An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
"Georgia Stomp" - Andrew and Jim Baxter
Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Five: "Georgia Stomp" performed by Andrew and Jim Baxter. "Violin and guitar with talking." Recorded in Atlanta on October 16, 1928. Original issue Victor V-380028.
Little is known about the Baxters, other than that they were father and son. Andrew (the father) played fiddle and Jim (the son) played guitar and sang. They were from Calhoun, Georgia. One of their most notable achievements occurred roughly a year before this recording. In 1927, the Baxters traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina for a recording session with a string band called the Georgia Yellow Hammers. The Yellow Hammers were a white group and the Baxters were African-American. They were forced to ride to the session in separate railroad cars, but on arrival they recorded several sides together, making theirs one of the first documented cases of an integrated string-band making a recording.
In 1928, the Baxters traveled to Atlanta to make several recordings with and without the Georgia Yellow Hammers, including this recording of "Georgia Stomp."
String bands featuring fiddle and guitar, as well as banjo and mandolin, are usually associated with southern whites of this period, and are usually considered to be the forebears of modern country and bluegrass. Nevertheless, there was a strong tradition of African American string bands going back to the 1800s at least. As we have seen in earlier entries, the banjo has a well-documented history as an African American instrument, and there is evidence to suggest that the banjo itself is descended from an African instrument. Similarly, the fiddle was an instrument that was adopted by African Americans early on, thanks to its similarity to African bowed instruments.
The tradition of African American fiddle and string band music lasted until the 1920s. Lonnie Johnson, the great blues and jazz guitarist, was a fine fiddler, as was Big Bill Broonzy. Blues musician Charlie Patton, whose "Mississippi Boweavil Blues" appears on the Anthology, spent his formative years as a musician playing string band music with the musical Chatmon family.
The term "stomp" did not refer to a specific dance, but was more broadly used to refer to a range of African American dance styles of the period. The word "stomp" was frequently used in song titles, much the same way the terms "blues" and "rag" were used, in order to denote the song's African American origins.
"Georgia Stomp" is the fifth of seven tracks in a row to feature the fiddle and the fourth to feature the fiddle and guitar.
"Georgia Stomp" marks the first appearance of a human voice on the "Social Music" volume of the Anthology. The voice belongs to Jim Baxter who is not singing, but calling. Baxter uses such terms as "swing your corners/partner," "now show your partner", "break loose and walk back," and "join your partner's right hand." As is noted on the Wikipedia entry on square dancing, "The caller's task is to create dance sequences that have the qualities of good body flow, good timing, surprise dancers and are resolved with dancers in sequence and have the correct partner pairings." While Baxter's instructions might not make much sense in the context of the recording, the idea was clearly to recreate the authentic experience of hearing the song in the context of the dance.
The Great-Minds-Think-Alike Department: Check out The Old, Weird America, another blog on Smith's Anthology. While my blog focuses on history and close lyrical reading (as well as my laughable attempts at musical analysis), The Old, Weird America helps give a broader view of the artists and the songs by providing downloads of other songs by the artists in question, as well as variant recordings of the selection. It's an excellent blog and is well worth visiting.
The Shameless Plug Department is a Bad Mother...Shut Yo Mouth!: Check out the long awaited(?) fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast. On this all-blues episode, you'll hear New Year's greetings from Lightin' Hopkins and Mary Harris, as well as Delta Blues by Son House, Willie Brown and Charlie Patton. You'll also hear recordings by more obscure figures like Geeshie Wiley, Blind Joe Reynolds, William Harris, and more. Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?
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Here's the Johnson Mountain Boys in a videotaped 1990 appearance performing a song called "The Georgia Stomp." It doesn't seem to be related to the Baxter's recording beyond the name, but it is an excellent example of how string band music gradually developed into bluegrass. This particular number seems to have a lot in common with rockabilly and early rock and roll (the mandolin sounds almost Chuck Berry-ish to me).