SFC Spotlight: Mother Maybelle talks autoharp at Earl Scrugg’s House in 1962

Once again a researcher pointed the way to a fascinating item in the Southern Folklife Collection. While most of our attention has been on the fiddle as of late, I happily shifted focus to the autoharp (which we recently learned is also known as the “Idiot Zither”) when I digitized a tape recorded interview of Maybelle Carter, FT11829 from the Betty Blackley Collection (#20282).  Conducted September 9 and 10, 1962 by autoharp expert A. Doyle Moore and Archie Green at the home of Earl and Louise Scruggs Madison, TN, the interview offers an in-depth history of the Carter Family’s use of the autoharp and Mother Maybelle’s performance style on the instrument. In the following three clips, she describes her first encounters with the autoharp:

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The conversation continues, reflecting on her career, and eventually to her performance style. After locating the appropriate pick and finding an instrument with the correct tuning, she demonstrates with examples played on one of the multiple autoharps apparently always on hand in Earl and Louise Scruggs’s living room at any given time.  The first two clips lead up to the third, which is a wonderfully wobbly and vibrating version of “Gathering Flowers from the Hillside.” She goes on to demonstrate many other songs on side 2 of the tape. Definitely a treat on this gloomy Thursday afternoon. 

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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.

Tia Blake Record Release Party

Saturday, June 23 at 2PM

 All Day Records 112A E Main St, Carrboro, North Carolina  

— Come join us to celebrate the reissue of Tia Blake’s classic record Folksongs and Ballads (1971). The Tia Blake Collection is part of the Southern Folklife Collection. Transfers from the original master tapes were conducted in the SFC studios. —

In the early spring of 2011, SFC curator Steve Weiss asked me to create an inventory of a small collection he had recently accessioned. Water Music, a record label based in California, was planning a reissue of Folksongs and Ballads by Tia Blake and her Folk Group. The producer was searching for photographs and other media to include as part of the release. The box of materials included few photographs, some open reel tapes, a flier for the group’s single performance (see below), some business correspondence, a copy of her LP, released in 1971 by the tiny French label SFP (Societe Francaise de Productions Phonographiques).

After some initial research, Tia Blake remained a mystery to me. She recorded just the one album in 1970 as a teenager living in France, had one performance (above photo), and left France never to perform publicly again. Blissfully unaware the the album I held is considered a lost gem of psych folk music–a rare collaboration between a young American woman living in France and European musicians enamored with American traditional music–and highly sought after by collectors, I was struck by Tia Blake’s warm, deep and  and powerful vocals. The arrangements are sparse and very skillfully arranged, accentuating the intimate sadness of Blake’s voice. Made up entirely of traditional tunes in the public domain, the album feels familiar but the casual grace of Blake’s vocals and the acoustic accompaniment make for a remarkable and lovely listening experience.

Along with a copy of the album were two open reel tapes: one including outtakes and rehearsal demos from the initial recording session, and another with three tracks performed by Tia Blake solo and recorded at a CBC studio in Montreal in 1976.  All of these tracks are included on the CD reissue. A composition about her father (with whom she lived in the Amazon in 1975) remains one of our favorites.

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Ms. Blake became a writer and eventually settled in North Carolina. The Southern Folklife Collection is honored to be the repository for the Tia Blake Collection and very pleased to have contributed to reintroduce her music to the world. Please join us on Saturday, June 23 at All Day Records in Carrboro to celebrate the release of the album.

Two important things you should know about this event:
1. The reissue is CD-only at this time, there will be CDs for sale
2. Tia Blake will be present, but will not be performing

SFC Spotlight: Doc Watson

— Please welcome our summer student guest writer, Emma Lo. Emma will be writing about her experiences exploring the SFC this summer. Her first post remembers North Carolina’s beloved Doc Watson.  A symposium and concert celebrating Watson’s life and music will take place at the NC Museum of Art on Saturday, June 30. Details are on the NCMA website. —

Legendary guitarist Doc Watson, born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, passed away at age 89 on May 28th, 2012, in Winston-Salem, NC. Watson is often described as embodying the sound of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to his champion flatpicking guitar skills, Watson mastered the banjo, mandolin, and boasted a warm, honest voice to complement his picking. Although Doc Watson acquired fame through his performances in clubs and universities in Greenwich Village, Los Angeles, and Rhode Island, North Carolina stayed at the heart of his music. He began his musical career as a regular performer on a radio show in Lenoir, NC, playing traditional music of Appalachia, and after the loss of his son Merle in 1985, he cofounded the successful traditional arts festival, Merlefest, in Wilkesboro.

Watson’s most notable contribution to the folk guitar style was his adaptation of fiddle solos for flatpicking guitar. He was known for being a humble, introverted man who requested that the phrase “Doc Watson: Just One of the People,” be engraved beneath his likeness in sculpture in downtown Boone, N.C. Nevertheless, he brought the guitar to center stage by utilizing the guitar as a melody instrument. Watson played a unique fusion of musical styles that included a broad spectrum of Appalachian folk, old-time, bluegrass, and blues. On Merlefest’s website Watson titles this mixture “traditional plus.” According to Watson, “When Merle and I started out we called our music `traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.”

For his first public performance, in 1941, 18-year-old Doc Watson played the song “Precious Jewel” at the Boone Fiddler’s Convention. Appalachian State’s Digital Collections contains a field recording of this performance (Watson’s bit begins at 1:36).

After a stint playing in various country bands for square dances, Watson joined a folk band headlined by Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Clint Howard, and Fred Price.

Along with the band, Watson was discovered by musician and folk music promoter Ralph Rinzler and record collector Eugene Earle.  Earle and Rinzler made the initial recordings that officially introduced Watson into the folk music industry in 1961 with the recording, Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s, one of many live recordings in Watson’s wonderful catalog. Another live recording from 1963 documents Watson’s first true solo concert at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and was later released as an album titled Doc Watson at Gerde’s Folk City Live.  This CD, call no. CD-1604, is available at the Southern Folklife Collection. Listen here for a clip that captures the intimacy Doc shares with his audience as he plays “The House Carpenter,” a song he learned from his father.

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Many more recordings and photographs of Watson are housed at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection and can be located using the UNC Library online catalog.

“Every Sincere Wish” from Hank Snow, Ralph McGee and the SFC

“Every Sincere Wish,” a rather open ended valediction, is what Hank Snow wanted for the recipient of this autographed photo, call no. P1600 from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001). Perhaps he hoped that all their wishes might be granted, that all their dreams might come true? We like to think that Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow was offering to grant the wishes himself, but with the caveat that they must be “sincere,” and pity the fool who tried to get one over on the “Singing Ranger.” Despite the lack of specificity, we agree with the sentiment and we extend it on to you via this great Canadian-American country music star from his Rainbow Ranch in Tennessee.

It’s been a busy fall at the SFC and we want to offer our thanks to all the participants–musicians, speakers, audience members, students, and staff–who contributed to the great success of the Southern Folklife Collection tribute concert and symposium in honor of blues legend Reverend Gary Davis. Stay tuned for upcoming information on our third concert in the SFC blues tribute series, this one dedicated to the legendary Son House.

Since many will be celebrating this coming holiday with a roasted bird, we thought it only appropriate to offer a version of “Turkey in the Straw” for your listening pleasure. This recording by the great King, NC fiddler Ralph McGee comes from open reel tape FT-12000, Tape 3 recorded at the 8th Annual Blue Grass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention, Veteran’s Park, Mount Airy, NC, 2 June 1979. Part of the Ralph Epperson Collection (#20401), this recording features fiddler McGee bowing with a toothpick. Maybe some of you fiddlers out there want to give it a shot this weekend after a good meal. Let us know how it works out.

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 Call no. FT-12000, “Turkey in the Straw” by Ralph McGee at the 8th Annual Mount Airy Blue Grass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention, 2 June 1979

 


 

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

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SFC Spotlight: Vogue Records

Another item from our upcoming exhibit.  This Vogue picture disc, catalog number R764 (according to this excellent discography), features Shep Fields and his Orchestra (also known as Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra) performing Sunny Skylar and Patrick Lewis’s hit song “Whatta ya Gonna Do!” and everybody’s favorite “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers (and go home).”  The image is attributed only to the mysterious “Sprink,” an illustrator who painted many of the Vogue discs and we now know was the artist Walter F. Sprink.

Vogue picture discs were made from May 1946 until April 1947 by Sav-Way Industries, Inc. of Detroit, Michigan.  According to the history compiled by the now defunct Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, Sav-Way CEO Tom Saffady and his engineers developed a new and complicated manufacturing process to ensure 78 rpm discs that were not only aesthetically beautiful but also hi-fidelity audio.  Most of the Vogue records feature post-war big band jazz orchestras, but a few include blues and even some country from those famed Sweethearts of Country Music, North Carolina’s own Lulu Belle and Scotty (nee Myrtle Eleanor Cooper and Scotty Greene Wiseman), and Patsy Montana.

The exhibit opens this Thursday, October 20th, as part of a celebration of the UNC Music Library 75th Anniversary.

The exhibit Curating Sound: 75 Years of Music Collections at UNC will open with a keynote address at 5:45 p.m. by Dr. Tim Carter, the David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC, titled “Adventures of an Archive Rat, or How Kurt Weill Came to Chapel Hill in May 1936.”

At 6:30 p.m. will be a concert titled “From Early to Old-Time: A Concert of Music from the Collections.” UNC students, music library staff members, and community musicians will perform music in four genres: Irish traditional, Baroque, early rockabilly, and old-time.

Curating Sound features original publications and artifacts from the Music Library and the Wilson Special Collections Library and will be on view through Jan. 31, 2012.

We hope to see you on Thursday, October 20.

 

 

SFC Spotlight: Curating Sound and Seven Inch Records

On Thursday October 20, 2011, the UNC Music Library will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary with the opening of an exhibition in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Room on the third floor of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library.  The exhibition, entitled “Curating Sound: 75 Years of Music Collections at UNC” will feature materials from the Music Library, the Southern Folklife Collection, and the Southern Historical Collection of the University Library.  On display will be items as diverse as Palestrina prints, libretti from the Florentine Camerata, Lully manuscripts, historic sound recordings, rare concert posters, and even Andy Griffith’s guitar.

The exhibition will open with a reception at 5 pm, a keynote address by Prof. Tim Carter, the David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music, and a short concert featuring works from the collection, including ensembles performing English baroque, Old-time stringband, early rockabilly, and Irish traditional music.

While looking for items to contribute from the Southern Folklife Collection, these two 7-inch 45 rpm records (above and below) caught our eye and seemed worthy of further exploration. Above is the cover to Chants au pied de l’Annapurna [Chants at the foot of Annapurna], field recordings from central Nepal by Rene de Milleville–a french writer who lived in Nepal, specializing in the study of rhododendrons and orchids of the region. The following is a sample of the track “Sitarané” from side A.

“Sitarané” performed by musicians from central Nepal 

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From closer to home in the John D. Loudermilk Collection (#20148), we found a 45 rpm record from Chapel Hill’s own Colonial Records, owned and operated by Orville B. Campbell. Johnny Dee, the first recording moniker of country great John D. Loudermilk, was a student at Campbell College when he recorded “A-plus In Love.” featuring Joe Tanner on the guitar. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives blog, A View To Hugh, has an excellent article on Loudermilk, and for a few more tracks see this Field Trip South post from two years ago. More information and updates on the exhibit to come, but for now, enjoy a little Johnny Dee.

“A-Plus In Love” by Johnny Dee 

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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.