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10/29/2007

Ted Hawkins and Riley Puckett playing Hawkins Rag

More prewar goodness from the folks at Juneberry78s.com… Ted Hawkins was one of the great mandolin stylists in early country music. His playing adorns some of the late Skillet Lickers recordings, but his most exciting recording may well be this pairing with Skillet Lickers guitarist Riley Puckett.

Puckett is, of course, the gold standard of old-timey guitarists. He sounds freer on this than on perhaps any recording I’ve heard of his. There are some very impressive bass runs and some nice chromaticism in his accompaniment. (There is also what appears to be an uncharacteristic flub from Puckett at the start of the fourth repetition.) And Hawkins was a worthy counterpart, an unusually dexterous old-timey mandolinist. His playing is fast, nimble, and energetic.

The tune is a fairly standard folk rag, with one strain starting on the tonic and sounding not unlike the Fiddler’s Reel (except for the ragtime turn), and the other starting on the dominant and sounding not unlike State Street Rag. It is distinguished, however, by the the quality of the performance, which is exceptional.

Hawkins Rag (MP3)
Courtesy of Juneberry78s.com. Please consider purchasing one of their CD-R or DVD-R compilations of old-time 78s and radio shows.

10/28/2007

The Roanoke Jug Band playing Johnny Lover

The excellent site Juneberry78s.com has an extensive listening room with a vast collection of prewar music from a wide variety of genres. The collection of old-time country music is impressive.

It includes a favorite track of mine that has seldom been reissued: The Roanoke Jug Band’s Johnny Lover. The tune is a simple fiddle tune in D with short 4-bar strains. The Jug Band seems to be throughly devoid of a juggist. Try as I may, I can’t hear any jug on the recording. There is, however, some very fine fiddling, rock solid Riley Puckett-esque guitar accompaniment, and some pretty nifty mandolin as well. The energy of the piece is fantastic–it could go on forever.

There’s a transcription of the tune in my now out-of-print, wildly unpopular book.

Johnny Lover (MP3)
Courtesy of Juneberry78s.com. Please consider purchasing a CD-R or DVD-R from them.

10/27/2007

Mississippi John Hurt playing Louis Collins

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Hurt sings even the most brutal subject matter with a voice that is gentle and reassuring. Hurt’s fingerpicked guitar on this song has become a standard for anyone learning fingerstyle guitar.

Recorded in New York City on December 21, 1928 for the OKeh label.

Louis Collins (MP3)
Courtesy of Archive.org

Previous Mississippi John Hurt Posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Frankie
Mississippi John Hurt playing Nobody’s Dirty Business
Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues
Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues
Mississippi John Hurt plays Goodnight Irene
Mississippi John Hurt singing Spike Driver’s Blues

10/26/2007

Mississippi John Hurt playing Frankie

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio. Tags: , , ,

This was one of two tracks cut at Hurt’s first session, in Memphis, on Valentine’s Day, 1928. The song shifts in pitch over the course of the track. It starts in ‘B’, and drifts noticeably sharp. Likely the machine used to cut the recording was moving at an uneven speed. Permanent studios used systems such as a weight lowered slowly from a high place to get the platter to rotate at a constant speed (much as a grandfather clock works), but the mobile recording studios set up in hotels and warehouses on trips like this were likely hand-cranked. The same thing happens on Hurt’s recording of Ain’t Nobody’s Dirty Business, recorded on the same equipment at the same session.

Frankie is a variation on Frankie and Johnnie, one of the classic songs in American folk music, in which woman kills her cheating lover. Incidentally, if one were to adjust for inflation the $100 Frankie paid 1n 1928 for Albert’s suit of clothes, you would be looking at a $1124.36 suit of clothes. Not too shabby.

Frankie (MP3)
Courtesy of Archive.org

Previous Mississippi John Hurt Posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Nobody’s Dirty Business
Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues
Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues
Mississippi John Hurt plays Goodnight Irene
Mississippi John Hurt singing Spike Driver’s Blues

10/25/2007

The Cornlikkers playing Ginseng Blues

I used to play in a jug band down in Champaign called the Cornlikkers, who played together for about two years before we all scattered. Toward the end of our time together, we were invited to perform on the local CBS affiliate, WCIA, the TV home of downstate Illinois’ only full-time radio meteorologist.

The tune is Ginseng Blues, which Tangleweed recorded in a similar fashion, on our second record. On this version, though, there’s yodeling in all the solo breaks, and Ryan Jerving is a much better yodeler than I. There’s a basically inaudible mandolin solo in the middle.

The lineup:

  • Ryan Jerving: baritone ukulele and vocals
  • Bill Whitemer: banjo ukulele and vocals
  • Riley Broach: Bass
  • Edward Burch: guitar and vocals
  • Kenneth Rainey: mandolin and vocals
  • Jim “Jugs” Randall: jug

Like so many of the other great juggists of the 20th Century, Jim Randall was classically trained. We could pair him with our backup juggist, Jerry, for the “jugs-a-plenty” rhythm section, and have them play Bach two part inventions.

All the folks at WCIA were great. After we finished playing, one of the newscasters excitedly played Mike Ditka’s amazingly punk rock performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a rare treat in those halcyon pre-YouTube days. We got to rub elbows with the aforementioned full-time radio meteorologist. And our performance was followed by a story about a man and his pet fish, a wild 16-inch largemouth bass that would come when called:

“Do you have a name for him?”
“No. Just fish is all.”

This performance was transfered from an old VHS tape, so the audio is not great. My apologies.

10/24/2007

Mississippi John Hurt playing Nobody’s Dirty Business

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

Mississippi John Hurt recorded this on Valentine’s Day, 1928, for the OKeh label’s 8000 ‘Race’ series. Though he cut eight sides at this session, only two saw a commercial release: Nobody’s Dirty Business and Frankie. The strength of the material from this session earned Hurt an invitation to New York to record more sides later in the year.

Nobody’s Dirty Business is structurally interesting, comprised of seven-bar phrases. The short phrase length makes the beginning of each new phrase a bit of a surprise for the listener — the downbeat of the new phrase comes where one expects a measure of rest at the end of the previous phrase.

Nobody’s Dirty Business (MP3)
Courtesy of Archive.org

Previous Mississippi John Hurt Posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues
Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues
Mississippi John Hurt plays Goodnight Irene
Mississippi John Hurt singing Spike Driver’s Blues

10/23/2007

Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues

Mississippi John Hurt recorded this in New York City on December 28, 1928, for the OKeh record company. Like Hurt’s other 1928 recordings, it failed to make much of an impact commercially, and the Great Depression obliterated the record industry in short order. Hurt returned to Mississippi and worked as a sharecropper. Though he would occasionally perform at dances and other local events, he never recorded again until his ‘rediscovery’ as part of the 1960s folk revival.

Stack-O-Lee Blues is one of the most frequently recorded ‘bad man’ ballads. That said, I’ve never heard a finer performance. Hurt’s gentle vocal delivery belies the violence of the lyrics, and the wordless vocal in the middle section is a thing of rare, timeless beauty.

Stack O Lee Blues (MP3)
Courtesy of Archive.org

Previous Mississippi John Hurt Posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues
Mississippi John Hurt plays Goodnight Irene
Mississippi John Hurt singing Spike Driver’s Blues

10/22/2007

Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , ,

Recorded in December, 1928, for the OKeh record company, as part of their seminal 8000 ‘Race’ series. This was Mississippi John Hurt’s last commercially released side prior to his ‘rediscovery’ by Tom Hoskins in 1963. Like so many other early country and blues musicians, Hurt’s recording career didn’t survive the Depression. His entire recorded output consisted of 12 sides cut in two sessions in New York city.

Despite the relatively small output, Hurt’s work was extraordinary. His three-finger guitar playing and gentle vocal style sounded utterly unlike anything his Mississippi contemporaries were doing. His recording of Spike Driver Blues was included in Harry Smith’s landmark Anthology of American Folk Music, which helped engender interest in his work among a new generation of fans.

Hurt had long since abandoned the music business, however, having returned to Mississippi to labor as a sharecropper. The story of his rediscovery is the stuff of legend — Hoskins was guided to look for Hurt by the lyrics of this song: “Avalon’s my hometown, always on my mind.” Hurt’s appearance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival helped launch a second career on the folk circuit, which lasted until his death three years later.

Avalon Blues (MP3)
Courtesy of Archive.org