Donate to the Grapevine

Express your thanks by leaving the pirate a tip!

April 28, 2010

The Truth will Set You Free...

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench - a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
- Hunter S. Thompson

April 24, 2010

'Spider' John Koerner - Spider Blues

Well it's been forever since I've posted anything blues- or jug-band-related, so I thought I'd reward the patience of my blues-loving readers and post this rarity. The most striking thing about this record, to me, is how it just feels subtly 'off'. As in, this is a white kid trying his very best to sound like a big black guy, and getting really close - I mean blindfold test close! He even took the 'handle' of Spider to add to his name. A la Blind Joe Death, you know? Same impulse, different direction. Like John Hammond too. But it's still, not quite right: not quite natural. But it's a subtle point, and aside from that, the record's really fun, the sound sparse bouncy, the playing finely honed but still raw. Really it's worth the price just for the last track, Rent Party Rag, in which Spider John sounds like a one-man-jug-band. And, apparently, he was the primary influence on Peter Lang in his early development.

"Alone among the young blues revivalists, Koerner had a sound that was completely idiosyncratic and personal. From the first guitar riff, there was never any doubt about who was playing. Today the material has changed but the sound is intact...spare and funky, with lots of open spaces between oddly placed notes, all of it held together with his impeccable timing."--Blueswire

Anyone who maintains that a white man can’t sing the blues has likely never come across “Spider” John Koerner. A Rochester native who was integral to the Minneapolis, Minnesota folk scene of the ’60s, Koerner has spent much of his career creating albums that inspired generations of white folk artists to explore their roots.

Bob Dylan, who encountered him in the Dinkytown neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, sang his praises in Chronicles; so have artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt and David Bowie. Unlike the popular pop adaptations of stolen and reinterpreted songs in the folk style that were passed off as real folk music (from the Kingston Trio, the Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary), Koerner and his associates Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony “Little Sun” Glover made music that felt authentic. Though Ray passed away some years back, Koerner has performed consistently both with Glover and also solo, which is a boon to those who remember the ’60s as well as those who experienced it on TV.

As any self-respecting listener is well aware, the history of American popular music is a rather messy affair, characterized by a rape and tiptoe two-step that’s anything but pretty. What’s more difficult to admit is that sometimes both tendencies appear in the foreground at once; when a British “blues” band co-opts a Robert Johnson tune in full, it’s not entirely clear whether they’re playing tribute or trampling or both. It may be better to trust your gut, and it’s hard to trust the saccharine cleanliness of blues better heard in the parlor than in the barroom. And the brilliant thing about Koerner, Ray and Glover is that there appears to be less of a gulf between them and Huddie Ledbetter than with many of their Minnesota contemporaries. Blues is a dirty affair, after all, and Koerner’s music is anything but pristine.

Woe to the musician whose second album was praised in the liner notes for its “real understanding of Negro musical styles” and how it is “unbelievable that any white musician could come so close to the sound of Negro performance.” But it’s a challenge to listen to “Hangman” and “Ramblin’ Blues” from Blues, Rags & Hollers and distinguish the Ledbetter from the Koerner.

Speaking to him from his home on New Year’s Eve, Koerner admitted that the whole thing was, in a sense, pretty “weird.” “It’s kind of strange that at that age, I wanted to act like a black guy. And be like black guys — some of whom didn’t know how to read. Here we were, college kids, who got it in our mind to do like it was in the songs — drinking and partying, and chasing women.” Whatever the intentions, though, Koerner, Ray and Glover created music that went beyond mirroring the idiom of blues to create something wholly original within a tradition. It is nothing less than inspiring that Koerner is keeping the flame burning.

[Text by Luke Z. Fenchel; From the Ithaca Times]

Biography by William Ruhlmann
"Spider" John Koerner has been an influential practitioner of traditional folk music and country blues since the days of the late-'50s/early-'60s folk revival. Both in his group, Koerner, Ray & Glover, and on his own, he has helped popularize early folk and blues music through his performances and recordings, directly affecting the careers of Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, and influencing many others.

Koerner grew up in Rochester, NY, where he was initially interested in flying, not music. He obtained a student glider-pilot license at 15, and when he graduated from high school in 1956, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to study aeronautic engineering. But in 1958, he was introduced to folk music by a campus acquaintance and took to it heavily, learning to play the guitar and dropping out of college to travel the country as a folksinger. He briefly joined the Marine Corps, then returned to Minneapolis in the fall of 1959, where he became a fixture in the coffeehouses of Dinky Town, the bohemian area around the University of Minnesota. There he encountered and played with a new undergraduate, Bob Zimmerman, who soon took the stage name Bob Dylan. He also met guitarist Dave Ray, who introduced him to harmonica player Tony Glover in the spring of 1962 while they were in New York City. The three began to play together there and back in Minneapolis formed the group Koerner, Ray & Glover. They adopted nicknames in the manner of old blues players: Ray became "Snaker," Glover "Little Sun," and Koerner, in reference to his long, skinny arms and legs, "Spider."

Koerner, Ray & Glover recorded an album, Blues, Rags & Hollers, that was released on the tiny Milwaukee-based independent Audiophile Records label in June 1963. Folk label Elektra Records then signed the group and bought the album from Audiophile, reissuing it in an abridged form in November. Lots More Blues, Rags & Hollers followed in June 1964. The trio appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in July, and their performance was recorded for the Vanguard Records album Newport Folk Festival 1964: Evening Concerts III (released in May 1965) and filmed for the motion-picture documentary Festival (which opened in October 1967). The group was always a loose aggregation, frequently breaking down in performance into duos and solos, and it was natural for the three to play separately. In 1965, Koerner and Ray each made solo albums for Elektra (actually assembled by the label from solo performances done at Koerner, Ray & Glover recording sessions). Koerner's was Spider Blues, released in May. He then appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, his performance captured on the Vanguard LP Festival -- Newport Folk Festival 1965, released in 1966. Koerner, Ray & Glover made one more album for Elektra, The Return of Koerner, Ray & Glover, released in October 1965, and an archival album of 1963-64 live recordings, Good Old Koerner, Ray and Glover (aka Live at St. Olaf Festival), was released by Mill City Records in January 1972. But the trio ceased to be a full-time act by 1966.

Koerner continued to play the folk circuit as a solo performer, appearing at such prestigious clubs as the Ash Grove in Los Angeles and Club 47 in Cambridge, MA. He made a trip to England in 1968 and again appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969. That year, Elektra released his second album, Running, Jumping, Standing Still, which featured piano player Willie Murphy and included many original compositions, among them "I Ain't Blue," which Bonnie Raitt later covered on her self-titled debut album. By the early '70s a lack of success prompted Koerner to retire to Copenhagen, Denmark, after recording the album Music Is Just a Bunch of Notes for Dave Ray's Sweet Jane Records label. (The LP was released in May 1972.) His European retirement lasted for a year or so, its ending formally marked by another Sweet Jane release, Some American Folk Songs Like They Used To, in October 1974. The album showed that he had moved more toward traditional folk music rather than the folk-blues with which he had been associated.

Koerner moved back to Minnesota in 1977 and maintained his career on a part-time basis while also working outside music. He returned to greater national visibility due to his association with Red House Records, which released his first album in more than 11 years, Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Been, in 1986 (it had been recorded in 1980), followed by Raised by Humans in March 1992 and StarGeezer in May 1996. Red House also reissued the Koerner, Ray & Glover albums Blues, Rags & Hollers, Lots More Blues, Rags & Hollers, and The Return of Koerner, Ray & Glover, as well as Koerner's Running, Jumping, Standing Still, on CD. In 1997, a new Koerner, Ray & Glover live album, One Foot in the Groove, was released on Tim/Kerr Records. Koerner underwent emergency triple bypass surgery in January 1998, but recovered and returned to performing. Lacking health insurance, he suffered astronomical medical bills, but a series of benefit concerts paid them off. In the early years of the new millennium, he continued to perform, both solo and as a member of Koerner, Ray & Glover.

John Koerner - Spider Blues

Year: 1965
Label: Elektra

Side A
- Good Luck Child *
- I Want To Be Your Partner
- Nice Legs
- Spider Blues *
- Corrina
- Shortnin' Bread
- Ramblin' And Tumblin'
- Delia Holmes

Side B
- Need A Woman
- I Want To Do Something
- Baby, Don't Come Back
- Hal C. Blake
- Things Ain't Right *
- Rent Party Rag

* with Tony Glover on mouth harp

note, a couple of tracks have some ripping errors, due to my computer's low-memory. I might try to do a re-rip at some point but just enjoy the bizarre time-changes for now...

vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/o cover

This album so far as I know has never been reissued, either in physical or digital form.

But you can find others On Muddy Sava Riverbank, and be sure to check out the man's website - he's still gigging!

April 21, 2010

George Pegram

Here's one for anybody that liked the Obray Ramsey, or banjo/old-time music in general. Like Ramsey, he played banjo in the 3-finger style, but not quite bluegrass. He was as unique as a blue chicken, and twice as friendly. Whether you view him as "A grizzled, bowlegged, illiterate manual laborer with only one good eye" or "a broadaxe-finished mountaineer under a ten-gallon hat," he was the real thing allright - raw as a chewing-switch. Why do I love these guys? Because they're crazy and fun and just plain confound the mind to do anything but step aside and let the folksoul take over with tapping stomping feet and crowing hoarse throat and somehow a tenderness emerges like a soft pale foot from a dinged-up leather boot. So shoot!

Biography by Jason MacNeil
George Franklin Pegram was born and raised in Guilford County, a farming community that was rich in traditional music. Growing up as a teenager, the musician purchased his first Silvertone banjo for $15. He also met Zack Whitaker, a local promoter who organized fiddlers' conventions and showcases while Pegram was growing up. Also influenced by his uncle Clyde Pegram, George Pegram began perfecting the "double-thumbing" style of banjo playing, a three-finger movement that used single notes. At the age of 26, Pegram married Dorothy Louise Dick in Guilford County, then moved to Statesville. Upon entering the navy during the Second World War, Pegram lost one eye during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After working a variety of odd jobs in sawmills and furniture factories, the musician met Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a promoter of folk and "mountain" dance festivals. Needing additional acts to fill various folk festivals in North Carolina, Lunsford signed Pegram and recorded some of his material. Throughout the 1950s, he performed with Clegg Garner, Okie Mountain Boys and Corbett Bennett and His Mountain Dudes. In 1955, Pegram played with Walter "Red" Parhorn and more touring and performing continued. In 1957, Kenneth Goldstein recorded the duo for Riverside Records. Known for his dynamic and exciting live show, Pegram won a series of annual awards at the Galax Fiddlers' Convention, including the Outstanding Individual Performer in both 1966 and 1969. In 1970, he released his self-titled debut album. The album was the first album ever released on the Boston-based Rounder Records. Pegram continued playing until 1974, with the Asheville Folk Festival that year being his last performance. In September 1974, Pegram died from bone cancer.

George Franklin Pegram - Banjoist

The first time I saw George Pegram he was holding forth in his own inimitable, gravity-defying manner. The usual crowd had gathered at his feet. He wore a smile of unadulterated bliss. Bobbing and weaving his head, he and a guitarist, accompanied by two female singers, were tearing along in high style on that great reliable, 'Old Time Religion.' " Anne Gilbert

Banjoist and folklorist Art Rosenbaum described Pegram's playing as a "raucous, hell-for-leather, driving style." Robert Black further mentions, to achieve this effect "George Pegram uses a technique much like the well known 'double-thumbing' style. It is a three-finger movement employing single notes; the melody is picked with the thumb and the drone Is alternated between the first and second strings, using the index and the middle fingers."

George Franklin Pegram, Jr. was born August 5, 1911 and raised near Oak Ridge in Guilford County, the son of George (12/20/1881 or 1883-11/5/1955) and Phebe D. Henley Pegram (_1892-?). This farming community in North Carolina's Piedmont region was rich in stringband music.

Zack Whitaker (2/9/1876-11/3/1950), who taught music at the Oak Ridge Institute, was active in organizing area events. Whitaker promoted fiddlers' conventions and dances throughout George Pegram's upbringing, and, probably, it's those conventions that George attended when growing up. One of Zack Whitaker's musical compatriots was George's uncle, fiddler Clyde Pegram. A lifelong bachelor, Clyde Pegram lived at home with his mother and worked the family farm. George claimed that Clyde helped start him in music and that the two played together once George became musically proficient. George Pegram tells several different stories of acquiring his earliest instrument. Either his first banjo, which he started playing around the age of nine, was one discarded by his grandfather, or a cigar box banjo, which George made. Pegram continues: "My grandma drew a pension from the Civil War. I stayed with her, and she gave me a patch for tobacco. I said the first thing I was going to do when I sold my crop of tobacco, I'm going to buy me a banjo. I went down to Winston-Salem to a music store and paid $15 for a banjo a Silvertone. "I got to watching other banjo pickers. I'd pick it up. I'd go to school commencements, where there would be playing, and to fiddling conventions. I'd pick it up listening to others. "The first money I ever made in my life was for pickin' a banjo all night. I was just a barefoot kid and they gave me 15 cents. I tied it up in the end of a handkerchief and took it and gave it to my Momma." George evidently had fond memories of Oak Ridge. He would return there each year to perform at the horse show/fiddlers' convention that began in 1946. At the age of twenty-six, George Pegram married Dorothy Louise Dick (b. 1920) of Guilford County and moved to Statesville. The couple eventually had four children. Pegram professed to having served in the Navy during World War II, and to losing an eye in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. To support his family, George worked in the tobacco fields, sawmills and furniture factories of North Carolina and Virginia. " never paid enough to live on, and Pegram moved his family from job to job, from one small town to another, wherever he could find work and 'play a little music,' " reported the Winston-Salem Journal/Sentinel. The man who would change Pegram's life was musician, folk song collector and festival promoter Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Lunsford had founded the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in June of 1928 as a part of Asheville's Rhododendron Festival. "In 1948," says Bascom Lunsford's biographer Loyal Jones, "Lunsford was invited by Dr. Ralph Steele Boggs of the English Department to start a folk festival at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which was held in June. In the same year Lunsford also established a festival for the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, in the month of August. Both of these festivals became popular events and made it necessary for Lunsford to locate new performers from places in North Carolina other than his native mountains. He traveled the hot and dusty roads of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of the Old North State, seeking talent for his new festivals." Pegram, possibly living in Denton at the time, recalled his first meeting with Lunsford: "The old man discovered me. Oh, it was 1949, I believe it was. He came down there and he had car trouble. He wanted to spend the night. I said yes I'd be glad for him to. He didn't know that I was a banjo picker a musician. He had one of these recording things to make records. We eat supper and all. I asked him what his business was. He said folk music. I told him that I played the banjo a little bit once in a while. He said, 'Go get your banjo then.' I got my banjo and played 'Cumberland Gap' and different ones. He said, 'Why, that sounds just fine. Just fine. Let me record that.' He did, and I was invited to the festival." This account seems likely, although some of its details aren't correct. Since Pegram appeared at the first Festival, Lunsford must have visited George in 1948. Hoyle Bruton, publicity director for the 1948 festival, described talent scouting trips with Lunsford in the spring, and thinks that Lunsford had heard about Pegram before he went to see him. Arthur Palmer Hudson, reviewing the 1948 Carolina Folk Festival in the Southern Folklore Quarterly, mentions Pegram, "a broadaxe-finished mountaineer under a ten-gallon hat" as vying "with Clegg Garner of Randolph for honors as banjo soloist. George's 'Good Ol' Mountain Dew' a 'special request' number on every program after the first. A natural clown, with an excellent repertory of banjo songs and solo dance numbers, and with an inexhaustible fund of showmanship, George was the individual star of the Festival." Pegram also played "John Henry." The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported that "One member of Garner's band, tall and lanky George Pegram, brought down the house with his rip-roaring rendition of 'Good Ol' Mountain Dew,' a number written by Lunsford in the style of the authentic folk songs. The large crowd, stacked up in the north side of Kenan stadium to the back wall, city folk and all, got the swing of folk music as George sang and whole assembly was soon clapping and swaying in rhythm." This event seems to be, outside of local community events, one of Pegram's first appearances as a professional musician. Although George Pegram would continue to work at a variety of manual labor jobs, from this point on, he would attempt to make a part of his living at music. Subsequent newspaper photos and recollections of area residents show Pegram still playing with Clegg Garner's band for dances at Denton (Davidson County) and Farmer (Randolph County) in the 1950s. And, a recording of the Okie Mountain Boys made at the 1948 event sounds like Pegram was also a member of that aggregation. In the late 1940s, George Pegram additionally performed with Corbett Bennett and His Mountain Dudes, both in public appearances and over radio station WTNC-Thomasville. Throughout his musical career, no matter what Pegram's band affiliation, George was always straining to take the spotlight. Pegram was such a singular performer, with his own style, that it was hard to play and share the stage with him.

The Pegram family moved to Union Grove at Bascom Lunsford's instigation around 1951, to a small white house off NC 115 near the Wilkes County line. With some of Lunsford's relatives living close by, Bascom may have been trying to take care of George or to keep an eye on him. By that time, George Pegram had become a favorite performer of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who used him on the many events he later organized in the 1950s. Pegram played at the State Fair, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival and the Burlington Centennial Festival (in 1949). He was a regular at the Carolina Folk Festival until its demise in 1956. And Lunsford subsequently put Pegram together with harmonica player Red Parham. Walter "Red" Parham ran Bascom Lunsford's farm and played at Bascom Lunsford's many events, including the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Pegram and Parham had begun performing together by 1955, when they appeared at the Carolina Folk Festival. In 1957, Red and George were recorded by Kenneth Goldstein for Riverside Records at Lunsford's home in South Turkey Creek, Leicester, NC. George Pegram and Red Parham also appeared on several Riverside Records anthologies: Banjo Songs of the Southern Mountains and Southern Mountain Folk Songs and Ballads. The act ceased active performing when booking decreased, and financial necessity caused Parham and Pegram to appear on their own. No matter how much Lunsford valued George as a performer, the latter's lack of constraint caused friction between the two men. Loyal Jones relates that, "For a while, he would not have George Pegram on the festival. Pegram became so popular that the crowd would often break into chants of 'We want George,' and Pegram, somewhat heady over this popularity, might just come forward without Lunsford's nod. This was the sort of thing that Lunsford, creator and boss of the festival, would not tolerate. However, Pegram held an affection and respect for Lunsford." By the late 1950s, George became a fixture at both the Galax, Virginia and Union Grove, North Carolina Fiddlers' Conventions. At these events, he was often associated with Wayne Johnson's Brushy Mountain Boys of North Wilkesboro, featuring fiddler "Lost John" Ray (_1917-?). Pegram's first award at the Galax came in 1959, when he won first prize for the "Novelty" category. One of the pieces he played that year was "On Top of Old Smokey." He took second prize on banjo in 1960, and first in 1961, rendering "John Henry" for his first place win. The Brushy Mountain Boys took third prize in the band competition for 1960 and 1963, performing "Turkey in the Straw" and "Hitchhiker's Blues" during the later year's convention. In 1963, Pegram also played on the program, executing "John Henry," "Arkansas Traveler," and "Old Rattler." The Band possibly attended the 1966 event, when George won "Outstanding Individual Performer," which he won again in 1969. George's Galax performance of "John Henry" from either 1961 or 1963 was recorded for the Folkways Records' 1964 release, Galax, Virginia Old Fiddlers' Convention . The Brushy Mountain Boys appeared at the 1961 Union Grove Fiddlers' Convention as a seven-member band. The band was included on the 1962 Folkways album The 37th Old Time Fiddlers' Convention At Union Grove North Carolina, and were mentioned as "one of the wilder bands and the winner of this year's (1961) band contest" in the album's notes. It is unclear if Pegram was with the Brushy Mountain Boys at this convention. Photos of the band, which at least sometime included Wayne Johnson's sons, show a different banjoist. However, the banjoist on the Folkways recording of "Hitchhiker's Blues" closely resembles George. George Pegram also appeared with fiddler Lost John Ray at the 1967 Union Grove Convention. Wade Walker financed the record, featuring George and Lost John, for his "Wade" label. The issued tunes were "Mississippi Sawyer" on one side of the record, backed with "Cumberland Gap" and "Arkansas Traveler." Sometime in the mid-to-late 1950s, Wade Walker had became acquainted with Pegram at the Farmer Grange dance, where George was playing. Pegram and Walker became good friends, and George was a regular at Wade Walker's music sessions from then on until George Pegram's death. Beginning at this time, as Mark Walker, Wade's son reports, "Pegram worked for the Southern Railroad as an entertainer at their conferences and meetings, traveling all over the country and even to Hawaii. They bought him a banjo, one of the last ones that he had. But I think he pawned it off when he got hurting for money. It was one of the Earl Scruggs models. They'd buy him new clothes, you know, before they'd take him on those trips. He wouldn't even have decent clothes, you know, to take with him. And when he'd come home, he might come into work at the sawmill or somewhere with them good clothes on and they'd have to buy new ones again then." By the late 1960s, the Pegram family had migrated once again, living for several years near Galax, Virginia. The following article appeared in the Galax Gazette, July 24,1969, and aptly describes Pegram's public appearances. "A perennial favorite at the convention is George Pegram of nearby Fries, Virginia, located like Galax, near the line separating Carroll and Grayson Counties. "Pegram, grizzled and balding and with only one good eye, is a virtuoso of the bluegrass banjo style. He is a showman, too, likely to put aside his instrument and dance into a loose-joined shuffle. "As he attacks the chorus of 'Cumberland Gap,' his lean old body tilts backward from the knees until his beaten black hat stands parallel to the ground and he is face to face with the August moon. He hoists his banjo high, fingers plucking louder and louder around the melody and a guttural hum hurtles from his throat into a piercing howl guaranteed to boil the blood: "'MmmmmYeoww! Way down yonder in Cumberland Gap!'" David Holt, the well-known banjoist and host of radio and television shows (including Mountain Stage), also witnessed his first Pegram performance that summer. "I will never forget the first time I saw George Pegram play. It was 1969 at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. He came out on stage grinning from ear to ear, eyes darting around the auditorium like he was getting ready to play a hugh practical joke. He was bowlegged and slightly stooped from the weight of his banjo hanging around his neck. You sensed right away this guy was the 'real thing.' "Harmonica player Red Parham blew a couple of high, piercing notes to start 'Cindy.' George grabbed at the strings of his banjo as though he were trying to catch up with Red. Then all of a sudden they hooked into each others timing and were in perfect sync. It felt like an electric current went through the audience. Spontaneously the entire crowd began hollering and hooting. The music was so raw, so real and so damn good, you couldn't help it. They played through the tune like they were trying to hold onto an out of control freight train. It was one of the most exciting musical experiences I've ever had. And to this day, every time I play 'Cindy' I think of how George Pegram made that song come alive." The recordings heard on this compact disc were made by Charles Faurot (called "Farout" in the original album notes), well known for his tapes for County Records of Carolina/Virginia stringband music. Originally offered to Ken Davidson's Kanawha label for release, this became the first record on the fledgling Rounder label in 1971. Ken Irwin and Bill Nowlin, two of the three current partners in Rounder, had become interested in traditional music during the early 1960s through the recordings of Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio. As undergraduate roommates, they followed music in the Boston area, often attending shows at the Club 47 in Cambridge. In 1966, their senior year in college, they both began attending the southern fiddler's conventions at Union Grove and Galax. After one such Galax event, Irwin was picked up hitchhiking (those were the days!) by Ken Davidson. He spent a few days at Davidson's home in West Virginia, visiting area musicians. Davidson's Kanawha operation made a favorable impression, and, upon his return to Boston, Irwin commented to Nowlin that they, too, should start a record label. In 1969, in the company of the third Rounder, then Marian Leighton, Ken again visited Ken Davidson, now relocated to Florida. Davidson played the tape of George Pegram heard here, and mentioned that he wasn't going to put it out. Since Irwin and Leighton were familiar with Pegram from his earlier lp with Parham and his star status at Union Grove, they jumped at the chance to acquire the tapes for their new record label (for $125!). Fred Cockerham (11/3/1905-7/8/1980), at the time living in Low Gap, North Carolina, is the best known of the musicians accompanying George Pegram on this disc. A fiddler and banjoist famous through his association with Tommy Jarrell and Kyle Creed, Fred can be heard on many County releases. Jack Bryant, nineteen years old when these recordings were made, was an auto body repairman from Galax, Virginia. Clyde Isaacs, a musical compatriot of Fred Cockerham in the Virginia-Carolina Ramblers, and a retired painter from Galax, was sixty-seven years old on the occasion of these sessions. Around the fall of 1969, the Pegrams relocated to Cedar Grove Township outside of Asheboro, North Carolina. The move took George closer to his friend and patron Wade Walker, and to a job with the State Dept of Transportation, overseeing gravel spreading crews for Randolph County. About this time, George Pegram reunited with Red Parham, and the duo played the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, Berea College and the Union Grove Fiddlers' Convention. One of George's last appearances was with Parham at the Asheville Folk Festival, in August of 1974. A late 1973/early 1974 show by Pegram at Gardner-Webb College is described by Mark Walker: "He played before the Mission Mountain Wood Band. But George just put on a real good show and I remember after the show there, he went down one side of the bleachers there and I believe he kissed or hugged every girl on that one side down there. And the crowd really did like him." "But just, you know, sitting in the living room playing, I mean, he was a different person, almost, the way he'd play. But he would put on the dog in front of a crowd, especially if they got to hollerin' some for him and all. That just egged him on then." George Pegram died September 12, 1974, of bone cancer. He is buried at the Back Creek Church in Randolph County. "Wade" relates his son Mark, "went to a lot of people that we would invite when was at our place a playin', and so many enjoyed hearing him play and went to all these people and asked them if they would give a little donation toward buying George's stone and some of Wade's family, they all give a donation and pretty soon, why, they had enough to buy it." "He was just, you know, one of the best entertainers, I guess. About anywhere he would go, he would just make a crowd go wild."

Source: Excerpts from liner notes by Bob Carlin, Lexington, NC, 9/15/94 With permission of the author and Rounder Records; From the CD notes to Rounder 001.

George Pegram - George Pegram

Year: 1970
Label: Rounder [001]

Review by Pemberton Roach
The first solo album by bluegrass/old-time banjo picker George Pegram is historically important not only in the context of Pegram's work and the art of banjo playing in general, but because it was the first album ever released by the now-legendary folk label, Rounder Records. In fact, the acquisition of the George Pegram tapes by Rounder founders Bill Nowlin and Ken Irwin played an important role in inspiring the two folk fans to establish the label. Musically, the album could not have been a better starting point for a company that would revolutionize the business of folk while maintaining a healthy respect for the music's traditions. George Pegram was as real and raw as they come. A grizzled, bowlegged, illiterate manual laborer with only one good eye, Pegram here plays with an intensity reminiscent of blues legends Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf. His voice on these recordings is horse and ragged, yet capable of a broad range of emotional inflection. Pegram was by all accounts a highly entertaining and comedic live performer as well, but little of little of his flair for goofy humor is readily apparent here. These recordings consist simply of excellent music played with purity and passion rarely heard in the modern age.

A favorite at festivals and music conventions, George was a driving banjo picker and a natural performer, and it's easy to hear why he was Rounder's first ever recording artist. "Rounder Records was started (in 1970) to release these recordings of a North Carolina banjoist/singer described in 1948 as 'a broadaxe-finished mountaineer under a ten-gallon hat.' Discovered by singer/folklorist Bascam Lamar Lunsford in the 1940s, Pegram cut a dashing figure at North Carolina folk music gatherings till his death in 1974. The recordings that comprise this release were acquired by Rounder's founders in 1969 for $125.00 and became the label's debut vinyl offering. Along with Pegram's forthright three-finger banjo style, he sang in an amiably hoarse bellow, accompanied on several tracks by legendary fiddler Fred Cockerham." --Mark Humphrey, Record Roundup

1. Mississippi Sawyer
2. Workin' On A Building
3. Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane
4. John Henry
5. Where Could I Go But To The Lord?
6. Wildwood Flower
7. Never Grow Old
8. Reuben
9. What A Friend We Have In Jesus
10. Over The Waves Waltz
11. Johnson's Old Grey Mule
12. In The Sweet Bye and Bye
13. Are You Washed In The Blood?
14. Just Because

vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps vbr | 70mb

apologies in advance for the noise at the beginning of track 8.
You can get his great album 'Pickin and Blowin' with harmonica-player Walter Parham at Hard Luck Child'd Juke Joint or Allen's Archive
and get the LP 'Banjo Songs of the Southern Mountains' featuring both Obray and George at Down Home Radio Show!

April 20, 2010

More Sean Ó Riada and That's All Folk!

Hi there Mr. Joyce,

First of all thanks for the excellent post, not only this one but many of them.

Well, I write a blog about traditional music too, in portuguese though (I am brazilian - no, we do not speak spanish lol) at

I also wrote about, and posted records from, Séan Ó Riada there. Introducting him to the brazilian listeners of irish traditional music (who knows a lot about the Chieftains, but nothing from the genius of Sean ó Riada).

A link to his 64's record Sa Gaiety maybe will be an adition here(?):

About Sean the man, I was reading a Chieftains biography, John Glatt's book, and I found some funny histories:

First of all, his unusual way to deal with money. One day, tells a Ceaóltóirí Cualann percussionist, Sean ó Riada arrived to give him a ride, driving his brand new Jaguar, just to ask him: "Could lend me some money for the petrol?" lol

The books tells also that Ó Riada often used the holes in the wooden floor of his house as an ashtray lol!

All The Best,


Thanks Tiago, a cursory glance shows that you have a fine fine blog indeed, and I'm using Google Translate to convert it to English. There's much more there than I can read at the moment, but I look forward to the day I can plunge in and really explore it. Recommended to my readers (especially those who enjoy the European folk & trad music)!

April 9, 2010

Seán Ó Riada - Pléaráca an Riadaigh

Ok, now if you've managed to get through that last album of Sean-Nós singing, here's a treat for you (and if you haven't yet, go listen! You've gotta have your vegetables before your dessert!). You've heard the roots, now you get to hear the seeds, moving from ancient music to 20th-century music (but without losing sight of the ancient stuff along the way). Where Seosamh was stark, Seán Ó Riada is luscious. This music is fully ornamented, but that's not to say that it's in any way saccharine or superficial. In fact, perhaps the best people to compare Seán Ó Riada to would be Bill Monroe, Astor Piazzola, John Fahey, and Béla Bartók. And no, he doesn't sound like any of them. But he holds a similar place in his tradition. Like each of them, he took a traditional folk music and made it something more, elevating it to the status of classical music by expanding the arrangements and deepening the emotive potential (ok, it's not deeper in relation to Sean-Nós, but it's a lot deeper than the average Ceilidh). And like Monroe, he made his musicians dress up in suits. Interesting! Tells you something about how traditional music was perceived at the time, doesn't it?

Like Monroe also, Ó Riada arranged music for an ensemble, which traditionally would have been performed solo or in unison. He wrote parts, counterpoints, and interweaving overlapping melodies. His arrangements could have been written by Bach. They're so good. His compositions stand out as being strikingly fine as well. And he played harpsichord, an instrument sadly unheard in Celtic music since. His backing group on most of these recordings eventually became The Chieftans, surely the most popular worldwide ambassadors of Irish Traditional music (though as the years went by they became less traditional and more watered-down by poor fusion efforts). Though these albums gave birth to the entire plethora of Celtic music groups that we have today, there's yet to be another recorded that matches these for vigor, class, and originality. They sound as fresh today as they did almost 50 years ago. In a word: classic.

Biography by Bruce Eder
Seán Ó Riada was the founder of the modern school (which is to say, the authentic ancient style of playing) of Irish folk music and, equally important, a vital nationalistic voice in the orchestral music of Ireland. Best known today as a composer, he was also present at the recording of the first album by the Chieftains, and founded the folk chamber orchestra Ceoltoiri Cualann, Paddy Moloney's group before forming the Chieftains.

Seán Ó Riada (or John Reidy, in English) was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1931, and attended University College, Cork. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1952, and served as assistant music director for Radio Eireann in 1954 and 1955. In 1955, he became the music director of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, a post he held until 1962. The following year, he became a lecturer at University College, Cork, a post he held until his death in 1971. During this period, he composed prolifically in all areas, including music for plays, two ballets, various orchestral suites and symphonic pieces, several choral works, masses, chamber pieces, and piano works, and three notable pieces of film music.

Among his generation of Irish composers, Ó Riada was the most deeply involved with traditional Irish music. Curiously, however, most of his works for the concert hall utilized no folk material, and some of it -- most notably Nomos No. 1, is a contrapuntal piece that uses 12-tone ("serialist") technique. Nomos No. 2 utilizes a text drawn from Sophocles' Theban plays in its reflections on life and death and the history of music, and includes a quotation from Mozart's Symphony No. 41. Ó Riada was just as likely to look back to Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms as to his own nation's musical heritage.

Ó Riada also prepared numerous arrangements of traditional Irish songs, and in the late '50s he organized Ceoltoiri Cualann, a folk chamber orchestra whose membership consisted of the best traditional musicians in Ireland. Ó Riada's group performed Irish folk music stripped of all its then-typical pop inflections and sentimentality. The earliest versions of the melodies and dances served as the source material, and the group played them with a natural lilt and an abandon that came from deep within the music's origins; the airs, in particular, stripped of their modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized in them in decades. It was out of this group that Paddy Moloney formed the Chieftains in the early '60s, a smaller, more flexible ensemble that eventually brought this new/old vision of Irish music to the world. Ó Riada was with the Chieftains on their first album, and some three years after his death, his composition "Women of Ireland," as used in the 1974 Stanley Kubrick movie Barry Lyndon, broke the group in America, garnering considerable radio play and network television time for them. His own film scores included the music for three documentaries -- I Am Ireland, Freedom, and The Living Fire -- and Brian Desmond Hurst's 1962 feature film, Playboy of the Western World.

Ó Riada's other great contribution to Irish folk music lay in the realm of orchestral composition. While England had composers such as Gustav Holst, George Butterworth, and, most important, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who used English folk music as the basis for some of their most successful orchestral compositions, Irish music never quite achieved the same degree of prominence as a source for serious orchestral music -- not until Ó Riada came along. Although his most serious compositions drew from German and Austrian inspirations, he also took up authentic Irish music as a basis for composition in several of his works, and ended up doing for Irish folk music what Vaughan Williams did for English music. His work has been compared to that of Gustav Mahler, for his ability to paint orchestral pictures with rich colors and sparse austerity, and also to Sibelius in its nationalist sentiments.

Ceóltoirí Chúalann were the group of traditional musicians Ó Riada gathered together who were entrusted with the mission of restoring Irish traditional music to popular appeal. Some of the concerts given by Ó Riada and Ceóltoirí Chúalann were recorded and are still available on disc, and these give some idea of the atmosphere of excitement. The music is played with great verve, rhythm and feeling, and the personality of Ó Riada shines through. The repertoire was Irish dance music, airs and the compositions of Carolan and the older harpers. Ceóltoirí Chúalann also featured a singer Seán Ó Sé, who was a tenor. Seán Ó Sé's singing style and the accompaniment devised by Ó Riada was yet another innovation.

At one memorable concert, in Dublin's Gaiety Theatre in March 1969, Ó Riada produced a new piece, a song entitled Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland). The music composed by Ó Riada was to accompany an eighteenth century poem by Peadar Ó Doirnín, whose bicentenary was the occasion for the concert. Seán Ó Sé sang the song but it is today more commonly recognised in Ireland as an instrumental. Ó Riada died in 1971 at the tragically young age of forty. His legacy also includes the enormous Irish success of his music for the film Mise Éire (I am Ireland). It made Ó Riada a household name, and raised the status of Irish music amongst a section of society who had never taken any interest in it before. Guided by his vision, traditional music changed radically, and became accessible to a modern Irish audience, and through this traditional music the cultural life of Ireland was invigorated.

Biography of Seán Ó Riada

Seán Ó Riada was born in Cork on August Ist, 1931, while his father, a sergeant in the Garda Síochana, was stationed in Adare, Co. Limerick. His mother was Julia Creedon from Kilnamartyra in the Barony of West Muskerry, and his father Sean Reidy of Kilmihil, Co. Clare. Both were of farming stock with strong cultural traditions; she a concertina and melodian player with many of the songs of her area, and he having once studied the fiddle with Patrick Kelly. Ó Riada's cradle songs were "Codlaigi Einini" from his father and "Cois an Ghaorthaidh" from his mother.

At the age of four he went to the Christian Brothers' School in Adare. His first teacher was Brother Long from Dingle, who set the foundation for his strong passion for the Irish language. At the age of seven he got his first violin lesson from Granville Metcalfe who used to come out to Adare from Limerick once a week to teach music. A year later he began to study the piano. When he was ten he joined the Limerick Club and performed with them until he left Adare to go to boarding school. During this period he also studied theory, counterpoint and harmony with Professor Van de Veld. In 1943 he won a scholarship to Farrenferris Seminary School in Cork, from where he matriculated in 1947, and, being too young to enter University, he spent the following year in St. Munchins in Limerick where he took his Leaving Certificate.

He entered U.C.C. in 1948 on a scholarship and read first Arts with Music as a subject. He also took Greek, Latin and Irish. U.C.C. in those days was small, and exciting because of the number of foreign students who flocked there after the Second World War. Ó Riada plunged into a wide course of reading and talking which was oriented towards the ancient and modern cultures of Europe. In 1957 he graduated with honours in Music.

In September, 1953 he married Ruth Coghlan and they had seven children, Peadar, Reitseal, Eoghan, Alasdar, Cathal, Sorcha, Liadh. The last two children were born after he had moved to the Gaeltacht but the whole family were brought up through Irish.

Also in 1953 he was appointed Assistant Director of Music in Radio Eireann.
Dr. Arthur Young was his Co-Assistant Director, and in those good old days they graciously attended symphony concerts and gave short shrift to various "trad fids" who came up for audition, and also to various deputations from the country, including a very persistent petitioner from Cuil Aodha, whose house Sean was destined to buy ten years later.

O Riada resigned from Radio Eireann in 1955, and, in a logical extension to all of his classical reading and studies, took off to starve in a garret in Paris. Here he met many artists and musicians through R.D.T.F. But here also he turned towards the Aisling which had been hovering over all his life and he ended up by saying to his wife "I'd rather be breaking stones in Ireland than be the richest man living in Europe".

Back in Dublin, he began the most prolific period of his life, starting with many arrangements for the Radio Eireann Singers and Light Orchestra, doing original compositions for Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, writing for solo voice and for piano. During this time he was working as Music Director of the Abbey Theatre. This position gave him a good deal of spare time and allowed him to do many radio broadcasts and to work on incidental music for films.

Side by side with the flowering of O Riada's European classical creativity another theme began to emerge during those seven years. The spirit of this theme was first expressed in the music which he wrote for the film Mise Eire. The impact of this particular music on the nation in 1959 was dramatic and immediate and it marked the beginning of 0 Riada's rapport with the people of Ireland and their culture. He began a deep study of Irish traditional music which resulted in a radio series entitled "Our Musical Heritage". He proceeded to experiment with combinations of musicians to evolve Ceoltoiri Chualann. This group was first presented to the public as a folk or traditional orchestra providing the incidental music for the Abbey Theatre presentation of the Honey Spike, a play by Brian Mc Mahon. Their first formal appearance as a stage group was at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin on ..........

While he was still in Dublin, he made his first contact with the Gaeltacht when he spent the summer of 1959 with his family in Bru na Gráige (Corca Dhuibhne) at the invitation of an tAthair Tadhg 0 Murchu. it was after this visit, which made a deep impression on them, that the 0 Riadas began to hold the now famous Ceilidhe at their home in Galloping Green, which brought together all the strands of Sean's various interests - muintir na Gaeltachta, traditional and classical musicians, poets, diplomats, plumbers and business men.

Finally, and once more in a logical extension of his cultural development, he resigned from the Abbey in 1962 and moved to Corca Dhuibhne where he lived for a year doing freelance work for R.T.E. and writing for the "Irish Times", until in October, 1963 he was appointed assistant lecturer in Music at University College, Cork.

On his appointment he moved to Cuil Aodha to live in An Draighean. Here, ten miles from where his mother was born, 0 Riada felt he had come home. Henceforth he regarded all trips to Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, London, Canada, America for lectures, concerts, recordings and festivals, in the nature of forages from his home base to bring back spoils and to further the interests of the Naisiun Gaolach. He made 16mm. films, wrote music, went fishing, studied Indian and Oriental Music, sat on National Commissions and committees, and generally was deeply involved in the community. He formed a choir and and wrote his first Mass for them. His fascination with things spiritual led him to write a further two Masses (Glenstall and an Irish Government commissioned Requem). He died on the 3rd of October, 1971 in Kings College Hospital after a short illness brought on by the effect of excessive alcohol use on an inhereited weak liver. He lies buried in Reilig Gobnatan.

Seán Ó Riada - Pléaráca an Riadaigh

Featuring the music of:
Seán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann, Darach Ó Catháin and Seán Ó Sé

Released on: 09 March 2009
Label: Gael Linn
This is a 3 CD Set of three albums which each marked a milestone in the development of Irish traditional music. With Ceoltóirí Chualann, Darach Ó Catháin and Seán Ó Sé, Seán Ó Riada embarked on a journey of discovery. Each of the three albums was conceived as a unique concept:

Disk 1 - Reacaireacht an Riadaigh:
Music, song and recitations form the basis of this album. Ó Riada presented a radio programme using the format of a fireside entertainment. The album features the singing of Connemara sean-nós singer Darach Ó Catháin, Ceoltóirí Chualann and short pieces spoken by Seán Ó Riada.

There is a vibrancy and freshness to this album, Ó Riada’s inaugural release with Ceoltóirí Chualann. The playing of Ronnie Mc Shane on percussion and of Sonny Brogan on accordion is noteworthy.

Disk 2 - Ceol na nUasal:
This album features music of the aristocracy, and that of Turlough O’Carolan, in particular. Seán Ó Sé is the singer. As this beautiful music had been neglected for many years, the sensitive arrangements by Seán Ó Riada captured the public imagination and led to a revival of interest in this aspect of traditional music.

Disk 3 - Ding Dong:
The singing of Seán Ó Sé is to the fore on this album and Ó Riada’s arrangements are masterful. This is music for the concert hall with the emphasis on entertainment. This is seen to great effect in the track Raithineach a Bhean Bheag, where the musicians play with great exuberance.

Review from An Spaílpín Fánach:
One of the more notorious of RTÉ’s acts of cultural vandalism over the years is the decision to wipe all TV tape of Seán Ó Riada from the archives. Now, An Spailpín is getting worried that the damage is even more extensive than we thought.

Gael Linn, as part of their policy of re-releasing Seán Ó Riada’s albums over the past few years, have released three more, as a triple CD set called Pléaráca an Riadaigh. These are three original studio recordings of Ó Riada at the height of his powers – Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, Ceol na nUasal and Ding Dong. But what’s bothering An Spailpín is a throwaway reference in the sleeve notes to a weekly radio show that Ó Riada did for RTÉ in the sixties. Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, the first of these albums to be recorded, is essentially a collection of the greatest hits of that radio series and if they’ve all been wiped since like the TV recordings – well, it’s a scandal is what it is.

With the country going down the tubes at a rate of knots this Christmas it’s good – if not vital – to be reminded of why it was all worthwhile in the first place. Why the Irish deserved independence; what separated us from the other three kingdoms. And Pléaráca an Riadaigh helps us explain part of it.

Seán Ó Riada is part of the landscape now but it’s always important to remember just how revolutionary his approach was. Irish music had no respect in the general population before him; Ó Riada’s great gift was to be able to show how the ancient airs have their place in the pantheon of world music, before that phrase was even invented. For anyone who wants to know who we are and where we came from Pléaráca an Riadaigh is an essential purchase.

Funnily enough, the sleeve notes are the most disappointing aspect of the whole presentation. Other Ó Riada releases have included full lyrics for the songs in the sleeve notes. This does not, and their loss is keenly felt. All the more so because it is Darach Ó Catháín, not Seán Ó Sé, who does the singing on Reachtaireacht an Riadaigh.

What makes this significant is the fact that Darach Ó Catháin was a sean-nós singer. Sean-nós is the diametric opposite of easy listening music. Sean-nós is hard work. The best way to approach it is to realise just how very old it is – it’s a medieval form of music, really. It’s solo chanting more than singing. It does not record well, and soft chat about sean-nós being the soul music of Ireland doesn’t cut it. It’s a terrible pity that Gael Linn didn’t see fit to print the lyrics, or the words of the pices spoken by Seán ÓRiada himself. Certain hollow men in the media like to speak of “spoken Irish”; An Spailpín is pretty sure that he is not alone in thinking it’s easier when it’s written down.

And for those who would actually benefit from printed lyrics...

Tús an*phléaráca
Ar éigean gur féidir léirmheas mar is ceart a dhéanamh ar an saothar seo ó Sheán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann, Seán* Ó Sé agus Darach Ó Catháin atá ath éisithe faoi ghradam ag Gael Linn.** Is cirte a rá gur ar éigean gur féidir liomsa léirmheas a dhéanamh ar a leitheid nó táím tar éis éisteacht leis roinnt mhaith ó fuaireas é agus mé ag freastal ar an Oireachtas mí ó shin.

Agus tá sé glórmhar.* Tá sé chomh h-úr anois is a bhí an uair úd nuair a eisíodh na ceirníní atá sa bhosca seo, Reacaireacht an Riadaigh (1962), Ceol na nUasal (1967) agus Ding Dong (1967).* Ceol réabhlóideach a bhí ann an uair sin nó d’iompaigh sé tuiscint an phobail ar cheol thraidisiúnta droim ar ais agus suas síos.

Bhíos ag éisteacht leis le déanaí agus mé ar mo bhealach go Beanntrai ait a raibh m’athair, Dónal* Ó Liatháin, file, san oisbidéal.* Thóg sé mo spiorad agus mé ar an dturas uaigneach sin agus a fhios agam im chroí istigh gur féidir narbh fhada a bheadh m’athair ar an saol seo. Cailleadh é go luath ina dhiaidh sin, Beannacht Dé leis.

Trí m’athair a chuireas aithne ar Sheán Ó Riada agus ar cheoltóirí Chualann agus freisin ar Dharach Ó Cathain agus ar Sheán Ó Sé.** Bhíos an óg ar fad nuair a cailleadh Seán Ó Riada ach chasas le Darach Ó Catháin agus an chuid eile acu ag ocáid sa Cheol Aras Náisiúnta i 1987 in omós an Riadaigh.

Sin iad na cuimhní a mhúscail an ceirnín seo ionam.* Laethannta glórmhara nó mar a bhaist Tony McMahon orthu ag oíche nach n-éagfaidh óm chuimhne sa Cheolaras, Laethannta an Cheoil, na Fíona agus na Rósanna.

Cuimhním freisin gur ar eigean go bhféadfá ceol traidisiúnta a thabhairt ar an cheol a sheinn Ceoltóirí Chualann.* Ag an am ar thosnaigh siad ag seinnt ba rud réabhlóideach bheith ag seinnt a leitheid nó bhí an ceol traidisiúnta díbeartha as radharc agus as raon an chluais de bharr an sórt atmaisféar frith Ghaelach a bhí ann ag an am.* Chomh maith le sin, bhí an ceol a sheinn Ceoltóírí Chualann faoi stiur agus le spreagadh an Riadaigh chomh úr is chomh láidir go raibh sé réabhlóideach.

Tá moladh mór ag dul do Ghael Linn as eagrán chomh brea den bhailiúchán seo a eisiúint anois.* Ar ndóigh, tá roinnt mhaith de shean chartlann Uí Riada éisithe acu roimhe seo, cuid acu le rianta nua orthu nár chualathas roimhe seo.** Bheadh an bhosca cheirníní seo ina sheod in aon bhailiúchán ceoil.


CD1 - Reacaireacht an Riadaigh (1962):

1. An long faoi lán seoil

2. Caiptín Ó Máille

3. ‘Ní reacaireacht gan reacaire’ (caint)

4. An buachaill sa bhád

5. Liam Ó Raghallaigh

6. ‘An té mholas an éigse’ (caint)

7. Cuan Bhéil Innse /Port an deoraí

8. Amhrán an tae

9. ‘Caint na n-éan’ (caint)

10. Ag scaipeadh na gcleití

11. Sail Óg Rua
‘Mo ghile mear’ (caint)

13. Spailpín a Rúin

14. An lon dubh

15. Peigín Leitir Móir

CD2 - Ceol na nUasal (1967):

1. Caitlín Triail

2. Comhsheinm Uí Chearbhalláin

3. Pléaráca na Ruarcach

4. Planxty Maguire

5. An chúilfhionn

6. Thugamar féin an samhradh linn

7. Ag taisteal na Blárnan

8. Tabhair dom do lámh

9. Seán Ó Dighe

CD3 - Ding Dong (1967):

1. Raca breá mo chinn

2. The rights of man

3. The boys of Kilmichael

4. The rolling wave /Raithineach a bhean bheag

5. Táimse ar an mbaile seo

6. Leitrim fancy

7. Ding dong dedaró /Ríl mór Bhaile an Chalaidh

8. Valley of Knockanure

mp3 vbr >256k. no covers.

Yes, I realize this album was just re-released after years of being out-of-print. But Seán's dead now, and there are living musicians on Gael Linn who need your support more.

Find a soundtrack of his, Playboy of the Western World at Good Job I Kept My Turntable and the album 'O Riada' from 1971 at the Rare/Old/Weird Livejournal Community.

Seosamh Ó hÉanaí - Ó Mo Dhúchas (From My Tradition)

This is really deep, intense, uncompromising music. You can label it 'difficult listening' if you like, because chances are, if you've never heard this sort of stuff before, you won't be able to make it to the end of the album. Compare it to, say, field recordings of traditional appalachian singers or ballads from the Indian or Arabic classical traditions. Compare it to deep south shit-poor folk-blues from the countryside, because basically that's what it is. The difference is, the country is Ireland. And the language is Irish, which means that you probably won't understand it, and neither would most of the Irish nowadays.

"Well why would I want to listen to that?!" you say. Because sometimes you get the feeling that all the glamour and farce that get paraded around under guise of the 'modern' or 'contemporary' music and culture is all just a false facade like the high tops of buildings in the old wild west. And you begin to look around yourself for signs of something true and honest and without pretense. And you might not find anything that fits the bill, as simplicity comes little and far-between in this age. So you might get to wanting to hear something real and unadorned: something ancient. And if you follow that trail, at least in this country, eventually you come to the tradition of unaccompanied Irish singing: Sean-Nós. It's like when you follow a river back to its source. This is the spring! And right beside it is the spring of Nordic music and Indian music and most other European musics too. Because when the Indo-European proto-Celts took these lands, these are the musics they sang. And that means that chances are, the water of the music is the water of your blood, and when you dream there's a little piece of you dreaming in Sean-Nós. So find a quiet night, turn off the lights and draw close to the fireplace. Listen to these songs and let them take you back to your ancient self.

* * *

The Irish musicologist, Tomás Ó Canainn, had observed that “no aspect of Irish music can be fully understood without a deep appreciation of sean-nós (old style) singing. It is the key which opens every lock". Sean-nós airs are sometimes called “shut-eye songs” because this music is an intimate undertaking and sung to ensure that the soul of the ballad is heard. It is not so much the narrative, but rather the emotion of the song which the singer tries to impart: it is music to, from and for the soul. A mystical experience between a singer and his music. All essential characteristics of Indian music as well and it may have been for this reason that the great Irish musicologist, Sean O’Riada, thought that “listening to ‘sean-nós’ singing is to think of Indian music rather than European”. The similarity is indeed so striking that one could almost challenge an unwitting listener to guess where it is coming from, India or Ireland !

Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (1920-1984) was one of the great Conamara singers of his generation - many would say the greatest.

In 1955 he was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal for sean-nós singing at the Oireachtas festival. From 1957 he played a leading role in Gael Linn’s Oícheanta Seanchais at the Damer Theatre, Dublin, and was featured both on Gael Linn’s earliest record releases and on their radio programme on Radio Éireann.

Seosamh Ó hÉanaí spent many years in both Britain and the United States where his singing and storytelling introduced an appreciative new audience to Ireland’s heritage.

His years in America were punctuated by frequent visits to Dublin, where he added to the gaiety of many a seisiún in O’Donoghue’s Merrion Row pub.

Seosamh Ó hÉanaí - Ó Mo Dhúchas (From My Tradition)

Year: 2009
Label: Gael-Linn CEFCD051

Some records are almost beyond criticism, and this is one of them. Seosamh O hEanai - Joe Heaney, as he was known to English-speakers - was recognized, even in his all-too-brief lifetime, as in some respects the greatest sean-nós singer ever recorded. Dubbed "the King of Connemara", he was idolized by such disparate greats of the musical world as Willie Clancy and John Cage, and received, towards the end of his life, the accolade of being offered the first-ever professorship of sean-nós studies (by Washington State University). Loved by all with whom he came into contact, his presence graced any session that he attended.

And yet, such was the disregard in which his idiom was held for most of his life (things are a little better now, though not much), that Joe had to spend most of his life in exile, chiefly in Brooklyn, though also, memorably, for a time in London. And, though he was much in demand for radio broadcasts, and featured on many recordings of miscellaneous material (notably some of the mighty north London sessions of the early sixties), he made only four whole LPs in his entire singing career. Of these, probably the best-known is the one that he made for Topic, which, like his US release on Philo, features him singing in English as well as in Irish; and, while his singing in English was good and highly influential - he did much to popularize such songs as "The Rocks of Bawn" - he was always more at ease in his native Irish. After thirty years away from the Gaeltacht, he still thought in Irish, and it was in Irish that he displayed his unparallelled knowledge and mastery of his dúchas.

Dúchas, featuring in the title of this record, is one of those words that are hard to translate; merely to render it "tradition", as here, doesn't really do it justice. Gael-Linn would perhaps be well advised to leave the titles of their records untranslated, though in the case of this re-release of the second, and the better, of the two LPs which Joe made for them (in 1976), there is hardly anything else that one can fault them for. In their zeal to do the national work of disseminating the language, they used to have no English whatsoever on their record covers: such was the case with "O Mo Dhúchas" when first released, and can have only served to narrow down even further the potential market for such a record. Now, thank goodness, we whose Irish is poor or worse have an illuminating preface by Seán Mac Réamoinn, and résumé,s of each of the songs, in English to help us. My only other minor criticism would be the unnecessary tarting-up of the front cover: the original had a certain monochromatic splendor which ought to have been kept.

It is good also to be able to hear the songs without the omnipresent crackle that seemed to characterize so many of Gael-Linn's older LP pressings. And what songs! The list includes two of the greatest tragic lovesongs in Irish, "Una Bhán" and "Dónall Og"; but there are also lighthearted songs such as "Peigín is Peadar" and "Cailleach an Airgid"; and even the religious tradition is represented here by "Amhrán na Páise". The songs are nearly all of Connacht origin, and range from the obscure to the well-known: Joe's renditions of songs in the latter category, especially his spinetingling performance of "Róisín Dubh", are as definitive as anything that can be imagined.

Definitiveness, indeed, is the keynote here. Once you've heard the likes of "Contae Mhaigh Eo" performed in Joe's rich voice (a little deeper than is fashionable these days, but what price fashion?), with his microsecond-precise timing, it's hard to imagine the song in question done differently, let alone better. This is very much as it should be, for I never knew anyone who lived for his songs as much as did Seosamh O hEanai: indeed, the man was inseparable from the songs. A humble, self-effacing person in himself, Joe was fierce about the songs and their importance, and wouldn't hesitate to administer a "Bí¡ i do thost!" (Shut up!) to anyone who was foolish enough to interrupt.

Joe was the songs; the songs were Joe. As Seán Mac Réamoinn says by way of conclusion to his excellent intro, "Si monumentum requiris, audi". Listen, indeed. If you've any love for the unaccompanied tradition in Gaelic, this really is essential listening, and has to be at the heart of your collection. Non caveat emptor, as Seán might have added.

This 2CD set includes all the tracks from both of Seosamh Ó hÉanaí’s solo albums with Gael Linn: Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (1971), and Ó mo dhúchas: Sraith 2 (1976), and includes many of the greatest songs from the Irish tradition.

mpr >256kbps vbr | w/o covers

Yes, I realize this album was just re-released after years of being out-of-print. But Seosamh's dead now, and there are living musicians on Gael Linn who need your support more.

April 8, 2010

The Transfiguration of Merlin

Well, it's not exactly a resurrection; the theme is different and the name is too. But fans of Joski will rejoice at the sight of his new project. Thanks for all the comments on the previous post. I've replied to them now.