Wednesday, July 03, 2013

David Mallett's Song to St. Anne's Reel

I've been telling folks about this song for a couple of years -- usually after they play the tune "St. Anne's Reel" bluegrass style, faster than I can make my fingers move on the mandolin, probably faster than would be comfortable to dance to... and certainly faster than most folks could sing David Mallett's sweet song inspired by the old dance tune.

Today I finally decided to go looking, and found a video of the author singing "The Ballad of St. Anne's Reel" himself -- complete with symphony orchestra.

In case the embedded video doesn't work here, you'll find the original on David Mallett's own page. You may see some other tunes that John Denver and others helped popularize.

The Mudcat Cafe's Digital Tradition collection has the lyrics here: Ballad of St. Anne's Reel

Meanwhile, for the tune itself, here's a lovely ensemble from both sides of the pond playing it on fiddle, dobro and guitar (Aly Bain, Jerry Douglas and Russ Barenberg, respectively):

Monday, July 01, 2013

Exploring music archives, finding fiddles and politics

"Flour, not pork!" -- election campaign slogan

When I saw the name Pat O'Daniel and the Hillbilly Boys on an Internet Archive page, I thought I might have stumbled on some old-time fiddle and banjo music from Virginia or North Carolina by a band saddled with the recording industry's late-1920s term for Appalachian and Ozark music.

Instead, what I had was a collection of 15-minute radio shows by a  "western swing" band from Fort Worth, Texas, broadcasting in the 1930s and '40s for the "Hillbilly Flour" brand. Despite its "I like mountain music..." opening theme, it apparently got its name from a general association of any fiddle-fronted music with the word "hillbilly," no matter how far from the mountains -- or from the roots of traditional or old-time music.

While digging further, I discovered that what I thought was an impressive 41 episode collection of 60-year-old radio programs was only the beginning. There is also an Old Time Radio Researchers "Certified" collection, with 74 programs, enough to fill three full CDs with MP3 files, photos and information. Here it is (downloadable in "zip" files at the first address, downloadable or playable individual episodes at the second):
The second episode I listened to caught my attention with its hot fiddle version of "Fisher's Hornpipe," complete with almost-audible square dance calls in the background. (I learned that tune on the mandolin some years ago from a New England fiddler; it's still part of the contradance band repertoire, but I'll leave it to some fiddle scholar to analyze the stylistic differences.)

So some "traditional" tunes are included in the "Hillybilly Boys" programs, but the style is the jazzy fiddle-led "country and western" of that decade, referred to as "Texas swing" or "western swing," popularized by Bob Wills and others. In fact, the only banjo playing I've noticed is far from mountain style -- a tremolo-laden tenor banjo, notably in a solo version of a once-popular sentimental song, "The Roses of Picardy."

The Old Radio Times of February 2008 has an article about the OTRR Group's "certified" release of a collection of the program, noting that members Jim Beshires and Geoff Loker were coordinators of the project.
Geoff Loker headed up the main team and spent literally hundreds of
hours researching, compiling and writing materials that would set this series apart. The evidence of this hard work can be seen in the myriad of accompanying audio files, additional programs, pictures, and text files that you will find included with this release.
Background: Over at, I've been doing research into radio dramatic series going back to the 1930s, looking for journalism connections and using the Internet Archive and OTRR Group as major sources. Meanwhile, in my "secret identity," I relax by learning old-time tunes on the guitar,  mandolin and banjo. This older blog has evolved into a place to save links and notes related to music, but until now I haven't done much linking "old-time radio" and "old-time music."

I'm continually amazed at the amount of radio material preserved at the Internet Archive, so this post is my first to explore it as a source of banjo and fiddle tunes -- some originally recorded on 78 RPM disks, and others originally broadcast on AM radio.

Back to O'Daniel's Hillbilly Boys, Wikipedia has an information page about the band and its relationship to Bob Wills and Western swing history: Pat O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. You can find even more in "San Antonio Rose: The Life & Times of Bob Wills," previewable through Google Books.

The Pat O'Daniel show not only promoted the Hillbilly Flour brand, it promoted the political future of the company's owner. A radio-advertising pioneer, Pat's father W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, was elected governor of Texas in 1938 and U.S. senator in 1941. (For more about him, see the Texas State Historical Association's W. Lee O'Daniel page.)

I've just started listening to the Internet Archive recordings, and so far haven't heard the "Flour, not pork!" election campaign slogan mentioned in one listener's comments on an Internet Archive page. But I'm looking forward to it.