Saturday, April 28, 2018
A musician friend -- singer, guitarist, radio host, and scholar of pre-WorldWar II music -- posted on Facebook that he would like very much to meet Leon Redbone... so I told him my story.
In the 1970s, another friend of mine, Jim Rigby, freelanced music articles for a hip alt-weekly, the Hartford Advocate, and called me up to say he'd gotten an interview with Leon Redbone. I had been at the daily Hartford Courant for years and also knew a little about blues/ragtime guitar, so Jim asked me to come along and help with the interview... backstage at the legendary The Shaboo Inn near Willimantic, Conn.
Two memorable things about the meeting:
1. A musical revelation (to me, anyway): Among his influences, Leon mentioned singer and guitarist Lee Morse, which was the first time I'd heard of her. (Thanks to YouTube, she's much easier to find today.)
From his "Ah yes, the gentlemen of the press..." Leon remained in character, which sounded like he was channeling W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx simultaneously, with a touch of Chaplin. As he said those ".. gentlemen of the press" words, he began rummaging through his pockets -- pants, suitcoat, vest, shirt -- muttering about how he had too many pockets, "... counted them once..." -- finally producing a business card and giving it to Jim, who glanced at it and put it in his pocket. And off we went with the interview.
At the end, I said (approximately), "Leon, when you were up in Lenox, Mass., last year, I took some pictures of you on stage and I really like the way one of them came out. I'd like to send it to you. Could I have one of your cards?"
He went through the whole pocket-searching shtick again, finally producing the card, which I pocketed, and said goodnight.
Here's the picture I was telling him about, and the card. I never sent him a copy of the photo... The front of the card said "How do you do." The other side was blank.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
(February 11, 1914 – September 5, 1969)
I saw him on the old ABC Hootenanny TV show, and soon scraped together the price of a couple of his LPs. (Ones whose album covers weren't too risque to bring into the house; it was years before I got "Empty bed blues," and I don't think I ever let my mother see it.)
I also bought a 191-page Josh White Song Book to show my guitar teacher, who had started me on classical lessons because my first guitar had nylon strings. (Nylon was recommended by the Oscar Brand book I had started teaching myself out of a year earlier. I got a new guitar, with steel strings that Christmas after convincing my parents I was going to stick with it more than I had with the accordion a few years earlier. It was a long time before I could afford a Martin OO 21 like the one Josh played on his albums, but I got it eventually.)
Unfortunately, Josh's book wasn't a guitar instruction book. The $2.95 volume (pricey in 1963; my first Dylan songbook was $1.95) featured piano transcriptions of the songs, not his original guitar arrangements.
I did learn something about music watching my teacher try to work things back to the guitar at my novice level. And I learned other things from the text by Robert Shelton, folk music critic at the New York Times (yes, that was a job then!), who provided song commentaries and a biography of Josh.
It wasn't as thorough as Elijah Wald's "Josh White, Society Blues" several decades later, but it made me feel like a folk blues insider... and, come to think of it, those song book introductory chapters were probably the only biography of a black person that I read in high school, two years before Alex Haley published "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."
Monday, December 18, 2017
I have found recordings by jive bands in the 1930s and '40s and an old-time string band from Virginia in the late 1920s.
Today, I stumbled on the biggest surprise yet: this YouTube clip of boxing champ Jack Sharkey singing and playing tiple -- and saxophone -- with Abe Lyman's Orchestra at a 1932 training camp.
Was the instrument his or something regularly used by one of the band members?
Now I guess I'll be listening to other Lyman recordings to see whether I can hear that distinctive jangly sound in the band when the boxer isn't around.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
The "root" source for most of us seems to be Henry Thomas's 1929 78rpm Vocalion record -- reissued decades later as part of the still available Harry Smith "Anthology of American Folk Music" collection on LPs (and later CDs) by Folkways records starting in 1952.
I've also read many discussions of the song over the years at mudcat.org, the Web's venerable "Digital Tradition" folk music forum and lyric archive:
Monday, October 02, 2017
Songwriters have added their voices to the campaign against natural-gas pipeline construction in the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
Since they have put copies of their songs on YouTube I've started this page to bookmark them...
This first draft was made with my phone. When I get to a real computer I'll add more text and links.
Non-musical pipeline videos
Dominion Energy (maps and "view simulation")
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Terrific breakfast music... making me wonder whether the steel resonator I recently saw on a picture of an old banjo ukulele could be used as a biscuit tin... or vice-versa.
Meanwhile, I have just been reading up on Dr. Humphrey Bate's daughter, Alcyone Bate Beasley, who played the ukulele (and piano) with Dr. Humphrey Bate & The Possum Hunters. I'm going back through YouTube videos made from their old records, trying to find some where I can actually hear her ukulele.
I don't hear one on this recording, but I'm playing along on my own banjo-uke here at the breakfast table, so maybe I'm drowning her out. For anyone else who wants to play along, the tune is in C, a great key for the uke in clawhammer banjo style!
(This blog post is actually copied from a series of Facebook posts I made this morning, gradually becoming aware that I'm spending a lot of time writing things that get lost in the great Facebook Empire instead of being out here on the open web supported by applications and hosting services like Blogger and WordPress.)
Anyone have any suggestions of records where you can actually hear Alcyone's four-string?
Here's what All music says about Ms. Bate, who was part of the show at the age of 13.
"Bate’s daughter, Alcyone (b. 1912, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, d. 14 October 1982, Nashville, Tennessee, USA), first sang with his band as a four-year-old and by 1926, at the age of 13, she was the regular pianist who could also play ukulele. She is reckoned to be the first woman both to appear on and sing on the Grand Ole Opry."
Maybe my ukulele playing friends Marcy A. Marxer or Terri McMurray or Lightnin Wells will see this on Facebook and know the answer!
Speaking of Dr. Humphrey Bate & The Possum Hunters, I have two questions about this YouTube posting.
First, I think I actually might hear a ukulele in the background, but it's hard to separate out from the banjo.
Second, the picture accompanying this clip includes a gentleman in a cowboy hat holding what looks to be a tiple, my favorite 10 string member of the ukulele family, or perhaps a taropatch, the eight string version.
It's too nice outside to stay online searching for a higher quality copy of the photo and some written histories of the band, but maybe I will get back to this. https://youtu.be/SRmxKiC07SY
Friday, May 19, 2017
The dates are according to whoever posted the item at YouTube, or from a Discogs.com search, but may not be the first -- or last -- time the person recorded the song.
Louis Armstrong -- 1957
Nancy Wilson -- 1966
Eric Clapton -- 1978
Carla Valenti -- 2004
Renee Fleming -- 2008