Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, folklorist William Ferris toured his home state of Mississippi, documenting the voices of African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Illustrated with Ferris’s photographs of the musicians and their communities and including a CD of original music and a DVD of original film, this book features more than 20 interviews relating frank, dramatic, and engaging narratives about black life and blues music in the heart of the American South.
The CD/DVD is set to include narratives and performances from Fannie Bell Chapman, Scott Dunbar, James “Son” Thomas, B.B. King and more, personally selected by Bill Ferris from his extensive field recordings housed in the SFC’s William R. Ferris Collection.
UNC Press has put together a great website where you can watch video clips, get bonus material, and preorder your copy.
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.
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.
**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
Here’s an interesting song we came across recently in the Ed Kahn Collection: “The Strange Case of the DeAutremont Brothers”, recorded in 1928 by banjo and guitar duo The Johnson Brothers. It dramatized a sensational train robbery that took place outside of Medford, Oregon in 1923. The would-be robbers (brothers Hugh, Ray, and Roy DeAutremont) badly botched the job, murdering four innocent men in the process. The DeAutremont brothers escaped the scene with their lives, leading authorities on a international manhunt until they were finally apprehended, tried, and sentenced to life in prison in 1927. The Johnson brothers recording no doubt sought to turn some of the recent trial publicity into record sales.
Listen to a clip of “The Strange Case of the DeAutremont Brothers”: strange-case-of-the-deautremont-bros
The clip below is from a tape made in 1973 by Eugene area journalist Gary Williams (tape FT-12658, Ed Kahn Collection), including an interview with the by-then paroled Ray DeAutremont. Ray is reluctant to speak about the murders, but does offer a few interesting (though self-serving) words on the subject of regret.