Any fan of American folk music and culture should be sure to spend plenty of time at Folkstreams.net, a wonderful online collection of over 100 hard-to-find documentary films. The site is currently spotlighting the collaborative work of filmmaker Tom Davenport and UNC folklorist Dan Patterson, including a particular favorite of ours, 1976’s Born For Hard Luck, a portrait of the late great medicine show performer “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson. Including interviews and a live performance, it’s a fine tribute to both a great entertainer and the lost art of the medicine show. If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s well worth your time, as are any of the films you may find on Folkstreams.
Original tapes and films associated with the Folkstreams project are preserved in the SFC’s Folkstreams.net Collection.
Taken by Bill Ferris at the Sanctified Church of God in Christ, Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1968. From the William R. Ferris Collection.
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Recently found in the Ralph Epperson Collection, from the recordings of WPAQ Radio in Mount Airy, NC, was a delightful tape of Clyde Johnson and the Stringdusters from the June 15, 1985 broadcast of the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round, a weekly live radio program for local musicians. The Stringdusters had a rotating membership that always included Clyde Johnson, host of the Merry-Go-Round for 47 years (until his death in 2007). Highlights include two songs sung by Rafe Brady, “Take A Drink On Me” & “Waltz Across Texas With You”. Rafe’s unique blend of character and warmth in his aging voice helped give the program it’s usual down home feel.
The entire Ralph Epperson Collection has now been digitized for preservation and access. This work was made possible though support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Take A Drink On Me”: take-a-drink-on-me
“Waltz Across Texas”: waltz-across-texas
Our last post reminded me of this photo from our general collection, a snapshot of Elvis Presley riding in a parade. Someone much more famous must be riding behind, because no one in the crowd is looking at Elvis. We aren’t sure where or when this photo was taken or who is riding along, but if you think you know please drop us a line in the comments. The photo was taken in 1955 at the Jimmie Rodgers Festival in Meridian, MS. The man on the left is Jimmy Snow.
**UPDATE** See the comments below for a more in depth discussion
Often we rely on our researchers for valuable information about the material in our collections: they are the ones who spend the most time with the material, and they definitely have the most expertise. A case in point: a recent discovery in our Elvis Presley Instantaneous Disc Collection, from a set of acetate masters for the soundtrack of the 1963 Elvis movie It Happened at the World’s Fair. A researcher who specializes in all things Elvis has pointed out that one of the the songs in the collection, “The Life I Love” (FD-1190), is not a recording of Elvis Presley at all, but most likely sung by P.J. Proby, a Texas native whose act the folks at MGM apparently found so Elvis-like that they contracted him to record demos of songs they were considering for Presley.
It makes sense that this particular song would only exist in demo form: “The Life I Love” never appeared in the movie, so it’s likely Elvis never recorded his own version, and the existing Presley discographies make no mention of the song.
P.J. Proby would go on to have a very impressive recording career of his own, scoring three top-ten hits in the UK in the mid-sixties, appearing on the Beatles TV special, and recording an album with the future members of Led Zeppelin. Later in his career Proby would continue to capitalize on his similarities to Elvis, portraying the King in various productions of Elvis: The Musical.
Listen to “The Life I Love”, likely sung by P. J. Proby (commenters seem to disagree as to who, exactly, is singing this demo): the-life-i-love
Dolly Parton’s first publicity photo, 1959, from the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection.
In March of this year, the music world lost one of its best and brightest when John Cephas, world-famous proponent of the famous Piedmont style of guitar picking, passed away. Cephas, widely known for his partnership with harmonica player Phil Wiggins, was a regular on the blues festival circuit, bringing the mellow sounds of the Piedmont to enthusiastic crowds on every continent (except Antarctica – too bad for the penguins!) Winner of a slew of awards (including a National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1989), he tirelessly worked to bring traditional blues music to audiences old and new.
Take a moment and remember Mr. Cephas with us, and enjoy Piedmont style picking at its very best.
Listen to a clip of Cephas & Wiggins performing “Twelve Gates To The City”, from the 1995 album Cool Down: twelve-gates-to-the-city