UNESCO, in cooperation with the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) and other partners, has adopted 27 October as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to better focus global attention on the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation.”
Regular readers of Field Trip South will not be surprised to see the Mike Seeger Collection featured here. Many of Seeger’s photographs are currently digitized and available for viewing online: iconic images of America’s musical treasures like Ralph and Carter Stanley, the Carter Sisters, Lesley Riddle, Dock Boggs, and of course, the beloved NC Piedmont picker and singer, Elizabeth Cotten.
The Southern Folklife Collection has preserved hundreds of hours of Seeger’s field recordings and his own master tapes. Every tape is a treat, but occasionally we come upon an especially outstanding track like this version of “Well May the World Go” featuring Mike performing with his brother, the legendary folksinger Pete, on 29 January 1973. They tore through three versions of the tune that day. Have a listen to the third take of that piece here, from FT14925 in the Mike Seeger Collection:
Another recent standout track comes from The New Tranquility String Band (FT14198.) This outtake of “Boatman” was recorded during sessions for the Berkley Farms: Oldtime and Country Style Music of Berkley LP originally released for Smithsonian Folkways in 1972. This version version has the jaw harp higher in the mix, giving it a striking old-time feel that we like.
The Piedmont to the Swamplands grant also allowed us to digitize the majority of audio recordings collected by folklorist and UNC professor William R. Ferris. With thousands of audio recordings, photographs, and feet of film, the William R. Ferris Collection is an invaluable resource documenting the people and culture of the American South, an archival treasure trove reflecting the ineffable “sense of place” that makes the South such a compelling–and haunting–place. Many of Ferris’s photographs are available online. This performance by a young child, Don Singleton recorded on FT 9918, made our jaws drop.
This next tape was recorded during the process of filming a documentary film about the remarkable Fannie Bell Chapman. The complete film can be viewed in full on Folkstreams.net., Fannie Bell Chapman: Gospel Singer. The following version of “Now Sister Go Where I Send Thee” is from FT9974, the first of six tapes recording Chapman’s music recorded in August 1975.
Ferris documented the secular as well as the sacred and his recordings of Mississippi blues artists are equally vital documents. The following track is from one of the first recordings of the bluesman “Big Jack” Johnson. From FT11151, this is Johnson performing on guitar with harmonica player Wash Herron.
These clips offer but a glimpse into the Southern Folklife Collection’s preservation efforts. The public is encouraged to explore our finding aids for detailed inventories and description of archival collections and the UNC Libraries online catalog for materials of interest and request that they be preserved and made available for research. Feel free to contact the SFC with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also hope you will enjoy some music this Sunday, October 27, World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history.
Two tapes from the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection’s ongoing project “From Piedmont to Swamplands,” supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities, recently caught the attention of audio engineer John Loy. The first, call number FT14237, features an interview/performance by Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard on November 21, 1970 at the Kinro Kaikan in Kyoto Japan. It contains 90 minute concert and interview with commentary in Japanese. The program intended provide Japanese listeners with an introductory survey of American old time and vernacular music styles. A wonderful document of cultural exchange.
Another recent find is a tape master sent to Mike in 1969 by the ‘Styx River Ferry ‘ a prominent “Hippy Country” group in the San Francisco/Berkeley area. This band features a who’s who of Bay area bluegrass fixtures rounded up by Bob and Ingrid Fowler. For this recording, call number FT14220, the group enlisted the help of legends of the day with guest performances by “Uncle Josh” Graves and “Cousin Jake” Tullock of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Of particular interest to us is the contextual information on the label, not only including song titles and band members, but also the recording studio, production personnel and a short list of bay area local venues at which the group was performing at the time. Catching Styx River Ferry at the Drinking Gourd would have been quite a time. Listen:
South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales by Leonard W. Roberts. SFC Call no. GR110.K4 R6 1964
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music by Fred Dellar and Roy Thompson. SFC Call no. ML102.C7 D4 1986
A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, by Americo Paredes. SFC call no. M1668.4 .T49
Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams by Chet Flippo. SFC call no. ML420 .W55 F6 1985
American Folklore Films & Videotapes: An Index. Published by the Center for Southern Folklore, Memphis Tennessee. SFC Call no. Z5984.U6 A44 1976
Das Songbuch by Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. SFC Call no. ML3545 .K29 1967
Don’t Look Back by D.A. Pennebaker. SFC Call no. ML420.D98 P4
Our Appalachia: an oral history edited by Laurel Shackelford and Bill Weinberg. SFC Call no. F217.A65 O97 1977
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.
The Shanty Boys (Roger Sprung, Mike Cohen, and Lionel Kilberg), from their monthly CBS broadcast. Photo by Ray Sullivan of Photo-Sound Associates. From the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill.
In the early 1950s, Roger Sprung spent time in Asheville, NC, meeting and learning from banjo greats Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Samantha Bumgarner. He returned to New York and is often credited with introducing bluegrass banjo style to the northern folk revival through his playing in Washington Square park. For more information on Sprung and the Shanty Boys, see Ron Cohen’s excellent book on the folk revival, Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (Culture, Politics, and Cold War), (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002).
Another choice platter for you readers and listeners today. Really excited to put on this disc in the studio yesterday, call no. 78-7964. Side A is great (see below) but side B, “He’s the One,” featuring soloist Ozella Weber, is fantastic. The Willie Webb Singers were a post-war mixed gospel group out of Chicago, much like the Roberta Martin Singers with whom Willie Webb got his start (see Horace Clarence Boyer’s The Golden Age of Gospel for more information). Please do enjoy.
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.
It 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).
While best known for her film Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison, made along with her husband Pete, son Daniel, and folklorist Bruce Jackson, Toshi Seeger was an accomplished photographer and documentarian whose filmography reaches far beyond the Ellis Unit at the Huntsville prison. Rounder Records, along with Stefan Grossman’s Vestapol Productions, released a remarkable compilation of films by the Toshi and the Seeger family well before the documentary mentioned above was made. Toshi and Pete describe these films as “home movies,” but they are a far cry from shaky video of Christmas morning. These films are available for viewing at the Southern Folklife Collection, call no. DVD_332, and are highly recommended.
Obituaries written in honor of Toshi Seeger, who died this week at the age of 91, describe her as being the “perfect compliment to Pete,” describing him as the visionary and her as the “grounded” member of their marriage. These films, however, demonstrate playfulness as well as a clarity of creative vision and attention to detail. Her camerawork captures the intensity of performance and communicates the wonder she must have felt in those moments of filming. From an interview made by Todd Harvey and Peggy Seeger in 2006 for the Library of Congress, Toshi shares the following memories (see more on Folkstreams here:
“Toshi Seeger: Most people, if they are filming have a storyboard or script or something. They know what is happening. I had no idea at any time. The boatsingers film footage we made in Ghana , I saw that happening and I said, “let’s stop and get that.” But in the Texas prison I had no idea what was going to happen. We set up the cameras and began filming. At the point that we set the cameras up I saw that they were going to do work songs, so any of the framing is on the spur of the moment, done just as we saw it.
PS: And at the end of the day of filming, the guard, who was on a horse and who was often talking to a friend, wasn’t even watching us…
TS: Well you were talking to him and I was with all the prisoners with double-edged axes. I thought it was very humorous. I shot the film, with the guard on the horse looking away paying no attention to me. These men were telling me their life stories—why they were in there, about their children and wives, and so forth…”