Ella May Wiggins and Depression-Era Textile Worker Ballads in North Carolina, Part 2

Record label for 78RPM record. Text reads: Paramount, Electrically Recorded. 3194-B. Vocal, Instrumental Acc. The North Carolina Textile Strike (McGhee). Martin Brothers. Bottom of label reads: "The New York Recording Laboratories - Port Washington, Wis-Trade Mark Registered."

In addition to the intrepid works of Ella May Wiggins, conflicts at textile mills in North Carolina in the late 1920s inspired quite a bit of commercially released labor songs relating specifically to textile work. The working class’ struggles with their employers immediately surrounding the depression were so pervasive that labels became interested in releasing strike songs due to high demand for this material – even if the artists releasing the music had little stake or political affiliation with the striking community. Regardless, many of the songs had a sympathetic attitude and stood in solidarity with laborers.

One such example is Welling and McGhee’s “The North Carolina Textile Strike”/”Marion Massacre,” available in the SFC as 78-16684.

Ronald D. Cohen (who has his own SFC collection) writes in his 2016 book Depression Folk: Grassroots Music and Left-Wing Politics in 1930s America:

“The prolific duo of Frank Welling, a vaudeville entertainer, and John McGhee, a lay preacher, using the name the Martin Brothers, composed and recorded “The Marion Massacre”/“North Carolina Textile Strike” for Paramount in 1929. They had no political agenda but used the strike to create event songs to sell records, a common strategy at the time.”

My hope was to make a transfer of this recording to share as part of this blog post. However, I noticed a severe crack in the disc. Occasionally it’s possible to play back a disc with a minor crack, but attempting to play back this one would have potentially damaged the media, or lobbed off the tip of the playback stylus. There are various ways to play back broken and cracked discs – optical playback systems and scanners have become more accessible in recent years – but our audio preservation priorities are typically dedicated to materials not already commercially available.

Record label for 78RPM record. Text reads: Paramount, Electrically Recorded. 3194-A. Vocal, Instrumental Acc. Marion Massacre (McGhee). Martin Brothers. Bottom of label reads: "The New York Recording Laboratories - Port Washington, Wis-Trade Mark Registered."

Arrow showing crack in SFC 78-16684, “Marion Massacre”/”The North Carolina Textile Strike”.

Fortunately, there was an easy solution: The Archie Green Collection (20002) already contained an audiotape transfer of this disc – alongside many other labor songs about textile work and accompanying papers. These are available as FT 188-90 and folder 397, respectively. While not of equivalent quality of a modern preservation transfer, this copy contains an acceptable level of intelligibility.

Document containing field notes about Archie Green Collection material. Text: Side A 1. “Cotton Mill Colic.” David McCarn, Victor V-40274-A. 2. “Poor Man, Rich Man” (“Cotton Mill Colic, No. 2”). David McCarn, Victor 23506-B. 3. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Lester “The Highwayman” (Lester Pete Bivins), Decca 5559 A (64111). 4. “The Weavers Blues.” Jimmie Tarlton, Victor 23700. 5. “Weaver’s Life.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorcey), Bluebird B 7802-A. 6. “Weave Room Blues.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorcey), Bluebird B 6441 B. 7. “Weave Room Blues.” Fisher Hendly (and His Aristocratic Pigs), Vocalion 04780. 8. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Lee Brothers Trio, Brunswick 501 (ATL 6669). 9. “Cotton Mill Girl.” Lester Smallwood, Victor V-40181-B. 10. “Serves ‘Em Fine.” Dave (McCarn) and Howard (Long), Victor 23577-B. 11. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Wilmer Watts and the Lonely Eagles, Paramount 3254-B (1905 on label and wax, 2460 A on wax only). 12. “Cotton Mill Girl.” Earl McCoy and Jessie Brook, Columbia 15499-D (W 149393). 13. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Daddy John Love, Bluebird B 6491-B. 14. “Spinning Room Blues.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorsey), Montgomery Ward 7024. 15. “Lint-Head Stomp.” Pheble Wright, Essex 1113-A (PW-2). 16. “Cotton Mill Man.” Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Epic 5-9676. Side B 1. “Marion Massacre.” Martin Brothers (Welling and McGhee), Paramount 3194. 2. “North Carolina Textile Strike.” Martin Brothers (Welling and McGhee), Paramount 3194. 3. “Little Cotton Mill Girl.” Bob Miller, Okeh 54575.

Field notes containing track listing for tape transfer of textile labor song 78s.

 

McCabes Guitar Shop Collection comes to UNC

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It’s a treat to go on an accession trip through the eyes and lens of Southern Folklife Collection curator, Steve Weiss. Just last month, Steve traveled to California to prepare the over 2000 audio cassettes and open reel tapes documenting performances from 1969 onward by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Fahey, John Hammond, Bill Monroe, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Dave Van Ronk, Mike Seeger, Ralph Stanley, Merle Travis, Kate Wolf, Townes Van Zandt, and North Carolina’s own Elizabeth Cotten and Doc and Merle Watson. They all took place at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California.

More than 1,600 musical acts have played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, over the last 45 years. The list on the store’s website even comes with a warning: “We lost track of a few names.”

Now Bob Riskin, the concert venue’s owner, has donated thousands of hours of recordings from those concerts to the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) in the Wilson Special Collections Library. The SFC will preserve the recordings by creating and archiving digital copies of them.

The McCabe’s store, which first opened its doors in 1958 and specializes in selling folk and acoustic instruments, offers instrument rentals and repairs as well as books, lessons, and help for musicians and music aficionados alike.

We look forward to researchers, scholars, musicians, and fans to be able to access these historic recordings starting in September of 2016. For now, though, take a trip to McCabe’s through these photographs made by Steve Weiss on his recent trip.

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