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8/15/2011

All Night Long, with Tangleweed and Shotgun Party

This is the first of two encore tunes Tangleweed played with Shotgun Party at the Old Town School of Folk Music, the old time chestnut ‘All Night Long’, with some goofy instrument thrown in the mix. Quality entertainment.

5/3/2009

Jimmie Rodgers singing Sleep Baby Sleep

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

This is the track that launched a career, and a career that helped launch an industry. It was recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, on August 4, 1927 for the Victor label. Though it was only a modest success, it marked the beginning of one of the most illustrious recording careers in American popular music.

Rodgers actually recorded two sides that day (the other being ‘The Soldier’s Sweetheart’), but this was the side that featured Rodgers’ formidable yodeling talents. Rodgers neither invented yodeling nor introduced it to American music, but he did more than anyone to cement its place in country music.

Rodgers returned to the studio the following November, and recorded what would be his first hit and his most iconic recording: Blue Yodel.

Nolan Porterfield’s Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler (American Made Music Series) remains the definitive work on Rodgers, and one of the more impressive works of vernacular music scholarship one will find.

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Courtesy of archive.org

Rodgers work has entered the public domain in most of the world. It remains under copyright in the U.S. due to Sonny Bono’s Mickey Mouse Protection Act. But let’s ignore Bono’s ignoble legislative career and apparent lack of skiing skills, and remember him as the auteur behind ‘Pammie’s on a Bummer,’ and the associated heavy-lidded PSA:

Sonny Bono Speaks Against Pot

4/27/2009

Fiddlin’ Frank Nelson playing And the Cat Came Back

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

I listened to this expecting to hear the song Riley Puckett sang so well, and was surprised to hear this very nice fiddle instrumental instead. Surprised, especially, in that I had never heard of Fiddlin’ Frank Nelson.

A quick check of Tony Russell’s Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942 the Rosetta Stone for prewar country music, solved the mystery. Fiddlin’ Frank is a pseudonym for the great Kentucky fiddler Doc Roberts.

This track was cut in Richmond, Indiana, at the studios of the Starr Piano Company, with Joe Booker providing the guitar accompaniment. It was recorded on Saturday, August 27th, 1927, and paired with Roberts’ interpretation of Billy in the Lowground. That pairing was released on half a dozen labels, under half a dozen names. Here’s a mapping for you:

  • Champion Records -> Fiddlin’ Jim Burke
  • Silvertone and Supertone Records -> Jim Burke
  • Challenge and Superior Records -> Fiddlin’ Frank Nelson
  • Bell Records -> Fiddlin’ Bob White
  • Bell Records (again) -> Bob White
  • Gennett Records -> Doc Roberts

Roberts had a career rebirth during the folk revival of the 1960s. Berea College in Kentucky has an extensive collection of his papers.

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Courtesy of Archive.org

4/26/2009

Fiddlin’ Powers playing Cluck Old Hen

Fiddlin’ Powers was a John Cowan Powers, from Russell County, Virginia. His recording career encompasses 33 sides for the Victor, Edison, and OKeh labels, though 14 of those seem to be unissued. This is a 1925 Edison recording, and he is backed by a family band:

  • Orpha Powers, mandolin;
  • Charlie Powers, banjo;
  • Carrie Powers, guitar;
  • Ada Powers, ukulele

Despite what Henry Ford thought, a lot of these old time songs are pretty filthy. ‘She lays eggs for the whole darn crew.’ Indeed.

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Courtesy of Archive.org

12/10/2008

How can a poor man stand such times and live?

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

Blind Alfred Reed recorded this in New York City, just weeks after the 1929 stock market crash. His recording career began two years earlier in Bristol Tennessee, discovered in the same series of sessions that produced the first recordings by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Reed was 47 at the time of the sessions.

While Reed’s anthem captures the zeitgeist of the dawn of the Great Depression, his career couldn’t survive the subsequent collapse of the record industry in the early 1930s. This was to be his last session. He lived out the rest of his life in Tennessee and West Virginia, and died in 1956.

Reed sings and provides his own fiddle accompaniment.

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Courtesy of archive.org

11/2/2008

John Hardy was a desperate little man

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

The song John Hardy has long been a staple of the bluegrass canon. Tony Russell’s Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942; lists seven prewar recordings by five different performers:

  • Eva Davis: April, 1924
  • Ernest Stoneman: August, 1925, July, 1928
  • Buell Kazee: April, 1927
  • The Carter Family: May, 1928
  • Clarence Ashley: April, 1930 (as ‘Old John Hardy’)
  • Roy Harvey: June 1931

Here’s an MP3 of the second Stoneman Recording, recorded in Richmond, Indiana for the Gennett Label, on July 9th, 1928:

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Postwar recordings by Bill Monroe helped cement the song’s place in the repertoire. Earl Scruggs helped make it an instrumental standard as well, with his excellent interpretation on the seminal Foggy Mountain Banjo album, now out of print and agonizingly expensive.

Though the usual lyrics sound include some commonplace elements, John Hardy was a real historical figure. Hardy, a West Virginia railroad worker, was found guilty of murder in the first degree in 1893, and hanged in 1894. WVCulture.org has links to original news stories. First, the trial:

WELCH, W. VA., October 12. – At 8 o’clock this morning the jury in the case of the State against John Hardy, colored, for the murder of Thomas Drews, colored, at Eckman, this county, in January last, brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The trouble arose over a game of craps and was a cold blooded crime. Motion has been made for a new trial with but small hopes of success on account of the Criminal Court Judge’s indisposition. A recess has been taken until Monday morning.

…And then the execution:

WILD E, W. VA., January 19. – John Hardy, for killing Thomas Drews, both colored, was hung at 2:09 p. m. to-day. Three thousand people witnessed his death. His neck was broken and he died in 17 1/2 minutes. He exhibited great nerve, attributed his downfall to whiskey, and said he had made peace with God. His body was cut down at 2:39, placed in a coffin, and given to the proper parties for interment. He was baptised in the river this morning.

Ten drunken and disorderly persons among the spectators were promptly arrested and jailed. Good order was preserved. Hardy killed Drews near Eckman last spring in a disagreement over a game of craps.

BOTH WERE ENAMORED

of the same woman, and the latter proving the more favored lover, incurred Hardy’s envy, who seized the pretext of falling out in the game to work vengeance on Drews, who had shown himself equally expert in dice as in love, having won money from Hardy. Hardy drew his pistol, remarking he would kill him unless he refunded the money. Drews paid back part of the money, when Hardy shot, killing him. Hardy was found guilty at the October term.

The MP3 comes from the excellent Juneberry 78s website. Please consider buying one of their old-time music samplers to support their work.

7/5/2008

The Sweet Brothers and Ernest Stoneman singing I Got a Bulldog

This appealing side was cut on July 10, 1928 in Richmond, Indiana, for the Gennett label. It was paired with a tune from a session five days earlier (‘Somebody’s Waiting for Me’) on Gennett 6620.

The personnel:

  • Herbert Sweet: fiddle;
  • Earl Sweet: banjo, vocal;
  • Ernest Stoneman: guitar, vocal

I don’t know much about the tune. The text seems to be a combination of verses unique to this song with commonplace stanzas. Nor do I know much about the Sweet Brothers, whose recorded output doesn’t seem to extend beyond these sessions in Richmond. I assume that they were fellow Virginians, given their work with Stoneman, but am far too lazy to verify this at the moment.

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Courtesy of Archive.org. This is included on the Old Hat compilation Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s, which I recommend unreservedly.

6/30/2008

Weems String Band playing Greenback Dollar

This side, recorded in Memphis in December, 1927, represents one half of the total recorded output of Weems String Band. It’s a pity, too, because it’s a rather extraordinary record. With more weemses than one could shake a stick at.

The personnel:

  • Dick Weems, fiddle;
  • Frank Weems, fiddle;
  • Alvin Condor, banjo/ voc;
  • Jesse Weems, cello

While the inclusion of the cello is unusual, the loose two fiddle and banjo sound is classic old-time country: multiple instruments playing simultaneous variations on a melody. There’s not really much accompaniment per se, just thick, glorious heterophony.

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Courtesy of Archive.org