Real traditional: Hazel Dickens, part 3

Mable Hillary and Hazel Dickens, Southern Grassroots Music Tour, 1973/1974. Photo by Cory Foster. call no. PA-20304/1.

A quick post today featuring an oral history heavy article on Hazel Dickens that originally appeared in the Washington D. C. alternative/underground newspaper, The Unicorn Times, in 1977.  See complete article below and previous Hazel Dickens tributes here: part 1 and part 2.
Besides offering a comprehensive biography of her life up until the time it was published in 1977, the Unicorn Times article gives equal, or perhaps, even more space to Hazel’s own voice.  Much like the book Dickens would co-write with Bill Malone thirty years later, the article gives Hazel the opportunity to critique her own life story as it had been told by others: folklorists, record companies, and the media.  Among the subjects addressed are Dickens meeting and playing music with Mike Seeger in the 1950s, her feelings about her own Southern identity and mountain heritage, her status as a feminist role model, and of course her political activism.  Hazel also talks about performance styles, tradition and change in country music, and the frustration that many performers feel when their creative expression is forced into categories.

“There’s so many people that get put down for doing real traditional music. For those people who still have the guts to get out there and do it, it’s a political thing. They’re to be commended for trying to preserve the music. For those people who want to go on to something else, I see nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the freedom to do what you want to do.

For myself, I like to sing that music. Whether I’m singing on or off key, whether I’m even missing some of the chords, when I’m at my best is when I’m belting it out and giving it all I’ve got. It’s something of tme that I can’t put forth if I’m restrained or trying to get everything just right. Some people when they hear country, they think of country-western, but to me it’s traditional, raw…not too pretty a sound to some people because people with a trained ear would be very put off by that sound. The voice may be gravelly, it’s not polished or too stylized. It’s not a smooth style, it’s all feeling and emotion.

When I’m at my best is when I’m singing like that. If I get too involved with what other people are thinking, with trying to sing on pitch or trying to sing the way I know some people would like to hear me sing. I lose it.” [“Hazel Dickens: The Working Class Conscience of Harlan County, U. S. A.,” Unicorn Times, August 1977, by Alice Gerrard, Len Stanley, and Richard Harrington]

Hazel Dickens, Unicorn Times, p. 5.  Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004), Folder 40.

Remembering Hazel Dickens, part 2

Hazel Dickens, tour 1971. SFC Photographs.

Founded in 1966 by Anne Romaine and Bernice Johnson Reagon, the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project (SFCRP) worked to present traditional musicians from black and white cultures in performance together at a time when this was considered controversial. The SFCRP continued presenting musical performances throughout the South until the late 1980s and kept close ties with the activism of the civil rights era.  Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard participated in numerous tours, from 1968 to the 1980s, even assisting in the organizing, production, and promotion at times.
The Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004) includes numerous promotional materials as well as correspondence, both business and personal, between Anne Romaine,  Hazel, and Alice.  The letters and contracts provide fascinating details about the cultural industries related to traditional music in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as information about lives of struggling folk musicians like Hazel and Alice as they carved out their early careers.  In a letter dated 19 February 1968, Anne wrote to Alice:

“Dear Alice,
I have narrowed the tour schedule down to two weeks instead of three.  It will be from the 7th of April through the 20th.  Can you and Hazel come for the second week which will be from the 14th through the 20th?  The other performers for that week will be the Blue Ridge Mt. Dancers, Mike Cooney, Mable Hillary, Rev. Brown.  I hope that change doesn’t mess up yalls plans too much.  The tour will concentrate almost entirely in North Carolina.  I could get you a weekend date here in Atlanta at the Crucible coffee house at Emory University which pays 70% of the gross for Fri. and Sat. They usually have about 70 people in there each night”  [letter from Anne Romaine to Alice Foster, Feb. 19, 1968.  From the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004)]

Below is a promotional brochure for Hazel & Alice from the early 1970s.


for part 1, follow the link: “Hurricane” Hazel Dickens




"Hurricane" Hazel Dickens

“Is your head ready for me?  I’ll bet not!!  Well into each life a little rain must fall…so make way for Hurricane Hazel.” [Letter to Anne Romaine, Oct. 23, 1972.  Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, Inc. Collection 1965-1989 (#20004)]

Hazel Jane Dickens was born in Mercer Co., West Virginia on June 1, 1935. She died April 22, 2011 at the age of 75 in Washington, D. C.  From her groundbreaking bluegrass performances with Alice Gerrard in the 1960s and 1970s, to her mountain tinged honky-tonk union songs, to the sobering beauty of her acapella ballads, all of Dickens’ music displayed the raw power of the lined out Primitive Baptist hymns she sang with her father, a preacher and timber cutter.  Her stunningly provocative voice echoed with the high lonesome sound of the mountains.  As a singer, songwriter, pioneering musician, activist, mentor, and friend, Hazel Dickens life inspired countless individuals and left an indelible mark on the musical landscape of American music.
Numerous obituaries have been written that chronicle Dickens’ political advocacy, her hard hitting contributions to film soundtracks, and her bit parts in Hollywood films.  The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame has an excellent selection of  videos and mp3s of her music.  The documentary film Hazel Dickens: It’s hard to tell the singer from the song (Appalshop, 1987), and Dickens recent autobiography, co-written with country music scholar Bill Malone, Working Girl Blues: the life and music of Hazel Dickens (University of Illinois Press, 2008), provide remarkable insight into the creative life of an artist as Hazel reflects on her own career.  We highly recommend you spend some time with these if you haven’t previously had the opportunity.
With so much rich information available, we struggled to think what we could add to the conversation.  This post is much delayed resulting from the question of how to honor a figure we hold in such high regard and whose life and work are so intertwined with the “stuff” the Southern Folklife Collection claims as its mission to collect, preserve, and disseminate.  At the “Sounds of the South” conference held at UNC in April 1989 when the Southern Folklife Collection officially opened to the public in 1989, folk music scholar Norm Cohen challenged the fledgling archive to be “creative” in it’s “accessibility.”  Just as Australian record enthusiast John Edwards demanded in his will that his collection be kept whole, yet made available for the “study, recognition, appreciation, and preservation” of the American vernacular music he so loved, Cohen called for the SFC to become an “extension of living traditions, not just the graveyard of dead ones.”  (Sounds of the South, pp. 113-126).
Spending time with the artifacts of Hazel Dickens’ life in the SFC offered a reminder of this lesson.  The classic recordings of Hazel and Alice, Dickens’ masterful performances, and the songs like “Coal Tatoo” and “They’ll Never Keep Us Down” will always come to mind first when someone mentions her name, however, it’s things like the handwritten notes, the candid photographs, and the hand painted holiday card below, essentially the banalities of everyday life, that make those iconic recordings stand out even more in context.  Hazel Dickens knew this better than anyone, she sang it, “It’s hard to tell the singer from the song.”
Over the next two weeks, Field Trip South will pay tribute to Hazel Dickens by sharing a variety of materials from her life and career that appear across numerous collections at the SFC.  We hope these glimpses–highlighting her struggles starting a music career while working a day job, her wicked sense of humor, and her truly remarkable music–contribute to the continued appreciation of the living legacy she leaves behind.

(Holiday card, early 1970s, painted by Hazel Dickens, sent to the Romaine family. Likely made by Dickens at Old Mexico, the Mexican import store in she worked at in Washington, D. C. during the 1960s and 1970s.  Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, Inc. Collection 1965-1989 (#20004)

Master tape of the week: Chester Randle's Soul Sender's

A recent patron inquiry about Chester Randle’s Soul Sender’s got us digging through the masters in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection, 1930-1995 (#20245) to find this open reel tape of Soul Sender’s alternate takes and practice jams.  These tracks are rough and the arrangements are only just coming together, but Randle’s heavily distorted guitar cuts through the mud-sludge bass while Milford Scott’s hammond B-3 organ practically pours over the raw funk of Bill Parker’s drumbeat.  The full weight of Lake Charles’ humid swamp air lays heavy on this boogie.  Sounds great to us.
There are three different versions of each “Sweet Potato” and “Soul Brother’s Testify” on FT-6694.  Unlike the final versions, these rehearsal tapes do not feature horns as part of the ensemble.  It’s great to hear the band try on licks and solos, developing the lyrics and arrangements, and laying down some seriously noisy sounds.  These tracks eventually saw release on Eddie Shuler’s ANLA imprint. “Soul Brother’s Testify, parts 1 and 2,” (ANLA 102) is a sought after release by funk and soul record collectors and the opening breakbeat has been heavily sampled by hip hop artists.  For more information on ANLA releases in the collection see the Goldband finding aid, the SFC Goldband online exhibit, and the list below, but for now, some music.
– “Sweet Potato,” take 3, intro
FT_6694_Sweet Potato_1
– “Sweet Potato,” take 2, guitar solo
FT_6694_Sweet Potato_Solo
– “Soul Brother’s Testify,” take 3, intro
FT_6694_Soul Brother’s Testify_Intro
– “Soul Brother’s Testify,” take 3, end
FT_6694_Soul Brother’s Testify_End
The Soul Sender’s ensemble appears on recordings under a few different names with only slight variation–The Original Soul Sender’s, Charles Randle’s Soul Sender’s, sometimes without apostrophes.  Guitarist Charles Randle performed with Bill Parker, Milford Scott, and likely the unknown musicians as well, in a variety of groups like Clarence Garlow & His Accordion and the Chester Randle Orchestra.  Bill Parker was himself a local R&B star in the early 1960s with his Showboat Band, a group that also occasionally featured young guitarist Chester Randle.  Parker recorded numerous other sides for ANLA and Goldband and eventually founded his own Showboat Records.
Eddie Shuler started ANLA in the 1960s to feature soul and R&B artists from South Louisiana and East Texas as an extension of the blues, cajun, swamp pop, and zydeco music he released on his Goldband Record label.  Shuler founded Goldband in the 1940s initially to release country, cajun, and western swing records, including those by his own band, the All Star Reveliers.  In the early 1950s, Shuler bought an old holiness Church at 313 Church Street in north Lake Charles, Louisiana and developed the Goldband Complex, including a recording studio, record shop, and Shuler’s television repair business, Eddie’s Quick Service TV.

Shuler recorded regional artists for a regional market, distributing the recordings from the back of his car to record stores and to jukebox operators who placed the records on jukeboxes leased to local clubs, dancehalls, and restaurants.  Shuler had an ear for talent and for the changing tastes of his audience, building an impressive roster of artists over the years, including the first recordings of legendary Cajun accordionist Iry LeJune, the first hit record by then 13 year old Dolly Parton, Rockin’ Sidney, Boozoo Chavis, Cookie and the Cupcakes, and Cleveland Crochet, whose 1961 recording “Sugar Bee” became the first Cajun tune to break the Billboard Top 100.  Shuler’s accomplishments and struggles in the music industry are too many to list here, but for one of the best written histories the music of South Louisiana, see John Broven’s 1983 book South to Louisiana: the music of the Cajun bayous.
Original/Chester Randle’s Soul Senders materials in the Southern Folklife Collection include both 45 rpm records and open reel tape.  Follow the following link for more information on the materials listed below, Goldband Recording Corporation Collection, 1930-1995 (#20245):
45-8083, ANLA AL-102, “Soul Brother’s Testify”/”Soul Brother’s Testify”
45-8085 ANLA AL-118. “Low Blow, Part I”/”Low Blow, Part II”
45-8088 ANLA AN-105. “Take a Little Nip”/”Why did I let you go,”

Open reels: FT-6694; FT-6695; FT-7031; FT-7758; FT-7774; FT-7861; FT-7896; FT-7933; and FT-7968.

Photo of the Week: Let the sunshine in with Louis Armstrong

One way to brighten up a gray day is to find this possibly autographed promotional photo of the great Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong.  We like to think Mr. Armstrong conceived of the photo design himself: serenading his own smiling face, as bright as the sun, playing music and riding a trumpet surfing the sound waves pouring from his own disembodied hands.  This delightful photo came to the Southern Folklife Collection as part of the John Garst Collection (# 20136).
Finding the photo made us think about a concert recording of Louis Armstrong and his All Stars made on May 8, 1954 at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Digitized in the the SFC studios in 2006, the original recording is stored in the UNC Music Library.
Featuring Billy Kyle on piano, Kenny Johns on drums, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Trummy Young on trombone,  Arvell Shaw on bass, and guest vocalist Velma Middleton, the recording shows a band in top form.  Armstrong is the consummate bandleader, laughing and cracking jokes, and the band and the audience both follow suit making for an enthusiastic and raucous performance.  It was a good day to be in Chapel Hill.  The concert mixes jazz standards and pop tunes into Armstrong’s own signature New Orleans musical gumbo, kicking off with a wonderfully woozy version with “When it’s Sleepy Time Down South” and including a swinging version of the then brand new rock and roll hit, “Blueberry Hill.”  Enjoy the collection of audio selections from the concert below, including the intro to “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” and Armstrong’s unforgettable vocals on the hit “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”
— Louis Armstrong & his All Stars: Introduction, 8 May 1954
[audio:|titles=Louis Armstrong at Memorial Hall_intro]
— Louis Armstrong & his All Stars: “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue”
[audio:|titles=Louis Armstrong at Memorial Hall_Struttin’ with Some Barbecue]
— Louis Armstrong & his All Stars: Intro, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”
[audio:|titles=Louis Armstrong at Memorial Hall_Kiss_Intro]
— Louis Armstrong & his All Stars: Vocals, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”
[audio:|titles=Louis Armstrong at Memorial Hall_Kiss]

Poster of the Week: Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah

Comedian and banjo player Benjamin Francis “Whitey” Ford (b. 1901 in DeSoto, Missouri), aka the “Duke of Paducah,” appeared on the Grand Ole Opry from 1942 to 1959.  Ford originally developed the Duke character on the air of KWK-AM, St. Louis in the early 1930s and carried the character over to his own show with Red Foley in 1937, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.  Ford’s brand of folksy one-liners reached beyond fans of country music and he was just as popular on tours with stars of early Rock and Roll like Elvis Presley.  The image above features the Duke’s signature tagline: “I’m going back to the wagon, these shoes are killing me.”  The poster, call no. XOP-30021/144, is part of collection #30021: Southern Folklife Collection Posters, circa 1847-2008.

Collection Spotlight: Glenn Campbell on transcription disc

Capitol Records released Glenn Campbell’s hit song, “Galveston,” on March 17, 1969 so we pulled out a version  from the Lawrence Welk radio series, Guest Spot, show number LW70-36, distributed to radio stations as transcription discs.  Guest Spot was one of many syndicated radio shows sponsored by the

Liner notes (click to zoom)

United States Armed Forces, the U. S. Navy and Naval Reserves for this series.
The copy in the Southern Folklife Collection, call no. TR-12/504, is part of the extensive and always fascinating Eugene Earle Collection (#20376). Track list and liner notes are included to the left.  The modulation in the last verse and the sound of the telecaster in the guitar solo where the string sounds so loose that it might fall off just gets us every time.  The first clip below is the introduction to the show itself, the second is a sample of “Galveston.”
“Intro” Lawrence Welk–Guest Spot
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell

Photo of the week: Porter Wagoner songbook

A young Porter Wagoner, standing in the in the spotlight wearing one of his many stylish “Nudie Suits,” gazes up at himself on the cover of this songbook from his first year on the Grand Ole Opry. Featuring “the songs he loves best,” including the excellent, “Let’s Squiggle,” this 1957 songbook, call no. FL-503,  is part of collection #30006: Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios, circa 1882-1983.
Porter Wagoner: Country Music Favorites
Hill and Range Songs, Inc. New York, N.Y. 1957.
41 p. of music and illustrations.
“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Tomorrow You’ll Cry)”
“Itchin’ for My Baby”
“Let’s Squiggle”
“I Should Be with You”
“I’m Day Dreamin’ Tonight”
“Tricks of the Trade”
“Love at First Sight”
“Blue Guitar”
“Uncle Pen”
“I Can’t Live with You (I Can’t Live without You)”
“Company’s Comin'”
“I’m Counting on You”
“Be Glad That You Ain’t Me”
“My Everything (You’re My Everything)”
“Trade Mark”

Xmas 83 at Dena’s

Students, scholars, and fans of folklore often can’t help but romanticize the experiences of early field collectors, discovering lost tunes and musicians unknown outside their local communities.  The music is just so compelling and raw and often very good, from the legendary Lomax (John and Alan) recordings of the 1930s to the astounding body of work collected by the scholar/musicians like Mike Seeger and John Cohen in the 1960s, and countless others whose collections remain tucked away in attics or housed in archives like the Southern Folklife Collection and in institutions across the country.
Hearing the music today offers glimpses to worlds of experience foreign to most listeners.  The listener becomes a voyeur, peeking through the window into the homes and lives of the performers (and often the field recorders too) of a forgotten past.  While the feeling of being “let in on a secret” is profound and exciting, regarding the documented performance as a “secret” or a private moment between a few individuals distances the listener, and the temporal difference between when the material was recorded to when it is shared with a larger listening audience only further emphasizes that distance.  Instead of the field recording creating a cultural connection, it is exoticized to the point where such an experience (finding and recording lost or forgotten or ignored practitioners of a similarly lost, forgotten or ignored art form) seems impossible to replicate in the present, “modern” time.  Thankfully there are those who refuse to relegate those experiences exclusively to the past. Instead, these individuals constantly seek to break down the barriers created by an Orientalized other represented solely by the sounds on a tape by finding the hands, faces, and minds behind the music.
Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan spent many years in the late 1970s and early 1980s seeking out musicians in and around Galax, Virginia and Toast, North Carolina.  They developed strong relationships with some of these regions’ greatest living musicians, including Luther Davis, Roscoe and Leone Parrish, and Tommy Jarrell.  Cahan and Gerrard recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, lessons, jam sessions they shared with these musicians.  They learned countless tunes these performers but they also became their very good friends, sharing meals, helping with chores when health problems interfered, and even sharing holidays with them like a family.  In 1983, Cahan and Gerrard spent Christmas day with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Ardena “Dena” Jarrell at her house in Toast, NC, eating, drinking eggnog and, of course, playing music.  They had such a good time that the ensemble composed a song to commemorate the event, “Xmas 83 at Dena’s.”
I’m including 3 clips here: an introduction, a clip of the song itself, and a brief moment after the song when Tommy, Andy and Alice talk about composing fiddle tunes and recording.  Please enjoy.  Sounds like they did.
Xmas83 at Dena’s_intro
XMas at Dena’s
Xmas83 at Dena’s_outro
All clips from audiocassette FS-8341: Tommy Jarrell with Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan, recorded on 25 December 1983, in Toast, N.C. From the Alice Gerrard Collection.
The ongoing digitization project Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music, is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.