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March 31, 2008

The Kentucky Colonels - Live 1965-66

The Kentucky Colonels were the best young bluegrass band in America (or the world, for that matter) in 1965-66. Unfortunately, most of America (or the world) didn't give a lick about bluegrass in 1965-66. Between Bob Dylan's electrification of folk music and the British Invasion, the only bluegrass bands who were still noticed were the big names, and even they were getting ignored. So, despite having the best bluegrass guitar player and the best bluegrass fiddler who ever lived, they just couldn't survive as a band, and broke up shortly thereafter.

Clarence White was a legendary and enormously influential guitarist. In his teens, he started flatpicking fiddle tunes, in a style similar to but independent of Doc Watson (Clarence had not heard Doc until after his own style had developed). Then, some time around 1964, Clarence heard Django Reinhardt. Upon finding out that Django's left hand was burned and deformed in a fire, clarence taped his first two fingers together, so that he could learn to play with just the others, as Django did. Clarence absorbed Django's sense of timing, syncopation, and phrasing and incorporated it into his own hard-driving bluegrass style. He also pioneered a hybrid picking approach where he would flatpick bass strings and use his middle and ring fingers to pluck treble strings (as you'll hear on New Soldiers Joy). He could play bedazzlingly fast or enticingly slow; no matter what he played, however different it might be from what everyone else was playing, it always sounded right. Pretty soon I'll post a number of Clarence White/Kentucky Colonels/White Brothers bootlegs, and have more info on Clarence.

Scotty Stoneman was another matter altogether, though not entirely dissimilar from Clarence. He must have played fiddle constantly; he was one with his instrument. When he was a kid he'd get up in the middle of the night and take his fiddle out to the chicken coop and start playing until all the chickens were awake. By the time he was playing with the Kentucky Colonels he was a 5-time National Fiddle Champion, and a total alcoholic wreck. Nevertheless, he managed to set audiences on fire with his incredibly inventive, dextrous fiddling. He "has been called the Jimi Hendrix of the violin by Peter Rowan, and the "bluegrass Charlie Parker" by no less a figure than Jerry Garcia. Yet he's an elusive, mysterious figure -- in some ways even more so than Parker or Hendrix ever were -- with a career that was mostly spent working in tandem with other musicians, but without the kind of unified body of recordings left behind by, say, Hugh Farr of the Sons of the Pioneers (who was, himself, once compared to Fritz Kreisler by Leopold Stokowski)." -AMG

Probably due to his alcoholism, he only sometimes performed with the Kentucky Colonels, and this album has just a couple tracks to demonstrate his masterful and mesmerising touch. Before long he would be too much of a wreck to do much of anything, and was succeeded by Richard Greene (who cited Scotty as his sole inspiration on the fiddle) in the echelon of 'best American fiddler'.

So that leaves the other members of the band. Roland White was the lead singer, mandolin player, and band leader, and Clarence's older brother. Billy Ray Lathum, the banjo player, was the only member who was actually from the south (Cave City, Arkansas). Roger Bush or Eric White (also brother) played bass, and sometimes Bob Warford played banjo instead of Billy Ray. Needless to say, they were all fine players and singers in the classic bluegrass tradition as established by Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. They sang close duets in the manner of the Stanley or Louvin Brothers (though not as haunting). And their instrumental chops were good enough to keep up with Clarence and Scotty most of the time, even if their musical ideas were not as stunning. More than not, the Kentucky Colonels were a traditional bluegrass band with some progressive leanings. These ideas would eventually come to fuition in the early '70s with projects like Muleskinner and Norman Blake/Tut Taylor/Vassar Clements/et. all., and blossom even more with the David Grisman Quintet and the 'newgrass' movement after that.

Bluegrass music, with all it's tightly-wound twang, can be an acquired taste. The high nasal singing and strained harmonies can be especially hard to get into. But this is some of the very best, from an instrumental standpoint, and you ought to give it a try. And especially if you play guitar or fiddle, prepare to be astounded.

The Kentucky Colonels - Live 1965-66
Year: 1976
Label: Rounder
get it here.
from vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >96kbps vbr mono (equivalent to 192 stereo) | w/ cover? | 30mb
tracklist & full album details here

This album is out of print vinyl, but you can get Livin in the Past, which has recordings from the same era of the Kentucky Colonels, and is quite good. That album and several other newly unearthed Clarence White recordings are available from Sierra Records.

see also the post on Muleskinner, for Clarence's post-Colonels bluegrass excursions.

if you like Bluegrass or are interested in hearing more, you can get a lot of the classic stuff at Country and Bluegrass Remembered.

and if you'd like some more live Clarence White/Kentucky Colonels, you can get some at Broke Down Engine and Uncle Gil's Rockin' Archives. Also look for Clarence's tasty studio work with the Godsin & Everly Brothers, & his electric guitar playing with the Byrds.

and check out this incredibly detailed Clarence White discography.

Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands 1928-1930

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been on a bit of a secret theme the last few posts: guitar evangelists (Rev. Davis, Son House, Willie Johnson, Rosetta Tharpe), or similarly virtuosic religious music (Spence & co). They're all from black rural musicians, and they all make the religious subjects their own. They live the music they sing, and so when they sing you really believe them (see also the post on Washington Phillips in the archives). And they all seem to be loved by blues-lovers, despite the fact that half of them never sang a blues song in their lives.

Well, this next one will complete the theme. It comes the closest to an actual religious service, and to judge by impassioned shouts and screams, it was one hell of an ecstatic experience. It's called Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands, and collects the Complete Recorded Works of Elder Richard Bryant, Rev. E.S. (Shy) Moore, Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers, & Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers (1929-1930). It's a total wild ruckus, let me tell you. Very exciting, if you can get past the mountain of surface noise. This is the real lo-fi magic. A few of the tracks even feature sermons that gradually give way to hollering and screaming and music-making.

A glancing bit of research revealed that all these holy jug bands belonged to the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), an early Pentecostal incarnation. Apparently, 'COGIC conjures up images of the expressive and emotionally intense, hand clapping, foot stomping, tongues speaking, bible toting, joyous singing, body healing, Jesus professing, God fearing, Spirit indwelling experience of a group of black religious folk, collectively known as the sanctified church.'

Allmusic has this to say:
Review by John Storm Roberts, Original Music

The "sanctified" Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was and is formative in African-American gospel music far beyond its numerical strength, in part because it drew heavily from secular instrumental music when other groupings disapproved of guitars pianos and the rest. These sensational recordings by a handful of groups are similar to the secular jugbands, but outswing most of them three to two.

In a long and ontological diatribe about the Catholic versus Protestant churches and the lack of religious folk music in the former, John Fahey had this to say:

"The nature of the Roman Catholic Church is to make the here-and-now Christ grow and be available to all. The nature of the Protestant Church is to communicate "cheap Grace" - which is no Grace at all - through emotional, exciting, provocative and stimulating entertainment, especially through the twin talismans of noise and rhythm.

Most of the records in this collection were made under the influence of Enthusiasm.

I submit that these recordings…demonstrate that we have here in the USA, both now and then, one very large side of a continuum of an ecstatic as opposed to contemplative religion, which calls itself "Christian." There are other ecstatic religions in the world, or religions with the same continuum (Hinduism), but is Christianity really intrinsically ecstatic in this manner of hot enthusiasm? Are these tambourine players and guitar screamers inhabited by Christ? Do they know him?

I have to say that, Flannery O'Connor notwithstanding, underneath it all I hear pan pipes tooting and a cloven hoof beating time." -from American Primitive Vol.1: Raw Pre-War Gospel

VA - Memphis Sanctified Jug Bands
Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1928-1930)
Year: 1994
Label: Document
get the spirit in thee.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 85mb

& see the COGIC blog for more contemporary fiery musical sermons.

March 28, 2008

Blind Willie Johnson - The Complete Blind Willie Johnson

This is beautiful hair-raising music by one of the most influential roots musicians of the 20th century. He has indelibly changed many musicians (such as John Fahey, Bob Brozman, and Blind Willie McTell), who were floored upon first hearing him and forever tried to approach the haunting quality, rapturous power, and effortless virtuosity of Blind Willie Johnson's music. If you liked Washington Phillips (see archives), you'll like Blind Willie Johnson, and vice versa, methinks.

Allmusic Review by Cub Koda

If you've never heard Blind Willie Johnson, you are in for one of the great, bone-chilling treats in music. Johnson played slide guitar and sang in a rasping, false bass that could freeze the blood. But no bluesman was he; this was gospel music of the highest order, full of emotion and heartfelt commitment. Of all the guitar-playing evangelists, Blind Willie Johnson may have been the very best. Though not related by bloodlines to Robert Johnson, comparisons in the emotional commitment of both men cannot be helped. This two-CD anthology collects everything known to exist, and that's a lot of stark, harrowing, emotional commitment no matter how you slice it. Not for the faint of heart, but hey, the good stuff never is.

Biography by Joslyn Layne

Seminal gospel-blues artist Blind Willie Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest bottleneck slide guitarists. Yet the Texas street-corner evangelist is known as much for the his powerful and fervent gruff voice as he is for his ability as a guitarist. He most often sang in a rough, bass voice (only occasionally delivering in his natural tenor) with a volume meant to be heard over the sounds of the streets. Johnson recorded a total of 30 songs during a three-year period and many of these became classics of the gospel-blues, including "Jesus Make up My Dying Bed," "God Don't Never Change," and his most famous, "Dark Was the Night -- Cold Was the Ground."

It is generally agreed that Johnson was born in a small town just South of Waco near Temple, TX, around 1902. His mother died while he was still a baby, and his father eventually remarried. When Johnson was about seven years old, his father and stepmother fought and the stepmother threw lye water, apparently at the father, but the lye got in Willie Johnson's eyes, blinding him. As he got older, Johnson began earning money by playing his guitar, one of the few avenues left to a blind man to earn a living. Instead of a bottleneck, Johnson actually played slide with a pocketknife. Over the years, Johnson played guitar most often in an open D tuning, picking single-note melodies, while using his slide and strumming a bass line with his thumb. He was, however, known to play in a different tuning and without the slide on a few rare occasions. Regardless of his excellent blues technique and sound, Johnson didn't want to be a bluesman, for he was a passionate believer in the Bible. So, he began singing the gospel and interpreting Negro spirituals. He became a Baptist preacher and brought his sermons and music to the streets of the surrounding cities. While performing in Dallas, he met a woman named Angeline and the two married in 1927. Angeline added 19th century hymns to Johnson's repertoire, and the two performed around the Dallas and Waco areas.

On December 3, 1927, Columbia Records brought Blind Willie Johnson into the studio where he recorded six songs that became some of his most enduring recordings: a song about Samson and Delilah called "If I Had My Way," "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time" (often understood as "motherless children"), "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine," "Jesus Make up My Dying Bed," " I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole," and Johnson's single most-acclaimed song, "Dark Was the Night -- Cold Was the Ground," which is about the crucifixion of Christ. But after this session, Johnson didn't return to the studio for an entire year. The second visit (which took place on December 5, 1928) found him accompanied by his wife, Angeline, who provided backing vocals. The two recorded four songs, including "I'm Gonna Run to the City of Refuge" and "Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Cryin'." Songs from these first two sessions were also issued on the Vocalion label. Several months later, Willie and Angeline Johnson met Elder Dave Ross and went with him to New Orleans where Blind Willie Johnson recorded ten songs for Columbia. From this December 1929 session came a few more of his best-known songs, including "God Don't Never Change," "Let Your Light Shine on Me," and "You'll Need Somebody on Your Bond."

Although Blind Willie Johnson was one of Columbia's best-selling race recording artists, he only recorded for them one more time -- in April 1930 -- after which he never heard from them again. This final session took place in Atlanta, GA (again, Johnson was accompanied by Angeline who actually sang lead on a few numbers this time), and consisted of ten songs, including "Can't Nobody Hide From God," "John the Revelator," and the slightly altered "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond." These last two songs were issued on one record that was withdrawn shortly after its release. Despite the fact that Johnson did not record after 1930, he continued to perform on the Texas streets during the '30s and '40s. Unfortunately, in 1947, the Johnsons' home burned to the ground. He caught pneumonia shortly thereafter and died in the ashes of his former home approximately one week after it was destroyed. Purportedly, Angeline Johnson went on to work as a nurse during the 1950s.

Over the years, many artists have covered the gospel songs made famous by Blind Willie Johnson, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Ry Cooder ("Dark Was the Night" inspired Cooder's score for the movie Paris, Texas). Johnson's song "If I Had My Way" was even revived as a popular hit during the 1960s when it was covered by the contemporary folk band Peter, Paul and Mary. Several excellent collections of Blind Willie Johnson's music exist, including Dark Was the Night (on Sony) and Praise God, I'm Satisfied (on Yazoo). Johnson's music also appears on many compilations of country blues and slide guitar.

here is everything he ever recorded:

Blind Willie Johnson - The Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Year: 1993
Label: Columbia/Legacy
get disc 1
get disc 2
mp3 224-256kbps vbr | with covers | 68 + 88mb

& check out Stephan Wirz's great discography

March 27, 2008

Reverend Gary Davis

"In Davis we encounter a complete musician, a composer aware of all musical details, exploring new possibilities. Davis has not been acclaimed as Robert Johnson, yet he alone brought many traditions to culmination through an artistry which surpassed nearly all others during his lifetime." -Allan Evans

Again we have an incredibly idiosyncratic guitarist and singer who was caught between sacred and secular music (and lifestyles). Reverend Gary Davis was one of the best and most unique guitar and banjo players of the 20th century. And, I'm not going to say anything really that would be better than what others have said, so once again I quote.

The Reverend Gary Davis

In his prime of life, which is to say the late '20s, the Reverend Gary Davis was one of the two most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field, playing before thousands of people at a time, and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Donovan, and Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis.

According to guitarist and author Stefan Grossman, Davis said he was three weeks old when he became blind from chemicals put in his eyes. Despite this affliction, he showed musical talent immediately, making his first guitar from a pie pan and a stick before he was ten.

One of eight children, Gary was raised by his grandmother on a farm near Greenville, South Carolina after his father decided that his mother could not care for him properly. In the South of the early 1900s street bands provided entertainment, often traveling through the small towns on wagons. The music the young Davis picked up on was a lively combination of spirituals sung in black churches, square dance music, and marches by popular figures such as John Phillips Sousa. Davis's distinctive style can be seen as an attempt to translate these types of music to the guitar. In an interview with Sam Charters, Davis said of his chosen instrument: "The first time I ever heard a guitar, I thought it was a brass band coming through. I was a small kid and I asked my mother what it was and she said that was a guitar."

As a youth, Davis sang at the Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court, South Carolina. Later, he played in a string band in Greenville and learned to read Braille at the Cedar Springs School for Blind People in Spartanburg. After slipping on ice and breaking his wrist, the bones were set badly, and he was forced to play with an oddly cocked left hand. This may have become an advantage as it allowed him to finger the chords in a unique way.

He was self-taught on the guitar, beginning at age six, and by the time he was in his 20s he had one of the most advanced guitar techniques of anyone in blues -- his only peers among ragtime-based players were Blind Arthur Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Willie Johnson. Davis himself was a major influence on Blind Boy Fuller. Davis's influences included gospel, marches, ragtime, jazz, and minstrel hokum, and he integrated them into a style that was his own. In 1911, when Davis was a still teenager, the family moved to Greenville, SC, and he fell under the influence of such local guitar virtuosi as Willie Walker, Sam Brooks and Baby Brooks. Davis moved to Durham in the mid-'20s, by which time he was a full-time street musician, and celebrated not only for the diversity of styles that his playing embraced, but also for his skills with the guitar, which were already virtually unmatched in the blues field.

"He was the most fantastic guitarist I'd ever seen." -Dave Van Ronk

Davis went into the recording studio for the first time in the '30s with the backing of a local businessman. Davis cut a mixture of blues and spirituals for the American Record Company label, but there was never an equitable agreement about payment for the recordings, and following these sessions, it was 19 years before he entered the studio again. During that period, he went through many changes. Like many other street buskers, Davis always interspersed gospel songs amid his blues and ragtime numbers, to make it harder for the police to interrupt him. He began taking the gospel material more seriously, and in 1937 he became an ordained minister. After that, he usually refused to perform any blues. Davis moved to New York in the early '40s and began preaching and playing on streetcorners in Harlem. He recorded again at the end of the 1940s, with a pair of gospel songs, but it wasn't until the mid-'50s that a real following for his work began developing anew. His music, all of it now of a spiritual nature, began showing up on labels such as Stinson, Folkways, and Riverside, where he recorded seven songs in early 1956.

Davis was "rediscovered" by the folk revival movement, and after some initial reticence, he agreed to perform as part of the budding folk music revival, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, where his raspy voiced sung sermons, most notably his transcendent "Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)" -- a song most closely associated with Blind Willie Johnson -- and "Twelve Gates to the City," were highlights of the procedings for several years. He also recorded a live album for the Vanguard label at one such concert, as well as appearing on several Newport live anthology collections. He was also the subject of two television documentaries, one in 1967 and one in 1970. Davis became one of the most popular players on the folk revival and blues revival scenes, playing before laDavis was "rediscovered" by the folk revival movement, and after some initial reticence, he agreed to perform as part of the budding folk music revival, appearing at the Newport Folkrge and enthusiastic audiences -- most of the songs that he performed were spirituals, but they weren't that far removed from the blues that he'd recorded in the 1930s, and his guitar technique was intact. Davis's skills as a player, on the jumbo Gibson acoustic models that he favored, were undiminished, and he was a startling figure to hear, picking and strumming complicated rhythms and countermelodies. Davis became a teacher during this period, and his students included some very prominent White guitar players, including David Bromberg and the Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen (who later recorded Davis's "I'll Be Alright" on his acclaimed solo album Quah!).

"Rev. Davis taught me, by example, to completely throw out my preconceptions of what can or can't be done on the guitar."
-Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead)

The Reverend Gary Davis left behind a fairly large body of modern (i.e. post-World War II) recordings, well into the 1960s, taking the revival of his career in his stride as a way of carrying the message of the gospel to a new generation. He even recorded anew some of his blues and ragtime standards in the studio, for the benefit of his students.

"Gary Davis took you out of playing baby guitar and made you play it like a grown man." -Taj Mahal

In 1974, Davis described his teaching style for Blues Guitar: "Your forefinger and your thumb -- that's the striking hand, and your left hand is your leading hand. Your left hand tells your right hand what strings to touch, what changes to make. That's the greatest help! You see, one hand can't do without the other." This finger- picking style was capable of maintaining a melodic line while inserting complex harmonies. "Soldiers Drill," for example, was an instrumental reworking of some Sousa marches. Davis used a large six-string guitar, which he affectionately called "Miss Gibson" after the guitar's manufacturer. Reverend Gary usually tuned the guitar to a relatively difficult E-B-G-D-A-E configuration rather than the "open" tuning favored by most of his fellow street musicians (who could make chords by simply barring across a fret). This provided him with a more complex set of chord possibilities. He alternated major chords and sevenths to give his music the dissonance characteristic of the blues, while picking a melody and variations of the melody. In the liner notes to Davis' album Say No to the Devil, critic Larry Cohn compared his instrumental virtuosity in this regard to that of classical guitarist Andres Segovia and banjo player Earl Scruggs.

On May 5, 1972, he suffered a heart attack while on the way to a performance in Newtonville, New Jersey. He died at William Kessler Memorial Hospital and is buried in Rockville Cemetery in Lynbrook, New York.

More than two decades after his death, the influence of Reverend Gary Davis can still be felt. As each new generation is introduced to blues, folk, and other forms of traditional American music, Davis's signature guitar stylings and heartfelt vocals continue to move, entertain, and educate.

~ Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide &
Paul Andersen, Contemporary Musicians, April 1997

Here are a few albums that highlight the gospel side of his work:

Reverend Gary Davis - At the Sign of the Sun 1962
Year: 1990
Label: Heritage
get it here.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ scans | 94mb

Live and very raw. The rev mostly plays six- and ten-stringed guitar, but plays six-string banjo on two tracks and harmonica on one.
Sister Annie Davis, 95 years old at the time, accompanies hime on I'll Be Alright Someday and When the Saints Go Marching In

Reverend Gary Davis - I Am A True Vine
Year: 1991
Label: Heritage
get it here.
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 94mb

These selections comprises the cream of many recordings of this superlative musician by his close asociate, Stefan Grossman, chosen for their guitar-picking skills, rarity of perfomance or sheer emotion.
All recorded in New York City, 1962-1963, by Stefan Grossman.

i forget where i got this one, but thanks probably go to stagolee

Reverend Gary Davis - O, Glory: The Apostolic Studio Sessions
Year: 1969 (recorded); 1996 (reissue)
Label: Genes
get it here.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/o cover | 79mb

Recorded in 1969, O, Glory: The Apostolic Studio Sessions is the Rev. Gary Davis' final studio LP, but he went out in style, working under the most state-of-the-art studio conditions of his career. The result is perhaps the best-sounding record in his catalog, even if the performances don't quite capture all the fire of his peak period; equally interesting is another break in tradition -- rarely recorded with other artists (outside of a few early-'50s sides cut with Sonny Terry), here Davis is backed by vocalist Sister Annie Davis, harpist Larry Johnson and the Apostolic Family Chorus. Also worth noting is that Davis performs on a pair of instruments he'd never before recorded with, the piano and the five-string banjo. The cumulative result makes O Glory a must for historians, but casual fans will undoubtedly be better served by his earlier material.

and you can get Rev. Gary Davis - Say No to the Devil & The Sun of Our Life at Broke Down Engine
and don't miss Josse's many fine Gary Davis & related album posts at Merlin In Rags

also check out, with discography, bio, stories, quotes, & related links

and read an interview of Rev. Gary Davis by Stefan Grossman

March 25, 2008

Joseph Spence & The Pinder Family - The Spring of Sixty-Five

What's crazier than Joseph Spence hammering away at his guitar and garbling verses in multiple layers of syncopation? His whole family doing it with him!

Here is a picture of Joseph Spence with his sister, Edith Pinder, in the background, and her husband Raymond in the foreground. The Pinder family often accompanied Spence, and together they were nothing short of a veritable music machine. Edith sang in a powerfully deep and throaty tenor that reminds me of a Jamaican reggae singer. Her husband Raymond provided a deep and rich bass, while their daughter Geneva warbled along in a flighty treble. You just have to hear them to understand, but I'm telling you it's unbelievable stuff. They sang with an incredible intensity that at times can be almost overwhelming to listen to. The music is simple, but the complexities are astounding. It's truly a wonder to behold. If you've ever heard The Incredible String Band or The Grateful Dead performing their versions of "I Bid You Goodnight" then you've heard their tribute to the Pinder Family. These groups heard the song on an album called The Real Bahamas, a 1965 Nonesuch Records release which has since been re-released. Other musicians who claim Joseph Spence as an influence include Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, both of whom had the pleasure to meet and play with him before his death in 1984.
-- from
Joseph Spence on Bicycle
Spence, as he was endearingly called by his siblings, his wife and inevitably everyone who came to know him, was raised with his sister and four half-brothers. In his youth, the Out Islands were still largely unpopulated, this meant that there was no access to mainland music. The influences that Joseph Spence did absorb came in the form of Baptist anthems, rhyming spirituals, Tin Pan alley songs, Trinidadian calypso, children's songs and even Christmas carols. The ingenious guitarist broke new ground finding ways to combine and derive these musical genres into a format that better suited his own voice.

The gifted Androsian was most heavily influenced while still in his teens, during a stint as a sponge hooker. Spence would take his guitar with him on these trips. The men whom he accompanied would often spend months at a time out in the "Mud" - the shallow waters where natural sponges were often found and harvested. The choral style developed on the Out Islands known as "rhyming" emerged when spongers were unable to return back to port in time for Sunday fellowship. Instead, they took bible verses, a few basic chords as well as an innate sense of rhythm adaptability and sang out their own service and prayers on the boats, utilisng a call and response format. Spence took hold of the approach and transformed it into something of his own creation. The teenager left the sponge industry one year before the great sponge blight in 1938, which wiped out 90 percent of the Bahamas' sponge population.
The very first time that Charters heard Joseph Spence playing he was sitting on a wall at a construction site. Charters is said to have checked behind the wall for another guitarist, so layered and rich was Spence's finger picking approach.

Some years later, in 1964, Fritz Richmond of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band visited the islands on behalf of Vanguard Records as a sort of fact finding trip to see if Joseph Spence was still around. Upon locating the elusive Spence, Richmond sent a a telegram back to the record company saying, "Spence lives. Bring 12 sets of metal bronze strings and a tape recorder."
-- The Nassau Guardian "Joseph Spence: The Unforgotten Legend"

About the album: Review by Roundup newsletter

These recordings come from two separate occasions. Six tracks were recorded in New York City during Joseph Spence's first tour of the U.S., and prominently feature Spence's guitar and vocals, with harmonies and occasional lead vocals from his sister Edith Pinder. The other seven selections were recorded at the same sessions that yielded the Nonesuch Real Bahamas album, recorded in the backyard of the Pinder family, with Spence accompanied by incredible vocals from the Pinder family, Edith, Raymond, and Geneva. Their vocals have the same rough-hewn rightness as Spence's guitar, and the voices intertwine and create spontaneous counterpoint like some sort of coarse Bahamian vocal Dixieland ensemble. Or, as Jody Stecher says in the liner notes, "When the Pinders sing 'When Jesus Calls Again' they remind me of a big old living pump organ, complete with leaks and squeaks, and completely irresistible."

This is incredibly joyous, complex, ecstatic, and jubilant music. It's about the most fun that religion ever got. And, if you listen close, you'll find that their polyrhythmic rhyming is the unknown precursor to rap.

Joseph Spence & The Pinder Family - The Spring of Sixty-Five
Year: 1992
Label: Rounder
say what?
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 61mb

see my earlier post on Joseph Spence for more of my writing, and less of other peoples'.

March 24, 2008

files deleted, re-posts

so, um gigasize really sucks. that's what I've decided after they unexpectedly deleted all of my files. re-posts will come; if any of you have downloaded a file from here and notice it missing, you can help by reposting.

and massmirror sucks too, but sharebee is working again (for now), so i'll use it as much as possible.

as for files above 100mb, i'm still looking for a good solution. i haven't gotten to work yet, and megaupload slows doen my computer just by visiting the site. i think i'll use, at least until i can find a better option. the advantage is, you can download from even while waiting for your next download from another site.

oh, and The Best of Cannon's Jug Stompers has been reposted.

Son House - Revisited

"Ain't no kind of blues excepting between a man and a woman."
-- Son House

There are certain figures in the history of American music whose names can only be spoken with reverence. Figures who have not only crafted a great body of work, not only inspired and influenced thousands of other musicians, but whose music sets an emotional and technical standard by which all other music is measured.

"You could measure the true greatness of Son House not by watching him, but by looking at Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, or Jimmy Reed as they watched him." -- Dick Waterman

Son House with Howling WolfThis is probably the most riveting music I've ever heard in my life. It makes me cry, it makes me shake and quiver. Not long after I first heard this cd, I had a dream in which I was playing slide guitar with Son House. I started picking up people's guitars and plucking on them discordantly, much the way Robert Johnson had when he saw Son play with Charlie Patton and Willie Brown. Though the style I play is more indebted to John Fahey, that's only because I don't think for a minute I could play at all like Son.

I mean, I'm sure I could learn his technique. Al Wilson of Canned Heat fame learned it from the old records and then taught it back to Son when he was rediscovered in the 60s, having proudly not picked up a guitar in years. But his technique is only a minute part of the power of his music, and it is such a singular extension of himself, complete with improvised nuances, that it would do me little good to use it. However accomplished, his slide guitar technique was never flashy. It never drew attention to itself. But more than anyone I can think of, Son House's guitar was one with his singing. The two combined to create a single unified voice which could weep while shouting, a voice which could sermonize in a single grunt or growl.

"Son House was the greatest of all blues guitarists" -- Muddy Waters

He dispensed with all the common building blocks of music; concerns of pitch, melody, and rhythm never got in the way of Son House's music. Instead, he cuts straight to the heart of the tune, re-living the story and propelling it through to us. He never played a song the same way twice because he was so much in the moment, living the narrative and creating the song anew. That is why his songs always ring so true; they are his testimony not to a bygone event, but to a feeling that is every bit of this instant. To listen to his music is to be transfixed, transfigured, and left with an indelible, unforgettable feeling that denies words.

Though I never saw him live, by all accounts that was an equally mesmerizing experience:
"He would sit far back in his chair and speak so softly that his words were almost inaudible. Then he would sit up and put his left hand down the neck of the guitar, laying his slide against the strings. After pausing momentarily to take a breath, Son would suddenly rip the slide up the strings and the sound of the steel body National would resound to the farthest corners of the room, while his low and throaty voice would suddenly soar into impassioned falsetto.
The songs would last sometimes six, sometimes ten minutes; He would go on and on until his story had been told. Eyes shut tight and sweat dripping down his face, Son House would transport himself to another time and place. He might to back to 1928 or 1938...he might be back in Robinsonville or Clarcksdale or to towns in his far distant past.
When the song ended, Son would slump forward for a few seconds and then slowly raise his head. He would blink his eyes, refocusing on the present. Chuckling softly as he slid back in the chair, he would begin to tell another story. Only songs about the travails of human frailty interested him. "Ain't no kind of blues excepting between a man and a woman," he would say, nodding solemnly.
-- manager Dick Waterman, from Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive

Son House was the emotional anchor of the blues. If you could condense the essence of the blues into one person, it would be Son House. He hollered the blues, he played the blues, but moreover he lived the blues: his whole career he was torn between the sanctified life of a preacher and the gritty drunken life of a juke-joint-playing bluesman. He was endlessly self-depricating, remorseful, and conflicted, and he transfigures these qualities in his music. They cease to be his remorse, his conflict, his blues -- they become our sorrow, our pain, our salvation. Hundreds of musicians have sung a variant of the lyrics in Death Letter:
It looked like it was 10,000 people
Standing round the burying ground
I didn't know i loved her
'Till they began to let her down.
For any other singer, that phrase is a nice lyric. When Son sings it, I believe him. I can see him standing at the burying ground, without a soul to throw his arms around. When he sings, Son's life is on display, and he is baring its most moving stories for us to behold. When I listen to Son House, I bear witness to his life's greatest triumphs and most painful sorrows, and I am sanctified through that witness. All his talk of Baptists and deacons in Preaching Blues rings true. The stage is his pulpit, the song his sermon. This is the true religion that Son House bestows: baptism by the blues, with Son is its preacher and crucified savior all at once.

We are all beholden to Son House.

Thank you, Son. You have a heaven all your own.

These were the first recordings of Son House that I heard. This is what started my passion for the blues. Both are live shows, and capture the inimitable integrity and fiery mood-swings that he had. Disc 1 is the more powerful and better-recorded disc, and includes lengthy monologues that tell the story behind each of the songs. Disc 2 has more surface noise, and Son seems somewhat drunk, delivering a weaker performance. Nevertheless, a weak performance by Son House beats the pants off the best performance by most other artists.

Son House Revisited

Son House - Revisited
Year: 2002
Label: Fuel
Disc 1 - Live at Oberlin College, 1965
Disc 2 - Live at the Gaslight, 1965

prepare to be shaken!
get it here: part 1, part 2
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ covers | 93mb & 80mb

you've got to dl both parts to get all of disc 1. disc 2 is all contained within part 2.
if you don't like massmirror's ads, there's some direct links in the comments.

And if you'd like to hear his complete Library of Congress recordings, made by Alan Lomax on a levee in Mississippi, for which he got paid nothing, you can find them at Merlin in Rags. & Check out the other recordings from that trip on the Alan Lomax Collection: Deep River of Song post in the archives.

And you can get several other Son House albums at Blues and Rhythm blog.

and check out Allmusic's admirable biography.

March 23, 2008

Buell Kazee - Legendary Kentucky Ballad Singer

Allmusic Biography by Sandra Brennan:

Buell Kazee was a minister who played banjo and sang the ancient songs of his beloved Kentucky mountains during the 1920s. Considered one of the very best folk singers in U.S. history, he was a master of the high, "lonesome" singing style of the Appalachian balladeer. Kazee was born in the foothill town of Burton Fork, KY, and learned most of his songs from his family. He began picking banjo at age five and often played during local gatherings. He prepared for the clergy even as a teen and after high school began studying English, Greek, and Latin at Georgetown College, KY. It was there that he began to understand the significance of his family and friends' traditional songs. Kazee formally studied singing and music in order to transcribe the old songs and make them more contemporary. Following his graduation in 1925, he gave a "folk music" concert at the University of Kentucky. He wore a tie and tails while playing the banjo and piano, sang in his specially trained "formal" voice, and gave lectures about the history of the songs. The show was a great success, so he repeated it several times over the following years.

In 1927, he was asked to record the songs for Brunswick in New York, and he was signed to the label on the condition that he sing using his high, tight "mountain" voice and forego his formal vocal training. Over the next two years, he recorded over 50 songs backed by New York musicians. Many were religious, but others ranged from traditional to popular ballads, including "Lady Gay," "The Sporting Bachelors," and "The Orphan Girl." His biggest hit was a version of "On Top of Old Smoky" called "Little Mohee," which sold over 15,000 copies. In the early '30s, the recently married Kazee lost interest in pursuing a music career and stopped touring to become the minister of a church in Morehead, KY. For the next 22 years, he only sang publicly at revival meetings. Much later, he began using folk themes to compose formal music, such as a cantata-based on the old Sacred Harp piece "The White Pilgrim." During the folk revival of the early '60s, he made a comeback and was one of the first to appear at the Newport festivals. In addition to preaching and singing, Kazee also wrote three religious books and a book on banjo playing. He died in 1976.

Buell's voice is indeed high and lonesome; his singing and overall approach to music is reminiscent of other folksinger-scholars like Bascom Lamar Lunsford and John Jacob Niles. His banjo-accompanied ballads are as classic as anything ever called folk music, and a couple of them were included on Harry Smith's influential Anthology of American Folk Music. There are some songs where he lays down the banjo and sings accompanied by piano, violin, and strumming guitar. These are much harder for me to listen to, for their polished sentimentality. But there's something compelling about them still, probably saved by his unique voice. For instance, Buell's interpretation of Redwing, complete with mock-birdsong and sweet weeping fiddle, falls halfway between hauntingly beautiful and sickeningly maudlin. Though from Kentucky, Buell sings without the heavy accent that so readily identifies the work of many others (for example, Bill Monroe). In his hands, folk song becomes universal, rather than regional, and even topical songs become timeless.

Buell Kazee - Legendary Kentucky Ballad Singer
Label: British Archive of Country Music
Year: 2005
get it here.
mp3 | >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 45mb

for ejg

& check out the Appal records page on him, for bio, lyrics, discography, & his self-titled record of 1978.

March 21, 2008

Kaleidoscope (U.S.)

"They're my favorite band of all time - my ideal band." - Jimmy Page

There have been few, if any groups, who could play rock, blues, country, cajun, Irish, swing, psychedelic, bluegrass, Hawaiian, folk, Balkan, flamenco, jug band, and Middle-Eastern music, much less combine them together. There were none who did it as seamlessly as Kaleidoscope. In addition to rock instruments (electric guitar, bass, drums), folk instruments (fiddle, banjo, mandolin), and blues instruments (steel guitar, harmonica), they played instruments most people hadn't even heard of, such as the caz or the harp-guitar. And they played the hell out of them, turning what could have been a novelty act into a tight, energetic professional band.

"We never were a group for screaming teeny boppers, but you bet your sweet ass every damn town we’d play in all the other professional musicians in town would show up to catch every last set we’d play." - David Lindley

You'll hear echoes of Hamza El Din in the oud and saz solos that emerge out of 11-minute psychedelic workouts like 'Seven-Ate-Sweet (7-8 Suite)' and 'Taxim', or the oud-driven 'Egyptian Gardens'. You'll hear echoes of Howlin' Wolf via Hendrix on 'Beacon from Mars'. You'll hear echoes of the Kentucky Colonels' bluegrass in 'Life Will Pass You By' and 'Banjo', perhaps the single best use of an echo box in the history of music (perhaps not, but it's very fun). You'll hear echoes of Cab Calloway, Doug & Rusty Kershaw, The Loovin' Spoonful, Ralph Stanley, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Jim Kweskin, Chuck Berry, The Sons of the Pioneers, Duke Ellington and even flamenco masters like Sabicas and Carlos Montoya. But, though this list of multi-varied influences and genres guarantees that they were the most eclectic rock band in America, the way that Kaleidoscope fused them together made all the disparate elements uniquely their own. To top it all off, they wrote taut, witty lyrics and sang with emotion that ranged from sweet to gritty to spaced-out.

The Musicians (at different stages of the band):
David Lindley aka De Paris Letante - guitar, oud, violin, harp-guitar, banjo, vocals
Chris Darrow - fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vibes, sax, tuba
Solomon Feldthouse - guitar, oud, finger cymbals, tuba, caz, canun, doumbeg, vocals
Chester Crill aka Max Buda aka Templeton Parcely aka Fenrus Epp - harmonica, organ, piano, violin, vocals.
John Vidican - bass
Stuart Brotman - bass, penny whistle, gudulka, cemenche, oud, vocals
Paul Lagos - drums, vocals
John Ware - drums

check out these albums:

Kaleidoscope - Side Trips
Year: 1967
Label: Epic
get it here
Their first album, it lays out the blueprint for everything that was to follow. The musicianship would get better on later albums, but they can already beat the pants off rivals like The Doors.

Kaleidoscope - A Beacon From Mars (aka Bacon from Mars)
Year: 1968
Label: Epic
get it here (re-posted Mar 22 '08)
This is my second-favorite album of theirs. Perhaps the best showcase of all their different styles.

Kaleidoscope - Incredible! Kaleidoscope
Year: 1969
Label: Epic
get it here
My favorite Kaleidoscope album, and one of the best psych-rock albums ever. Period. Their musical prowess is in top form here.

Kaleidoscope - Bernice
Year: 1970
Label: Epic
get it here
More straightforward, less exciting. Most of the Eastern influence is gone, as well as half the founding members. They broke up shortly afterwards.

Kaleidoscope - When Scopes Collide
Year: 1976
Label: Island
get it here (fixed Nov-2, 2008)
The mid-70s reunion, featuring most of the original members, and some new ones.All the various genres are there, but they never quite gel like on the first 3 albums.

Kaleidoscope - Pulsating Dream: The Epic Recordings
Year: 2004
Label: Epic
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 (from Lost-in-Tyme mirror)
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 (from Orexis of Death, thanks to Emberglow)

The box set, containing all their classic releases plus unreleased and hard-to-find cuts. 3-cds. If you know you like them, get this rather than the individual Epic albums.

Thanks to Telhadosmundo and Lost-In-Thyme blogs for the d-links. If there's anything wrong with the dls, or the links die, let me know and i can up my copies. [update: well, I can't actually upload any for a while, but Lost-in-Thyme has been resurrected and the box set is also available on Orexis of Death and Chocoreve. Thanks to those who posted comments to help.]

and you'll find all the Kaleidoscope news, articles, images, & reviews you want at the Pulsating Dream website.

Hamza El Din - Escaly (The Water Wheel)

I really don't know much about this better than what's written at allmusic, so I quote it below.
I've been working on a "Roots of John Fahey" compilation for a while now. It's not done yet, but this album is a big part of the roots of Sandy Bull. Enjoy its hypnotic beauty.

Allmusic Biography by Richie Unterberger:

One of the first African musicians to gain widespread international recognition, Hamza El Din is a Nubian master of the oud, or the fretless lute. Western listeners are as likely as not to have been exposed to his work via the Grateful Dead, who played with him on-stage occasionally. (El Din also helped arrange the Dead's tour of Egypt.) He played an integral role in modernizing Nubian music, using his work to both evoke and tell stories of Nubian life.

El Din was originally trained to be an engineer, but changed direction and enrolled in the Middle Eastern School of Music, where he began to compose his own songs. On a fellowship to study Western classical music in Rome, he met American Gino Foreman, who exposed Hamza's work to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. This resulted in a contract with Vanguard. His mid-'60s debut, Al Oud -- Instrumental and Vocal Music From Nubia, was one of the first "world music" recordings to achieve wide exposure in the West.

In the second half of the 1960s, El Din spent much of his time in America, living in guitarist Sandy Bull's apartment for a while. Taking a series of teaching positions in various American locations, he also found time to record a Nonesuch album in 1968, Escalay, that is considered one of the best documents of Nubian music. Eclipse is his most notable post-Escalay record, raising his profile in the U.S. when it was reissued on CD by Rykodisc.

Allmusic Review by Stewart Mason

An album of Northern African music played on the oud (a fretless, long-necked string instrument that's the predecessor of the European lute, common in North African and Middle Eastern music), 1971's Escalay: The Water Wheel is not only the most popular album by the Nubian-born soloist Hamza El Din, it's arguably the best-known album of traditional Egyptian folk music in the west, thanks to its position as one of the early releases in the hugely popular Nonesuch Explorer series. Side one, a remarkable 21-and-a-half-minute composition, is a tone poem built on one subtly pulsing drone that rises and falls continually, creating hypnotic layers of harmonics occasionally broken by El Din's wordless calls. Some American minimalist composers, particularly Steve Reich, have claimed a strong influence in their own music from traditional North African styles; for a listener familiar with the minimalists' work, "The Water Wheel" makes the connection plain. Side two consists of two shorter pieces, the enchantingly melodic "I Remember," originally written by Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdul Wahab for electric guitar but here played on the traditional oud, and the self-explanatory "Song With Tar," an original in the Nubian folk tradition on which El Din accompanies his vocals with clapping hands and the beating of a tar, a traditional tambourine-like drum native to Nubia. This is not "folk music" in the purist sense, as all three tracks are composed music, but Escalay: The Water Wheel is a fascinating document of the musical traditions of Egypt.
Hamza El Din - Escaly (The Water Wheel)
Year: 1971
Label: Nonesuch
AMG Rating: 5 stars (pick)
get it here.
not my rip | mp3 192kbps | w/cover | 50mb

oh, and if anyone has anything else by Hamza El Din, I'd love to hear it.

March 18, 2008

On hobos and things...

And, in the interest of preserving individual history here is an odd collection:

700 Hobo Names

with a curious musical backdrop, consisting of guitar strums and a searching radio signal (played live for an hour! one take!). With names like "Tear Baby Hannaby Stew" and "Human Hair Blanket Morris Burns", and "Thermos H. Christ" you really ought to hear this. Really.

After hearing this, I think I might change my name to "Astonishing Shaun Eyelash." Or "Stupifying P, the Riddle Maker."

And to make matters better, each hobo is illustrated, at
Here's my favorite:

And to go along with it, here's the Hobo Code:

As inscribed in the Annual Convention Congress of the Hoboes of America held on August 8, 1894 at the Hotel Alden, 917 Market St., Chicago Illinois;

1.-Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.

2.-When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

3.-Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

4.-Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.

5.-When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

6.-Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.

7.-When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.

8.-Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

9.-If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

10.-Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

11.-When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

12.-Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.

13.-Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

14.-Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

15.-Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

16.-If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!