Some days, there’s just no other option but to yodel. Today is one of those days. Pardon the brief hiatus here at Field Trip South, but we’re working on big plans in the Southern Folklife Collection. Stay tuned to Field Trip South for future announcements. But until then, feel free to yodel along. Above is a fine mix by the great George P. Watson, from 78-12828. Even better to my ears is this fine Romeo release of Frankie Wallace and His Guitar scatting through “My Hulu Girl” in 1926, from 78-12017.05-2_My_Hulu_Girl
But I had to save the best for last, the remarkable voice and piano stylings of Roy Evans. Put this one on repeat, “The New St. Louis Blues” from 78-11488. Welcome to the weekend. 03-1_The_New_St_Louis_Blues
*Special guest post by Laura McPherson, UNC-SILS graduate student and SFC assistant*
As we wait with baited breath for the Southern Folklife Collection’s Steel Guitar Symposium and Concert [symposium is free to the public, tickets to the concert are available to purchase] to begin on Saturday, March 23, we’ve scoured our serials holdings to bring y’all some interesting items on the steel guitar, its history, and the musicians who love it.
Jerry Byrd and his steel guitar grace this cover of this 1963 issue of Fretts. The Southern Folklife Collection holds a number of Byrd’s recordings, including Admirable Byrd: The Steel Guitar Music of Jerry Byrd.
Inside the magazine, an article penned by Byrd sets himself as the defendant in a courtroom drama where the prosecutor represents his fans, whose questions run the gamut from “amusing” to “accusing, and abusing.” Later in the article, Byrd claims that the steel guitar is the most controversial instrument and reacts to attempts to standardize the instrument, relegate its use to the genre of country music, and elevate technique above the musicians’s emotional expression.
The SFC also holds Volumes 1-3 of Steel Guitar World Magazine, whose tagline, “Just for the love of steel’en” (or steelin’, depending on the issue), can be seen below on this creative cover from the November 1992 issue.
So whether you call it the pedal steel, slide steel, lap steel, dobro, or just plain steel guitar, swing by the Southern Folklife Collection to check out some of these marvelous magazines and join us on Saturday, March 23, at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro for the final event in the Southern Folklife Collection’s Instrument Series!
Another research query to share this week. I found the Standard Program Library 16-inch transcription disc pictured above, call number TR1180 from the Southern Folklife Collection Transcription Discs (#30024), while assisting a patron searching for a recording of a track called “Mussin’ Frets,” a novelty guitar instrumental by the excellent Prairie Ramblers [bio by Greensboro, NC resident Eugene Chadbourne!]. The group coalesced in the 1930s appearing on numerous radio stations before settling down at WLS in Chicago. Featuring mandolinist Charles Chick Hurt, bassist “Happy” Jack Taylor, fiddler Tex Atchison, and Floyd “Salty” Holmes, a multi-instrumentalist and master of the harmonica, the group rose to fame after partnering up with a young Patsy Montana. Comfortable jumping from old-time stringband music, to country, to western swing, they went on to appear in numerous cowboy films with Gene Autry and other singing cowboys before splitting up for good in 1947 (well after Montana left to pursue her solo career). But back to the disc, Here’s “Huckleberry Picnic” to wet your whistle. TR1180_Huckleberry Picnic
Unfortunately, we were unable to locate “Mussin’ Frets,” but fortunately we were able to digitze TR1180 to share with you fine readers and listeners. These recordings feature a Post-War incarnation of the Prairie Ramblers, aka The Westernaires at this time, after Atchison and Holmes had left the band. Rusty Gill, the vocalist on this disc, including the classic cowboy number “Ridin’ Old Paint in the Sky,” was married to Carolyn DeZurik of the remarkable DeZurik Sisters. If any of you have any information about “Mussin’ Frets,’ please do let us know. TR1180_Ridin’ Old Paint in the Sky
If you sing along, Big Slim the Lone Cowboy won’t be so lonely. The Southern Folklife Collection happily welcomes you to learn the “Secret’s“ of our heart. Another classic from the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios, 1882-1893 (#30006), FL-247. See the remaining contents below. Special thanks to a new Southern Folklife Collection friend in Australia for leading us to this great collection of songs through a research request from almost 10,000 miles away.
It’s Burns Day, and I hope you have been practicing your “Address tae the Haggis.” Folklorist, teacher, author, and friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Burgin Mathews, hosts a Burns Supper that I will someday be lucky enough to attend, however this year I’ll have to offer the Immortal Memory address to myself in a quiet kitchen. Thankfully I found a wealth of supporting materials in the SFC to assist in my Burns Night activities. The LP pictured above, call no. FC18057, offers a great start with Frederick Worlock reading some of Robert Burns best, including “To a Louse (on seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church).” Listen to the clip above.
Thanks to inspiration from the SFC’s recent Fiddle Concert and Symposium, I pulled out a record, call no. FC1508, produced by Mark Wilson that features some of his excellent recordings of Cape Breton musician Joseph Cormier. Scottish Violin Music from Cape Breton Island, kicks off with a perfect set of reels for Burns Night, “Haggis; Glennville’s Dirk; Bird’s Nest.” Listen to “Haggis” here:FC1508_Southern Folklife Collection
Your guests will likely need some source material for their Burns recitations after dinner, so you may want to reference The Merry Muses of Caledonia, call no. PR4322.M42 1965, and possibly copy the glossary for those less familiar with the particulars of Scottish vocabulary. (click images to enlarge)
Finally, no Burns Supper is complete without a rousing rendition of Robert Burns most famous and most misunderstood poems, “Auld Lang Syne.” I never imagined that I would someday offer the following advice, but take a cue from Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians and pour your heart and soul into the song (it may help if you have a cup of “uisge beatha,” aka the “water of life, aka Scotch whisky, in advance). Sing along won’t you? 45_2046
As promised, a few more holiday treats for the snack table. These come courtesy of the Kitty Wells Cook Book, vol. 1 (1964), from NF2158 in the Southern Folklife Collection Artist Name Files (#30005). Start off the night with a “Pink Quickie,” before enjoying a delicious “Cranberry Christmas Mold” and some “Holiday Fruit Cookies.” A party menu like no other! Perfect for shooting pool with good friends, like Kitty Wells husband, Johnny Wright (pictured below). Come back tomorrow for some more Southern Folklife Collection holiday finds.
(as always, click images to enlarge)
The Southern Folklife Collection has just cataloged a unique collection of French accordion music CDs. Some of them are re-releases of 1930s recordings, primarily accordion-plus-big band arrangements of foxtrots and waltzes. Others come from the 1980s and 1990s and feature the instrument in genres like disco, boogie, and samba.
Especially noteworthy among this group of CDs is the 1991 reissue of the album Record Musette by accordion virtuoso Michel Pruvot (originally released in 1984). Though he is perhaps best known as the host of the French television show Sur un Air d’Accordéon (On the Accordion), Pruvot has also distinguished himself as a repeat winner of the international Accordion Endurance Competition, able to play continuously for over 117 hours.
Record Musette features a combination of original Pluvot compositions and covers. The clip included here is his interpretation of “Orange Blossom Special,” a song originally for bluegrass fiddle.
“Orange Blossom Special”
The SFC is proud to be the only repository in North America to have a cataloged copy of Record Musette.
As one of the most oft-played folk ballads in the Western tradition, the commonly titled “Barbara Allen” has spawned so many variations it’s nearly impossible to identify a primary tune. Reaching the height of its popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries in the British Isles and America, the ballad has been sung in parlors and on front porches for hundreds of years. It has branched into countless forms, known variously as “Barbary Allan,” “John Armstrong’s Last Good-night,” and “The Cruelty of Barbara Allen,” among many others (Source: Francis Child’s English and Scottish Ballads ).
Charles Seeger, the renowned American musicologist (1886 –1979), visited these parlors, collecting field recordings from all over the country on a quest to locate the definitive “Barbara Allen” tune. Drawing samplings from North Carolina to Michigan to California, he selected 30 renditions to study, 15 sung by women and 15 by men. The Southern Folklife Collection houses his compilation of the recordings on the Versions and Variants of Barbara Allen , accompanied with a detailed draft brochure.
After listening to the recordings and categorizing them according to musical mode into versions and variants, Seeger concludes that “no such entity as ‘the Barbara Allen tune’ can be set up…, however, two versions have such distinct characters.” The first version sounds completely unlike any of today’s more popular recordings of the ballad because of its archaic melody. Seeger states, “Version I in the AAFS seems to bear no relationship to conventional major or minor modality and the concept of tonality.” Here is a recording of a middle-aged man singing a variant of Version Ia “Barbara Allen”:
Barbara Allen Sample 1
In contrast, the second version sounds much more pleasing to the ear because “Version II will seem…closely related to our conventional major mode.” Here is a recording of an older woman singing Version IIa:
Barbara Allen Sample 2
The lyrics of this ballad tell the haunting story of Barbara Allen’s cold rejection of a dying man’s love, and her regrets as she hears the death bell toll. Realizing her mistake, she chooses death also and is buried next to her unrequited lover. Two examples of the opening verse of the ballad include:
The red buds they were swelling
Sweet William upon his dead bed a lie
For the sake of Barbry Allen
When all the flowers were a blooming
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen
While the lyrics vary from recording to recording, all versions share the same central plot. But, because the story’s spirit changes as the tune evolves, listening to the 30 variants remains captivating. The differences between minor and major modes, quick or dragging tempos, and the color of each singer’s voice uncover multiple levels and moods of Barbara Allen’s tragic story. One man sings the ballad like a cautionary tale to young lovers; another woman sings as if she were Barbara Allen herself, mourning a personal experience. In this way, Charles Seeger’s Versions and Variations of Barbara Allen celebrates how a ballad is neither singular nor static but a living history of time and place.
BILL BIRCHFIELD OF THE ROAN MOUNTAIN HILLTOPPERS, PHOTO BY ALICE GERRARD.
The Southern Folklife Collection is pleased to announce The Banjo: Southern Roots, American Branches, Saturday, August 25, 2012. This exhibit, symposium and concert is the first of the three-part Southern Folklife Collection Instrument Series. Panels, exhibits, and concerts in 2013 will feature the pedal steel guitar and the fiddle. The series seeks to provide an opportunity for music lovers to learn from leading musicians and scholars about the music, history, and culture of the American South.
Please join us first for the banjo symposium Saturday, August 25 from 10am to 4pm in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-CH, followed by a free concert in UNC’s Memorial Hall including master pickers Tony Trischka, Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Riley Baugus with Kirk Sutphin. This is a free but ticketed event. Tickets are now available at the Memorial Hall Box Office, 919.843.3333.
The symposium features lectures and panel discussions on the history of the banjo with:
- Robert Cantwell, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of Bluegrass Breakdown
- Bob Carlin, Musician and Author of The Birth of the Banjo
- Cecelia Conway, Appalachian State University Professor of English; Author of African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia
- Laurent Dubois, Duke Professor of Romance Studies and History
- Dom Flemons, musician (Carolina Chocolate Drops)
- Phillip Gura, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the 19th Century
- Jim Mills, musician (Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill) Six time winner of IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Award.
- Stephen Wade, Musician and Author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience
Don’t miss the accompanying exhibit tracing the history and development of the banjo, featuring instruments, photographs, recordings and ephemera from the Southern Folklife Collection.The exhibit opens August 25th and runs through Dec 31, 2012. on the 4th Floor, Wilson Library. Follow the Southern Folklife Collection on facebook or come back to Field Trip South for updates.
And now a couple more photos from the same roll as the one featured above from the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006). These photos feature Joe and Bill Birchfield of the great family stringband from Carter, Tennessee, The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Bill is demonstrating his unique banjo style, playing backwards, upside-down, and left-handed.