Southern Folklife Collection Flamenco photo of the week

Carmen Rivas, photo by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0022_0023_Ron Cohen Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Stunning photographs made by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates, from the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Shot in New York City, in the late 1950s, the images document a party attended by members of the famed Ballet Español de Ximenez-Vargas. Dancers include (from top to bottom): Carmen Rivas, an unidentified man, Maria Alba (Flamenco dance star who studied with Mariquita Flores and by 1957 or so was dancing with Ximenez-Vargas), and Antonio Hector de Jesus.

Unidentified dancer_photo by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0022_0001Maria Alba, photo by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0022_0040_Ron Cohen Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillAntonio Hector de Jesus, photo by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0022_0035_Ron Cohen Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Ham, corn and fiddle tunes at Tommy Jarrell’s

20006_pf0081_0029_Alice Gerrard Collection (20006)_Southern Folklife CollectionBack in 2009 we wrote about a field recording, call no. FS8341 from the Alice Gerrard Collection, documenting the Christmas she and Andy Cahan spent with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Dena in 1983. For those who are interested, they had chicken and “it was so fine.”

That’s not the only holiday recording in the Alice Gerrard Collection. FS8205 was made in 1981 when Alice and a few others, including old-time musician Rusty Neithammer, spent Thanksgiving with Tommy. They had ham, and also some corn, according to the tape.FS8205_Ham

How many other holiday menus and recipes were recorded in the process of doing field work that are now held in Wilson Library at UNC? These recordings and thousands more are available for research in the Southern Folklife Collection. There was quite a bit of music at that Thanksgiving celebration, listen to Jarrell’s solo banjo version of “Let Me Fall” and then Rusty Neithammer and Tommy Jarrell twin fiddle one of my favorites, “Rockingham Cindy.”FS8205_Let Me Fall_BanjoFS8205_Rockingham Cindy

The Southern Folklife Collection is thankful to be able to share this with all of you out there. Happy Thanksgiving.

SFC Spooky Spotlight: A “Mummie’s Curse” uncovered in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection

OP20459_16_Jason Lonon Collection, Death-Ray Design!.  Continental Club PosterWith the Wilson Library live action Clue Game happening tonight and All Hallow’s Eve tomorrow, it’s no surprise that strange phenomena have been occuring in the Southern Folklife Collection studios. Just this morning, preservation audio engineer Brian Paulson digitized the Goldband Records master tape of Satan and the Deciples, call no. FT6891 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245), as part of our current digitization project, From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music.

FT6981_ Satan and Deciples_Mummie's Curse_Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)_Southern Folklife Collection, Brian arrived to work this morning, having left the Rivers Studio in proper order when he left last night, to find this open reel tape spooled on the Otari ready for playback. No one knows how the tape got from the stacks to the studio or what could have loaded the tape onto the machine. Not one to question the will and ways of the supernatural, of course Brian played the tape, reavealing the following horrifying song, “Mummie’s Curse.”FT6891_ Satan and Deciples_Mummie’s Curse_Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)_Southern Folklife CollectionNot much is known about Satan and the Deciples (aka Satan and Satin’s Roses, aka Satin and the Deciples). The theory we agreed upon in the Rivers Studio accepts that the band rose out of the swamps around Lake Charles, called from eternal slumber to terrorize the honky-tonks of East Texas like so many of the undead. Other more likely theories suggest the band was a novelty project made up of a crew of local bar band musicians that liked scary movies. Considering the Deciples featured one Baldemar Huerta (aka Freddy Fender who co-wrote both tracks on this tape) on lead guitar, the latter theory is more plausible. We may never know the truth, but we were inspired to pull out Jason Lonon’s poster for a “Halloween Ho-down” (featured above) to share with you fine readers, call no. OP-20451/16 from the Jason Lonon Poster Collection (20451).

Happy Halloween.

78 of the week: Jesse Rodgers with Kama’s Moana Hawaiians

78_828_A_San Antonio Blues_Southern Folklife Collection (30001)_UNC Chapel Hill78_828_San Antonio Blues_Southern Folklife Collection

Two excellent sides for you by the great Jesse Rodgers (first cousin to Jimmie), from Southern Folklife Collection disc call no. 78-828. A successful musician who appeared on the “border-blaster” radio stations XERA and XERN in the late 20s and early 30s, Rodgers career took off in an unexpected direction after Jimmie’s untimely death in 1933. Always looking to repeat past successes, RCA-Bluebird picked up Jesse in hopes he would continue where Jimmie left off, even setting Jesse up to record with the great steel guitarist Charles Kama and his Moana Hawaiians who had recorded previous sides with Jimmie. These two tracks were recorded 28 Feburary 1936 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio. Kama’s guitar work is superb and his musical arrangement wonderfully compliments the tune. Listen to the solo in the second clip below and note Kama’s masterful accompaniment to Rodger’s blue yodeling. Fantastic. 78_828_Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal_part1 78_828_Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal_part2

78_828_Old Pinto, My Pony, My Pal_Southern Folklife Collection (30001)_UNC Chapel Hill

78 rpm disc of the week: Red Kirk “The Voice of the Country”

78_9938_1 78_9938_Why do you care

Great pair of pure country tearjerkers from Southern Folklife Collection 78 rpm disc call no. 78-9938. I discovered these numbers thanks to a recent request and gladly spent some time in the studio while the great Red Kirk, known as “The Voice of the Country,” and the phenomenal steel guitar of Jerry Byrd played offered the soundtrack to my morning blues. Recorded in Cincinnati with Jerry Byrd’s String Dusters–Louis Innis on rhythm, Zeke Turner on lead guitar, Red Turner on bass, and Tommy Jackson on fiddle–all great session players that also performed the Midwestern Hayride on WLW. Side two, “It’s Raining in my Heart” is even better.

78_9938_It’s raining in my heart


Zygote, 1970

Zygote_v1_n7_1970_Southern Folklife CollectionIt was a pleasure to dig into the Southern Folklife Collection‘s two issues of Zygote, an excellent alternative rag out of New York in the early 1970s. I also enjoyed imagining which member of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation originally collected the magazine for the periodical collection. These two issues feature some quality investigative journalism and radical political commentary mixed with record and film reviews, music features, pop-culture criticism, and a psychedelic visual style. The Southern Folklife Collection has but two issues from 1970, this one vol. 1, no. 7, from October 30, and vol. 1, no. 8 from November. If you subscribed for two years you could have picked up the latest Mother Earth LP and the soundtrack to The Strawberry Statement. Plus, Tina Turner and Wayne Cochran (scroll down to the bottom).

Right on.

Zygote_v1_n7_1970_Southern Folklife CollectionZygote_v1_n7_1970_Southern Folklife CollectionZygote_v1_n7_1970_Southern Folklife CollectionZygote_v1_n7_1970_Southern Folklife Collection

16-inch transcription disc of the week: The Prairie Ramblers

TR1180_1Another research query to share this week. I found the Standard Program Library 16-inch transcription disc pictured above, call number TR1180 from the Southern Folklife Collection Transcription Discs (#30024), while assisting a patron searching for a recording of a track called “Mussin’ Frets,” a novelty guitar instrumental by the excellent Prairie Ramblers [bio by Greensboro, NC resident Eugene Chadbourne!]. The group coalesced in the 1930s appearing on numerous radio stations before settling down at WLS in Chicago. Featuring mandolinist Charles Chick Hurt, bassist “Happy” Jack Taylor, fiddler Tex Atchison, and Floyd “Salty” Holmes, a multi-instrumentalist and master of the harmonica, the group rose to fame after partnering up with a young Patsy Montana. Comfortable jumping from old-time stringband music, to country, to western swing, they went on to appear in numerous cowboy films with Gene Autry and other singing cowboys before splitting up for good in 1947 (well after Montana left to pursue her solo career). But back to the disc, Here’s “Huckleberry Picnic” to wet your whistle.  TR1180_Huckleberry Picnic

TR1180_1_spinUnfortunately, we were unable to locate “Mussin’ Frets,” but fortunately we were able to digitze TR1180 to share with you fine readers and listeners. These recordings feature a Post-War incarnation of the Prairie Ramblers, aka The Westernaires at this time, after Atchison and Holmes had left the band. Rusty Gill, the vocalist on this disc, including the classic cowboy number “Ridin’ Old Paint in the Sky,” was married to Carolyn DeZurik of the remarkable DeZurik Sisters. If any of you have any information about “Mussin’ Frets,’ please do let us know. TR1180_Ridin’ Old Paint in the Sky



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


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:FC1508_Southern Folklife Collection

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? 45_2046

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

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:FT11829_1_Maybelle Carter_first autoharp_Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife CollectionFT11829_1_Maybelle Carter_first autoharp_2_Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife CollectionFT11829_1_Maybelle Carter_first autoharp_3_Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife Collection

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. FT11829_1_New things on autoharp__Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife CollectionFT11829_1_finding a pick_Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife CollectionFT11829_1_Gathering Flowers on the Hillside_Betty Blackley Collection (20282)_Southern Folklife Collection

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”:

Barbara Allen Sample 1

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:

Barbara Allen Sample 2

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.