Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
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This book sprouted from a truly ponderous doctoral dissertation completed long ago at the University of Texas at Austin under the direction of Roger deV. Renwick, whose good counsel and encouragement during that ordeal were surpassed only by his good-humored patience waiting for something to reach print. At the other end of the line, David Evans, editor of the American Made Music Series, managed somehow to see this book in a woefully overgrown manuscript, lending his estimable knowledge and...
Prelude: Supposing We Have Us a Little Tune Here
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It’s July 23, 1928, the offices of Columbia Records, 1819 Broadway, New York City. Three musicians from the Carolina-Virginia Piedmont have arrived to record Southern string band music. The North Carolina Ramblers—banjoist Charlie Poole, guitarist Roy Harvey, and fiddler Lonnie Austin—have long been a live attraction back home, where Columbia has recently discovered an untapped market for its phonograph records. The Ramblers have played a big part in that. Just three years before, their first release...
Chapter One: Learning to Listen
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When I was eight or nine, my mother bought records at a neighborhood five-and-dime chain store. Her preference was country and western, but she listened to other styles as well. My own favorites were, predictably, the Beatles. I still remember the day she went after a record she had just heard on the radio, something called “Mr. Tambourine Man” by a folksinger named Bob Dylan. My mother came back home disappointed. The Woolworth’s did not have Dylan’s recording on a 45, so she had settled for a cover by the Byrds, a group of electrified...
Chapter Two: True Relations
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So what manner of musical events were old-time records? The key pieces to that puzzle are, of course, the records themselves, thousands of canned performances that by some accounts have ceased to be folksongs—or have at least lost their personal bearings. Thankfully, hundreds of these records argue just the opposite, actually taking...
Chapter Three: Let’s Get This Dance Started
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"Hello, folks, now I’m with you once again. I’m gonna play for you this time a little piece which an old Southern darkey I heard play coming down Decatur Street the other day because his good gal done throwed him down.” It’s April 2, 1927. The speaker is Riley Puckett, sometime Skillet Licker, presently recording solo at Columbia Records’ Atlanta studio on Peachtree Street. But Puckett and his listeners...
Chapter Four: Here’s One You Can All Sing Right with Us
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"How do! Well folks, you heard about the Farm Relief, read about it, heard them talk about it.” Uncle Dave Macon seems to have a pretty good idea what his listeners have been up to. Certainly he knows what they are doing at the moment: listening to him. “Well, it finally got here,” he continues. “They’ve just about relieved the farmer of everything he’s got, now I’m telling you right. Now I’ll sing...
Chapter Five: A Special Prayer on the Man That’s A-Catching the Record
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Atlanta, Georgia, the third of November, 1926. The Seventh Day Adventist Choir is having church—in a recording studio. In most respects, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks We Stand” (Columbia 14178-D) is of a kind with hundreds of other church service records. Not so the benediction bestowed at its outset on the studio engineer recording the session. As he sets his machine in motion, an unidentified congregant...
Chapter Six: I Ought to Be Recording Right Now
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On April 22, 1938, John Adam “Sleepy John” Estes arrived in Decca’s New York City studio, most likely coming by train directly from West Tennessee, where he was born in 1904 near Ripley, just north of Memphis on the Illinois Central railroad line. Estes cut eight titles that day, last among them “Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)” (Decca 7491, 1938). “Special Agent” describes an encounter between an unpaid rail passenger and a railroad bull, one of the irregular police officers...
Chapter Seven: A Corn Licker Still in Georgia
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"Remember, brother,” crows Clayton McMichen, “our fiddling is just exactly like our licker—high, wide, and handsome.” McMichen is addressing Atlanta radio promoter, singer, and Columbia Records A&R man Dan Hornsby, at that moment playing Tom Sly, an Atlanta bootlegger seeking booze for his gin mill. McMichen is playing himself (but so, arguably, is Hornsby): Clayton McMichen...
Coda: Well Folks, Here We Are Again
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Bob Dylan has an amazing talent for re-creating himself. That is, after all, how he became Bob Dylan. In the new millennium the man once known as Robert Allen Zimmerman briefly took a new name: Jack Fate, the fallen rock legend at the center of the motion picture Masked and Anonymous.1 But Jack Fate may as well be Bob Dylan, who has always been as much an imaginary creation as any of his songs. Released from prison, Fate journeys through a hellish postrevolutionary landscape—what director Larry Charles describes as...
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Record and Song Index
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008