I am pleased to introduce the first post by another of the Southern Folklife Collection’s great student employees, Zachary Gossett. Always nice to see/hear what fresh ears can pull out of the stacks.
Overall, May has been strangely clement, but it’s a fair bet to expect hotter weather soon. Here’s a little salsa to heat things up too! This track, “Yo Quisiera Ser” by Hector Rivera y su Conjunto, features a typical salsa ensemble with Hector Rivera himself on piano.
Although the stacks are home to a large variety of musics associated with the American South, the first ≈7000 records alone are peppered with some wonderful cuts of Latin and Caribbean music, including this compilation of the Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Afro-Cuban music from New York. The label New World Records is “dedicated to the documentation of American music that is largely ignored by the commercial recording companies”, in a similar vein as the diverse collections of folk song procured by Alan Lomax. It’s quite spectacular what one might find while perusing the records.
Highlights for conference participants include a tour of the Southern Folklife Collection, work-shops on Managing Digital Audio Collections and Audiotape Playback, panel sessions on producing reissues through the years and donating collections to archives, plus a wide variety of presentations on topics ranging from recording artists and labels to technology and restoration. A schedule of presentations and detailed abstracts are now available through the ARSC conference website. Looking forward to seeing everyone next week!
During a recent cataloging session, we stumbled across this 1953 EP by composer/performer/inventor/poet/philosopher Moondog (born Louis Thomas Hardin, b.1916-d.1999), hidden in between recordings by Dizzy Dean & his Country Cousins and the Circuit Rider Quartet.
Moondog grew up in the Midwest and became blind at age 16 after playing with a dynamite cap. In the 1940s, he moved to New York City, renamed himself after an ex-pet (a dog who liked to wail at the moon), and stationed himself on a Times Square traffic median where he played his own compositions on instruments that he’d designed and built. Some time during the 1950s, increasing crowds at his performances drove him to relocate to a quieter spot near the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue—and to switch from playing music to standing still for eight hours a day, sometimes reading and selling his poetry. He typically carried a spear, wore a Viking helmet, long beard, and a robe he made from pieces of army blankets. (In 1965, the New York Times reported that he’d changed to a green velvet outfit in order to avoid the “G.I. connotations” of the army blankets).
In the meantime, Moondog also recorded a number of albums for Decca, Prestige, and Columbia and gained recognition as a serious avant-garde composer. Improvisations at a Jazz Concert is the only Moondog record on the Brunswick label. It features two of his self-made, self-designed instruments—the oo (a sort of miniature dulcimer) and the trimba (two small triangular drums with a cymbal attached), as well as his characteristically elastic approach to tempo and meter that he sometimes referred to as “snake time.” Billboard magazine called the EP “one of the unusual recordings of the year” when it came out in 1953, the reviewer suggesting that “those who react to rhythm should be intrigued.”
We’ve included here an excerpt from Side 1, entitled “Improvisation in 7/4.” The EP is available at the SFC, call no. 78-16420.
Really nice to pull this out of the stacks, Female Country Blues Singers (1929-1931), SFC call number FC9785. Alura Mack, whose entire recorded output sadly makes up only 13 songs, was a legendarily bawdy blues pianist. “Beef Blood Blues” is perhaps the most macabre of all of her cuts, a sharp change in mood from uproariously immoral ditties such as “Loose Like That,” “Everybody’s Man is Mine,” and “I’m Busy, You Can’t Come In.” Check out the track below–a fittingly grim one for the worst day of the week.
With the anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Sun Ra’s appearance on Earth from his home on Saturn on May 29, we have inexplicably been called toward his music in the stacks, most recently to The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, SFC call number FC21135, a seminal 1965 release from legendary free-jazz and out music label ESP-Disk . Equal parts “unfree free jazz“, afrofuturist storytelling, and detours into pop music (e.g. the gorgeous doo-wop track “Somebody’s in Love” or the very-NSFW anti-war lament “Nuclear War“), Sun Ra’s oeuvre defies easy summation. With that said, HeliocentricWorlds is about as good a place to dive into it any. Posted here is the final track from the record, “Dancing in the Sun.” As an added bonus, this particular rip of the record comes from an original (and rare) ESP-Disk pressing–check out those scans of this particularly well-worn copy below the track.
20239_pf0101_01_0002. Lee Hoffman and John Schuyler “Jock” Root at the races. Photo by Aaron Rennert, ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
It’s hard not to get drawn into the Photo-Sound Associates images in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). My intention is always to grab a quick photo to share on the blog and before I know it, I’ve grabbed six. I started off with the image above including the Caravan magazine founder and renaissance woman Lee Hoffman (ed. note: I recommend reading her website, Ms. Hoffman led a remarkable life) at some car races. I was looking for a different Washington Square Park photo when I saw the image below with the enormous crowd on a spring day. I can’t imagine the sound of that environment in the middle of the city. The street scenes documented by Rennert and photographer Ray Sullivan provide a fascinating look into New York City in the late 1950s. Framing musician Eric Weissberg and his Puch/Allstate 250CC two-stroke motorbike in the distance allows for a wonderful view of the architecture and 1950s automobiles. Finally, the image of Izzy Young through the window at the Folklore Center seemed the perfect way to end the tour along with this tired cat, so sleepy. The folk scene in NYC was a happening place to be in the late 1950s.
20239_pf0102_02_0003. Car races. Photo by Aaron Rennert, ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0082_01_0006. Crowd in Washington Square Park, 5 May 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0082_01_0010. Listeners, small boy playing harmonica, Washington Square Park, 5 May 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0098_01_0013. Eric Weissberg and his Puch/Allstate 250cc two-stroke motorbike. Photo by “LH,” ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0100_0015. Izzy Young looking in the Folklore Center, 27 July 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
Tired Cat.Photo by “LH,” ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
The SFC has just cataloged two rare 10-inch EPs by Paul Weingardt and the Dutch Hop Boys (Vega Records, 1950, SFC call #s 78-16170, 78-16171. The first of these is pictured left.)
The polka on these records is of a special type known as the “Dutch Hop,” played and danced by the Volga Germans in the Great Plains region of the United States. (Eastern Colorado and western Nebraska are particular hotspots for the dance). The “Dutch” in “Dutch Hop” is thought to have started as a disguised version of the word “Deutsch.” During and after the World Wars, German-Americans were harshly stigmatized—and thus willing to portray their origins as Dutch rather than German.
Compared to standard polka, the Dutch Hop is faster, involves “bouncier” steps, and features a hammered dulcimer in addition to more standard instruments like the violin or the accordion. According to the Polka Page website, poor recording quality sometimes made the dulcimer hard to hear on Dutch Hop records. This may explain why the 1950 Billboard review of Weingardt’s Vega release only mentioned the “alternating accordion and violin.”
In this excerpt from “Katy Katy Polka,” the dulcimer is indeed barely audible–one hears it as a faint plucking sound on the offbeats, at phrase endings, and under the violin solo at around 0:45.
During his career, Weingardt also recorded with the Alpine Dutch Hoppers, the Alpine Polkadots, and the Polka Kings.
Really enjoying the fashion of the folk scene in the Photo-Sound Associates photographs lately. We love these images of Liz White wearing an absolutely fabulous belt in the studio at WNCN-New York for George Lorrie’s radio show on May 25, 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates. See more in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
Following Friday’s opening reception, Southern Culture on the Skids will play a 7:30 p.m. concert at UNC’s Historic Playmakers Theatre. The show is free, but tickets are required. For details, call 919-548-1203 or the Memorial Hall box office at 919-843-3333.
Some excellent classic, old-time country from Robert McFarland and Lester Gardner for you readers today. Also known as “Mac and Bob,” the duo met at the Kentucky School for the Blind in the early 1920s and recorded over 200 songs for Brunswick and other labels. They appeared regularly on the WLS Barn Dance for twenty years, retiring in 1950. Originally recorded but rejected by Brunswick, we digitized these two tracks from a disc on the Australian imprint, Regal Zonophone, SFC call no. 78-11592. “The Hut on the Back of the Lot” is at the top of the list for one of my favorite songs of 2014. Life lessons from “Little Ned.” This one’s for dear old Dad.