First Impressions: Arhoolie Records

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title banner, Arhoolie Records, El Cerrito, California, 1960 to 2016

First Impressions is an ongoing series on the “first records” of several independent record labels releasing folk, blues, bluegrass, country, and other vernacular musics. Drawing from records and other materials in the Southern Folklife Collection, the focus of this virtual exhibition is on the albums that started it all for these labels in the LP era.

THE ALBUM

Album cover of Mance Lipscomb's Texas Sharecropper and Songster, features black and white photo of Mance playing guitar

Mance Lipscomb, Texas Sharecropper and Songster | FC-457

center LP label, Mance Lipscomb, featuring Arhoolie Reccords logo and track listing

In 1959, Chris Strachwitz, a high school teacher living in California, set out for Texas hoping to meet and record one of his heroes, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Unable to find him, he resolved to return the next year, this time with a longer list of musicians to find and record. He had been buying and selling old 78 rpm records for several years, providing him with a little extra cash to buy some basic recording equipment. In 1960, with Mack McCormick’s help and a few tips from people along the way, he managed to meet Mance Lipscomb at his Navasota home. Texas Sharecropper and Songster is the product of recordings made that day, with the 65-year-old singing 14 songs he had picked up over a lifetime of playing music for friends, family, and both white and African-American dances. This impromptu session was Lipscomb’s first recording, and Strachwitz was initially unimpressed: “To be honest, I didn’t like his music that much – I love tough, nasty, old blues, and Mance was so pretty” (Goodwin, 1981). Of course, as Mance’s music elevated Arhoolie Records to a full-time venture, it must have grown on him: Lipscomb recorded 5 more albums for the label before his passing in 1976.

Listen to “Shake, Shake, Mama” from Side 2 of Texas Sharecropper and Songster:

The label

covers of three Arhoolie Records catalogs, featuring album covers

Assorted Arhoolie Records catalogs from the SFC Discographical Files (30014), Folders 59-61.

Arhoolie Records takes its name from a word for a field holler, more often referred to as a “hoolie.” Chris Strachwitz founded the label in 1960, ultimately establishing its headquarters in El Cerrito, California. Arhoolie primarily released original recordings of living musicians, whereas two of Strachwitz’s later ventures, Blues Classics and Old Timey Records, were devoted to reissues of older recordings. Chris Strachwitz remained at the helm for the label’s lifetime, continuing to record and release all varieties of music, and leading the transition into the CD and digital realms. In May of 2016, Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalog, and Texas Sharecropper and Songster was one of the first batch of albums re-released by the new label owners.

The Founder

The founding of Arhoolie Records marked Chris Strachwitz’s first big step into the world of traditional music, but the label will be far from his only legacy. After moving to the United States from Germany in 1947, Strachwitz could hardly seem to stay away from the music. His passion for collecting 78s evolved into the Arhoolie Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to preserving and sharing his extensive collection. He started the Old Timey and Blues Classics labels soon after founding Arhoolie to release out-of-print recordings of blues and old-time musicians. Through Arhoolie, he published the Arhoolie Occasional and The Lightning Express, periodicals devoted to spreading information about blues music and recordings. Through a long-time friendship with documentary filmmaker Les Blank, he supported the production of documentaries on Arhoolie musicians like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Below is a segment from a 1981 interview by Strachwitz with Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Recordings, from the Archie Green Collection (20002).

Chris Strachwitz (CS): I’d like to get some of this on tape about your feelings in regard to reissuing old material or, that is, recordings that are really historical that have not been used by the major labels. You were certainly one of the first people to take a stand on this, weren’t you?

Moses Asch (MA): That’s right.

CS: What’s your attitude on this?

MA: Well, there’s a section in the Constitution of the United States, in which it says, “People have a right to know.” It’s part of the copyright, first copyright law of the land. And in there it says that no one is permitted, if they want the people to benefit, to take something out of circulation. If you buy a car, the manufacturer must have a replacement part as long as the car is operational. Otherwise, they lose all rights to the car. And I apply that same attitude to recordings. Once I feel that the manufacturer or the producer or the one that had the recordings originally issued the record, and then the record is not available, and it’s left out of their catalog, they throw that record into public domain and anyone can use it.

Listen to the full interview here. Digitization and streaming access to this recording were made possible through the SFC’s ongoing audiovisual preservation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20002/11183 (digitized)

Tape 28: Chris Strachwitz interviews Moses Asch, 1981

Audiocassette

The local connection

Album cover, Elizabeth Cotten's Live!, features close-up color photo of Cotten's face

Elizabeth Cotten, Live! | FC-17741

Elizabeth Cotten was born in Chapel Hill in 1893, the youngest of five children. After moving around the Southeast for many years, she settled as an adult in the Washington, D.C. area. Eventually, she came to work for the Seeger family of musicians, who, after hearing her play, helped expose her unique performance and songwriting abilities to the world. Most famous for her composition “Freight Train,” Cotten released just four solo albums in her lifetime: a series of three LPs for Folkways and Live!, a 1983 collection of live performances on Arhoolie Records.

Show me more!

The Southern Folklife Collection holds plenty of additional Arhoolie Records-related documentation, as well as a significant portion of the Arhoolie Records catalog on LP and other formats. Check out a few other documents and collections of interest below or search the collection yourself.

same black and white photo of Mance Lipscomb from album cover, holding guitar

Promotional photo from the release of Texas Sharecropper and Songster, from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001).

Cover of the Lightning Express, no. 3 (1976). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245), with photographs of Clifton Chenier with accordion, Charlie Musselwhite with harmonica, and Narciso Martinex with accordion and group. Also features illustrations of traditional music genres illustrated by R. Crumb including: Blues, Tex-Mex, Jazz, Cajun, Novelty, Gospel, Polka, Folk

Lightning Express, no. 3 (1976). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

Cover of Arhoolie Occasional with photos of Lightning Hopkins, Mance Lipscomp, Clifton Chenier, Narciso Martinez, and others

Arhoolie Occational, no. 1 (1971). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

Front page of Arhoolie Occasional with articles about making Arhoolie LPs, Dr. Harry Oster's Folklyric Label

Arhoolie Occational, front page, no. 1 (1971). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

First Impressions: a virtual exhibit of “first records” from independent record labels in the Southern Folklife Collection

We love all of our sound recordings at the Southern Folklife Collection, and of course we especially love our 12″ LPs. Library staff are always working to make more of our records discoverable in the UNC Libraries online catalog, but first we need to sort through new accessions and do some inspection and quality control to get them ready for our Wilson Special Collections Library Technical Services team.

Through this process, we began to notice several “first records.” These albums, the first full-length releases by independent record labels, were fascinating and downright good listens in their own right. Collectively, however, they offer a valuable point of entry into the overwhelming catalogs of the many labels in the archive. The SFC holds a growing collection of tens of thousands LPs, spread across far too many labels to list here. Some of these labels are familiar, from early giants like Columbia and Victor, to folk music mainstays like Folkways. Still others are virtually unknown, like the often short-lived local, one-artist, or one-album ventures that appeared from time to time. For the most part, the labels presented here exist in a middle ground between these two extremes, releasing what could be broadly defined as vernacular music from a variety of traditions (folk music, blues, cajun music, zydeco, bluegrass, country, conjunto, etc.).

From off-shoots of non-profits to international operations, these labels and their founders were united by a common goal: to share the music they felt passionately about with as many people as possible. In some cases, recording the specific musicians on these first albums was the primary motivation for a label’s founding. Many of these labels are still releasing music, while others folded after only a few releases. Still others formed sub-labels, or were bought by or merged with like-minded collaborators, forming a sort of tangled family tree. The aim of this series is to provide a starting point for research, adding context to these recordings, the artists, the music, and the labels that formed with their release. Most of all, we hope you enjoy the music.

The first installment of “First Impressions”: Arhoolie publishes tomorrow, Thursday, November 15. We’ll put up a new post in the series every couple of weeks. Follow along here.

 

A witches’ spell has been cast on SFC!

Happy Halloween from the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library!

A few items in the collection allude to witchcraft – we were delightfully frightened to find a selection of ghost stories told by Ollie and Roy Coleman in Iredell County, N.C., and caught on tape by folklore student Connie Jean Stone in March of 1975. This item can be found at call number FT-354 in the Connie Jean Stone Collection (20247).Packaging for tape media, reads: "North Carolina Archives of Folk Lore and Music - Connie Jean Stone Collection - Ghost and Witch Tales - Told by Ollie and Roy Coleman - Recorded in Iredell County, N.C. in March 1975. Dubbings from cassette originals. Submitted in Folk 186 and 187, with transcriptions in termpapers.

One creepy story tells the tale of a witch who seems to have cast a spell on a poor dairy cow, cursing and drying the bewildered bovine’s milk supply. Below you can find a clip of the recording, as well as transcription from the original field notes submitted by Ms. Stone. Notes are in folder 421 in the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes (30025):

My Grandma, once upon a time was a-lettin' a witch have milk, you know. And uh the cow got low on hermilk and couldn't givetoo much, so she told the witch one evening when she came after milk that she couldn't have no more -- until the cow picked back up on her milk. And the witch said, "Alright." She went on home, and started down the path and that cow followed her up just as far as she'd go, to the end of the fence. That night the cow wouldn't giveno milk. So Grandpa told Grandma to milk her and to get a skillet and pour the milk in -- there o'er the fireplace, and boil it and peck it with a reap hook -- and when it got ready to boil, to turn it over into the fireplace. And she had all the young'uns out around the house to see that nobody didn't come while she was a-doin' it. And about the time she got ready to turn that milk over, the ole witch stepped in at the door. And she asked Grandma, said she wanted to borrow something. Grandma told her no, she couldn't borrow nothing today. But the ole witch picked up a cake of soap as she went out the door so the spell wouldn't get back on her.

78rpm record label displaying artist name.

Another fun find from the collection is this 78rpm disc credited to Bakersfield country artist Alvadean Coker, entitled “Witch’s Waltz,” on the Abbott label, at call number 78-186. Alvadean’s countrified bad dream involves a grandmotherly spell cast due to bad behavior. Find a clip below:

 

We here at the SFC hope you have an enjoyable and safe Halloween!

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2018

inspecting 16mm film with a magnifying loop on a light table on left and a bay of cassette playback decks on the right 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 “Your Story is Moving” described in a statement from the CCAAA Board.

Every year millions of people record stories of all varieties on audiovisual media, ranging from narratives of everyday life to historic events. These moments are chronicled and stored each day on multiple formats and media, whether they are digital or analogue. How do we ensure that this ever-growing corpus that is our cultural history today is preserved and exists in the future? And how do we guarantee that this rapidly accumulating, collective moving story of ours is not lost, as much of our history on these fragile media has been over the past 150 years? 

Reliably, thousands of archivists, librarians and preservationists around the world strive to make our world’s cultural heritage accessible and safeguard it for the future. In addition to their daily efforts to provide access to historic collections housed in established archives, archivists actively rescue collections in danger of loss or destruction due to poor climates, less than ideal storage conditions, political unrest or the economic challenges that many countries are confronted with daily.

…stories move us emotionally. We see this every year on Home Movie Day, an event that provides a moment for publics around the world to bring their visual cultural heritage to archives and libraries, to view, sometimes for the first time in decades. As they see lost family members, loved ones and ancestors long gone come to life on the screen, tears flow, emotions are high, and these moments of our captured history transport us to new heights as our histories unfold before our eyes. History too comes to life through the power of the moving image and in sound recordings which connect us personally with those events and moments in time which have shaped our memories and who we are.

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC. Recordings are pictured in the vault at Wilson Library.

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC.

The Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library and the University Libraries at UNC Chapel Hill have many moving parts working daily in our efforts to preserve and make accessible the hundreds of thousands of sound recordings, film and video housed in our special collections.

Thanks to a series of generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation, the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) has been able to complete a significant amount of digitization of its historic analog audiovisual holdings,

Most recently, UNC University Libraries received a $1.75 Million Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest ever made to the University Libraries, to allow the SFC to continue to preserve, digitize and share unique audio and moving image recordings. Collections targeted through the grant will come from the SFC and other curatorial departments within Wilson Special Collections Library, as well as six partner institutions across the state.

The regional partnerships will take place through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a statewide digitization and publishing program based at Wilson Library. The State Archives of North Carolina, the Southern Appalachian Archives at Mars Hill University and the Forest History Society in Durham have already committed to work with the SFC.

In honor of the 2018 World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we wanted to highlight some of the recordings recently digitized as part of one of our current projects. These selections are just a few from materials that have moved through this workflow in the last few month. As of Friday,. October 26, thanks to the work of our incredible Mellon Project Team, Wilson Library has 29,857 streaming AV files made from 23,322 preserved audio recordings, and 1,191 preserved video and film items. 

Click through the links below to listen or to view to streaming AV files.

SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20106/6113

(digitized)

Algia Mae Hinton

1/4″ Open Reel Audio

Raw field recording used as source material for “North Carolina Traditions: Algia Mae Hinton: Blues Woman of Zebulon” (FT-20106/3413)

10" cardboard container box for open reel tape, call no. FT-20106_6113The  North Carolina Foklife Media Project Collection (20106) consists of radio programs and associated field recordings, 1982-1983, produced by the North Carolina Folklife Media Project, a National Endowment for the Arts funded media project directed by folklorist Cecelia (Cece) Conway. As project director, Conway headed the production of North Carolina Traditions, an 8-part radio series featuring North Carolina based musicians that aired on WUNC, the flagship National Public Radio station for the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. The collection primarily consists of master recordings but also includes associated field recordings. Programs feature such artists as Etta Baker, a nationally-recognized African-American Piedmont blues guitarist from Caldwell County, N.C.; traditional Anglo-American fiddler Ike Rochelle, singer and accordion player Worth Mason, and fiddler Otha Willard, all from the coastal region of N.C.; Dorsey Dixon (1897-1968), Anglo-American singer and composer of textile and other songs from Richmond County; African-American gospel quartet the Golden Echoes of Granville County; Big Boy Henry (1921- ), African-American blues guitarist and singer from Beaufort County; Algia Mae Hinton (1929- ), African-American blues singer and guitarist and buck dancer from Johnston County; and John (“Frail”) Joines (1914- ), Anglo-American traditional storyteller from Brushy Mountain, Wilkes County.

Digital Folder DF-20402/1

A. R. Cole, Potter, 1969

Digitized version of F-20402/1 with added title cards and countdown. Digital Folder includes original DVD files and an access copy.

Processing information: The digital files were extracted from DVD-R. Original DVD files are dated October 2005. An access .mp4 file was made from the DVD files in August 2018 for viewing purposes.

Side view of blue, plastic film can for 16mm film, call number F-20402_1, with "Cole, the Potter" written in black markerThe twenty-five minute film, titled A. R. Cole, Potter, documents the artistic practice and pottery shop of Arthur Ray “A. R.” Cole, whose family has worked in the ceramic arts for more than three generations. The film is shot entirely at A. R. Cole’s pottery shop in Sanford, N.C. (Lee County, N.C.), and includes footage of A. R. Cole grinding clay and throwing a pot on the wheel, as well as scenes of A. R. Cole’s daughters, Celia and Neolia, storing and preparing pottery orders. The non-synchronous soundtrack of the film consists of audiotaped interviews with A. R. Cole and his daughters, who discuss the family’s long history with the ceramic arts, A. R. Cole’s use of natural, or raw materials, and the evolving business of the pottery shop. The collection contains a 16mm moving image print of the film, as well as a digitized version with added title cards and countdown.

  • From the Archie Green Papers (20002), Sarah Ogan Gunning “goes through a series of songs for potential educational use,” singing and speaking with Green at a union meeting at Solidarity House in 1964, possibly in Chicago.
SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20002/15344

(digitized)

Sarah Ogan Gunning at Solidarity House

1/4″ Open Reel Audio

7" open reel box for Burgess brand magnetic recording tape, call number FT-20002/15344.The Archie Green Papers also include correspondence, interviews, a discography, research notes, and other items relating to Green’s involvement in three performance events in Gunning’s life between 1964 and 1970. These include the production of a Folk-Legacy album, Girl of Constant Sorrow; Gunning’s performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Folk Festival; and her appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In his work with Gunning, Green collaborated to some extent with folklorist Ellen Stekert. Gunning was the half-sister of Aunt Molly Jackson and sister of Jim Garland.

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20024/1199

(digitized)

Interview with Lesley Riddle, 3 February 1973: tape 1 of 2

Format: Audiocassette

Recorded by Kip Lornell

An extensive interview with Riddles, a blues guitarist from Kingsport, Tenn. About his own music and his relationship with older blues musicians and early country performers in the Kingsport area during the 1930s.

A list of topics discussed by Riddles can be found in Folder 145 within the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes Collection (#30025).

Cassette tape with handwritten label, Leslie Riddle, Rochester NY,The Kip Lornell Collection consists of audio recordings, 1932-1976, created and compiled by ethnomusicologist, Christopher “Kip” Lornell, while he was a graduate student of Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The recordings are primarily field tapes featuring performances and interviews with African American blues and pre-blues secular musicians from North Carolina. Music performed includes blues, old-time songs and tunes, boogie-woogie, and gospel songs, played on banjo, guitar, and piano. Performers featured in the field recordings include Jamie Alston, Wilbert Atwater, Pernell Charity, George Letlow, Arthur Lyons, Lesley Riddle, Dink Roberts, John Snipes, Leo Strowd, Joe Thompson (1918- ), Odell Thompson (1911- ), Willy Trice (1910-1976), and Clarence Tross (1884-1977). Also included in the collection are an interview with Guy B. Johnson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sociologist who studied African American musical traditions; interviews with the Chapel Hillbillies, an African American string band in the 1920s and 1930s; a lecture on folk medicine by Wilbert C. Jordan, medical doctor and sixth generation voodoo priest; a re-recording of Primitive Baptist singing by Elder Golden Harris and others, ca. 1932; and performances by Anglo-American fiddler and hammered dulcimer player Virgil Craven (1902-1980).

16" Lacquer Disc on Turntable, the middle of the disc shows what the disc looked like prior to cleaning. Ralph Font, "Habanera," 25 June 1947

16″ Lacquer Disc on Turntable, the middle of the disc shows what the disc looked like prior to cleaning. Recording features pianist, Ralph Font, “Habanera,” 25 June 1947

  • And one last item from the Apollo Records Collection (20539). The Apollo Records Collection consists of 16″ master lacquer disc audio recordings, 1943-1958, affiliated with Apollo Records, a record company and label founded in New York City in 1944. Bess Berman, one of the few women executives in the recording industry, ran Apollo Records from 1948 until it closed in 1962. The company and label was known for their rhythm and blues, doo-wop, gospel, jazz, and rock and roll releases. Notable artists featured on the recordings found in the collection include jazz saxophonist and composer, Charlie Barnet; African American comedian and film actor, Stepin Fetchit; African American male vocal group, The Four Vagabonds; African American gospel singer, Georgia Peach; African American male vocal group, The Larks; female vocal group, The Murphy Sisters; country and western singer, Merle Travis; harmonica instrumentalists, The Three Harpers; and African American blues singer and guitarist, Josh White. The collection also includes scattered memos and tape logs found with the lacquer disc recordings. Conservators recently cleaned a number of discs for preservation and digitization, including this recording of the great pianist Ralph Font with his ensemble doing a wonderfully rhythmic version of “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen”
Instantaneous Disc FD-20539/112

(digitized)

Ralph Font, “Habanera,” 25 June 1947

16″ Lacquer Disc

Issue number: AP 3106

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 wilsonlibrary@unc.edu. While you explore the content shared above, we hope think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history in communities around the world. Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan Sears

1975 American Traditional Old-time Music Festival

cover of festival brochure, with illustration of a scarecrow holding a banjosecond page of festival brochure, describing the scope and intent of the festivalThe American Traditional Old-time Music Festival was a touring festival of old-time musicians directed by Mike Seeger in 1975-76. This brochure, Folder 2877 in the D.K. Wilgus Papers (20003), is from the April 17, 1975 stop at UCLA. Song and interview recordings from throughout the tour can be found in the Mike Seeger Collection (20009), most of which are digitized: FS-20009/9655-9662,9688-9696. Here is one to get you started: Dennis McGee and Sady Courville, April 20, 1975 (FS-20009/9693).
third and fourth pages of festival brochure, providing brief biographies for the artists to appearthe last two pages of the festival brochure, detailing other bicentennial events at UCLA; acknowledgments

“We seen it right here didn’t we?”: Austin through the art of Micael Priest

concert poster with illustration of the dancehall Broken Spoke with tour buses for Alvin Crow and the Texas Playboys parked out front and an oversize fiddle in between. The Southern Folklife Collection is honored to hold a number of collections of individual poster artists including the Ron Liberti Collection (20398), Casey Burns Collection (20415), Jason Lonon Poster Collection (20451), Matt Hart Poster Collection (20457), Steve Oliva Collection (20506), Skillet Gilmore Poster Collection (20468), Clark Blomquist Collection (20465), as well as the work of many other artists represented across the collections, like that of Micael Priest whose work can be found in Folders 3218-3240 in the Archie Green Papers (20002). Priest died yesterday at the age of 66.

Artist Micael Priest moved to Austin, Texas in 1969 and quickly became an active participant in the city’s growing counterculture. As a member of the famed music venue Armadillo World Headquarters’ Art Squad from 1972-1980, he created hundreds of iconic images that document the people, places, and activities of the music scene in the form of posters advertising upcoming shows, AWHQ calendars, advertisements, and record covers. With an instantly recognizable visual style, Priest’s posters distill the spirit of a community and, along with the work of his fellow AWHQ crew Jim Franklin and Kerry Awn, imbues such a strong sense of place that it serves as a simulacrum of an Austin that blurs the real and the remembered until the boundaries seem to disappear.

Folklorist Archie Green recognized the power of Priest’s work while teaching at UT Austin in the mid-1970s. Always an ethnographer, Green collected a number of posters, clippings, recordings and more documenting the “cosmic cowboy” scene at the Armadillo and around the city. In memory of Micael Priest we wanted to share a couple of these.

Below is the now famous poster for Willie Nelson’s first show at the club, August 12, 1972, arguably one of the most significant performances in Nelson’s career that marked his turn away from Nashville and toward his own unique sound. Above is one of my personal favorites featuring Alvin Crow and the Original Texas Playboys at the Broken Spoke. I had the fortune of growing up not 1/2 mile from the Broken Spoke, and despite the best efforts of “New Austin,” I am very glad to report that it’s still there, still honky-tonkin, and the Shiner beer is still cold. Priest’s note handwritten on the bottom of the poster is a prescient comment on the importance of his work and of all poster artists in the historical record. A comment that celebrates the general sense of wonder those cosmic cowboys and post-hippie hipsters must have felt to be able to attend shows like this on a regular basis — singular moments in music history that transcended the commercial drive of the social scene.

“We seen it right here didn’t we?”

Go on easy, Micael Priest.

Concert poster for Willie Nelson, August 12, 1972, a cowboy cries into his beer while a jukebox in the background plays Nelson's hit song "Hello Walls" Willie Nelson AWHQ concert poster by Micael Priest, Archie Green Papers (20002)

Cousin Emmy: Looking for a Name

CD Cover, Carolina Chocolate Drops seated with instruments, sepia-toned to appear oldLast year, while writing a final research paper on the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ wonderful 2012 album, Leaving Eden, I encountered the music of the late hillbilly performer Cousin Emmy. The Carolina Chocolate Drops had covered her single “Ruby” for the album, notably adding a beat boxer for their arrangement. I loved the song, and the difficulty of finding anything beyond variations on the same basic biography of Emmy was intriguing. Besides wondering how her actual childhood and life compared to the brief anecdotes I found mentioned constantly, I came upon a more simple question: what was her real name?

In theory, the answer was as simple as the question: several credible sources mentioned Cynthia May Carver as Cousin Emmy’s real name. However, the 1946 Decca single that featured “Ruby” credited the songwriter as one “Joy May Creasy.” When the Osborne Brothers had their first hit on MGM Records in 1956 with their rendition of “Ruby Are You Mad,” the song was simply credited to Cousin Emmy, suggesting that Joy May Creasy and Cousin Emmy were one and the same. This seemed to be further confirmed by an oft-cited 1943 Time magazine profile that claims Cousin Emmy was christened Joy May Creasy outside Lamb, Kentucky. After searching pictures of gravestones, countless liner note mentions, copyright renewals, and census records, I had found many more instances of both names, including some minor variations (Mae instead of May, Jo rather than Joy, etc.). I felt that I could safely conclude that both these names held some truth, and the variation in reporting was probably due to a failed (and unmentioned) marriage, the use of pet names, and/or some other unknown factor.

Record label, Cousin Emmy's song "Ruby," Decca Records; LP Cover, Osborne Brothers sitting with instruments, stylized writing of Ruby

This summer, I was fortunate to begin working here in the Southern Folklife Collection, where I have been exposed to a wealth of information on early hillbilly performers like Cousin Emmy. As I pulled items for researcher questions and digitization, I began to revisit Cousin Emmy and to try to add some more context to her story. I settled on a simple goal: find a resource that mentioned both Joy May Creasy and Cynthia May Carver, or at least something that explained the difference.

In the SFC Song Folio Collection (30006), I found Chimney Corner Songs, FL-0137, which offered an interesting biography of Cousin Emmy and her fellow performers. Although it did not specifically mention her real name or a marriage, it led me to two different, illustrative sources in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College. First, I searched a similar songbook collection and found a songbook that includes a biography for Johnny Creasy, the announcer on Cousin Emmy’s show, that also mentions his attraction to Cousin Emmy. Chimney Corner Songs was published and largely credited to John Lair, whose papers and correspondence are held at Berea. In that correspondence is a 1941 letter from Cousin Emmy, in which she champions herself and her husband, an announcer: “My husband is a very good announcer. We both work nice together.”

Song folio cover, drawing of fireplace and photos of Cousin Emmy and Frankie MooreBlack and white photograph of cousin emmy

So, Cousin Emmy was born Cynthia May Carver outside Lamb, Kentucky. At least at some point, she also went by Joy. She was married to a Johnny Creasy (whose first name might have been Alfred) for some time, despite many claims, including in the Time article, that she had never married.

Of course, I also found a scribbled note card in the SFC Artist Name File (30005) for Cousin Emmy, NF-538, that states “Cousin Emmy was married to Joe Fred White before she was in radio (He’s in Florida).” In the Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, an online database, I found a small blurb in a 1949 issue of Variety magazine:

“St. L.’s ‘Cousin Emmy’ Divorced

St. Louis, June 14

Elmer Schaller, farmer living at Lenzburg, Ill., near here, last week won an uncontested divorce from his wife, who has been the “Cousin Emmy” of KMOX’s early a.m. hillbilly program. Couple was married April, 1945, and separated March, 1948. Mrs. Schaller has been a radio entertainer for seven years.”

handwritten notes on Cousin Emmy

Cousin Emmy’s on-stage persona and biographical information were constantly being tailored to her audience, from hillbilly music on the radio to the folk revival with Alan Lomax in the 1940s and the New Lost City Ramblers in the 1960s. Separating all the details of her life from the stories spinning all around her would surely be an impossible task, but I plan on putting on “Ruby” and digging around a little more.two posters, one featuring Cousin Emmy and other performers, the other is the Cousin Emmy Show

78 of the week: “Droan Waltz”

Labels for 78 rpm disc, Grapevine Coon Hunters. "Droan Waltz" and "The Grapevine Waltz", Brunswick Recording Co. GrThere is not much information about the Grapevine Coon Hunters, a stringband out of Grapevine, Texas that operated in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A research request put us onto a 78 rpm disc released on the Brunswick label in 1932. The disc includes two recordings from a November 1930 recording session in Dallas, Texas, including the mysteriously named “Droan Waltz”

Close up on text from Page 839 from "Country Music Sources" a discography of commercially recorded traditional music, entry 77. Droan WaltzWe checked Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music by Gus Meade, Douglas Meade, and Dick Spottswood for other recordings, but only came up with this single disc. The recording on the opposite side is “Grapevine Waltz” but the label interestingly includes a Spanish title as well, “El Vals de la Vida.”

In folder 457 of the Guthrie T. Meade Collection (20246) we found some handwritten notes about the Grapevine Coon Hunters and another related stringband, The Grapevine Rabbit Twisters. Meade’s notes are citations from local newspapers, The Grapevine Sun and Dallas Morning News, about upcoming radio broadcast appearances and the songs performed on the air. If any readers out there have more information about the Grapevine stringband scene ca. 1930, or if you want to do more research into the Meade Collection, please contact the Southern Folklife Collection or visit at Wilson Library. handwritten notes on yellow legal paper, citations from newspapers that included Grapevine Coon Hunters and Grapevine Rabbit Twisters

Now Available for Research: Duck Kee Studio Collection

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC. Recordings are pictured in the vault at Wilson Library.

A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC.

This week we published a new finding aid for the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553), which contains multi-track and mixdown studio master tapes of Triangle favorites recorded at Duck Kee Studio from 1984-2009. Recordings are on 2″ open reel, 1/2″ open reel, and ADAT analog formats.

Duck Kee Studio was founded by musician and recording engineer, Jerry Kee (Dish, Regina Hexaphone, Cat Toy), who began recording local bands out of a house in Raleigh in the late 1980’s. In 1995, Kee relocated the studio to Mebane, N.C., its eighth location.

The studio has close ties to the Triangle’s indie rock music scene, recording early work by Archers of Loaf, Tift Merritt, Pipe, Polvo, and Superchunk, among others. Kee has historically relied on analog recording equipment, including a 4-track and later a 24-track tape machine.

In January 2018, Duck Kee Studio no. 8 was tragically damaged in a fire. Kee recently talked with WUNC’s “Songs We Love” podcast about the fire, which destroyed his recording equipment and severely damaged open reel tapes stored at the studio.

Thankfully Kee donated a large batch of master tapes (about 175 in total) to the Southern Folklife Collection before the studio fire. These tapes are featured in the newly published finding aid and include recordings by local acts, like Cobra Kahn, Dish, Eyes to Space, Jennyanykind, Malt Swagger, Picasso Trigger, Portastatic, Queen Sarah Saturday, Regina Hexaphone, Schooner, and Superchunk.

The back of an open reel tape box featuring a handwritten track listing of songs by Tift Merritt and the Carbines.

A 1/2″ open reel tape (FT-20553/34) featuring early recordings of Tift Merritt and her band, The Carbines.

The collection also includes an early recording of Tift Merritt with her full band, dubbed The Carbines, which included Margaret White on fiddle, Christopher Thurston on bass, Greg Readling on keyboard and pedal steel, and Zeke Hutchins on drums. Above is an image of their fall 1998 recording that resulted in a self-released 7-inch single featuring “Juke Joint Girl” and “Cowboy” (1999, Oil Rig Music).

Duck Kee Collection materials are available for research on-site at Wilson Special Collections Library. The collection is a nice addition to the SFC and its growing collection of materials related to the Triangle’s independent music scene (Ron Liberti Collection, Merge Records Collection, Tift Merritt Collection, and Craig Zearfoss Collection, to name a few).

Remember those fire damaged tapes I mentioned earlier? About 170 of them arrived at SFC this past spring via Jerry Kee. We are currently assessing the tapes conditions and crafting a plan of attack to help preserve and provide access to the them. Stay tuned. Sending lots of positive thoughts and energy Jerry Kee’s way. We are hopeful that most of the damaged tapes can be salvaged.

And last but not least, shout-out to our graduate research assistant, Rae Hoyle, who helped process the Duck Kee Studio Collection – thank you, Rae!

Forever A Spirit in the Dark: peace to the Queen of Soul

two covers of Aretha Franklin LPs, on the left is Queen of Soul with an extreme close up of Franklin's face, on the right is Lady Soul with a close up of Franklin sinking into a microphone

Peace to the Queen of Soul, may she rest in power. The love she brought to this world will forever be a spirit in the dark for so many. We had an emotional listening session in the studio this morning, sharing some of our favorite tracks from LPs in the Southern Folklife Collection. We started with one of her early recordings from 1962, a selection of spirituals released on Battle records that also featured singer Sammie Bryant and Franklin’s father, Rev. C. L. Franklin. Listen to her intro to “Precious Lord, Part 2” here:

With a voice that resonated with sounds from the past and into future of American music, she used her gifts to lift people up. Her voice commanded attention, and she used it to communicate a call to freedom rooted in feminism and the remarkable power of her being. When Franklin sang a song, she made it her own, whether it’s Otis Redding’s “Respect” or Nina Simone’s “Young Gifted and Black” from the 1972 album of the same name. Listen to a clip here:

Photocopy of handwritten session notes from "Spirit in the Dark" by Aretha Franklin, Folder 8, Jerry Wexler Collection (20393), Southern Folklfie Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

It’s “Spirit in the Dark,” one of Franklin’s original compositions that we turn to again and again. In the Jerry Wexler Collection (20393) there are some photocopies of Franklin’s session notes for mixing the 1970 album of the same name. We loved reading her concise notes clearly directing the session according to her artistic vision-“Up the bass in spots, some turn arounds!  Tambourines on fast part…”  We wrapped the session with her live recording of the song from her 1971 album Live at Fillmore West. Looking at the gatefold image from the LP, we can only imagine what that night must have been like. Going to return to this one again and again as we remember the one and only Queen of Soul.

Inside gatefold of LP with photo of Aretha Franklin and band performing onstage, photo taken from behind the band looking at the audience.