Saturday, January 15, 2022

When the blues hit the mountains...

 Oldtime music crossover...

While looking for the words to a less-often-heard "shindig in the barn" verse to "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues," I found several "discography" lists, including the two recordings as "Blue Ridge Blues" below... George Reneau's was apparently the first recording of the song. And Lulu Jackson's version gets left out of some of the "country music" or "oldtime music" lists, maybe because it crossed boundaries, but I'd love to read a history about how she wound up recording the song! Her "recitation" of the "There'll be a shindig in the barn" verse is, well, very special. 🙂
The song (credited to Cliff Hess under the alias Roy B. Carson at certainly was popular. Other 1920s recordings were by Riley Puckett, Ernest V. Stoneman, The Blue Ridge Duo (Gene Austin and George Reneau), Vernon Dalhart and more. (Hess was a prolific songwriter and pianist who had played on Mississippi riverboats, wrote songs with "blues" in the title as early as 1916, and eventually collaborated with Irving Berlin.) The song also mentions an even older "oldie," "Where is My (Wandering) Boy Tonight," published in 1877 and recorded by many artists from the dawn of cylinder and disc recordings.
"Blue Ridge Blues"
George Reneau , guitar and harmonica, from April '24 and again with Reneau and Gene Austin:
Al Hopkins' Bucklebusters / The Hill Billies, 1926 or '28 (including fiddle, guitar, banjo & banjo-ukulele!, and 3-or-4-part harmony singing!)
Also as "Blue Ridge Blues"
Lulu Jackson (vcl/gtr) and piano.
December 21, 1928, rec. in Chicago, Vocalion 1242
Enough computer for today... but tomorrow (or someday soon) I'm going looking for more about Lulu! ❤
I'm afraid she gets left out on both sides of the recording-industry color line, even by scholars. I just found a blues discography note from a major reference book: "This artist was of African-American ancestry, but her recordings are essentially in the hillbilly idiom and of little blues interest." (Blues and gospel records 1890-1943 (1997), p. 430) Her versions of "Little Rosewood Casket" and "Careless Love Blues" are very nice too, and available on YouTube. Apparently enough of her 78s have been collected to be reissued in compilations like this one found at the discography website, discogs:
Screen image of discogs song list for Lulu

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Am I in the cool yet? After 20 years of blogging!?

Oh my! The second pandemic year of 2021 is almost over and I haven't added a new page here since December 2019! Here's a lot of catching up in a short space... and a plug for one of my most recent musical discoveries -- not an old video clip like previous entries here, but a podcast that has accumulated something like 300 hours of music and musician interviews, "Get Up In the Cool." Its name, by the way, is from a tune recorded in 1929 by Eck Robertson that makes me think about climbing up to Rocky Knob in Floyd, Va., on a hot summer day. But the podcast is cool in another way. More about that in a minute. First, a couple of my own short smartphone video clips...

I have been playing and listening to music at home and at outdoor jam sessions like that one on the street in Floyd and others in Blacksburg and Radford, Va., after social-distancing rules and vaccination made sharing music possible again. And I have been writing about those things -- but on Facebook and YouTube, not here. 

The Floyd Country Store Sunday afternoon jams eventually moved back indoors, as shown above, but as winter approaches, most of the others still have not found homes. Online through 2020 and 2021, I have attended Floyd Country Store, Floyd Handmade Music School and Augusta Heritage Workshop friends' "Zoom" and YouTube events, and finally -- "armed" with two vaccinations, a booster and flu shot, went to the October Augusta Heritage Center Old-Time Retreat for music classes, jams, and even some singing and dancing.

Alas, the week I returned was the start of a month-long cold that made sleeping through the night difficult, but even that was an excuse for musical discovery: I'd heard of, but had not explored, an oldtime fiddle-and-banjo oriented podcast called "Get Up In the Cool," which turned out to be a wonderful way to spend those sleepless nights. 

Before I started listening, banjo virtuoso and interviewer Cameron DeWhitt had already accumulated 270 interview-jams with fiddlers and banjo players across the U.S. and Canada, including current friends and teachers of mine from Ithaca to Dittyville -- and even Hank Bradley, an inspiring guitar, banjo and fiddle player I studied with back around 1978 and have not seen since!

I hope all of these links aren't overwhelming... but at least I feel I'm getting caught up on the latest incarnation of Blogger, including the ability to easily post my YouTube clips and switch between a modern "Compose view" and vintage 20th century "HTML view" of the page I'm writing.

Blog history... 
In addition to noticing that I have been neglecting this blog for almost two years, I noticed today that this blog is now 20 years old! Hosted-for-free blogs are like that... people lose interest, regain interest... sometimes they even die. I knew a "serial blogger" called Jimbo -- interested in music and old-time radio -- who died a few years ago, leaving behind probably thousands of pages of his writing on linked-together podcasts and blogs about various 1930s to 1960s radio shows, none of them signed with his real name.

My "Blogger" site started in a classroom at Emerson College, where I taught a freshmen seminar called "Digital Culture: Mediamorphosis," in which students explored media history while learning to use Web tools and Photoshop. The second time I taught the course, one of the students asked why I was having the class write raw HTML code on a campus server to create what I called "weblogs" when there was a new tool called Blogger designed to do the same thing with less work. 
The point was that I wanted the class to learn about the page-markup language that was "behind the curtain" at all websites. But I was embarrassed. I had used a couple of other "edit this page" online publishing sites, but at that point Blogger (or "Blogspot") was off my radar, so of course I gave it a try. And this site is the result. Over the years I would create other blogs and websites with Radio Userland, Manila, WordPress, Django, Drupal and more. 
But this one -- thanks to Google's ownership -- is the oldest of my "free hosting" sites. This "Boblog" has evolved over the years from classroom-discussion demo to regular postings, either personal or journalism-class-related (especially 2008-2009 at Radford U, after my Radio Userland host went out of business and while I was in transition to WordPress), and finally reborn as an occasional space for writing about music, while my other sites, and fill other needs.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Another vintage mountain ukulele player

Iver Edwards on ukulele with G Stoneman, banjo, and E Dunford, fiddle.
Just discovered both "The Syncopated Times" and -- in passing -- Iver Edwards, ukulele and harmonica player from Galax, Va., in the 1920s, pictured holding what looks like a soprano Martin ukulele in a band photo accompanying this article about vintage recordings:

Discogs says of Edwards, "(1906 - 1960) American old-time musician (harmonica - ukulele). Recorded with Ernest Stoneman on the Victor label c.1927-28."

Now I'm going through Ernest Stoneman records on YouTube listening for telltale ukulele plinking in the background. Easy to loose it in the similar-octave strumming of the autoharp and mandolin, such as that heard on Stoneman's famous Titanic recording... 

Hop Light Ladies may have been one where Iver put down the uke and played the harmonica...

New River Train might have a ukulele in there, mostly smothered by the banjo...

I'll keep listening.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Country vs Folk ... Sigh...

Someone posted a question on Facebook asking people more or less my age whether they thought John Denver's hit "Take Me Home Country Roads" was "a country song," the topic apparently being part of the aftermath of the Ken Burns PBS series on country music.

I wrote this off the top of my head in reply, but I may come back here and change it if I decide I said anything I disagree with.

I believe from its 1920s beginning "country" has been a commercial music merchandising term to which people add whatever cultural baggage they want... and the industry was gradually Consolidated in Nashville ...

John Denver wasn't part of that Nashville Centric particular marketing / performance venue / Publications/ radio DJ system, at least in the beginning.

He crept in through the separate short-lived  commercial "folk music" scene exemplified by the Kingston Trio and the early 1960s ABC Hootenanny TV show -- starring, among others, the Chad Mitchell Trio, which dropped Chad's first name when John replaced him. As the British Invasion rockscene took over teen culture, increasingly singer-songwritery "folk" college coffee houses and concerts and festivals kept going... (Bruce "Utah" Phillips had a great rap about my preferred part of the scene, performers like him who, unlike John Denver, did not want to be pop stars on any Billboard Chart and were more interested in "making a living, not a killing.")

That folk music scene and folk pop scene in the 1960s and 1970s had a different network of performance venues (college concerts included), radio programs (college FM), network television programs, PBS specials, and as the folk pop thing branched off what became a singer songwriter soft rock thing, some of the audience  overlapped and  migrated toward "country."

Meanwhile as "country" went through overproduced pop phases, the cleaner acoustic guitar and vocal sound and homespun lyrics of Denver, his collaborators, and a few other folk scene refugees became more acceptable to Nashville industry fans...

It's music. it's marketing. And it's listeners who don't give a crap and tune in what they like, when they can find it. Maybe they sing along. Maybe they play the songs at their local coffee house or open mic. Maybe they don't debate what label to put on something.

Friday, September 13, 2019

My first fiddle contest....

I didn't play the fiddle then... And I barely do now... And I didn't compete in any contest, but in the 1970s the New England Fiddle Contest in Hartford was one of the major landmarks in each year... And in one or two of them I got to write articles or take pictures that wound up in the Hartford Courant... Including this 1979 story, which the late Paul Lemay, organizer of the contest, included in the press kit he sent out each year, along with the picture or two that I had taken... I was reminded today that the internet archive had saved parts of his FiddleFest website, launched when he revived the contest around 1998 or 1999.

Alas, someone let the domain registration go after Paul died, so the original site is no longer about fiddling.

Monday, November 19, 2018

1924 mountain ukulele?

This YouTube clip of a 1924 recording of Ida Red by Fiddlin' Powers and Family is accompanied by a photograph showing a young lady in the band holding a ukulele, so off I went searching for written sources about the group and the ukulele player in particular.

Success! This article by Rene Rodgers at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol answered my question as fast as I could type it into Google. The youngest sister's name was Ada, and there is another picture of her with her ukulele at the Museum website! Alas, the article mentions that she moved on to the Autoharp, and doesn't say much about her ukulele playing, so maybe she only played ukulele during her early days as a musician. That was true for me too, as I moved on to guitar and banjo and mandolin and didn't get back to the ukulele for about 30 years!

 It looks like the young women of the Powers family were progressive in other ways too... those bobbed hairdos look pretty modern. But that's a topic for a different kind of blog.