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November 26, 2010

VA - Rural Parlor Guitar - Recordings from 1967-1971

So by now most of you have gotten used to this pirate disappearing for 3-month stretches, with little-to-no notice. This was another one of those, also involving travel and relocation. Thanks for your patience! I'm beginning to get settled into my new home, and may perhaps soon begin posting all the vinyl I ripped the last time I was at my parent's house. Until then, rest assured that all is well on the stormy seas, and enjoy this little ditty from time immemoral:

Parlor Guitar. This is the original American guitar style. The first Guitar Soli. This is where blacks and whites first came together and combined their heritage into a new innovation. Without Parlor Guitar, there would be no John Fahey, no Elizabeth Cotten, no John Hurt, no Norman Blake. The tunes are from a time when there was no radio or records. If you wanted music, you had to make it yourself. If you have been reading this blog, I probably don't need to tell you that you need to hear this. Humility suffuses the music. Grace too. Old virtues we don't think too much about in the modern era, now that we worship the ego. Let this gift be a reminder that the best things in life are free, homemade, imperfect, and full of surprises. And if you don't play an instrument, maybe you should start. It's easier than you think.

a bit of a bio:
Like so many great musicians in what we generally term ‘folk music’, I don’t feel that Estil Ball got as much recognition as he deserved during his lifetime. It wasn’t that nobody was aware of his existence - as early as 1941 he had been recorded by Alan Lomax, and possibly even two or three years prior to that. Lomax had apparently met Ball at an early Galax Fiddler’s Convention. Ball lived roughly 30 or so miles from Galax in the tiny community of Rugby, Virginia, a few miles from where he was born and where he and his wife Orna continued to live until hiss untimely death in July 1978. It was at Rugby where Lomax recorded Ball on the porch of the Henderson household. Sylvia Henderson is a cousin to Orna and the house occupied by her and her husband was the only one in Rugby at that time to have electricity.

Lomax again recorded Estil and Orna Ball during his well documented field trips in 1959 and 1960. It was a BBC/Lomax documentary programme featuring recordings made on this trip that first introduced me to his wonderful fingerpicking guitar style, I had never heard anybody make an acoustic guitar swing like that. Lomax announced him as “my friend E C Ball, a school bus driver from Virginia”, and the sound just blew me away. I couldn’t then understand how a musician of that calibre should have to drive a bus for a living. Since that time however I have found that it was not an unusual occupation for musicians in the South. Fiddling Fred Price over in Trade, Tennessee was another.

VA - Rural Parlor Guitar - Recordings from 1967-1971

Label: COUNTY CD-2744
Artists: E. C. Ball, Earl Blair, Lena Hughes, Lewis Thomasson

RURAL PARLOR GUITAR is the one of the very few commercial recording to focus on this genre, and the only one to include multitude artists from different regions. Each of the four musicians was raised in rural areas in the early 1900s: Lena Hughes in northwest Missouri; Earl Blair in the Arkansas Ozarks; Lewis Thomasson in the open plains of Coryell County, Texas, and E. C. Ball in the southwest mountains of Virginia. They learned to play — without sheet music, radio or recordings – from family and other musicians.

All the defining characteristics of the parlor guitar genre are here: open tunings; the use of three and four fingers, arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics. Many of the tracks have never been available commercially before; each is an excellent representation of parlor guitar. The tuning for each song is included.

“The guitar styles depicted in this CD are all different, yet very representative of what one might have found in the rural south eighty or more years ago. Only a handful of guitarists in the 1920s, such as Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, made commercial recordings in this flavor, making this collection an invaluable resource for parlor-style guitar.” - Jeremy Stephens

“19th century parlor guitar was the foundation or an influence for the playing of early rural guitar players as diverse as Elizabeth Cotten and Sam McGee. Probably even the early blues players. This CD presents some of the last players of this rarely recorded style.” - Mike Seeger

All the recordings, save for E. C. Ball’s two self-recordings, were made by Charlie Faurot on his trips to their homes from 1967 to 1971. The format is a guitar based follow-up to his highly successful Clawhammer Banjo Series, originally released on County LPs. The Clawhammer digital release was equally successful. Produced by Charlie Faurot and Jeremy Stephens, RURAL PARLOR GUITAR was digitally edited by Jeremy Stephens. It was mastered by Dave Glasser, twice a Grammy winner.

Customer Review:
If you're interested in blues guitar or country guitar, you should own--no, you MUST own this cd. This is where the history of American guitar begins.

Until about 1875, guitars were handmade and expensive. About that time, industry began applying to the guitar the same manufacturing techniques it had earlier applied to the fiddle (making it cheap and affordable--and a common folk instrument). This made guitars affordable. Unfortunately, hardly anyone knew how to play them.

In stepped a series of entrepreneurs who turned out books on how to play guitar. They aimed at the same market as had bought the piano--young, middle class ladies. The books included light classics, intermezzos, novelties, and numbers written especially for teaching the instrument. Later, when the syncopated music craze began to hit in the 1890s, cakewalks and rags were included in the books. Many of the numbers were in standard tuning. But, to help make learning more simple, many were also written in various opening tunings, particularly G, C, and D tunings.

Now, what does this have to do with country music and blues? Country first. One of the young ladies who started playing parlor guitar, about 1881, was Alice DeArmond Jones of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Later, she taught her son, Kennedy Jones, to play the instrument as she had learned it. Kennedy taught many youngsters in the area, including Mose Rager. And Rager, too, had a student--Merle Travis. And Travis became the model for Chet Atkins.

Now blues. Two of the most popular songs in the parlor guitar guitar repetoire were "The Spanish Fandango" and "The Seige of Sebastopol" (both included here). "The Spanish Fandango" was typically played in G tuning, and "Sebastopol" (as it was often known) was played in D tuning (here, however, it's in C tuning). To this day, country bluesmen still describe the open G tuning as "Spanish" tuning and the open D as "Vastapol." So, somebody sure was listening. Delta blues styles probably weren't greatly influenced by parlor guitar, except that some of the upper-register slides and devices that parlor guitarist played with fingers, the Delta players played with a slide. Also, listen to "Cannon Ball Rag" on this cd and compare it to Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins." Spooky. If you want to hear a style midway between parlor guitar and blues, check out Elizabeth Cotton's two cds on Smithsonian Folkways, Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes and Shake Sugaree.

The performances on this cd were recorded 1967-1971 by four musicians who grew up in the early part of the century. The songs are, by our standards, sedate. They display, however, impeccable musicianship and an unmatched musical pedigree. The history of the American popular guitar begins here.

1 - Spanish Fandango - 2:41 - Lena Hughes
2 - Dewdrop - 2:19 - Earl Blair
3 - Sevastopol - 2:42 - Lewis Thomasson
4 - Walking The Wires - 1:23 - E.C. Ball
5 - Alone In My Rocking Chair - 2:24 - Lena Hughes
6 - Midnight Fire Alarm - 1:53 - Earl Blair
7 - Arlington - 2:52 - Lewis Thomasson
8 - Cannon Ball Blues - 2:20 - E. C. Ball
9 - Old Spinning Wheel - 2:08 - Lena Hughes
10 - Winter's Waltz - 3:06 - Lewis Thomasson
11 - Mother's In Heaven - 2:15 - Lena Hughes
12 - Home Sweet Home Waltz - 1:41 - Earl Blair
13 - Virginia Rag - 1:47 - E. C. Ball
14 - Echoes - 1:33 - Lewis Thomasson
15 - Lamplighting Time In The Valley - 2:10 - Lena Hughes
16 - Lewis Thomasson's Schottische - 2:04 - Lewis Thomasson
17 - Sioux City Sue - 2:17 - Lena Hughes
18 - Grandfather's Clock - 3:23 - E. C. Ball
19 - San Saba - 1:12 - Lewis Thomasson
20 - Wild Rose Medley - 1:44 - Earl Blair
21 - Pearly Dew - 2:35 - Lena Hughes

recycled music.
(or alternate link)
mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ scans

oh, and i'm looking for other recordings of E.C. Ball. Here's a list of the ones that are out there somewhere:
1967 - E.C. Ball and the Friendly Gospel Singers - County - 711
1972 - E.C. Ball - Rounder - 0026
1976 - Fathers Have A Home Sweet Home - 0072
1996 - E.C. Ball - Rounder - 11577 - Reissue of Rounder 0026, plus 9 additional tracks
1999 - E.C. Ball and Orna: Through the Years, 1937-1975 - Copper Creek - 0141

if you have any of the above, let me know!


Jeremy said...

Welcome back, Pirate, glad to hear you're settling in to your new place. Thanks for this, it sounds like a wonderful insight into the styles we love.
Having a bit of trouble with Megaupload right now (I'm getting a "file temporarily unavailable" message), is that just me? Fingers crossed it will behave again soon though, I can't wait to hear this.

Jeremy said...

Second thoughts, I hadn't realised I could still buy this so despite it being buy nothing day I'll do just that: Amazon's snippets show how magical it is, well worth a few bucks!

The Irate Pirate said...

yeah unfortunately Megaupload's server's have been flooded with people running from Rapidshare when it started getting really bad. The download works, but you have to get the timing right, or be patient. I think I'll switch back to mediafire for future ones, despite it occasionally corrupting my archives.

Anyway, glad you bought the thing despite the holiday. Though the artists are dead, the label is small and righteous and deserves the money.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear from you again as it's been a while.
The community of bloggers is really something. Just today 3 blogs that I used to frequent came back on the net after disappearing for a while. And of course there you are with more wonderful music.
Nov.27 is a GOOD day.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of a re-up? 6 days of trying and always: "file temporarily unaavailable"


The Irate Pirate said...

re-upped to mediafire: here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you much-ly for the alternate route. I, too, had been trying unsuccessfully for many days via megaupload.


Anonymous said...

thanks for making this available--wanted to buy it but couldn't find it for sale in a digital format. makes a nice counterpart to the "Old Time Mountain Guitar" disc that came out a few years back.

banjoreinhard said...

I have Rounder CD 11577
and uploaded it Here:


The Irate Pirate said...

Thanks so much banjoreinhard! You're the best!

sputnik707 said...

Thanks, I am looking forward to hearing this. Your blog looks good, I am a recent newcomer to old time american music, so just starting to explore, buying and trying. I came via John Fahey/guitar and now branching out into all kinds of stuff. So thanks.

spinning in air said...

pirate, thanks so much for this.

about blues players not being much influenced: i dunno. maybe not Delta-style players, but the Piedmont region is a whole different ballgame. (cf. Libba Cotten and others.) I bet there's a lot more going on in terms of cross-influences than has been explored by scholars, the ethnomus types, etc.

Might be an interesting question to put to the members of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, as they're working with some very interesting "mixed" repertoire and are digging into a lot of things that have been largely ignored 'til now.

The Irate Pirate said...

yes, i'm with you spinning. i think blues certainly grew out of the genetic material of parlor guitar, and while delta blues less so than the piedmont variety, even it dipped a few roots into the old black-white wellspring of the parlor.

and while the carolina chocolate drops are a terrific and notable example of the black element in stringband music, even Bill Monroe commented that he learned to sing and play the 'blue notes' from a black worker on his father's farm. There's no american music that doesn't have plenty of color in it somewhere.