Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oldtime Songs as Oldtime Radio Drama

While I've been using this blog for intermittent posts about folk, blues and old-time stringband music, over at http://jheroes.com ("Newspaper Heroes on the Air") I write about the portrayal of journalists in the radio dramatic series of the thirty-some years before television killed American radio drama.

Here's a crossover: One of the radio dramatic programs that sometimes had journalist characters in its plots also had a "folk song revival" theme in a group of 1950s episodes based on traditional ballads and blues. Posting a journalism-related episode of "Suspense" to jheroes reminded me that a few of its tales of death and disaster came from old songs.

"Suspense" was a highly rated and expertly produced series for 20 years, specializing in tension,  adventure and murder, from "Othello" and "Frankenstin" and "Leinengen vs. the Ants." As a result, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group has a substantial collection of episodes (more than 900 of them!), which it shares with the public through the Internet Archive (archive.org).

Below are direct links to the folk-song episodes I've noticed... Click to download the MP3s or open them in your browser.

The Wreck of the Old 97 (March17, 1952)

Frankie and Johnny (May 5, 1952)

Frankie and Johnny (Feb. 3, 1957)

The Death of Barbara Allen (Oct. 20, 1952)

The Saint James Infirmary Blues (Feb. 23, 1953)

Tom Dooley (March 30, 1953)

Tom Dooley (Dec. 7, 1958)

While it's not folksong-based, music fans also might be intrigued by the vaudeville title "Never Follow a Banjo Act," with Ethel Merman.

I'm particularly fascinated by the fact that "Suspense" put its dramatization of "Tom Dooley" on the radio long before The Kingston Trio's arrangement of the song became a national hit. (The story was rebroadcast in 1958, using their recording.) According to J. David Goldin's "RadioGoldindex" of "Suspense" episode information, Harry Stanton was the vocalist on both "Tom Dooley" and "Old 97." Louise Louis was vocalist on "Barbara Allen." Big band singing stars who crossed over to film and television were also part of the casts: Dinah Shore played the lead and sang the song in "Frankie and Johnny" and Rosemary Clooney was listed among the cast for "Saint James Infirmary." Margaret Whiting was Frankie in the 1957 broadcast.

Stanton was also among the cast members for another radio series' musical drama, the Lux Radio production of "Dixie," a Dec. 20, 1943, dramatization of the life of minstrel banjo pioneer Dan Emmet, based on the movie by the same name, with Bing Crosby in the lead. You can almost smell the blackface grease paint.






Monday, August 29, 2016

Oldtime Music Beyond Facebook

A friend just posted a request for more old-time and bluegrass music festival posts in a Facebook group... one of many that try to meet that need.

My reply... (Also an excuse to try updating this blog with a copy of a Facebook post, using only my phone. Until I go through one at a time to turn them into hyperlinks, link addresses may require copying and pasting, not just clicking. Hard to tell on this tiny screen.)

Feeling your pain... I just don't trust Facebook for reliable calendar-type information. So much duplication, but so much confusion about when and how things appear in groups, notices & on your/my timeline!

But even the "open web" calendars by non-profits have holes in them. Not sure Hoppin John Convention http://hoppinjohn.org (or the 50-band Shakori Hills concert/fest at same venue a month later?) is on any of the NC lists below.... as well as being exempt for the Va and WVa lists!

Here are a few items from my jumbled venue,  event and organization bookmark list. But I don't envy any of the list keepers!
:-(

Va.

https://www.myswva.org/tcr

http://FloydCountryStore.com

http://www.virginia.org/directory/Events/?regionid=8&categories=91&start=8-29-2016&end=9-12-2016

West Va.

Http://mountainmusictrail.com

N.C.

http://hoppinjohn.org

http://www.blueridgemusicnc.com/find-music/all-events

https://nationalfolkfestival.com

https://www.pinecone.org

Tenn.

 https://www.tnvacation.com/vendors/appalachian-cultural-music-association-mountain-music-museum

http://www.etsu.edu/cas/das/bluegrass/

 http://festivalnet.com/music_festivals.html/Tennessee-music-festivals

That last one is an membership & ad-supported national monster that I just stumbled on...

But it it doesn't miss http://Louiebluie.org  Sept. 24, even if it doesn't have an obvious link to the event's own site!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Oldtime Country Music at archive.org

The Internet Archive may not be the first place you look for old-time country sounds, but some old-time radio and 78 rpm record collectors have digitized an amazing amount of 20th century American  culture.

I'll come back and edit this, but wanted to put a few links out where new old-time music friends can find them today.

Sorry if there are spelling errors, and if you have to cut and paste the links into a browser. The first draft of this was done with my left thumb on a smartphone during a singing class at Augusta Heritage Center. (https://augustaheritagecenter.org)

Most of these are radio. Some are 1950s TV. The Delmore brothers sell their gospel song book, the Willis Brothers  swing "Hillbilly Heaven." All Star Western Theatre combines accordion and guitar western harmonizing with short dramatic productions with cowboy movie stars of the forties. Pat Daniels Hillbilly Boys sold Hillbilly flour with Texas Swing, while Hank Williams sold Mother's Best flour with his country blues. Plenty here to explore.

https://archive.org/details/otr_countrymusictime

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Delmore_Brothers_Singles

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Certified_Delmore_Brothers

https://archive.org/details/GrandOldOpry-28april1956

https://archive.org/details/HankPennyHisRadioCowboys-01-10

https://archive.org/details/charlottecountry00holt Booklet PDF

https://archive.org/details/RanchParty1957

https://archive.org/details/0029OldTimeRadioReunion

https://archive.org/details/otr_countrymusictime

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Mothers_Best_Flour_Singles

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_The_Hillbilly_Boys_Singles (Pat O'Daniel & the...), 74 episodes

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_All_Star_Western_Theatre_Singles

https://archive.org/details/otr_geneautry

https://archive.org/details/RoyRogers01-10

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's a tiple



I finally made a short video of my other ukulele-family instrument, a 10-string "tiple." I'd like to think it was by popular request... usually phrased as "What the hell is that thing?"

The Martin guitar company made tiples for 30 years or more, but I see no immediate threat of a revival in tiple playing... although something inspired the Ohana ukulele company to produce this version. In Colombia there is a larger instrument by the same name, with some marvelous players. YouTube will find you examples of both.

I bookmark what I find about the instrument here:
del.icio.us/bstepno/tiple

The tuning is similar to a uke (or a guitar capoed at the fifth fret), but in four courses --
Gg-cCc-eEe-aa -- with the big letters indicating strings tuned an octave lower than the ones they are paired or tripled up with.

The second tune I play is one of my favorites, "I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate," using a chord progression folks of a certain age will recognize as being pretty similar to Country Joe MacDonald's "Feel like I'm fixin' to die rag."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Speaking the old-time language

Heather Rousseau, a new photo journalist at the Roanoke Times, dove right into local culture with a photo and video story from the
Sunday afternoon old-time jam at the Floyd Country Store
It was the first Sunday that I'd made it to the jam in weeks of bad weather and/or bad timing. 
Surprises: Session leader Mac Traynham playing rhythm guitar instead of his usual fiddle or banjo, and my arriving in time to catch a seat between Mac and Radford neighbors Linda Frank & Chip Arnold.
I will send the photographer a note asking permission to "reprint" her close-up of the guy in the NPR cap playing a not-so-traditional banjo ukulele... But since it is property of the Roanoke Times, you might as well just go there and enjoy the whole presentation... if you haven't already been there via the flurry of posts on Facebook. 
(note: this is my first attempt to use an Android phone app to post to blogger. I may have to come back and fix the link, edit embarrassing autocorrect errors, or something.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In search of the mountain ukulele

The announcement of a new Blacksburg and New River Valley ukulele get together reminds me to tell ukulele playing friends that they will not necessarily be met with scorn and derision if they show up at other jam sessions in the area, as long as they learn some traditional old time string band tunes. 

In fact, ukes have been infiltrating old time  music since John Hopkins' loud and clear in the original "Hill Billies," 1926:



Blue Ridge Mountain Blues - The Hill Billies 1926!

Background from...

"Al Hopkins ... was the leader of his own band called the Hill Billies (also known as the Buckle Busters). The band members consisted of Al Hopkins (piano), John Hopkins (ukulele), Joe Hopkins (guitar), John Rector (banjo), and Tony Alderman (fiddle).
"The Hill Billies had been discovered by Ralph Peer a year earlier and had made some records for Okeh (a forerunner of Columbia). When Ralph Peer asked Al Hopkins the name of his band, Al responded “We ain’t nothing but a bunch of hillbillies from North Carolina and Virginia. You can just call us anything.” Mr. Peer appropriately named them the “Hill Billies”.



Tune History: 
http://jopiepopie.blogspot.com/2013/06/blue-ridge-mountain-blues-1924.html




Saturday, November 08, 2014

Accidental Ukulele

I have been going to the wonderful twice-a-year Lake Eden Arts Festival (http://theLEAF.org) for almost 20 years, off and on, and have several ancient T-shirts to show for it. (This commemorative-T-shirt thing may prove embarrassing at a contra dance when one's partner notices a year on a shirt, does the math, and realizes this guy is wearing underwear older than she is.)

This fall I decided to pass up the T-shirt stand and contribute to the support of LEAF by buying some raffle tickets instead. The decision was a very lucky one...
Jay Lichty of Tryon, N.C., (http://lichtyguitars.com) built this one-of-a-kind ukulele and donated it to LEAF for the benefit raffle. He used all-recycled woods... a North Carolina mountain cabin's floor for the back and sides, a retired mahogany bedpost for the neck, and "sunken cedar" for the top.  Because of the instrument's North Carolina roots -- and the underwater cedar -- Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues" seemed an appropriate first tune to play. I gave it a try in the LEAF office when I showed up to claim the prize, and then played it again at home to make this rough little video.

Don't worry, I didn't think my singing would add anything to the ukulele demo. (Incidentally, this is my first experience with a "low-G" tenor ukulele, which seemed especially well suited to a slight adaptation of the guitar arrangement of this tune.) If you'd like to sing along, I found the "Deep River Blues" lyrics over at the Digital Tradition collection at the Mudcat Cafe, a great resource for folksong fans.

Jay himself recorded a few tunes with the uke and put them on his website. They give a much better indication of the range of this lovely instrument. They also may have been recorded with a much better microphone -- or the uke's built-in pickup, which I didn't even notice until I'd owned it for a few days. (Since that page of his was for the raffle -- which is now over -- I don't know how long he'll keep it around.)

Unfortunately, all I had handy was my MacBook with its built-in camera and microphone, which I figured would be fine a test drive at the uploading process. YouTube didn't want to accept the original file, so I uploaded it directly with Blogger -- which may only have a "Flash" player for videos, making the clip invisible to iPads and other discerning devices. Since then, I've tried some file-conversion software, which appeared to solve YouTube's problem with accepting the original file. Using Blogger's "insert from YouTube" setting still produces a rather small display window on this page and still seems to only offer a Flash video player, but the quality of the video itself seems better than the original. I've linked the still image above to YouTube for a larger-format display.
For any Web production students curious about my video problems, I've included both versions below. After years of mostly using WordPress blogs, I clearly have to refresh my knowledge of the current version of Blogger! But playing the ukulele is much more fun. If your device won't play the video in this window, just follow this link to launch the video in YouTube itself: http://youtu.be/0L9PyUTHqlU


Earlier upload (Google/Blogger video player):

video