Merle Haggard, April 6, 1937-2016

Merle Haggard at Memorial Hall for SFC25. Photo by Mark Perry Photography.

Merle Haggard at Memorial Hall for SFC25. Photo by Mark Perry Photography.

The world lost another giant today when Merle Haggard left this earth for honky-tonk heaven. The Southern Folklife Collection was privileged to welcome Mr. Haggard at our 25th anniversary celebration in 2014. Seeing him perform at UNC’s Memorial Hall is an experience that will not be forgotten. It was a spectacular performance and I was practically giddy when Haggard picked up the fiddle.

20001_pf2296_Merle Haggard_John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

At the SFC, we would like nothing better to spend the foreseeable future exploring the collections for Merle Haggard content to geek out on and reminisce about the first time we heard one song or another, but, and I think Merle would agree, we have other work to do; other fiddle players to celebrate and mountains of music to share with the world. I discovered countless artists through Haggard, not the least of which was Bob Wills. Even though I come from Texas, it was Merle who introduced me to the “best damn fiddle player in the world.” But for today, I’ve got “Rainbow Stew” on the deck and I pulled out these pictures I have looked at many times from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001) documenting the recording sessions for Bob Wills’s final album, For the Last Time. Sessions, produced by the legendary guitarist Tommy Allsup (another former Cricket like Bobby Durham), took place just outside of Dallas on December 3 and 4, 1973.

Haggard drove all night from Chicago to participate on the final day after begging permission from Wills to attend. Sadly, Wills was unable to complete the session after suffering a severe stroke on the night of December 3 and slipping into a coma the following day never to retain consciousness. Haggard and the band, the first reunion of the Texas Playboys since Wills disbanded the group in the 1960s, pressed on with noted successor of the Bob Wills sound Hoyle Nix stepping up into the boots of his hero to lead the group.

We are not positive, but we believe the photos above include Haggard, fiddlers Keith Coleman and Johnny Gimble, steel guitarist Leon McCauliffe, and the back of guitarist Eldon Shamblin’s head.

Rest easy, Merle. Hope the music is as good in the next place as you made it here.

George Hamilton IV “Behind the Iron Curtain”

"The International Ambassador of Country Music" (BILLBOARD MAGAZINE) in Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union, March 1974.

“The International Ambassador of Country Music” (BILLBOARD MAGAZINE) in Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union, March 1974.

Looking into the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410) recently, we were reminded that this month is the 42nd Anniversary of George Hamilton IV being the first performer to take American folk-country music “Behind The Iron Curtain.” His 1974 performances and lecture concerts at the Palace of Railway Workers and Moscow University were the first for an American country music performer. Other “first” performances on this tour were in Hungary, Poland, and in former Czechoslovakia, where Hamilton performed four sold-out Concerts for over 28,000 fans at the Sports Arena in Prague. It’s no surprise that later that year, Billboard Magazine began to refer to Hamilton as the “International Ambassador of Country Music.” He would eventually tour around the world, performing multiple times in Japan, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and India. See this April 2, 1974 New York Times review of the Moscow performances on the George Hamiton IV “Folksy Music Festival” page here.
George Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

George Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill



Friday Studio Surprise!: Chatham Co. hogs and Peg Leg Sam

Peg Leg Sam_20025_FT324_Tom Davenport Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

Walking past the John M. Rivers Audio Studio this morning, I was surprised to hear a pig being fed coming from behind the door. I was not surprised when I learned that SFC Audio Engineer, John Loy, was preserving an open reel tape of wild sound from Tom Davenport’s documentary with Peg Leg Sam, Born For Hard Luck. We love hearing raw, wild sound, at the Southern Folklife Collection and this clip of Sam feeding his pigs is just that. “Get it you lousy bums,” he growls. From FT-324 in the Tom Davenport Papers (20025). Below you can see an image from the making of the film, including the boom operator, Kip Lornell, who may have made the recording here. I’m ready for lunch:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Directed by Tom Davenport and produced by Davenport Films and the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC with Daniel Patterson and Allen Tullos, Born For Hard Luck is a portrait of the last Black medicine-show performer, Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, with brilliant harmonica songs, tales of hoboing, buck dances, and an authentic live medicine-show performance filmed at a North Carolina county fair in 1972.

In 2000, Davenport went on to create, a free website that allows users to stream a massive array of documentary and ethnographic films about American folk culture, ranging in subjects from aging and agriculture to immigrant culture and music and covering all regions of the United States.

Working with folklorist Daniel Patterson and others on the Folkstreams committee, Davenport submitted a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities and received grant funds to build a prototype. Expansion of is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, regional and state Arts and Humanities organizations, private foundations, and contributions from filmmakers, scholars, and collaborating institutions. Preservation copies of films on are part of the SFC Collection (20384). 

P0004_0681_0001 (1) (1)L-R: Peg Leg Sam, Kip Lornell (with boom mic), Bruce Bastin, and Tom Davenport (with camera). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection (P0004), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

Thank you, Starman


I woke up this morning to learn that David Bowie had left the planet Earth. Like so many, I was unprepared for this news.  As the day progresses, the impact of the world’s loss cuts deeper with every youtube link shared by his seemingly endless legions of fans and the very poignant memorials shared by his closest friends. I think I need a day or two before I can handle Blackstar again, but what do you do when you can’t handle listening to your David Bowie catalog but you want to pay tribute to one of the most important artists of our time? Track down the recordings the man himself venerated.

In November 2003 Bowie selected 25 favorites from his collection in a Vanity Fair article called “Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie.” The list includes Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston, Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury, and the Fugs’ 1966 self-titled record.

The Fugs, anchored by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, recorded irreverent songs like “Group Grope” and “Kill for Peace,” with little regard for production values or flawless takes.

Bowie’s description:

“The sleeve notes were written by Allen Ginsberg and contain these prescient lines: ‘Who’s on the other side? People who think we are bad. Other side? No, let’s not make it a war, we’ll all be destroyed, we’ll go on suffering till we die if we take the War Door.’ I found on the Internet the text for a newsprint ad for the Fugs, who, coupled with the Velvet Underground, played the April Fools Dance and Models Ball at the Village Gate in 1966. The F.B.I. had them on their books as ‘the Fags.’ This was surely one of the most lyrically explosive underground bands ever. Not the greatest musicians in the world, but how ‘punk’ was all that? Tuli Kupferberg, Fugs co-writer and performer, in collaboration with Ed Sanders, has just finished the new Fugs album as I write. Tuli is 80 years old.”

That list was written twelve years ago and Kupferberg, too, has since shuffled off this mortal coil – but not before creating art in various media through several decades. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised Bowie, who released an album two days before his death, counted Tuli among his heroes. And so now we’ll listen to The Fugs, and imagine David Bowie listening to The Fugs, and imagine Tuli listening to David Bowie. And it won’t be forgotten. May the fantastic voyage continue.


Holiday in the Stacks: Dale Evans and Clancey


The “Holiday in the Stacks” continues with two more holiday 78 rpm discs. First Dale Evans and the Roy Rogers Riders and Orchestra with a reindeer tune that plays off almost every Christmas trope they could fit in under two minutes. 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

On a totally different track, a holiday vignette from “Clancey’s”. Originally recorded and released on cylinder in 1908, “Christmas Morning at Clancey’s” chronicles the morning festivities of an Irish family in turn of the century New York. 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Check in tomorrow for a special message from Rosemary Clooney and Ford motors.


This Week on Hell or High Water: Selections from the Newport Folk Festival


This week on Hell or High Water, we’ll be featuring music from the three volumes of the 1964 Newport Folk Festival evening concerts, largely inspired by last Monday’s SFC lecture by Elijah Wald, “Dylan Goes Electric! Music, Myth, and History.”


Dylan’s electric performance in 1965, according to Wald, “split the Sixties.” Previously, the Newport Folk Festival had been a time celebrating traditional folk music alongside popular “new wave” artists, like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs. The hopes were that pairing these traditions with popular artists would draw a crowd and help new or unknown artists gain a following.



The Newport Folk Festival showcased the many different types of traditional folk present in this country, from cajun to country to blues. We hope that featuring this record will, like the original festival, showcase the diversity of what constitutes folk music.


To quote Stacey Williams on the 1964 festival, “And what was most remarkable was the homogeneity of the event as a whole, with all this wonderful variety adding up to a feeling of one brotherhood, as hard to define as it is easy to sense; ‘many branches from the same tree’ is a lame way to put it, but it hints at the idea.”

Tune in this Sunday from 1-2pm on WXYC-Chapel Hill, 89.3FM, or online via live stream. 

This Week: A Haunted Hell or High Water

Tune in this Sunday from 1-2pm for a special holiday edition of Hell or High Water on WXYC. In honor of Halloween this Saturday and Mexico’s El Día de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) on Sunday, we’ll be playing the YepRoc Records compilation album, Mondo Zombie Boogaloo (CD-13839), which features The Fleshtones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Los Straitjackets.

Get into the spooky spirit for the most haunted weekend of the year with songs like “Haunted Hipster,” “Goo Goo Muck,” and “Dracula a Gogo.”

You can listen via 89.3FM or on the web at <>.


This Week on Hell or High Water: Dave Van Ronk


Dave Van Ronk, concert sponsored by Anvil Magazine, 9 May 1958, photo by Ray Sullivan of Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239), Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

This Sunday on Hell or High Water, 1 to 2 pm, WXYC and the Southern Folklife Collection will be serving up some classic folk tunes from folk legend and king of Greenwich Village, Dave Van Ronk.

Tune in to hear some blues-, jazz-, and gospel-inspired folk from the man who served as an inspiration to likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

You can listen on 89.3FM, or via online stream at


This Week on Hell or High Water…


Special post from “Hell or High Water” coordinator and SFC student Employee, Katherine Hjerpe

Greetings Southern Folklife followers and enthusiasts!

For those of you who don’t already know, every Sunday at 1PM on WXYC-Chapel Hill 89.3FM, “Hell or High Water” features music from the stacks of the Southern Folklife Collection archives in The Wilson Library.

This past weekend, I took a trip home to Connnecticut, home of Grateful Dead-themed music festival Gathering of the Vibes, and the old Dead records of my dad’s I picked up from  my grandmother’s house. Inspired, I looked into the SFC archives to prepare for this week’s broadcast.    


The SFC holds a number of unique Dead recordings (including The Golden Road pictured above and CD-9047 in our collection), as well as one of our favorite short-lived side projects of Jerry Garcia called Old & In The Way. Recorded in 1973, their self-titled album, call number FC-4257, was released on Durham’s own Sugar Hill Records in 1975  


The 5-piece group includes Garcia on vocals and banjo, mandolinist David Grisman, Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and John Kahn on bass. Aside from Kahn, who is still featured as a musician on several albums, the Southern Folklife Collection also has a number of other recordings spanning the careers of members of Old and In the Way.


img009Showcasing the members country-bluegrass roots, the music of Old and in the Way is steeped in string band tradition, with just a little rock n roll, of course. Besides the self-titled debut, the supergroup released a good deal of live material — That High Lonesome Sound and Breakdown. All recordings are from 1973. Tune in to WXYC this Wednesday to hear songs from both volumes.


As a group, they perform traditional bluegrass songs, more popular covers including “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, and plenty of originals. We hope you’ll tune in this Sunday to hear this aspect of our collection first-hand on WXYC! Start off your afternoon feelin’ fine with Hell or High Water.


Fall Break: Autumn in New York



As the weary students here at UNC-Chapel Hill celebrate and travel for the long weekend otherwise known as Fall Break, the Southern Folklife Collection remains open and active, inside Wilson Library at the base of the quad. To celebrate this mid-semester moment of repose, we dug through the stacks for some seasonal accompaniment, a few of the many versions of the 1934 Duke Vernon song, “Autumn in New York,” a popular destination for UNC students this weekend but a $35 Chinatown bus ride away.

Originally composed for the musical “Thumbs Up!” back in the 1930’s, the song is a jazz standard appearing on countless records and namesaking others, such as the 1956 Verve release by Greensboro’s own jazz guitarist Tal Farlow (FC-24443 in the UNC Library Catalog). Included below is an excerpt of the recording.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Farlow’s guitar rendition may be one of the most popular, but one of our favoirites is probably this1976 by saxophonist Dexter Gordon, FC-19092 in our catalog.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Philadelphia jazz pianist Kenny Barron’s 1985 version is equally nostalgic, FC-24615.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Enjoy the Autumn weekend wherever you may be.