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)

Latest video roundup: From Tennessee to Hawaii

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As the AV Preservation team waits on the next large batch of digitized video content (check-in later this summer!), a small selection of videos has been described and made available for streaming in the last week, including:

VT-20004/1: 5th Annual Tennessee Grassroots Days
Held in Nashville’s Centennial Park in 1980, this video features performances by Leola Cullum, Gospel Stirrers, Bud Garrett, Lizzie Cheatham, Nimrod Workman, Jo-El Sonnier with Frazier Moss, Sam’s Ramblers, and Hazel Dickens. Also included are shots of the festival grounds, with demos spanning quilt-making to beekeeping.

Additional footage, PSAs and television coverage of annual Grassroots Days through the 80s can be found in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004)

 

VT-20466/5: James “Son Ford” Thomas at Bacchus, Newark, Del., winter 1978

I highlighted a different James “Son Ford” Thomas video in the Robert Bethke Collection (#20466) in a previous post, in which he performed with George Thorogood and Ron Smith. Primarily playing solo, but joined by Ron Smith eventually, this performance takes place at the University of Delaware’s Bacchus Theater.

 

VT-20018/1 & VT-20018/2: Walter Raleigh Babson at UNC Chapel Hill with Andy Cahan, 1987
Walter Raleigh Babson performed twice at Chapel Hill in 1987, including his last public concert with Andy Cahan on November 12th (VT-20018/2), 26 days before passing away. Along with the performance, this tape includes a retrospective of Babson’s life through home movies and photographs.

 

Babson gracefully executes advanced yoga pose in home movie, undated (VT-20018/2)

VT-20018/1 documents Babson’s performance earlier in 1987 at Gerrard Hall on March 28th for the Southern Accents Fine Arts Festival at UNC, where he is again joined by Andy Cahan. Additional audio recordings and interviews of Babson can be accessed in the Andy Cahan Collection (#20018).

 

VT-20379/20 part 1 and part 2: Gene Bluestein with Nona Beamer on Folk Sources in American Culture, 1986

Gene Bluestein tries out the gourd rattle, with guidance from Nona Beamer

Gene Bluestein hosted a number of guests on his series Folk Sources in American Culture while at California State University. Many of these segments can be found in the Gene Bluestein collection (#20379). On this particular day, he hosted Nona Beamer, who shared examples of instruments and related Hawaiian folk traditions.

 

 

 

SFC Hits 20,000 Streaming Recordings!

 

One of our first batches being prepped for shipment in February 2016

With the more recent addition of video content and the increase in production in our audio studios since starting our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in August 2015, there’s a lot to explore online. Since it might be overwhelming to know where to start, I thought I’d share my top 5 countdown of memorable moments from watching and listening over the last couple of months.

5. The time Dr. William R. Ferris panned across the Mississippi and framed the New Orleans skyline, from the vantage point of what is now the Crescent City Park in the Bywater (one of my favorite places in N.O!), while documenting his trip on the Delta Queen in 1987 (VT-20367/24).
Starts around the 33 minute mark

Delta Queen, 17-24 April 1987: tape 1 of 4
Dr. William R. Ferris Collection, 20367
Video8

4. Finding this disc in the stacks during a conservation survey and spending many weeks curious about its contents before finally having it digitized. I’d be very curious if anyone knows the whereabouts of this band. (FD-20245/836)
Chicken Way’s “Classy Lady ”
Goldband Recording Corporation Collection, 20245
Instantaneous disc

3. When James “Son” Thomas performed with George Thorogood and Ron Smith, and the video switcher employed some creative video effects (VT-20466/3)

James “”Son Ford”” Thomas with George Thorogood and Ron Smith, 1978
Robert D. Bethke Collection, 20466
U-Matic

2. This SFC department favorite featuring Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tracey Schwartz and a beautiful sunny backdrop (VT-20006/2). Bonus music videos by unidentified bands at the end!

Woman Alive: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard with Mike Seeger and Tracey Schwartz, November 1975
Alice Gerrard Collection, 20006
VHS dub from unknown format

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST….

1. When a nightmarish Barney joined a Mt. Airy dance contest (VT-20009/272). The beloved dinosaur from our imagination appears around 5:20 minute mark


Mt Airy Fiddlers convention, dance contest Rufus Kasey, Molln part 2, 1997
Mike Seeger Collection, 20009
Video8

Happy Field Tripping!

Fiddling around on a snow day

10th floor stacks, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson LibraryUNC Chapel Hill campus is closed today due to the weather, but thanks to the great work by the Audiovisual Preservation and Access Team, online access to SFC collections has never been easier. The now has well over 10,000 streaming audio files of digitized archival recordings. Recent additions have been made possible through support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

We’ve shared streaming recordings from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009), Alice Gerrard Collection (20008), Bob Carlin Collection (20050), and Tom Davenport Collection (20025)John Loy works in the studio of the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. in the past, but we have since more than doubled the amount of streaming content. We’d love to hear your favorites, but as an introduction, we pulled a few recordings from recent additions that we found particularly fascinating. Click on the link to go directly to a streaming audio file:

  • First up from the Andy Cahan Collection (20018), some fantastic tunes performed by musician and folklorist Andy Cahan and Carlie Marion recorded during a July, 1998 visit to Marion’s home in Elkin, NC. There are seven tapes total, any and all are excellent listening but tape 2, side 1 is a great place to start.

SFC Audio Open Reel 2755: Recordings of Carlie Marion and Andy Cahan performing in Marion’s home, Elkin, N.C., 9 July 1988: reel 2 of 7: Side 1ft20018_2755_scrnsht_Recordings of Carlie Marion and Andy Cahan performing in Marion's home, Elkin, N.C., 9 July 1988: reel 2 of 7 1/4" Open Reel Audio

  • From the Tom Carter and Blanton Owen Collection (20029), stories and twin fiddling by Luther Davis and Huston Caudill recorded in Dalhart, Grayson Co., VA in February 1974. [* note you can also hear a number of recordings of Davis streaming via the Alice Gerrard Collection (20008)]
ft20029_1013_scrnsht_Luther Davis and Huston Caudill, Dalhart, Grayson County, Va., 8 February 1974 1/4" Open Reel Audio

ft20026_18858_scrnshot_SFC Audio Open Reel 11858: Shaker interview, Sister R. Mildred Barker, Sabbathday Lake, Me., 18 August 1973: Side 1

If you have any questions or comments about accessing streaming media, be sure to contact the Southern Folklife Collection at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu. Stay warm and safe out there!

Video for your Memorial Day Weekend

Greetings from the Audiovisual Preservation and Access team!

Starting today we have another fresh batch of streaming video, so I thought I’d share some highlights gathered from my time reviewing the footage.

Click on any of the images below to view the video they were captured from. All other content mentioned can be found by going directly to the collection link and searching the collection finding aid.

Mike Seeger Collection (20009): Video from various music and dance events in Mt. Airy, NC, an interview with Snuffy Jenkins, recording of Almeda Riddle, and a 1975 broadcast performance with Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger and Tracey Schwartz

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.07.01 PMAlmeda Riddle and Mike Seeger deep in thought at Almeda’s home in Greers Ferry, AR on May 3, 1984 (VT-20009/137)

 

William R. Ferris Collection (20367): Interviews with Eudora Welty, Cleanth Brooks, Pete Seeger, and James “Son” Thomas, concert footage of Bobby Rush, and video documentation of Dr. Ferris’ trip down the Mississippi river aboard the Delta Queen

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.16.20 PMBobby Rush in concert at the Hoka in Oxford, MS on July 25, 1987 (VT-20367/31)

 

Anne Romaine (20304): Various appearances and concerts with Anne Romaine on auto harp and footage of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.24.35 PM“Take me for a ride in your car car” – Anne Romaine performs for Langly Park-McCormick Elementary school children (VT-20304/14)

 

Archie Green (20002): Video of the Archie Green Symposium held at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009 and an interview with Archie Green on labor culture in 2001

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 2.11.22 PMArchie Green talking about laborlore in San Francisco on September 20, 2001 (VT-20002/43)

 

J Taylor Doggett (20286): Performance by T-Bone Pruitt, tribute to John Tanner, various Five Royales television appearances, and video of the 1992 North Carolina Folk Heritage Awards Ceremony

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.36.55 PMThe dedication of Five Royales Drive on August 23, 1991 in Winston-Salem, NC (VT-20286/23)

In addition to the 4 collections listed above, we have also made available streaming content from the George Hamilton IV (20410) collection, which can be viewed online if you are on campus here at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. This collection contains a number of appearances, interviews, and performances with George Hamilton IV, as well as a handful of Grand Ole Opry shows.

Earlier this month we began streaming videos from the Nancy Kalow and Wayne Martin collection (20047) and the Nancy Kalow Collection (20113), which you can read about in our last post from Aaron here.

Enjoy your weekend! Signing off with another one of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 2.28.52 PMCorey Harris, July 1994 (VT-20009/150, Mike Seeger Collection)

 

SFC videos of the week: Bertie Dickens and Enoch Rutherford

20113_VT0005_0001_Nancy Kalow Collection_Videotape 5: Bert Dickens, Ennice, N.C., 31 January 1987, 3 of 3

You read the title correctly, “SFC videos of the week.” We have been slowly rolling out streaming archival videos held in the Southern Folklife Collection, but now there are just too many not to share widely. These first two videos, Videotape VT-20113/5 featuring Bert Dickens (above) and Videotape VT-20113/8 Enoch Rutherford (below) are part of the Nancy Kalow Collection (20113).  To go directly to the streaming video click on the images in this post or visit the finding aid for the finding aid for the Nancy Kalow Collection (20113) here.

The Nancy Kalow Collecion collection comprises 29 videotapes of various aspects of North Carolina folklife recorded by Kalow between 1987 and 1991. These two tapes, Videotape VT-20113/5 are part of a series documenting traditional North Carolina musicians that Kalow made in association with musician and founder of The Old-Time Herald Alice Gerrard as part of a project for the North Carolina Arts Council. Originally recorded on Hi-8 video, digitization and streaming of these videos and others is made possible through support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Old-time banjo player and North Carolina Heritage Award recipient, Bertie (Bert) Caudill Dickens spent most of her life the community of Ennice in Alleghany County, North Carolina. The video was recorded in her home on Jan 31, 1987.

Recordings of Enoch Rutherford were also made on January 31, 1987 at his home in Independence, Virginia (for an excellent article on Enoch Rutherford, see this remembrance written by musician Martha Spencer in 2013 from Mountain Music Magazine). Accompanied by Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan, Rutherford’s hard-driving clawhammer style is in full force. The versions of “Sugar Hill” and “Whoa, Mule” on this tape are spectacular (as noted by an enthusiastic audience member off camera hollering support). 20113_VT0005_0001_Nancy Kalow Collection_Videotape 8: Enoch Rutherford, Independence, Va., 31 January 1987, 3 of 3

Other musicians documented in the collection include Thomas Burt, Calvin Cole, Walter Raleigh Babson, Joe and Odell Thompson, Piedmont blues musicians George Higgs and James Bud Powell, and John Rector. There are also tapes documenting a 1987 performance at the UNC Forest Theatre by storyteller Steven Henegar and Uncle Eli’s Quilting Bee, an annual event that has taken place in Alamance County since 1931 and which Kalow recorded on 7 April 1988 at Eli Whitney Recreation Center.

Stay tuned to Field Trip South for more streaming media updates or browse our collections and finding aids through our website here.

 

New streaming audio!

Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan SearsThe Southern Folklife Collection now has well over 5000 streaming audio files of digitized archival recordings. Recent additions have been made possible through support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We’ve shared streaming recordings from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) in the past, but we have since more than doubled the amount of streaming content. We’d love to hear your favorites, but as an introduction, we pulled a few that we found particularly fascinating from the most recent additions. Click on the link to go directly to a streaming audio file:

8611: AG 427: Joe Caudill, Bertie Dickens, and Dan Williams, recorded in December 1971 in Ennis, N.C. (continued from AG 424) / Various Others. Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.30.47 PM

  • From the Bob Carlin Collection (20050), The Spencer Brothers, Lance and Maynard. Originally from Virginia, The Spencer Brothers performed on Greensboro’s WBIG and with Stringbean as part of Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Partners Troupe in the 1940s.

7009: Spencer Brothers at Sister Ruth’s home; recorded by Brad Spencer. 1985.: Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.35.26 PM

  • From the Tom Davenport Collection (20025), we’ve added a number of interviews with Arthur Jackson, aka Peg Leg Sam, and members of the Joines family . Here is one of Jackson conducted during the making of the excellent documentary film, Born for Hard Luck (view it on Folkstreams.net).

324: Peg Leg Sam: interview: Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.36.36 PM

272: John Kelly, fiddle. Dublin. Paddy Glacken, fiddle. Dublin. 2 August 1972. Tony Smith, fiddle. Dublin. 3 August 1972. Side: 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.37.37 PM

AV Preservation Project Team Spotlight: Anne Wells

As of late 2015, SFC’s audiovisual preservation and access project team has grown to include three new members! To welcome them, I will be highlighting their work through a series of posts, starting with our AV Archivist, Anne Wells.

Anne is charged with increasing access to SFC collections, old and new, through the development of item level finding aids (for reference, check out the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection).  Currently, only 30% of SFC collections containing audiovisual materials are described through these finding aids, making the work Anne carries out extremely important to the visibility of SFC holdings. Additionally, as the primary location for streaming our digitized content, the increase in finding aids will allow us to serve more recordings to our patrons and the general public.

For this post I asked Anne to describe the type of work she is currently taking on…

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As Erica mentioned, I have been primarily working with SFC’s finding aids since I began last November. These finding aids provide comprehensive overviews of SFC’s unique collections. Thus far, I have spent the majority of my time cleaning up previously made finding aids, or more specifically, EAD XML schema, to make sure they meet specific requirements necessary for the linking of streaming digital access copies. During this process I have also created a standardized language to describe SFC’s audio visual items, including consistent descriptions of format, length, playback attributes and credits, when known.

I have also been lucky enough to get my hands on some of SFC’s AMAZING collections. For instance, I processed the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection, which includes over 2,000 live concert recordings on ¼” open reel, audiocassette, DAT and CD. I accessioned the collection, arranged the materials chronologically by format, and created a new item level finding aid for the collection. Just to give you a sense of the large scope of the collection, here’s a cropped glance at some of the audiocassettes within the collection:

McCabes_1

And here’s a personal favorite found in the collection:

McCabes_2

I am now transitioning into mostly creating new SFC finding aids from scratch. I find this kind of work super rewarding, since I personally have a hand in making these collections known and available to the general public for the first time. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on these new finding aids as they become published.

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Prior to Anne’s arrival, significant work was put into developing a prioritization model for SFC collections, both for digitization and description. In considering the number of variables that make a collection a high priority, a questionnaire was developed to rate collections on certain factors, including the following factors:

  1. Percentage of formats at risk of deterioration or obsolescence in the collection (including lacquer discs, polyester-based audiotape, and 2” Quadruplex video)
  2. Percentage of unique recordings in the collection
  3. Research value
  4. Previous or expected requests and use by patrons
  5. Previous digitization work
  6. Use and access restrictions

Using the questionnaire, we were able to determine a top-13 list to be prioritized for digitization and access. Fortunately, we found that a number of the collections had already seen some level of attention, so currently we are focusing on completing their digitization, while Anne polishes their finding aids.

Look out for more content in the following collections in the near future:

Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project
Anne Romaine
David and Beverly Patterson
George Hamilton IV
Tom Davenport
Guy and Candie Carawan
Bob Carlin
Archie Green
Mike Seeger
Goldband Recording Corporation
William R. Ferris
Eugene Earle