Frank Hovington materials at the SFC

Frank Hovington posing in front of his Fenton, Delaware home in April of 1978

Frank Hovington posing in front of his Felton, Delaware home in April of 1978. A still image from the video “Frank Hovington at home, Felton, Del., 30 April 1978” (VT-20466/21) in the Robert D. Bethke Collection.

One of my personal favorites in the Robert D. Bethke Collection (20466) is a video recording (VT-20466/21) of Frank Hovington playing guitar and singing at his home in Felton, Deleware back in April of 1978.

The Bethke Collection contains several original analog audio and video recordings of Frank Hovington (1919-1982), an American blues musician who was known for playing his guitar in the Piedmont blues style.

It’s a fascinating story how Frank (aka Guitar Frank), a man who lived the majority of his life in the state of Delaware, began playing the Piedmont blues. Music was in his family (Frank’s grandfather belonged to a fife and drum corps and his paternal uncle played piano and organ), but it was Frank’s neighbor, Adam Greenfield, who influenced him the most. Greenfield was a former Pullman porter from New Bern, North Carolina, who eventually bought a farm and settled about three miles from the Hovington family’s farm. According to Frank,

“They used to have what they called parties on a Saturday night, house-hops, and I would go ’round with my father and sit and hear [Adam Greenfield] play…and that was when I was first inspired to play banjo and guitar through him…I was only around five or six years old and I used to love to get right near him and watch that guitar and watch his fingers when he was playing and my father used to let me go and stay and watch him, so every time he used to be around town, I’d always make it my way to find where he was and listen to that guitar.”*

Frank Hovington on stage holding a guitar and talking into a microphone

Frank Hovington talking to elementary school students in February of 1979. A still image from the video “Frank Hovington at George M. Gray Elementary School, Wilmington, Del., 23 February 1979: tape 1 of 2 ” (VT-20466/36) in the Robert D. Bethke Collection.

Another video (VT-20466/36VT-20466/37) in the Bethke Collection documents Frank telling his Piedmont blues origin story to a group of elementary school students. I highly recommend checking this footage out. Not only do you get to see Frank tell his own story, but you also get to hear Frank play his songs to an enthusiastic audience of children, whose little voices and rowdy responses add a really special element to the video.

Now back to the 1978 footage of Frank I mentioned above. Robert D. Bethke, a folklorist who taught courses at the University of Delaware from 1977 to 2000, shot this particular video on portapak, a portable analog video tape recording system introduced in 1967 that made it possible to shoot and record video outside of a studio.

the front cover and inside of the 1/2" open reel video shot by Robert D. Bethke in 1978

the front cover (left) and a peek inside (right) of the original 1/2″ open reel video (VT-20466/21) shot by Robert D. Bethke in 1978

The video features Frank playing such traditional songs as “Railroad Blues” and “John Henry”. We also catch a glimpse of his home and property, on what looks like a nice, sunny spring day.

Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, this particular video (+ over 80 audio and video recordings found in the Bethke Collection!) have been preserved and are now accessible through the Bethke Collection finding aid (streaming access to the collection’s audio and video materials is limited to the UNC campus at this time). For your enjoyment, we’ve edited this short clip that features Frank playing “John Henry” :

"John Henry" lyrics transcribed from video recording VT-20466/21:


John asked his captain, 
When are you goin' to town?
If you bring me a twenty pound hammer, 
Beat a little steel back on down, hey gal
Beat a little steel back on
Beat a little steel back on down 

Well, who been here since I been gone? 
Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks? 
Well, who gonna shoe your cozy feet? 

John Henry's woman, she talked so fair 
Get my shoes from a steel-drivin' man 
Kisses from a millionaire, hey gal 
Kisses from a millionaire 
Kisses from a millionaire 

John Henry asked his captain, 
When are you goin' to town? 
If you bring me a twenty pound hammer, 
Beat a little steel back on down 
Beat a little steel back on
Beat a little steel back on down 

Early in the morning, 'bout the break of day 
Heard a voice in the wilderness, cryin, 
Well, my side givin' away 
Well, my left side givin' away 
Well, my left side givin' away 

Well, Who been here since I been gone? 
Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks? 
Who's gonna be your man? 
Who's gonna be your man? 

John Henry's woman, well, she talked so fair 
Get my shoes from a steel-drivin' man 
Kisses from a millionaire, hey gal 
Kisses from a millionaire 
Kisses from a millionaire 

Well, who been here since I been gone? 

John Henry's woman, name was Polly Ann 
Day she heard John Henry died 
She drove steel like a man, hey gal 
She drove steel like a man 
She drove steel like a man

Frank may be best known for his album Lonesome Road Blues, which like the video clip above, features intimate home recordings of Hovington, but this time on guitar, vocals, AND banjo. Folklorist, Bruce Bastin, and musicologist, Dick Spottswood, made the album recordings at Frank’s home over a July weekend in 1975, just three years before Bethke made his way to the same address. The album was released by Bastin’s label, Flyright Records, in 1976 (FLY LP 522) and then again by Rounder Records in 1979 (Rounder Records 2017).

LP covers of Lonesome Road Blues by Frank Hovington

FLY LP 522 (left) and Rounder Records 2017 (right)

The Southern Folklife Collection has copies of both of these releases (pictured above), as well as materials relating to the Flyright release in the Bruce Bastin Collection (20428). We invite you to dig through all of these materials across SFC’s collections to get to know Frank Hovington and his music. A good start may be Bastin’s impressive liner notes on Lonesome Road Blues, as well as the subject files and images of Frank found in the Robert D. Bethke Collection. Happy sleuthing.

*Frank Hovington quote taken from Bruce Bastin’s liner notes to Frank Hovington: Lonesome Road Blues.- Flyright FLYLP 522 (1976)

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.

 

 

 

Between Midnight and Day: The Photography of Dick Waterman

Between Midnight and Day: The Photography of Dick Waterman, flier featuring Buddy Guy5:30 p.m. Reception and exhibit opening
4th Floor Reading Room

6:00 p.m. Film screening of Two Trains Runnin’
Pleasants Family Assembly Room

7:20 p.m. Q&A with Dick Waterman, moderated by author Peter Guralnick
Pleasants Family Assembly Room

The exhibit Between Midnight and Day: The Photography of Dick Waterman, is set to open September 26 in Wilson Library, featuring Waterman’s iconic photographs of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Janis Joplin, and the Rolling Stones.

Dick Waterman played a key role in the folk revival of the 1960s, helping to revive the career of Son House and managing many prominent blues artists including Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bonnie Raitt.

Join us for the exhibit opening which will also feature a screening of the Sam Pollard documentary Two Trains Runnin’, a film centered on an astonishing historical coincidence: on June 21, 1964, two lost giants of the Delta blues were located and three civil rights activists disappeared. A Q&A with Waterman will follow.

In tribute to B. B. King

20367_BKP_2527_King at YaleBy now I am sure that most of our readers have learned that the great Riley B. King, better known as B. B. King, died at his home in Las Vegas May 14, 2015 at the age of 89. At the Southern Follklife Collection, King’s presence is never far. Folklorist and great friend of the SFC, Bill Ferris, worked alongside B. B. King for many years and documented the time they spent together extensively. We couldn’t help but share the following letter where King writes to his friend Bill about his 1974 visit to Yale University, storing the memories of his visit “in the archives of my heart.”

BBKing025P20367_2528_Ferris_King_EncyclopediaThere is far too much content in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) to share in a blog post, but we welcome all of you to visit The Wilson Library to see more and perhaps more importantly, hear more. Besides the more than 200 sound recordings featuring King in the SFC, there are also numerous field recordings, both interview and performance, as well as film and video documenting King’s life and career. Listen to B. B. King speaking to a class at Yale in 1974:

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All of the images in this post except for the commercial sound recordings come from the Ferris collection. Already the internet is full of wonderful images, songs, and remembrances of King. Taken as a whole, they serve as a powerful reminder of King’s life and career, demonstrating the massive impact he has had on American music and culture while simultaneously pointing at the legacy that will reverberate far into the future.

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We could not avoid posting some images of King in performance, cradling Lucille, King’s face twisted with emotion, images so powerful I can hear the music in my head just by looking.

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But as with so many persons whose lives and works are documented and preserved in cultural institutions like the SFC, what stands out are the candid moments: quiet times between sets, casual conversations with fans (be they prison guards or inmates at Parchman Penitentiary), relaxing at home, or meetings with students.

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Thanks to Bill and many others who have shared their stories of King over the years, we’ve learned it’s these in-between moments that reflect the humble spirit, open heart and inimitable kindness that King demonstrated every day of his life. It was his love of humanity and love of life that fueled his music and we are all better because he so willingly shared his gifts around the world.

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We extend our heartfelt condolences to King’s family, friends and fans. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Rest easy, B.

20367_BKP_6_76_5_BB King in repose

Bobby Rush Raw and in Person

Bobby Rush visited the Southern Folklife Collection yesterday and gave a fantastic solo performance to a few lucky listeners (I see you, “Clarksdale”) who braved the storm to attend the first concert in the 2012 Southern Journey Fall Concert Series.

It was a rare opportunity to see and hear Bobby Rush performing acoustic and sharing stories of his long and remarkable career as a bluesman, as a runner for Elmore James, getting guitar lessons from Howlin’ Wolf, riffing on Tony Jo White, and even a story of how he got his name, Bobby Rush.Bobby Rush Clip 1_mp3

We also picked up a copy of one of his recent albums (Bobby Rush has released over 250 albums in over 50 years of recording music).  Entitled Raw, Bobby Rush strips down the songs to their fundamentals, using only his guitar, harmonica, voice, and feet percussion. This is a different side of Bobby Rush, but we like it just as much as the master showman of southern R&B that we are used to (although we did kind of miss the costume changes and backup dancers).

Hear for yourself; listen to some more clips of Bobby Rush’s performance below and remember Tommy Edwards will be here playing North Carolina bluegrass in our second installment of the Southern Journey Concert Series on October 2. See you at Wilson Library at 11 AM, October 2!

 

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Previously Unreleased Mississippi Fred McDowell Recordings Now Available

Chapel Hill’s Devil Down Recordings has announced the release of “Come and Found You Gone”, The Bill Ferris Recordings, a new CD featuring over an hour of previously unreleased Mississippi Fred McDowell recordings made by Bill Ferris in 1967. From the Devil Down website:

These recordings are different from any other of Fred McDowell due to their very nature: rather than conducted with the production of a record in mind, the recordings were made casually over the course of a night. McDowell is here heard at his best, relaxed and energetic, performing many of his most famous songs as well as songs never before heard. With his foot tapping on the hardwood floor and laughter in the background, “Come and Found You Gone” brings the listener into that hot night in August, 1967, immersing them in the world of the blues house party, and guiding them through the night as it unfolded… The 18 track album includes a 16 page booklet featuring liner notes from blues researcher and Rolling Stone Magazine top 10 Professor Bill Ferris, Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and leading French blues scholar Vincent Joos. This booklet also contains a dozen award-winning photographs taken by Bill Ferris in 1970 at Otha Turner’s 4th of July picnic in Potts Camp, Mississippi.

The SFC was proud to provide Devil Down with access to the original field recordings housed in the William R. Ferris Collection. You can stream tracks or purchase the CD at the Devil Down website.

Dr. Demento and John Fahey Interview Son House

FT-2809On May 7, 1965, UCLA students Barry Hansen (who, as you know, would later find fame as radio’s Dr. Demento) and John Fahey (already an accomplished guitarist), along with Mark Levine, sat down for an interview with legendary Delta blues singer Son House in Venice, California.  House, who had recorded some extremely influential sides for Paramount records in the 1930s before disappearing from the blues scene for almost a quarter of a century, had recently been “rediscovered” and at the time was widely regarded as the greatest Delta blues singer still actively performing (watch him sing “Death Letter” here to see why).

The interview has been preserved on field tape FT-2809 in the SFC’s John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection. Many of the questions focus on House’s early career in Mississippi and memories of his blues contemporaries. In the clip below House explains the origins of Charley Patton‘s song “Charlie Bradley’s Ten Sixty-Six Blues”:

SonHouse

Robert Pete Williams at the University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club

Robert Pete Williams

From the early 1960s until the early 1970s a student group known as the Campus Folksong  Club, under the leadership of faculty advisor Archie Green, brought folk musicians from all over the country to perform on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years, the Folksong Club hosted performances by the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, and in 1965, Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams.

The story of Robert Pete Williams is well known; while serving a life sentence for murder at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the late 1950s, Williams’ songs and stories were recorded by folklorist and ethnomusicologist Harry Oster.  Under considerable pressure from Oster and others in the academic community, Williams’ sentence was commuted, and by 1964 he was released from the terms of his parole and allowed to tour outside Louisiana for the first time. We are fortunate that some of these early performances were captured on tape, including the Campus Folksong Club concert featured here, tape number FT-4189/FT-4190 in the SFC’s Archie Green Collection.

Listen to a clip of Robert Pete Williams performing “I’ve Grown So Ugly”, live at the University of Illinois, Feb.12, 1965:

Grown So Ugly