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March 28, 2009

Dave Van Ronk - Inside Dave Van Ronk


One more from the Mayor, walkin up Beale St.. Mr. Fancy-Fret Screaming Kingboy. Mr. Bob Dylan slept on my couch and then stole my arrangements and took all the credit. Mr. I hate to leave New York, and one time when I finally did they left my guitar on the friggin airport runway. Bastards. He's been a good old wagon, and he'll tear this building down. Mr. Long John, he's dead and gone. But he was a friend of mine. No stranger to whiskey either. Mr. I'm not a folksinger, which was a lie. Mr. Noah, he has a hard time when his mother is gone. He buried him a little dog and He never came back. Shortiga hortiga thymiga thu, shortiga hortiga thymiga thu, shortiga hortiga thymiga thu. Baralith mahegash mehi housemenadine, I'll marry you both and sleep in the middle says Brian O'Lynne.

I was sitting in the back yard sucking on a Good Humor
Along comes a Doc, says my wife has a tumor
And it was malignant

Now the AMA and the medical highers
They don't agree with Liggette & Meyers
They say smoking is bad for you
Hell of a cough, too

Well, there is cancer of the liver; there is cancer of the lung
Cancer of the lip, the throat, the tongue
There's 17 malignant tumors in one filter tip king size
Now light up

Well, a cigarette was needed that was relatively clean
They come out with filters, low tar & nicotine
All that research gone to waste
No harmful ingredient, no cigarette taste

Well, the companies panicked, they had to find an answer
They increased the tobacco strain and everybody's getting cancer
Look what I got free with these cigarette coupons
A chest X-ray

Well, the hashish interest in Mexico
Has found a way to redouble their dough
Let's all get the habit, marijuana's here to stay
So if you want a treat and you don't mind the treatment
Smoke pot! It's the thinking man's cigarette

And then he went and died.
Poor Lazarus.
Bastard.


(if you want to hear my real commentary, check out my first Van Ronk post)


and some snippets from elsewhere:
Van Ronk refused for many years to fly and never learned to drive (he would use trains or buses or, when possible, recruit a girlfriend or young musician as his driver), and he declined to ever move from Greenwich Village for any extended period of time (having stayed in California for a short time in the 1960s. Van Ronk's trademark stoneware jug of Tullamore Dew was frequently seen on stage next to him in his early days.

Robert Shelton described Van Ronk as, "the musical mayor of MacDougal Street, a tall, garrulous hairy man of three quarters, or, more accurately, three fifths Irish descent. Topped by light brownish hair and a leonine beard, which he smoothed down several times a minute, he resembled an unmade bed strewn with books, record jackets, pipes, empty whiskey bottles, lines from obscure poets, finger picks, and broken guitar strings. He was Bob's first New York guru. Van Ronk was a walking museum of the blues. Through an early interest in jazz, he had gravitated toward black music -- its jazz pole, its jug-band and ragtime center, its blues bedrock.....his manner was rough and testy, disguising a warm, sensitive core. Van Ronk retold the blues intimately....for a time, his most dedicated follower was Dylan."


Five years older than Dylan, Van Ronk was one of the few native New Yorkers among Village folkiedom's big names. After departing "Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo" in the staidest corner of Queens, Van Ronk turned anarcho-Marxist out of orneriness and common sense. Initially a Dixieland banjoist who doubled on foghorn vocals, he was an interpreter who mastered blues and kept going. His repertoire encompassed not just his mentor Gary Davis and the Harry Smith canon but old pop, jazz, and vaudeville material, a few self-penned gems, and, soon enough, the cream of the singer-songwriters he insists were folk only by loose-thinking association. He was an ace guitarist who made up in practice what he lacked in dexterity and a brainy arranger whose book was raided on his protégé Dylan's Columbia debut.


Dave Van Ronk - Inside Dave Van Ronk

Year: 1962 & 1964 (rec); 1990 (reissue)
Label: Prestige (original); Fantasy (reissue)

Review by Richie Unterberger:
Somewhat confusingly titled, this CD reissue includes both the 1962 album of the same name and the Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger LP (recorded around the same time), encompassing 25 tracks in all. Anyway, this is certainly Van Ronk's most enduring work, and indeed one of the few relics of the early-'60s traditional folk boom that holds up well today. With the possible exception of Bob Dylan (whom Van Ronk and his wife helped immensely when Dylan was a struggling unknown in New York), Dave was the finest interpreter of traditional folk tunes of that time, with a big bear of a voice that was both anguished and tender. One of the few white folkies who could sing acoustic blues without embarrassment, Van Ronk was also an accomplished acoustic guitar picker; instrumentally and vocally, he brought an intensity to his covers that made the songs his own. Of the two albums brought together on this CD, Inside has the edge because of its more varied instrumentation, including 12-string guitar, dulcimer, and autoharp (Folksinger only has Dave's vocals and guitar). Dominated by classics like "Motherless Child," "Silver Dagger," "Poor Lazarus," and "Fixin' to Die," this also has an arrangement of "He Was a Friend of Mine" that Van Ronk learned from Dylan, who apparently claimed the traditional song as his own at the time. [WRONG! Bob Dylan stole Van Ronk's arrangement of the traditional song and recorded it before Van Ronk could, even though VR had explicitly asked him not to. This is after little Bobby Zimmerman slept on VR's couch for months and VR had introduced him to the ways of fingerpicking and surrealist writing.]

Tracks
1 Samson and Delilah - Traditional - 2:35
2 Cocaine Blues - Jordan - 4:16
3 You've Been a Good Old Wagon - Henry - 2:19
4 Fixin' to Die - White - 2:52
5 Hang Me, Oh Hang Me - Traditional - 3:07
6 Long John - Traditional - 2:08
7 Chicken Is Nice - Traditional - 2:30
8 He Was a Friend of Mine - Traditional - 3:29
9 Motherless Child - Traditional - 3:48
10 Stackerlee - Traditional - 3:35
11 Mr. Noah - Traditional - 1:26
12 Come Back Baby - Davis - 3:49
13 Poor Lazarus - Traditional - 5:08
14 House Carpenter - Traditional - 3:30
15 The Cruel Ship's Captain - Traditional - 1:55
16 Sprig of Thyme - Traditional - 2:35
17 Talking Cancer Blues - Rhodes - 1:45
18 I Buyed Me a Little Dog - Traditional - 3:59
19 Lady Gay - Traditional - 3:40
20 Fair and Tender Ladies - Traditional - 5:40
21 Brian O'Lynne - Traditional - 1:15
22 Shanty Man's Life - Traditional - 3:20
23 Silver Dagger - Traditional - 2:20
24 Kentucky Moonshiner - Traditional - 2:35
25 He Never Came Back - Traditional - 2:10

run all round my brain.
m4a (AAC) 128kbps | w/ cover | 75mb

original album covers:

Southern Journey Vol. 6: Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know the Road?


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Sheep, Sheep don'tcha know the road?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]
Sheep, Sheep don'tcha know the road?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]

Do you know the road by the breakin' of the bread?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]
Do you know the road by the breakin' of the bread?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]

Do you know the road by the sharin' of the smile?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]
Do you know the road by the sharin' of the smile?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]

Do you know the road by the wavin' of the hand?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]
Do you know the road by the wavin' of the hand?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]

Do you know the road by the lovin' in your heart?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]
Do you know the road by the lovin' in your heart?
[Yes, Lord, I know the road]


Alan Lomax Collection - Southern Journey Vol. 6:
Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know the Road? - Southern Music, Sacred and Sinful

Release Date: 1/1/1997
Label: Rounder

Product Description:
A voyage of the road and the mind, pioneering the use of stereo recording in the field, Alan Lomax's Southern Journey is a 13-volume series of original recordings evoking the musical world of the rural South and an era before radio, movies and television. In 1959 and 1960 Alan Lomax returned to the South to rediscover the still-vibrant traditions of our country. For this album sin and salvation are celebrated in the rhythms, harmonies and lyrics of the many-faceted musical traditions of the South. Artists include Bessie Jones & the Sea Island Singers, Hobart Smith, Estil C. Ball, Fred McDowell, the Bright Light Quartet and others.

Review by Richie Unterberger:
"Southern music, sacred and sinful" is what this volume is subtitled, gathering 16 songs that either extol the holy (the sacred) or warn against/describe evil temptations (the sinful). This has some of the more renowned performers of the Southern Journey series, such as Fred McDowell, Almeda Riddle, Estil Ball, Hobart Smith, and Neil Morris, though they don't necessarily overshadow the other performers. As always, the diversity is the most attractive element of the package, encompassing Georgian Sea Island groups, fiddlers, Delta blues, and church congregations. Willie Jones' down-home "You Got Dimples in Your Jaws," the same song as John Lee Hooker's "Dimples" (one of the blues great's most famous early recordings), seems a bit uptown in the Southern Journey context, though its inclusion is hardly upsetting. Estil Ball and Lacey Richardson's "Tribulations" is a close-harmony highlight that will appeal to anyone who likes the Louvin Brothers or the Delmore Brothers.

Tracks
1 Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know the Road - Bessie Jones and the Sea Island Singers
2 The Juice of the Forbidden Fruit - Neil Morris
3 Devil's Dream - Hobart Smith
4 You Got Dimples in Your Jaws - Willie Jones & Others
5 Drunken Hiccups - Hobart Smith
6 You Done Told Everybody - Mississippi Fred McDowell
7 The House Carpenter - Almeda Riddle
8 Straighten 'Em - Bright Light Quartet
9 Corn Dodgers - Neil Morris
10 I Wished I Was in Heaven - Fred McDowell/Denise Gardner/Mattie Gardner
11 Tribulations - Estil C. Ball/Lacey Richardson Ball
12 No Room at the Inn / The Last Month of the Year - Vera Hall-Ward
13 My Mother Died and Left Me - James Shorty & Fred McDowell
14 Buttermilk - Miles Pratcher/Bob Pratcher
15 The Prayer Wheel - Bright Light Quartet
16 Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah - Ike Caudill & Congregation of Mt. Olivet Old Regular Baptist Church

sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell
.
mp3 160kbps | w/ covers | 72mb

March 20, 2009

David Grisman & Svend Asmussen - Svingin' with Svend

Another fine contribution from IncaRoads:

Now that you're all acquainted with the roots of gypsy jazz, I'd like to present a contemporary shoot of it. There are thousands of "Gypsy Jazz" or "Jazz Manouche" bands playing these days, and 98% of them are pale shadows of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, always aspiring to but missing the mark of Django and Stephane's legendary collaboration. Then there's 1% who's better technically than Django (sniff about Stochelo and Jimmy Rosenberg) but still generally working out of the same ideas. Then there's that very special 1% who's taken Django & Stephane's innovations and used them as a stepping block to something greater - something original. John Jorgenson, Grant Gordy, and David Grisman are a few of those rare innovators. They can draw upon Django and in the same breath draw upon Milt Jackson (who himself drew upon Django, on a totally different instrument), and weave these strains together with bits of Americana, blues, classical, klezmer, whathaveyou. They're keepers. They'll keep you listening, keep you on your toes.

David "Dawg" Grisman is probably decently familiar to readers of this blog. If not, he ought to be, and further posts may correct that lack. He's probably best known in the bluegrass/newgrass field, in which he is a pioneer (see the Muleskinner album in the archives). While he is always respectful of tradition, he is never a mere revivalist of it. He takes the tradition, values it, and then runs it through his brain full of jazz and classical and world music and contemporary life... and whatever comes out always bears his stamp: DAWG. He can play hot as well as cool, and he's a generous collaborator. More on him later.

I hadn't heard of Svend Asmussen before hearing this recording, and I'm shocked that he escaped my watchful ear for so long. Not only is he great, he's a legend in his own time, with a legendary history, and yet nobody seems to know about him. I guess there can only be one Scandinavian jazz musician in the public eye at one time, and Jan Garbarek has been hogging the throne.

Following is what the interweb yielded to my inquisitive efforts:

Biography:
Svend Asmussen may be the finest little-known jazz performer in the world.

A bit of a child prodigy, Asmussen's recording career spans more than 60 years. As a young man, Svend was something of a novelty performer, beginning to excel on the violin, but also performing on vibes, and other instruments, as well as being a vocalist.

As a more mature performer he explored and recorded in a wide variety of styles, including that of the Indian subcontinent. Now, as an elder statesman of the instrument, his jazz violin virtuosity takes a back seat to no one, including his contemporary, the much better known Stephane Grappelli.

Perhaps the primary reason that Asmussen is not well known in the United States is that he has preferred to make his native Denmark the headquarters of his operations and has made only infrequent appearances in the U.S., most notably at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival "violin summit" with Ray Nance and Jean-Luc Ponty.

The story of Asmussen's life would make a pretty good movie. In the late 1930s, Svend worked in Denmark with touring artists such as Fats Waller, The Mills Brothers, and Josephine Baker. In 1939 he was quite a hit in London, Hamburg, and Paris. But the outbreak of war in Europe postponed other proposed tours and projects.

The Nazis hated American Jazz. At one point Asmussen was arrested and incarcerated in Berlin. After the war, he became the most popular entertainer in Denmark, if not all of Scandinavia. At that time, his popularity extended beyond jazz, as he was perceived primarily as a club, vaudeville, and radio performer. There were also many film appearances and credits, some of the details of which may be found on a separate page.

His early influence was Joe Venuti, but it was a visit to Denmark by Stuff Smith that rekindled his interest in jazz. He certainly had the opportunity to be better known abroad. On more than one occasion, he turned down invitations from Benny Goodman to join the clarinetist's famous group. Apparently, he was comfortable to remain a big frog in a little pond. This is too bad, as it makes one's mouth water to imagine what the fabulous "small groups" might have produced if Asmussen had been added to the likes of Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton. Svend has, in fact, recorded with Hampton, but the details are unknown to me.
-from http://www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/svend/svendex.html
Biography by Scott Yanow:
It seems strange that Svend Asmussen is not better known in the United States, for he has been a top swing violinist since the mid-'30s. He started playing violin when he was seven and, in 1933, made his professional debut. Always based in Scandinavia (hence his obscurity in the U.S.), Asmussen made his first records as a leader in 1935 and has been consistently popular in his homeland ever since. He played with the Mills Brothers and Fats Waller in the 1930s when they passed through Denmark, but when Benny Goodman tried to get him in the mid-'50s for his small group, strict immigration laws made it impossible for him to work in the U.S. Asmussen recorded with John Lewis (1962), Duke Ellington (as part of a 1963 violin summit), Toots Thielemans, Lionel Hampton (1978), and on a few occasions with Stephane Grappelli, in addition to many dates with his own groups.

David Grisman & Svend Asmussen - Svingin' with Svend
Year: 1987
Label: Zebra

Matched with the great veteran swing violinist Svend Asmussen, Grisman holds his own on one of his most jazz-oriented dates. With guitarist Dimitri Vandellos, bassist James Kerwin and drummer George Marsh completing the quintet, Grisman and Asmussen jam on the title cut, two of the violinist's originals, "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Jitterbug Waltz," Milt Jackson's "The Spirit Feel," and a pair of Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelli tunes. Highly recommended.

Tracks:
1 Svingin' With Svend 4:02
2 Nadja 6:24
3 Lap-Nils' Polska 8:24
4 It Don't Mean a Thing 6:35
5 Swing Mineur 6:38
6 Jitterbug Waltz Maltby, Waller 6:20
7 The Spirit-Feel 9:29
8 Nuages 6:02

on your toes! part 1 | part 2
mp3 320kbps | w/o covers | two parts; 123mb total
*out of print

thanks IncaRoads!

March 18, 2009

VA - Gypsy Jazz [Box Set]


For some reason, Gadaya of the three blogs always has a way of anticipating what I'm going to post, and posting something similar first at Times Ain't Like they Used to Be. This week's installment is an immersion in hot swing. Specifically, on my end, it's a crash course in "Jazz Manouche", also known as "Gypsy Jazz". Its innovators and most famous exponents were Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in their legendary Quintette du Hot Club de Paris, but as you'll soon learn, they weren't the only ones. The genre has diversified and endured a long tradition, with many immitators and few innovators. Of course, even the immitators deserve a fair bit of credit because this is one of the hardest styles of music to play. And one of the funnest to listen to, I might add.

What makes gypsy jazz so incredible is its propulsive, insistent rhythmic foundation (its Gypsy heritage) and elegant, fluid melodies (the sophisication of jazz). It picks up jazz standards or popular tunes of the day and runs them through a mill of driving guitars and slinky violins and accordeons. The tune comes out, still recognizeable, but more daring, more quirky, yes - more alive. It's hat is tilted to one side and there's a grin creeping up the corners of its mouth. It has a skip in its step that catches you off guard and a knowing wink when it catches you looking. It can pull a fast one over you, and leave you so bedazzled that you don't realize where all your money went. Through the tightly-reined madness and renegade elegance of gypsy jazz, an innocent boy of tune becomes a man. Jazz is all about sex, remember?

Syncopation is here. Off-syncopation is here. Just when you've gotten used to that, there's odd timings and odder accents and a run that will stop your mind in its tracks. This is what I mean by 'pulling a fast one'. No matter how hard you look or listen, the magician gets you every time. Just look at that grin, that eyebrow. Just look. He knows something you don't know.


And now some histories and wikistories:
Gypsy jazz (also known as "Gypsy Swing") is an idiom often said to have been started by guitarist Jean "Django" Reinhardt in the 1930s. Because its origins are largely in France it is often called by the French name, "Jazz manouche," or alternatively, "manouche jazz," even in English language sources. Django was foremost among a group of Gypsy guitarists working in and around Paris in the 1930s through the 1950s, a group which also included the brothers Pierre "Baro" Ferret, Etienne "Sarane" Ferret, and Jean "Matelo" Ferret and Reinhardt's brother Joseph "Nin-Nin" Reinhardt.

Many of the musicians in this style worked in Paris in various popular Musette ensembles. The Musette style waltz remains an important component in the Gypsy jazz repertoire. Reinhardt was noted for combining a dark, chromatic Gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period. This combination is critical to this style of jazz. In addition to this his approach continues to form the basis for contemporary Gypsy jazz guitar. Reinhardt's most famous group, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, also brought fame to jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

Quintette du Hot Club de France
Biography by Bradley Torreano

Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhart were jamming buddies at the same clubs when they struck upon the idea of forming the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. They were some of the first Europeans to really affect the jazz scene, influenced heavily by the work of Eddie South and the Eddie Lang/Joe Venuti sessions of the '20s. Reinhardt, a gypsy who hailed from Belgium, was a hot-tempered guitarist who had been injured in a fire as a young man. This left him with two fingers missing, but a unique playing style due to his need to adapt. Grappelli was a French violinist who never quite liked Reinhardt, but recognized how well they played together. They took the name from a popular club in the area owned by the supportive Pierre Nourry, and influencial magazine editor Charles Delaunay assembled the original lineup. They recruited Django's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput to play acoustic rhythm guitars, and bassist Louis Vola was the last to join the group. Throughout the '30s, the group toured throughout Europe, focusing mostly on the jazz friendly United Kingdom. Their reputation grew very large in Europe, spilling over into the United States where artists like Rex Stewart, Louis Armstrong, and even their hero Eddie South clamored to jam with the group on their European trips. Duke Ellington was so impressed that he attempted to bring Reinhardt into his orchestra for a tour, but when World War II began it stopped any future plans for the band. When war was declared, Reinhardt left England to get back to France, while Grappelli stayed in England for the duration of the war. The two would not play together for seven years, leading to some unplanned solo work while they were separated. Reinhardt decided to carry on the group with substitute players throughout the war, substituting players and instruments until the violin and rhythm guitar was replaced by the clarinet and a drummer. He then tried to take Ellington up on his offer, but the tour was a bomb and he was soon staying in New York without work. He made it back to France and the original group reunited, playing festivals after the war that made their professional unhappiness evident. Older fans would have rather they stayed with their original formula, while Reinhardt desired to play bebop. The band finally dissolved, leaving them all to explore uneventful but musically interesting solo careers.

Django:
Biography by Richard S. Ginell

Django Reinhardt was the first hugely influential jazz figure to emerge from Europe -- and he remains the most influential European to this day, with possible competition from Joe Zawinul, George Shearing, John McLaughlin, his old cohort Stephane Grappelli and a bare handful of others. A free-spirited gypsy, Reinhardt wasn't the most reliable person in the world, frequently wandering off into the countryside on a whim. Yet Reinhardt came up with a unique way of propelling the humble acoustic guitar into the front line of a jazz combo in the days before amplification became widespread. He would spin joyous, arcing, marvelously inflected solos above the thrumming base of two rhythm guitars and a bass, with Grappelli's elegantly gliding violin serving as the perfect foil. His harmonic concepts were startling for their time -- making a direct impression upon Charlie Christian and Les Paul, among others -- and he was an energizing rhythm guitarist behind Grappelli, pushing their groups into a higher gear. Not only did Reinhardt put his stamp upon jazz, his string band music also had an impact upon the parallel development of Western swing, which eventually fed into the wellspring of what is now called country music. Although he could not read music, with Grappelli and on his own, Reinhardt composed several winsome, highly original tunes like "Daphne," "Nuages" and "Manoir de Mes Reves," as well as mad swingers like "Minor Swing" and the ode to his record label of the '30s, "Stomping at Decca." As the late Ralph Gleason said about Django's recordings, "They were European and they were French and they were still jazz."

A violinist first and a guitarist later, Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt grew up in a gypsy camp near Paris where he absorbed the gypsy strain into his music. A disastrous caravan fire in 1928 badly burned his left hand, depriving him of the use of the fourth and fifth fingers, but the resourceful Reinhardt figured out a novel fingering system to get around the problem that probably accounts for some of the originality of his style. According to one story, during his recovery period, Reinhardt was introduced to American jazz when he found a 78 RPM disc of Louis Armstrong's "Dallas Blues" at an Orleans flea market. He then resumed his career playing in Parisian cafes until one day in 1934 when Hot Club chief Pierre Nourry proposed the idea of an all-string band to Reinhardt and Grappelli. Thus was born the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which quickly became an international draw thanks to a long, splendid series of Ultraphone, Decca and HMV recordings.

The outbreak of war in 1939 broke up the Quintette, with Grappelli remaining in London where the group was playing and Reinhardt returning to France. During the war years, he led a big band, another quintet with clarinetist Hubert Rostaing in place of Grappelli, and after the liberation of Paris, recorded with such visiting American jazzmen as Mel Powell, Peanuts Hucko and Ray McKinley. In 1946, Reinhardt took up the electric guitar and toured America as a soloist with the Duke Ellington band but his appearances were poorly received. Some of his recordings on electric guitar late in his life are bop escapades where his playing sounds frantic and jagged, a world apart from the jubilant swing of old. However, starting in Jan. 1946, Reinhardt and Grappelli held several sporadic reunions where the bop influences are more subtly integrated into the old, still-fizzing swing format. In the 1950s, Reinhardt became more reclusive, remaining in Europe, playing and recording now and then until his death from a stroke in 1953. His Hot Club recordings from the `30s are his most irresistible legacy; their spirit and sound can be felt in current groups like Holland's Rosenberg Trio.



Stephanne Grappelli:
Biography by Scott Yanow

One of the all-time great jazz violinists (ranking with Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith as one of the big three of pre-bop), Stéphane Grappelli's longevity and consistently enthusiastic playing did a great deal to establish the violin as a jazz instrument. He was originally self-taught as both a violinist and a pianist, although during 1924-28 he studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Grappelli played in movie theaters and dance bands before meeting guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1933. They hit it off musically from the start even though their lifestyles (Grappelli was sophisticated while Django was a gypsy) were very different. Together as Quintet of the Hot Club of France (comprised of violin, three acoustic guitars and bass) during 1933-39 they produced a sensational series of recordings and performances. During a London engagement in 1939, World War II broke out. Reinhardt rashly decided to return to France but Grappelli stayed in England, effectively ending the group. The violinist soon teamed up with the young pianist George Shearing in a new band that worked steadily through the war. In 1946, Grappelli and Reinhardt had the first of several reunions although they never worked together again on a regular basis (despite many new recordings). Grappelli performed throughout the 1950s and '60s in clubs throughout Europe and, other than recordings with Duke Ellington (Violin Summit) and Joe Venuti, he remained somewhat obscure in the U.S. until he began regularly touring the world in the early '70s. Since then Grappelli has been a constant traveler and a consistent poll-winner, remaining very open-minded without altering his swing style; he has recorded with David Grisman, Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Larry Coryell, Oscar Peterson, Jean Luc Ponty and McCoy Tyner among many others. Active up until near the end, the increasingly frail Grappelli remained at the top of his field even when he was 89. His early recordings are all available on Classics CDs and he recorded quite extensively during his final three decades.

Gus Viseur:
Biography by Zac Johnson
The French accordion master Gus Viseur began performing on the streets of Paris in fairs and markets and eventually worked his way into the cabaret and nightclubs. During his influential career he ended up backing "the Sparrow" Edith Piaf and performing with the legendary Hot Club of France Quintet. He helped create the accordion-jazz style known as manouche.


Oscar Alemán:
Biography by Scott Yanow

Oscar Alemán, one of the finest jazz guitarists of the 1930s, is a difficult player to evaluate because he sounded like a near-exact duplicate of Django Reinhardt. Since Django was a year younger, some have speculated that he developed his style from Alemán, although the opposite is just as likely. Alemán began playing guitar as a teenager in Argentina and in the late '20s, he moved to Europe, Spain at first. By 1931, he was living in Paris and during 1933-1935, he was a regular member of Freddy Taylor's Swing Men From Harlem. Alemán appeared on records with trumpeter Bill Coleman and clarinetist Danny Polo and was the leader on eight selections from 1938-1939. He moved back to Argentina in 1941 and, although he recorded as late as 1974, few outside of his native country have ever heard of him. Strangely enough, Oscar Alemán does not seem to have ever visited the United States and none of his many recordings of swing tunes in his post-Europe years (except for a few titles put out by the collectors TOM label) have ever been released domestically.

VA - Gypsy Jazz (4-CD Box Set)
Year: 2007
Label: Proper

A unique 98 track survey of this most vibrant of musical idioms whose most famous exponent was the great Django Reinhardt. This set follows Django and many of his disciples as the music spread worldwide.

There are examples here from Europe, Scandinavia and even South America. Wherever the gypsies travelled their music travelled with them. Artists included, aside from Django, are Stephane Grappelli, the Ferret Brothers, Jean Sablon, Gus Visseur and even Sacha Distel who was a mean guitarist before he started crooning.

Review by arwulf arwulf
Proper Records presents a four-CD, 97-track anthology devoted to music recorded during the golden years of Gypsy jazz, from swing to bop to a bit of the cool (1934-1956). Happily, this tradition is still very much alive, and the recordings compiled herein demonstrate why even Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Eichmann, and Heinrich Himmler couldn't stamp it out. In addition to classic sides by famous or relatively well-known artists like guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinists Stéphane Grappelli, Michel Warlop, and Svend Asmussen and crooner Jean Sablon, this fascinating collection traces the intricacies of the Gypsy jazz movement throughout mainland Europe with rare recordings by members of the Reinhardt and Ferret families as well as accordionists Gus Viseur and Tony Murena, saxophonist Albert Ferreri, reedman and violinist Frans Poptie, and a veritable swarm of guitarists including Oscar Aleman, Jean Bonal, Eddy Christiani, Jean-Pierre Sasson, and Henri Crolla. Given this set's wealth of variegated material and its remarkably affordable price tag, Proper may well have come up with the world's best all-purpose, authentic Gypsy jazz collection. It more or less picks up where the Fremeaux & Associes 2005 release Django Reinhardt Complete, Vol. 20: Pour Que Ma Vie left off.

Disc 1 - Crazy Strings
1. Le Jour Ou Je Te Vis - Jean Sablon
2. Cloud Castles - Michel Warlop Et Son Orchestre
3. Crazy Strings - Michel Warlop Et Son Orchestre
4. You Took Advantage Of Me - Stephane Grappelli & Michael Warlop
5. Bricktop - Quintette Du Hot Club De France
6. Speevy - Quintette Du Hot Club De France
7. Paramount Stomp - Quintette Du Hot Club De France
8. Bolero - Quintette Du Hot Club De France
9. Mabel - Quintette Du Hot Club De France
10. Christmas Swing - Michel Warlop
11. Sweet Georgia Brown - Django Reinhardt
12. Winds And Strings - Gus Viseur's Music
13. Automne - Gus Viseur's Music
14. Daphne - Gus Viseur's Music
15. Andalousie - Albert Ferreri Et Le Trio Ferret
16. Nobody's Sweetheart - Oscar Aleman
17. Whispering - Oscar Aleman
18. Ma Theo - Le Trio Ferret
19. Gin, Gin - Le Trio Ferret
20. La Valse Des Niglots - Le Trio Ferret
21. Ti-Pi-Tin - Le Trio Ferret
22. Russian Lullaby - Oscar Aleman Trio
23. Just A Little Swing - Oscar Aleman Trio
24. Dear Old Southland - Oscar Aleman Trio
25. Jeepers Creepers - Oscar Aleman Trio

Disc 2 - Gitan Swing
1. Hallelujah - Svenska Hotkvintetten
2. Jumping For Joy - Svenska Hotkvintetten
3. I Found A New Baby - Svenska Hotkvintetten
4. Undecided - Gus Viseur Et Son Orchestre
5. Rosetta - Gus Viseur Et Son Orchestre
6. Coucou - Josette Dayde Et Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France
7. Opus 5 - Svenska Hotkvintetten
8. Swing De Paris - Quintette Du Hot Club Du France
9. Oiseaux Des Iles - Quintette Du Hot Club Du France
10. Nostalgia Gitana - Tony Murena Et Son Ensemble Swing
11. Miami - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
12. Septembre - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
13. Blue Guitare - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
14. Swing Star - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
15. Swing 39 - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
16. Cocktail Swing - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
17. Deux Guitares - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
18. Tiger Rag - Sarane Ferret Et Le Swing Quintette De Paris
19. Gitan Swing - Tony Murena Et Son Ensemble Swing
20. Rose De Miel - Quintette Du Hot Club De Belgique
21. Royal Blue - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effrosse
22. Surprise Party - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effrosse
23. Daphne - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effrosse
24. Hungaria - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effrosse

Disc 3 - Blue Dreams
1. Zazou Zazou - Orchestra Swing Jo Reinhardt
2. Ballade - Orchestra Swing Jo Reinhardt
3. Blues En Mineur - Django Reinhardt
4. Swing 42 - Gus Viseur Et Son Orchestre
5. Sur La Glace - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
6. Chantons Ensemble - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
7. Harlem Swing - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
8. Gus Et Gus - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
9. Reves Bleus - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
10. Manche De Fouet - Viseur - Deloof Sextet
11. Ding, Dong Dang - Frank Ottersen Og Hans Sekstett
12. Skumring - Frank Ottersen Og Hans Sekstett
13. Promenade - Frank Ottersen Og Hans Sekstett
14. Opus 1 - Frank Ottersen Og Hans Sekstett
15. Lucky - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effosse
16. Folies Bergere - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effosse
17. Studio 28 - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effosse
18. Sex-Appeal - Sarane Ferret Et Le Quintette De Paris With Georges Effosse
19. Improvisation Pt. 1 - Django Reinhardt
20. Improvisation Pt. 1 - Django Reinhardt
21. Exactly Like You - Svend Asmussen
22. Swing Guitar - Jean Ferret Et Son Sixtette
23. La Vipere Du Trottoir - Jean Ferret Et Son Sixtette
24. Un Peu De Reve - Joseph Reinhardt Et Son Ensemble
25. Douce Georgette (Sweet Georgia Brown) - Joseph Reinhardt Et Son Ensemble

Disc 4 - Minor Swing
1. L'oeil Noir - Joseph Reinhardt Et Son Ensemble
2. Caminos Cruzados - Oscar Aleman Y Su Quinteto De Swing
3. Darktown Strutters Ball - Oscar Aleman Y Su Quinteto De Swing
4. Cielos Azules - Oscar Aleman Y Su Quinteto De Swing
5. Diga Diga Doo - Oscar Aleman Y Su Quinteto De Swing
6. Ideas In Minor - Vincentino
7. How High The Moon? - Django Reinhardt Et Stephane Grappelli
8. Minor Swing - Django Reinhardt Et Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France
9. Melodie Au Crepuscule - Jean Bonal
10. Nuages - Jean Bonal
11. Flighty Flies - Ensemble Eddy Christiani Cond. By Frans Boptie
12. Snowy Blues - Frans Poptie En Zyn Solisten
13. Artillerie Lourde - Jean-Pierre Sasson Et Son Ensemble
14. I Surrender Dear - Matelot Ferret Et Son Quartette
15. Out Of Nowhere - Matelot Ferret Et Son Quartette
16. Djoungalo - Matelot Ferret Et Son Quartette
17. Pennies From Heaven - Matelot Ferret Et Son Quartette
18. Love For Sale - Henri Crolla Sa Guitare Et Son Ensemble
19. Yardbird Suite - Henri Crolla Sa Guitare Et Son Ensemble
20. Je Cherche Apres Titine - Henri Crolla Sa Guitare Et Son Ensemble
21. Ay, Ay, Ay - Henri Crolla Sa Guitare Et Son Ensemble
22. Two Guitar Blues - Jean Pierre Sasson Et Sacha Distel
23. Joan - Jean Pierre Sasson Et Sacha Distel
24. Just Blowing - Frans Poptie En Zyn Solisten

mp3 320kbps | complete disc & booklet scans
the whole shebang
or individual links:
Disc 1 part 1 | part 2
Disc 2 part 1 | part 2
Disc 3 part 1 | part 2
Disc 4 part 1 | part 2
Artwork

note: I put up this recording for dl so that you can have an introduction to the style and be able to appreciate and support the many contemporary, living musicians playing gypsy jazz. These recordings are public domain outside of the US, and the box set is unavailable inside the US. But Proper did a good job on the set and they make many other fine and affordable sets. If you like what they've done, by all means support them too. What would Django Do?

March 13, 2009

Texas Gladden - Ballad Legacy

"I don't think that a person who sang operetta should toy with these mountain songs"
- Texas Gladden

Like most musics, I suppose, the more you listen to folk music the more you develop a taste for it. But part of the fascination that's particular to folk music is that you'll hear bits and pieces of one song that you could have sworn you heard in a completely different song. And you'd be right. Because folk music is an evolved music, and like humans & chimpanzees, there are uncanny similarities lurking just below the surface that point to some invisible, unknowable ancestral precedent. And, like all things subject to evolution by natural selection, the essential parts are maintained and the extraneous, inconsequential bits fall aside. What this means in terms of folk music, particularly these old traditional ballads, is that while a song may be quirky and seemingly obtuse, at some level (often a non-conscious, irrational level), the song is deeply meaningful and helps people to negotiate the trials and uncertainties of this muddled mortal existence.

And, of course, since folksong-evolution is an organic process in an oral tradition, sometimes bits and pieces get lost along the way and we're left with only fragments (you could say this too is a product of natural selection: the part that remains is that which is most memorable). And since it is sung by people who weren't professional musicians, it had to relate to things that everyday people could relate to, rather that abstruse musical concepts and the self-indulgent wankery that professional artists are susceptible to. The universal subjects are thus revealed: love, death, nature, heartbreak, childhood, remorse, dream/spiritual encounters, and leaving home. These themes can be found recurring in folk music and most great narrative art across time, from Homer to Shakespeare to Stan Brackage. It's as if these subjects keep coming back because they're the moments in our lives that stay with us, and we need songs & stories like these to help mark those moments and distill meaning from them.

And while this music is rather difficult to listen to by modern standards, if you do take the time to listen to it, it'll work it's way under your skin and into the back of your mind, which is where it truly belongs. There it will take seed, whispering things to your irrational dream-mind, calling you back to time immemorial and rousing odd emotions like a broom rousing dust bunnies from corners and crevices.

Biography:

Texas Gladden was born in 1895 in Saltville, a small town in the south-western corner of Virginia. She had a known repertoire of some two hundred songs, all of which she visualized during her performances. "I have a perfect mental picture of every song I sing. I have a perfect picture of every person I learned it from, very few people I don't remember. When I sing a song, a person pops up, and it's a very beautiful story. I can see Mary Hamilton, I can see where the old Queen came down to the kitchen, can see them all gathered around, and I can hear her tell Mary Hamilton to get ready. I can see the whole story, I can see them as they pass through the gate, I can see the ladies looking over their casements, I can see her when she goes up the Parliament steps, and I can see her when she goes to the gallows. I can hear her last words, and I can see all, just the most beautiful picture." This is a fascinating insight and reminds me of something that John Cohen once said about Walter Pardon, namely that Walter's life was 'encapsulated within the world of the ballads'. And the same, I think, may be said of Texas Gladden. Here was a singer whose life was infused with her songs and ballads.

In 1946 Alan Lomax invited the great ballad singer Texas Gladden, of Saltville, Virginia, and her brother, mountain Renaissance instrumentalist Hobart Smith (fiddle, guitar, banjo, and piano), to perform with Andrew Rowan Summers and Jean Ritchie at the McMillan Theater at Columbia University as part of a larger festival put on by the university. These concert recordings of the two are included here. Lomax interviewed Gladden and Smith extensively during their stay in New York and also introduced them to Moses Asch, who issued an album of four of their recordings on his Disc label (later Folkways), with powerful cover art by painter Ben Shahn. Gladden returned home to Saltville with the news that she had met Leadbelly. According to John Cohen, "Within a few years, Smith's guitar picking was heard in New York's Washington Square folk music scene, where "Railroad Bill" was especially imitated" (see Hobart Smith: Blue Ridge Legacy [Rounder 1799] and Texas Gladden: Ballad Legacy [Rounder 1800], with notes by John Cohen and Stephen Wade.)

Rounder product description:
The singing of Texas Gladden is one of the highpoints of American folk music. This Virginia artist put her own indelible stamp on everything she sang: ballads, comic material, game songs and early country music. This is the first album devoted exclusively to her singing, and includes priceless interviews and four rare performances on which she is accompanied by her brother, Hobart Smith. Remastered to 24-bit digital from the original field recordings.

Review by Matt Fink
A wonderfully comprehensive overview of the recordings of traditional ballad singer Texas Gladden, Ballad Legacy is a near-essential document for fans of the near-extinct genre. Although somewhat ethnomusicalogical in its bent, the set and its superbly assembled accompanying booklet never come off as overly academic, though the average folk music enthusiast may not be enthralled with 78 minutes of largely unaccompanied ballad singing. Still, the material presented is nothing short of first rate, presenting Gladden's nuanced Appalachian styling in all its hauntingly sweet and aching earnestness. As she originally came to the public's attention at Virginia folk music festivals in the late 1930s for her renditions of a storehouse of antique songs from the British Isles, Gladden drew the attention of Alan Lomax, who saw her as one of the greatest examples the genre offered. With her notoriety peaking with a performance at the White House at the behest of Eleanor Roosevelt, Gladden again faded into obscurity, only to be rediscovered by artists such as Joan Baez in the early 1960s. The 37 tracks here, with a few selections featuring her brother Hobart Smith on guitar and a few comprised of interviews, should provide an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn the gorgeous old tunes, or simply experience the vibrancy of the stories and truisms lost to the collective American past.

---

One of the finest releases in the extensive Alan Lomax Collection thus far, this album gathers together on a single disc 37 tracks recorded in 1941 and 1946 by the highly-rated Virginia singer Texas Gladden (born 1895). Hitherto known from just a few tracks on assorted anthologies, this full-length album of mostly previously unreleased material at last presents us with a long overdue chance to properly assess her stature. And extremely impressive she proves too; quite simply, an outstandingly fine singer and interpreter, notably of traditional ballads (on which this collection necessarily focuses). Her versions of these ballads were used as source material by many of the singers from the American revival ranging from Tom Paley to Joan Baez. But despite Texas' limited opportunities for public performance, her interpretations were always fully informed and properly considered, and the interview extracts included on this release provide a fascinating insight into her approach.

Her performances are imposing, feisty and fiery; quite stark, yet full of warmth and understanding, and these nuances shine through the often rather indifferent recording quality. Her singing style is quite plain and unadorned, though she makes extremely effective (albeit wholly subconscious, judging from her comments when interviewed) use of grace notes. Texas sings unaccompanied for the most part, but on a handful of tracks she's backed by her slightly younger brother Hobart Smith on banjo, fiddle or guitar (check out his amazing Blue Ridge Legacy release too). The performances are uniformly fascinating and deeply satisfying, and it's impossible to select highlights. In short, this is an essential release for anyone seriously interested in the ballad tradition and its place in the music of the Appalachians, and comes with great notes by John Cohen – an excellent presentation.

Texas Gladden with Hobart Smith and 'Pres'


According to John Cohen, Alan Lomax considered Texas Gladden to have been, 'one of the best American ballad singers ever recorded'. Elsewhere, Lomax wrote, 'Texas Gladden sings in such fine style. With such fire and, at the same time, with such restrained good taste'. Over the years a few tracks by this Virginian singer have appeared on a number of 78s and LP anthologies. Now we have a whole CDs worth of material so that, at last, we are able to see whether or not Lomax's praise was right and justified.

Texas Gladden was born in 1895 in Saltville, a small town in the south-western corner of Virginia. She had a known repertoire of some two hundred songs, all of which she visualized during her performances. "I have a perfect mental picture of every song I sing. I have a perfect picture of every person I learned it from, very few people I don't remember. When I sing a song, a person pops up, and it's a very beautiful story. I can see Mary Hamilton, I can see where the old Queen came down to the kitchen, can see them all gathered around, and I can hear her tell Mary Hamilton to get ready. I can see the whole story, I can see them as they pass through the gate, I can see the ladies looking over their casements, I can see her when she goes up the Parliament steps, and I can see her when she goes to the gallows. I can hear her last words, and I can see all, just the most beautiful picture." This is a fascinating insight and reminds me of something that John Cohen once said about Walter Pardon, namely that Walter's life was 'encapsulated within the world of the ballads'. And the same, I think, may be said of Texas Gladden. Here was a singer whose life was infused with her songs and ballads.

Collectors such as Alfreda Peel, Arthur Kyle Davis and Richard Chase recorded songs from her throughout the 1930s. Alan Lomax first recorded her, on behalf of the Library of Congress, in 1941. Fourteen of the fifteen songs recorded in 1941 are included on this album. In 1946 Lomax invited Texas and her brother, Hobart Smith, to New York where they performed in a concert held at Columbia University. While in New York they also recorded a number of interviews with Lomax and extracts from some of these interviews are also included. Lomax introduced Texas to Moe Asch, who recorded enough material from her to fill three 78s, which he issued on his Disc label. This material is also included here in its entirety. Texas Gladden: Ballad Legacy also includes a couple of tracks recorded by Lomax when he returned to Virginia in 1959, as part of his Southern Journey project. In all, there are thirty-seven tracks, comprising nine classic ballads (including two versions of The Devil and the Farmer's Wife - the first recorded by Lomax in 1941, the second recorded by an unknown person at the National Folk Festival in Washington, in 1938), six extracts from interviews, eleven songs from the Anglo-American tradition, fragments of a further nine songs, plus, finally, one spoken ghost story.

Texas Gladden is perhaps best known as a ballad singer. This was, after all, the way that Lomax presented her to the 'outside' world. And, yes, she was a very good ballad singer indeed. On the CDs opening track, The Devil and the Farmer's Wife, she is accompanied by Hobart Smith on guitar, who plays melody - rather than chords - behind his sister's voice, and the effect is simply stunning. Texas and Hobart clearly knew each others songs and her version of The Two Brothers is extremely close to Hobart's version, which can be heard on his Rounder CD Blue Ridge Legacy (CD 1799). Hobart can also be heard playing banjo behind Texas on the murder ballad Pretty Polly, and the fiddle on the Rose Connelly track. Anyone who plays clawhammer banjo should listen to Pretty Polly. There is a drive and intensity here that has seldom been bettered by any other player. Rose Connelly is, of course, the song that Grayson and Whitter recorded in 1927 as Rose Conley (reissued on Document DOCD-8054) and it seems clear that Hobart was aware of this recording, his fiddle sounding remarkably like G B Grayson's.

We are told that Texas Gladden learnt her version of The Devil's Nine Question from the collector Alfreda Peel, who had previously noted the songs from a Mrs Rill Martin of Mechanicsburg, VA, before passing it on to Texas. The notes, however, are unclear about where Texas learnt the ballad Mary Hamilton. Texas says that she picked it up, 'after one hearing'. As Alfreda Peel had learnt the ballad from the singing of her grandmother, Mrs Marion Chandler who was born in Bristol, England, I suspect that this is the version that Texas Gladden later came to sing. I think that Professor Child was the first to cast doubts on the Scottish origins of this ballad (which could be based on events that occurred in the Russian Court), though the version sung here clearly places the tragic story in Edinburgh, and even mentions Canongate, a street which today forms part of Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile.

Four of Texas Gladden's other ballads, The Three Babes, The House Carpenter, Barbara Allen and Gypsy Davy may be termed 'standard' versions, with little to distinguish them from countless other versions collected across America. However, her version of Lord Thomas is carried to a tune far removed from the one normally associated with this ballad and is a joy to hear. John Cohen describes the melody as, 'simpler and more regular than many of her songs. There is less of the ornamentation, flatted notes, and odd phrasings that she often uses'. Ignoring, for a moment, the curious term 'odd phrasings', that John uses, I must say that I find his assumption that this tune, 'might (once) have accompanied a dance as well' to be unproven. Speculation, yes. Hard fact, no.

Elsewhere, Debbie McClatchy has written that, 'Traditional Appalachian music is mostly based upon anglo-celtic folk ballads and instrumental dance tunes. The former were almost always sung unaccompanied, and usually by women, fulfilling roles as keepers of the families' cultural heritage and rising above dreary monotonous work through fantasies of escape and revenge. These ballads were from the British tradition of the single personal narrative, but the list was selective; most of the one hundred or so variations of the three hundred classic ballads found in American tradition are to do with sexual struggles from the female standpoint, as Barbary Allen, Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender, and Pretty Polly. One is less likely to find Scottish ballads of rape and dominance, or those with men as heroes. A large percentage, perhaps almost half, of the American variations tend to be about pregnant women murdered by their boyfriends.'

Interestingly, Texas Gladden sings all of the four ballads mentioned above on this CD. There are also three folksongs, The Scolding Wife, I'm Never to Marry and My Lovin' Old Husband which would probably fall within Ms McClatchy's definition. (Incidentally, in the song My Lovin' Old Husband, which comprises sung verses interspersed with spoken comments, Texas says "chimney corner" and not the meaningless "in the corn" following verse 4). John Cohen says that Alan Lomax 'suggested that the pioneer women actively cultivated such songs because they were "vehicles for fantasies, wishes, and norms of behaviour which corresponded to...(their) emotional needs...(These ballads) represented the deepest emotional preoccupation's of women who lived within the patriarchal family system of their close-knit society".'

Clearly, in some of these songs I would suggest that we are seeing remnants of once commonly held European beliefs in female subjugation. Dave Harker has already pointed out that such beliefs lie behind the ballad of The House Carpenter in his article 'A Warning' (Folk Music Journal, 1992. Vol.6, no.3. pp.299-338), and the situation is a far more complex one than either McClatchy or Lomax seem to have realized.

I have already mentioned the tune to Lord Thomas. In 1918, having already collected songs in North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, Cecil Sharp felt that, 'the Virginian tunes are the best I have yet got' and many of Texas Gladden's songs are, indeed, sung to beautiful tunes. One Morning in May, a version of The Unfortunate Rake, has a splendid modal tune coupled with one of the most arresting first verses you're likely to hear:

When I was a young girl I used to see pleasure
When I was a young girl I used to drink ale
Out of the alehouse and into the jailhouse
Right out of a bar-room and down to my grave.

Kind Sir, I See You've Come Again, which Sharp called The Courting Case, is sung to a version of the tune which Scottish singers have used repeatedly for the ballad Lang Johnny More. The fragment Cold Mountains uses the same fine tune that Fiddlin' Arthur Smith used for the song Adieu, False Heart which he recorded in 1938 (reissued on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music - Volume 4. Revenant CD RVN 211).

In one of the interviews Texas Gladden speaks of using 'grace notes' in her singing, adding that her mother, "had a knack of putting in little grace notes like I do sometimes". Mention is also made of the composer John Powell (the right-wing nutter who founded the White Top Festival with Annabel Morris Buchanan), who is described by Texas as 'the greatest authority on musical compositions in Virginia'. Texas knew Powell, through attending the Whitetop Festivals, and I would suggest that she picked up the term 'grace notes' from him. Both Alan Lomax and John Cohen speak of Texas's use of ornamentation (not forgetting that strange 'odd phrasings') in her singing. Actually, it seems to me that Texas Gladden did not use a great deal of ornamentation. In her ballads she does use the occasional appoggiatura grace note. But, in general, she is quite a plain singer. Don't get me wrong. She is a good singer, at times a great ballad singer, but she just does not sound like, say, Dellie Norton or some of the other Sodom Laurel singers that I met in the late '70s and early '80s. Interestingly, though, Texas did change her style in a few of her songs. Take, for example, the song Old Kimball, which began life in Ireland in the early 1800s. The song quickly travelled to America where, by the late 1860s, it was being sung by Negro singers, and Texas's version clearly shows a black influence, as did many of the songs and tunes that Hobart Smith sang and played.

Sadly there are no notes attached to the song fragments. Love's Worse Than Sickness is related to Dellie Norton's version of Black is the Colour, while I Am a Man of Honor is a fragment of the song that Sharp called The Virginian Lover and which Dellie Norton called The Silkmerchant's Daughter. Always been a Rambler is the opening verse to the song The Girl I Left Behind, in the version recorded in 1928 by Grayson and Whitter as I've Always been a Rambler. Several of the other fragments were also recorded commercially during the 1920s and '30s. Roving Cowboy was noted by a number of American collectors and was recorded by Frank Jenkins in 1927 (reissued on Document DOCD-8023). In the Shadow of the Pines was recorded by Kelly Harrell, The Wreck of the Old '97 by Vernon Dalhart (and countless others), and Wild and Reckless Hobo by Burnett and Rutherford. This latter, incidentally, is of interest to British listeners in that the song is based on a broadside published by James Catnach of London's Seven Dials in the early 1800s. Catnach's sheet, which was titled Standing on the Platform (Waiting for the Train), was reprinted extensively in the States in the 1860s and '70s, a fact which would help explain its popularity with American folksingers.

Today there seems to be as much interest in the telling of folktales as there is in the singing of folksongs. Luckily, Lomax recorded at least one of Texas Gladden's folktales - here simply titled Ghost Story. In fact, it is a short version of the story The Haunted House that I recorded in 1979 from Matt Burnette of Meadows of Dan, VA. Matt's tale was set locally and was without any specific date, whereas Texas Gladden's version is supposed to have happened sometime during the Civil War. In a way it reminds me of parts of James Lee Burke's excellent novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead.

No doubt Alan Lomax was thinking of Hobart Smith, a professional musician for much of his life, when he asked Texas Gladden "You never have made any professional use of your singing at all, have you, Texas?" I doubt if he was surprised by her answer. "Been too busy raising babies. When you bring up nine, you have your hands full. All I could sing was lullabies!"

Texas Gladden really was one of America's great ballad singers. Her songs came to her from her parents and family, from the radio and from gramophone records. Most of her singing was done at home. During her life she never achieved the fame that she deserved. She died in 1967, without becoming involved in the American folkmusic revival. I can think of no better memorial to her than this essential CD.
- Mike Yates - 5.11.01


The Alan Lomax Portait Series
Texas Gladden - Ballad Legacy

Recorded 1941-1946
Released 01/01/2001

Tracks:
1 - The Devil and the Farmer's Wife - 03:30
2 - One Morning in May - 03:19
3 - Mental Pictures (interview) - 01:06
4 - Mary Hamilton - 03:49
5 - Kind Sir, I See You've Come Again - 01:46
6 - The Devil's nine Questions - 02:42
7 - I'm Never to Marry (the Girl That I Hated) - 02:50
8 - My Mother (interview) - 01:07
9 - Rose Connelly - 02:49
10 - Been Too Busy Raising Babies (interview) - 00:17
11 - Hush, Baby, Don't You Cry - 00:42
12 - The Three Babies - 02:29
13 - Od-Time Love - 01:12
14 - Barbara Allen - 04:50
15 - Lord Thomas - 02:24
16 - The Two Brothers (interview) - 01:07
17 - The Two Brothers - 04:13
18 - Old Kimball - 01:55
19 - The Scolding Wfe - 02:05
20 - My Lovin' Old Husband - 01:40
21 - The House Carpenter - 03:07
22 - Gypsy Davy - 01:52
23 - Poor Ellen Smith - 02:27
24 - Songs and Singing (interview) - 02:55
25 - Ghost Story - 05:02
26 - I Am a Man of Honor - 00:24
27 - Roving Cowboy - 00:47
28 - Dark Island - 00:24
29 - The Wreck of the Old '97 - 02:05
30 - Always Been a Rambler - 00:33
31 - Wild and Reckless Hobo - 01:26
32 - Once I Knew a Pretty Fair Miss - 00:39
33 - Love's Worse than Sickness - 00:50
34 - In the Shadow of the Pines - 00:59
35 - Dark Scenes of Winter - 01:50
36 - Cold Mountains - 01:19
37 - The Devil and the Farmer's Wife - 04:19

death is sharper than a thorn.

mp3 128kbps | w/ cover | 70mb

for gadaya

March 12, 2009

Hobart Smith - Blue Ridge Legacy


Ok here's a real haunt. I mean a real old-school, dirt-road revenant. The mad stylings of MC Hob'. A one-man mountain. A freakish genius with a penchant for coaxing twisted gnarled jewels out of old musical roots. What can I say? He's as wild as a jackrabbit and as unbelievable as a jackelope. There's nobody like him. Not even Roscoe Holcomb, and he probably comes closest. I mean, Hobart can whip out 'Cindy' as a fiddle-banjo duet (i forget which he plays in this version, since he can do both... for all i know he's probably playing them simultaneously... freak...) which is pretty standard fare for your every day old-time throw-in-an-extra-bar-this-time-around mountain music, but then he completely turns the tune on its head playing it on old-time mountain PIANO. The way this guy plays, it seems like the only thing that's keeping the tune from falling apart is the instrument, which itself sounds like it's about to fall apart. But that's what makes it so compelling: he pushes every tune to the breaking point -- one step further and you'll fall over trying to dance to it. Then you apply this breaking point philosophy to a death-knell song like Last Chance. And the result is something as unforgettably haunting as Blind Willie Johnson or Dock Boggs, and a mite odder as well.

Rounder product description:
This collection of ballads, reels, and blues is the legacy of a Renaissance mountain man: Hobart Smith of Virginia. This Appalachian virtuoso was many things: a forceful singer, a brilliant guitarist, a masterful fiddler, a spellbinding banjoist, an innovative pianist, and a musical giant whose influence on old-timey music and the folk revival remains uncharted.

---

Bio:
Hobart Smith was born on Little Mouton, Saltville, VA on May 10, 1897. Smith was the oldest of four brothers in a family of eight children born to King and Louvenia Smith. Both his parents were banjo pickers; his sister, Texas Gladden, a noted ballad singer.

Hobart began playing the banjo when he was seven, later the guitar and the fiddle. His repertoire of instruments also included piano, organ, harp, mandolin and most any other stringed instrument.

Recording magnate, folk and country music authority Alan Lomas of New York was the first to record Hobart. Lomas called Smith "the best mountain instrumentalist that I've ever found, and the forty-two recordings in the Library of Congress will always stand as proof of that."

Later in his life, Smith performed in two movies to be used in a cultural exchange program with other countries. During his lifetime, Hobart Smith performed at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Constitution Hall, Washington, D. C., Radio City Music Hall and for Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also gave performances and seminars at many colleges in the Eastern part of the United States.

Throughout his life of entertainment, he performed with such well-known people as Peter, Paul and Mary; Joan Baez; Judy Collins; Doc Watson; Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Music critics across the country praised Smith's work as being "the best that they had ever heart" (Chicago Daily News).

"One can learn so much about the Southern Mountain instrumental style by listening to Smith's banjo and fiddle...his singing is in a hard-cider rural voice, alive with feeling" (New York Times).

Hobart once said, "I grew up with music and I'm still trying to play". His last performance was on October 11, 1963 in Chicago, IL for which he received a standing ovation. On January 11, 1965, Hobart Smith went home to rest on Little Mountain. His music lives on!


"I GREW UP INTO IT"
as told by Hobart Smith

I started playing the banjo when I was seven years old. When I was three, I commenced playin' on an old fire shovel. I was raised in an old log house that had a fireplace and my mother had a bar that went across the fireplace with hooks that came down to cook her stuff in the pots and then she had a big oven and lid and she'd bake her bread and pull out those coals with that shovel — cover it up with red-hot coals, you know — and bake her bread thataway. We didn't have any cook-stove at that time. They said I was just three years old, I'd get that fire shovel and just pick on it; and they asked me what I was pickin' and I just said "Sour Colics!"

Now, I call my style of banjer pickin' the old-timey rappin' style. I learned it from my daddy. When I was seven years old, I could play a tune on the banjer. So, my daddy, seein' I was interested in it, he ordered me a little, small, short-necked banjer from Sears-Roebuck and I commenced pickin' on the banjer when I was seven years old.

Well, after that, I got onto a gittar — I commenced playin' that. Now, the first guitar I ever owned, I worked in a corn field and bought it. I gave four dollars for it. I was fourteen years old then. So, then I liked the fiddle. I got on the fiddle after that. I got to playin' 'em all and all of 'em sounded pretty good to me.

My father and mother was both banjer pickers. I started the banjer at home. I didn't learn the gittar at home; I learned it from different men. Now, the first of the gittar playin' that I really liked was when a bunch of colored men came in there, oh, way back yonder. I was just about fourteen or fifteen years old. It was along about that time that Blind Lemon Jefferson came through and he stayed around there about a month. He stayed with the other colored fellers and they worked on the railroad there, and he'd just play and sing to entertain the men in that work camp. I think right about there I started on the gittar. I liked his type of playin'. I just watched his fingers and got the music in my head and then I'd thumb around till I found what I was wantin' on the strings.

The way it was with me, I just grew up and it seemed like I had a feelin' in me when I'd hear this old-time music. Well, I didn't hear anything else, you know, for years and years. I didn't know anything about this fingering the banjer (Scruggs-style three-finger picking). That hadn't come out yet. Everybody rapped the banjer. I'd get around old folks that played a banjer and I'd listen to that and was just as full of music as I could be. It'd just register on me up and down like a thermometer. And, you see, I'd get that in my ear and then I'd get ahold of that banjer.

You've first got to get the tune in your mind and then find it with your fingers — keep on till you find what you want on that neck. But keep that tune in your mind just like you can hear it a-playin'. I've been to the cornfield many of a time when I was a farmer and I'd hear a good fiddle tune or a good banjer pieces and I'd commence whistlin' it. And I'd whistle that till my mouth got so tired, and I'd go home keepin' it on my mind. I'd go pretty fast and I'd whistle all the way into the holler on the mountain and my banjer would be hangin' on the wall. Sometimes I'd forget where it was at, and I'd whistle right loud and that banjer would answer me on the wall and I'd go get her. I'd keep that tune right on my mind and I'd find that tune on the strings before I'd quit.

There was a feller I was raised up with by the name of John Greer. The fact about it — all of my banjer pickin' is John Greer's type. Now, my daddy picked a banjer; he picked the old-timey rap. I can play it just like him. He kept his thumb on the thumb string and that thumb string was just a-goin' all the time. Now, John Greer come along and went from thumb string to the bottom, double-notin', and he was the best man I ever heard on that banjer. And I patterned after him. "Coo-Coo Bird" and "The Banging Breakdown" I got from John Greer.

Now the first fiddle that ever I heard in my life, when I was a kid — there was an old colored man who was raised up in slave times. His name was Jim Spencer. He played "Jinny Put the Kettle On" and all those old tunes like that, you know. And he would come up to our house and he'd play one night for us, and he'd go over to my uncle's and play one night for them, and then go down to my aunt's in the other holler — we lived in three different hollers in the mountains, you know. He'd make a round. Now, that was the first fiddling I ever heard in my life, although both my grandaddies were fiddlers. But my granddaddy on my mother's side died of TB in the old Civil War and my other grandaddy, I never did hear him but saw a little bit on it, buy my daddy said he used to be a good fiddler. So, I'd hear old-timey fiddlers in different places and I"d just get it in my head and work it out with my fingers.

We'd have a square dance in the community twice a week. We'd have one on Wednesday night and Saturday night. But then, in my home, all of my kinfolk would meet and my daddy would pick the banjo and we'd dance to twelve o'clock every night of the week. We'd go to the mountain and get us some back-logs to throw on this fireplace to throw the heat out. The boys would all help us drag wood off'n the mountain and then we'd fire up that fire and your legs'd be burnin' off and your back a-chillin', but we really enjoyed it. The way they would do the square dance in them days, they'd have one in one person's house, say tonight – say"Where'll we have the next 'un?" – "In my house, tomorrow night." Just like prayer meetin'; catch it around from house to house. There was square cancan every night. They'd work pretty hard during the day, but they'd get ready for it. They'd come in and get washed and they were ready for it.

My first life was farming. My daddy'd farmed all his life and I went into farming. And I went into wagoning long before the trucks came around, you know, or any cars at all. My daddy had a team and I had a team and we'd haul coal for people and move people and go to the station and get trunks out. And then I'm a pretty good painter; I used to paint a whole lot. And I was a butcher; I worked with the Olin-Mathieson people for twelve years, a-butchering for 'em. At the time of the first World War, I had got married and was lookin' for my first kid. Well, I got fourth class and the war never lasted but sixteen months and I never was called.

Me and my sister, Texas, went on Whitetop for the festivals. I met Horton Barker and Richard Chase at Whitetop. We played for Mrs. Roosevelt there in '36. Then, after she went back, she sent a telegram to Roanoke, to my sister, wantin' to know if we'd come up to the White House and sing some of those old songs. She wanted her husband to hear 'em. And so we did go. We went up there and spent a couple of nights with them and we had a program.

I had a band. I had two boys that played with me. I played with Tom (Clarence) Ashley thirty or thirty-five years ago. I played in a minstrel show for two years. I played my own music and danced my own music — that's one curiosity that everybody thought so much about. No, I wasn't makin' a livin' out of it. We'd just go places and play and maybe they'd give us so much. I played in dance halls back along in Hoover's time, you know, when you couldn't get ahold of a dollar nowhere. I played the fiddle the most — tunes like "Golden Slippers" and "Coming Around the Mountain" — for dances.

The fact about it — I went into this pop'lar stuff and got to playin' on that and then when I got in with Alan Lomax in 1942, he wanted me to pull back into the old folk music. And he said, "Don't you ever leave it no more!" I had just about left it. I hadn't owned a banjer in twenty-five years till the Vega people sent me that banjer from Boston as a gift several years ago. Pete Seeger got 'em to send it. I hadn't owned one in twenty-five years. Maybe I'd go to somebody's house and there'd be a banjer sittin' there and maybe I'd pick it up and play just one tune and set it down. I'd been playin' the fiddle and the gittar and the piano. And, you see, all of those old pieces on the banjer was just gettin' away from me and I didn't fool with 'em. But after I got this new banjer, why it came back to me in just a little time. In thirty days I was back just as good as I ever was.

So, I've had a life in music ever since I was a kid. I grew up into it and I'm still tryin' to play it.


Alan Lomax Collection: Portraits
Hobart Smith - Blue Ridge Legacy

Released 01/01/2001
Label: Rounder

Tracks:
1 - The Devil's Dream - 02:29
2 - Drunken Hiccups - 02:50
3 - The Cuckoo Bird - 02:40
4 - Banging Breakdown - 01:00
5 - Arkansas Traveller - 01:43
6 - Railroad Bill - 02:58
7 - Clause Allen - 03:36
8 - Hangman, Swing Your Rope - 03:26
9 - Wayfaring Stranger - 02:03
10 - Sourwood Mountain (Piano) - 01:22
11 - Going Down the Road Feeling Bad - 01:19
12 - Pateroller - 01:44
13 - Chinquipin Pie - 01:50
14 - Last Chance - 02:20
15 - Jim Along - 02:28
16 - Two brothers (The Little Schoolboy) - 03:55
17 - Ellen Smith - 02:27
18 - Graveyard Blues - 03:24
19 - K.C. Blues - 03:05
20 - Unidentified electric guitar tune - 02:20
21 - Cindy (string band) - 01:23
22 - At an Old-Time Dance (interview) - 04:45
23 - Cindy (piano) - 02:02
24 - The Thrill of Dance Music (interview) - 00:22
25 - What Did the Buzzard Say to the Crow? - 01:40
26 - Buck Dance - 01:30
27 - Old Joe Clark - 01:55
28 - Dixie - 02:25
29 - Sourwood Mountain (banjo) - 01:06
30 - Hawkins County Jail - 02:41
31 - Rocky Mountain - 01:43

what'd he say?
mp3 128kbps | w/ cover | 64mb

you unrepentant Faheyites will notice Cindy is the melody that JF used for 'Tell Her to Come Back Home'

and if you like this and want more, there's another disc available from Rounder or at the Broke Down Engine archive.