-4025, Before The Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene)

Maybe that’s where Doc Watson heard it – he recorded his own old-timey version in 1967:

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(clip from SFC FC-14460, Ballads From Deep Gap)

Many more versions can be found in the Southern Folklife Collection’s online catalog, and you can read more about the true story in Cecil Brown’s Stagolee Shot Billy.

Leadbelly: The Hindenburg Disaster

73 years ago today the German airship Hindenburg exploded in flames while attempting to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 and pretty much ruining transatlantic zeppelin rides for everyone. Since the sinking of the Titanic almost exactly 25 years earlier had generated a raft of folk ballads on the subject, one might think the Hindenburg disaster would have received similar treatment. However, the world had changed a lot in that quarter century, and apparently there wasn’t great demand for folk ballads on a disaster that had been covered extensively by live radio reports and newsreel footage (you can watch a Pathe newsreel of the disaster here).

But folk singer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, gave it a shot. Recorded by Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress in June of 1937, here’s a clip of one of Leadbelly’s takes on “The Hindenburg Disaster”:

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(Clip from Leadbelly: The Library of Congress Recordings, FC-188 in the Southern Folklife Collection.)

Irish Fiddlers in the Kevin Delaney Collection

shamrock From 1970 to 1974 Kevin Delaney, a Duke University graduate with a keen interest in folk music, traveled across Ireland and the United States recording scores of local fiddlers and old-time musicians, including many whose music may have otherwise gone undocumented.

These field tapes, now preserved in the SFC’s Kevin Delaney Collection, contain hundreds of tunes performed by traditional Irish musicians, primarily fiddlers from the counties of Clare, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Meath, Sligo, and Tipperary, as well as Irish fiddlers working in the US. The collection is an invaluable resource for students of Irish and American fiddling traditions.

Listen below to clips of Irish fiddler John Kelly, of Dublin, performing a tune recorded by Delaney as “The Humours of Castlefinn” on July 31, 1972:

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and Paddy Glacken, also of Dublin, performing “The Apples in Winter” a few days later:

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Both clips from field tape FT-272 in the Kevin Delaney Collection.

New Addition: The David Holt Collection

HoltThe SFC is proud to announce our latest addition: The David Holt Collection, containing material relating to the career of musician, storyteller, and historian of Appalachian music David Holt. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, and press clippings documenting four decades of Holt’s performing career, as well as audio-visual material relating to the many television and radio shows he has hosted since the 1980s, including TNN’s Fire on the Mountain and American Music Shop, Public Radio’s Riverwalk Jazz, and UNC-TV’s long-running Folkways program.

The collection also contains documentation relating to Holt and Doc Watson’s 2002 Grammy award winning album of performance and conversation, Legacy.

Listen below to clips from the Legacy album (SFC CD-7936), wherein the old friends discuss the proper term for a guitar-banjo hybrid instrument and Holt plays his arrangement of “Don’t Get Weary”:

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Celebrate Black History Month with SFC Streaming Radio

violin sing the blues for me

In celebration of Black History Month, we’ve added a new channel to the Southern Folklife Collection Streaming Radio project:

Channel 6: Southern Folklife Collection – African-American Music

While there are many examples of the African-American music of the South streaming on our other channels, this is the only stream that focuses solely on black musicians, with an emphasis on the string bands of the ’20s and ’30s, plus gospel quartets, country blues, jug band music, sacred steel guitar, the folk songs of the civil rights movement, and more.

Tune in all this February for a unique musical celebration of Black History Month, and happy listening!

The purpose of the Southern Folklife Collection Streaming Radio project is to make our holdings available to the general public for educational use. Links work best with iTunes, Winamp, or VLC media players.

Happy Groundhog Day From Tom T. Hall

About Love There aren’t a lot of classic songs about Groundhog Day (as opposed to, say, Christmas), but  Nashville singer -songwriter Tom T. Hall made a valiant effort with “Happy Groundhog Day” from his 1977 album About Love. It’s not so much a song about Groundhog Day as it is, like many Tom T. Hall songs, a sad song about desperately lonely people. While there’s nothing unusual about a sad country song, something about Hall’s lyrics always struck me as more desperate and lonely than most. Ron Peterson, then-President of the Nashville Songwriters Association, addressed it in the original liner notes for About Love:

He’s got a built-in sadness… T.’s sadness is kind of like one fiddle trying to play over a whole band. When you finally get your ear where you can hear it, you wonder how you missed it before.

Listen below to a clip of Hall’s “Happy Groundhog Day”, from SFC LP # FC-16049 and have yourself a happy/sad February 2:

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