Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Saut Crapaud (Jump, Frog)" - Columbus Fruge


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Ten: "Saut Crapaud (Jump, Frog) - Fox Trot" performed by Columbus Fruge. "Vocal solo with accordion. (Cajun Dialect)" Recorded in Memphis on September 18, 1929. Original issue Victor 222184A.

Columbus Fruge (or Frugé) was from Arnaudville, Louisiana, a town in the St. Landry and St. Martin parishes in south-central portion of the state. Neither his birth date or his death date have been recorded. Virtually no details of his life exist, other than the fact that he began playing accordion as a child and was performing around his hometown by the age of eleven. In 1929, Frugé traveled to Memphis, Tennessee where he recorded four sides for Victor Records, including this version of "Saut Crapaud."

The accordion is a bellows driven free-reed aerophone instrument. Sound is produced when the bellows pushes air past a vibrating reed in the frame of the instrument (a diagram illustrates this here). Modern accordions have two sets of keys on the left and right sides of the bellows. The right hand keyboard, which sometimes resembles a piano keyboard, is used to play the melody while the left hand side is made up of preset keys which are used to play the accompaniment. Depressing the keys causes valves, called pallets, to open. This allows air to flow past strips of brass or steel, called reeds, producing a given note or chord. There are several different kinds of accordions. Bisonoric accordions produce different pitches depending on the direction of the bellows' movement. Unisonoric accordions produce the same pitch regardless of the direction of the bellows' movement. Accordions can also have different kinds of keyboards, ranging from the diatonic to the chromatic to the more familiar piano-style keyboard.

The accordion dates to early 19th-century Germany. It is generally believed to be the invention of Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, a Berlin instrument maker, in 1822 (although this has been disputed). The first instrument to use the name "accordion" was invented in 1829, in Vienna, by Cyrill Demian. It became immediately popular in Europe. By the 1830s, the instrument had spread to Britain and by the 1840s it had reached the United States. Its relative cheapness made it a popular instrument. Another reason for the accordion's popularity is its full sound. Since it is possible to play both a melody line and accompanying harmony, the accordionist is a veritable one man band. Small ensembles could nevertheless produce a very big sound (my grandfather, violinist Harry Stern, played for years in a duo with an accordionist).

The accordion soon became used in various folk musics, including Polish, Colombian, Korean, and South African musics, in addition to Cajun music. The polka craze of the early to mid-19th century is credited with contributing to the rapid spread of the accordion's popularity. Between 1910 and the 1960s, the accordion found a central place in American popular music (including the music of Lawrence Welk), which lead in turn to a popular backlash against the instrument. Although a great deal of wonderful music has been made, and continues to be made, on the accordion, the instrument generally has a poor reputation among music fans, with many people citing the accordion as their least favorite instrument.

In his notes, Harry Smith states states that "Saut Crapaud" is "the most widely known of any Arcadian (sic) dance tune." The song has a repetitious melody and strong beat, which is kept by the regular tapping of Frugé's feet. The lyrics are hard to make out, but what can be heard is generally restricted to the following couplet:

Saut crapaud ta queue va bruler.
Prends courage a'va repousser.


This translates as:

Jump toad (or frog), your tail will burn.
Take courage, it'll grow back.


According to Henry S. Wright, who consulted on the song's French lyrics, the rest of the song's vocal parts appear to be repetitions or variations of this couplet. According to Wright, the lyric is a double entendre, with the "tail" signifying the male sexual organ.

"Saut Crapaud" is the first of three Cajun songs in a row, all of them featuring the accordion (solo on the first track, in combination with other instruments on the other two). It is significant that Smith included Cajun music on the Anthology, as many surveys of Southern American music usually focus on early country and blues, forgetting about this important ethnic group. For more on the Cajun people and a capsule history, see the entry on "La Danseuse".

Things I Love About the Internet Department: Since I posted this entry on Sunday, I have received further information on Columbus Frugé and the song "Saut Crapaud." According to Neal Pomea, who posted this information on the Organissimo Bulletin Board, Frugé lived into the 1980s. Neal posted links to two 1981 recordings by Frugé (with Johnny Richard on drums and James Thibodeaux on rhythm guitar). You can check them out here: "Arnaudville Two Step" and "Valse de LeBouef." The songs were released as two sides of a 45RPM single on the Buffalo record label. Neal also provides a more fleshed out transcription of the lyrics to "Saut Crapaud":

Saute crapaud!
Ta queue va brûler!
Mais prends courage,
Elle va repousser.

Va y donc, crapaud!

L'hiver après prendre!

Saute crapaud!
Ta queue va brûler!
Mets (mais?) chère Pauline
Une tasse de café.

Oh crapaud,
Qui q'as fait ton gilet?
C'est Rose Martin,
La fille à maman.


Thanks to Neal for this valuable information!

The Shameless Plug Department (who?): The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

I've been unable to find any modern video of "Saut Crapaud." Instead, here is an example of modern Cajun music featuring the accordion. This is accordionist Charles Thibodeaux accompanied by guitar and fiddle performing "Jolie Blonde Blon."



Download and listen to Columbus Fruge - "Saut Crapaud"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Old Dog Blue" - Jim Jackson


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Nine: "Old Dog Blue" performed by Jim Jackson. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Memphis on February 2, 1928. Original issue Victor 213878 (41827).

Jim Jackson was born sometime between 1884 and 1890 in Hernando, Mississippi. His father taught him to play guitar. Around 1905, Jackson began performing in medicine shows. By 1912, he was performing at local dances, houseparties, and juke joints, sometimes in the company of Gus Cannon (later leader of Cannon's Jug Stompers, a jug band which appears on the third disc of the Anthology). Around 1915, Jackson began performing as a member of a minstrel troupe (it was not uncommon for African-Americans to perform in blackface during the 19th and early 20th centuries). Jackson also began making regular trips to Memphis during this period, performing on and around Beal Street with Cannon, Will Shade or Furry Lewis. In 1927, Jackson came to the attention of Parmount Records talent scout H.C. Speir. Believing Jackson to be a drug addict, and therefore unreliable, Speir sold Jackson's contract to Vocalion Records. It was at Vocalion that Jackson recorded one of his most popular numbers, "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues, Parts 1 & 2." The record sold very well, and some have theorized that this may have been the first million selling record (although no such records were kept at the time). In any case, the popularity of "Kansas City Blues" led Jackson to a second recording session, this time for Victor Records in 1928. At this session, Jackson recorded this version of "Old Dog Blue." Jackson would record his final session in 1930, when the Depression cut short his recording career. Jackson returned to Hernando, Mississippi to perform locally until his death in 1937.

According to Smith's liner notes, "Old Dog Blue" is a "dance tune with original words replaced by narrative lyrics." The title and original lyrics of this tune remain unknown to me. If anyone has any further information, please e-mail me at wheredeadvoicesgather1@gmail.com.

I'm going back where I come.
I'm going back where I come.
I'm going back to Giles County.
My wife died and left me a bounty.
Me and them pretty girls ganged around.
That's the reason I'm going to Giles County.

Had an old dog whose name was Blue.
You know Blue was mighty true.
You know Blue was a good old dog.
Blue treed a possum in a hollow log.
You can know from that he's a good old dog.

Blue treed a possum out on a limb.
Blue looked at me and I looked at him.
Grabbed that possum, put him in a sack.
"Don't move, Blue, 'til I get back."

It rained, it rained, yeah.
It rained, it rained, yeah.

Who been here since I been gone?
Little bitty girl with the red dress on.
Who been here since I been gone?
Little bitty girl with the red dress on.

Old Blue's feet was big and round.
Old Blue's feets was big and round.
Never 'lowed a possum to touch the ground.

Me and Blue went out on a hunt.
Blue treed a possum on hollow stump.
You know Blue was a good old dog.
Blue treed a possum in a hollow log.
You will know from that he's a good old dog.

But old Blue died and I dug his grave.
I dug his grave with a silver spade.
I laid him down with a golden chain.
And at every link I called his name.

One Blue, you good dog you.
One Blue, you good dog you.

Blue laid down and died like a man.
Blue laid down and died like a man.
Now he's treein' possums in the promised land.
I'm goin' to tell you just to let you know,
Old Blue's gone where good dogs go.

When I hear old Blue bark.
When I hear old Blue bark.
Blue treed a possum in Noah's Ark.
Blue treed a possum in Noah's Ark.


The existing narrative provides one of those lyrical parallels of which Smith was so fond. The previous track, "Old Country Stomp" (also by an African-American musician playing in a style that predates the blues) contains lyrics that speak of "going away" and "going back to Baltimore." Jackson begins "Old Dog Blue" with the words, "I'm going back to Giles County." There are Giles Counties in both Virginia and Tennessee. Given Jackson's Mississippi origins and the fact that this song was recorded in Memphis, it's likely that the Giles County referred to in this song is the one in Tennessee. The speaker then goes on to describe how his "wife died and left [him] a bounty," leaving him surrounded by "pretty girls." Whether he's going back to Giles County to get away from the "pretty girls" who "gang around" or whether he's going back to court the girls is unclear. An interesting essay on the blog The Celestial Monochord takes this as a sexist remark, especially in light of the speaker's grief at the later death of his dog. Personally, I don't think it is evidence of sexism, or if it is, it is not evidence of sexism on Jackson's part. Marriages for love are a relatively recent invention. In earlier times, a woman might be married to a man because her father did business with him, or because a political alliance between the two families would be mutually advantageous. In any case, it is likely that such marriages were not terribly happy ones, and in such cases the death of a spouse might not be treated terribly seriously. In Uncle Dave Macon's recording of "Way Down The Old Plank Road" (a song which appears on the third volume of the Anthology), Macon sings:

My wife died a Friday night, Saturday she was buried,
Sunday was my courting day, Monday I got married.


This doesn't mean that either Jackson or Macon were sexist (although both probably adhered to the inherently sexist attitudes of the period), but that song lyrics referring to the death of a spouse in a humorous or callous manner were common and were part of the pool of floating folk lyrics that many songwriters drew from.

In the subsequent verses, "Old Dog Blue" tells the story of the speaker's late dog, a dog that is described as "good" and "true." There are frequent references to Blue "tree[ing] possum[s]," certainly laudable behavior from a hunting dog. When Blue dies, he is described as dying "like a man." The speaker digs Blue's "grave with a silver spade" and lowers "him down with a golden chain," an image that comes up again in "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," another song that appears later on the Anthology, this time in a recording by Blind Lemon Jefferson. The lyric which describes calling Blue's name with "every link" of the golden chain is similar to the song "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," also known as "Gospel Plow."

According to Smith's notes, the one verse that might come from the original dance song is the verse that contains the lyric:

Who been here since I been gone?
Little bitty girl with the red dress on.
Who been here since I been gone?
Little bitty girl with the red dress on.


The image of the "girl with the red dress on" is a recurring image in several dance songs. One that springs immediately to mind is Ray Charles's "What'd I Say," in which he sings:

See the girl with the red dress on.
She can do the Birdland all night long.


While "Old Dog Blue" contains narrative lyrics, I stop short of describing the song as a ballad. It contains story elements, but it does not tell a story in the same way that "Henry Lee" or "Stackalee" tell a story. "Old Dog Blue" is rather filled out with floating verses, some of which might have come from an actual ballad.

"Old Dog Blue" is the second of two guitar driven songs in a row that feature pre-blues African American artists. The next three songs return us to Acadia and the Cajun people therein.

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 (what?): The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Here are the Byrds with a rocking version of "Old Dog Blue" recorded in 1970 at the Kralingen Pop Festival in the Netherlands.



Download and listen to Jim Jackson - "Old Dog Blue"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Old Country Stomp" - Henry Thomas



Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Eight: "Old Country Stomp" performed by Henry Thomas "Ragtime Texas". "Vocal solo with guitar and whistle." Recorded in Chicago on June 13, 1928. Original issue Vocalion 1230.

Born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, Henry Thomas (also known as "Ragtime Texas" Thomas) performed on the streets of Dallas as a young man. He was reportedly something of a hobo, traveling around and performing music. Between 1927 and 1929, Thomas recorded twenty-three sides for Vocalion Records, including the two songs heard on the Anthology. Nothing is known of Thomas's life after 1929 and his death date is unrecorded, although it is estimated that he died sometime during the 1950s or '60s.

Thanks to the exposure provided by the Anthology, Thomas has exerted considerable influence on artists in the '50s and '60s. Both Taj Mahal and the Lovin' Spoonful have covered Thomas's "Fishing Blues" (which appears later on the third volume), Canned Heat covered Thomas's "Bull Doze Blues" as "Goin' Up The Country," Bob Dylan covered "Honey Won't You Allow Me One More Chance" and the Grateful Dead covered "Don't Ease Me In."

Thomas is unique because he was in his fifties when he recorded in the '20s, making him considerably older than most of the African-American musicians who appear on the Anthology. Thomas therefore presents a rare example of the pre-blues "songster" style of African-American music. According to the Wikipedia entry on "songsters", "songsters generally performed a wide variety of folk songs, ballads, dance tunes, reels and minstrel songs." The songsters exerted a considerable influence on blues music, which evolved during the early 1900s.

"Old Country Stomp" is a fairly simple tune with a repetitive riff and a strong rhythm (although Thomas speeds the tempo up during the first few bars of the song, following the introduction). This is the third song on the "Social Music" collection to feature the human voice, but unlike the first two, "Old Country Stomp" includes actual singing (as opposed to speaking or whooping). During the first two verses, Thomas sings instructions similar to the "calling" featured on "Georgia Stomp". All of the verses that follow feature folk lyric clusters, which seems to have little relationship to one another, other to declare that the singer "is going away," that he is "going back to Baltimore," and wishing his friends "fare you well."

Get your partner, promenade.
Promenade, go around now.

[Unintelligible] this side of the room.
Take your partners, promenade.

I'm going away, I'm going away.
I'm going away, I'm going away.

I'm going back to Baltimore.

Fare you well, fare you well.
Fare you well, fare you well.

[Unintelligible verse]

Goodbye boys, fare you well.
Goodbye boys, fare you well.

I'm going back to Baltimore.
I'm going back to Baltimore.

That's all right 'cause I'm gone.
That's all right 'cause I'm gone.

Come on boys, go with me.
Come on boys and go with me.


Thomas's music is remarkable both for his laconic singing style and for his use of the quills, an African-American pan flute made of cane. Thomas likely suspended his quills from a harmonica rack, allowing him to play the guitar and quills simultaneously. The pan flute or pan pipe is one of the oldest wind instruments known to man. It consists of five or more closed tubes of gradually increasing length and/or width bound together. The player blows across the top of the tubes to produce a pitch. The pan flute is considered to be an ancestor of both the pipe organ and the harmonica. The use of the quills on Thomas's recordings give them a strangely paleolithic sound, making them seem archaic, even for the period during which they were recorded. When Canned Heat covered one of Thomas's songs, they made use of the quills to give their music a similarly archaic sound.

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.

Deep Inside The Shameless Plug Department: The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Here's a version of "Old Country Stomp" performed by John Price on guitar, Tim Rowell on banjo, Tim Baldanzi on mandolin and Ren Price on bass. Their rendition is quite delicate and is, sadly, somewhat overwhelmed by the sound of the crowd. Nevertheless, they do a spirited job with a fairly obscure number.



Download and listen to Henry Thomas - "Old Country Stomp"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Indian War Whoop" - Floyd Ming and His Pep-Steppers


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Seven: "Indian War Whoop (Country Dance)" performed by Floyd Ming and His Pep-Steppers. "Violin with two guitars, autoharp. stamping and vocal sounds." Recorded in Memphis on February 13, 1928. Original issue Victor 21294A (41896).

Born in 1902, little biographical information is available on fiddler Hoyt Ming (who was mistakenly credited as "Floyd" on the original release of "Indian War Whoop"). He reportedly spent most of his life working as a potato farmer. Along with family members Rozelle (guitar) and Troy Ming (mandolin), Hoyt led the Tupelo, Mississippi-based Pep-Steppers. The Pep-Steppers performed at state fairs and local dances, before auditioning for producer Ralph Peer in a local drug store. Having passed the audition, the Pep-Steppers recorded four sides for Peer, including this version of "Indian War Whoop."

By 1957, Ming and his family had given up performing. The inclusion of "Indian War Whoop" on the Anthology rekindled interest in Ming's music and the band was reformed. The Pep-Steppers went on to perform at numerous folk festivals, including the 1973 National Folk Festival and the 1974 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. They also made an appearance in the 1976 film Ode To Bille Joe, based on the 1967 country hit by Bobbie Gentry.

In addition to getting Ming's first name wrong, the label also erroneously lists the instruments on this session as including a second guitar and autoharp, omitting Troy Ming's mandolin.

The mandolin is a musical instrument of the lute family. It is generally hollow-bodied with one or more soundholes of varying shape. The standard mandolin has eight strings in two sets of four (called courses). These can be plucked or strummed. There are several varieties of mandolin with as few as four strings and as many as twelve. The mandolin is descended from the mandore or mandola, a soprano member of the lute family that became popular during the fourteenth century. The modern mandolin evolved in Naples during the seventeenth century, and Neapolitan mandolins became standard throughout Europe during the nineteenth century. It was likely during this period that the mandolin came to the United States. In 1894, Orville Gibson - a self-taught luthier working in Kalamazoo, Michigan - designed the flat-backed, arch topped mandolins used in bluegrass, folk, country music, and jazz today.

"Indian War Whoop" is an energetic up-tempo number. It features the sound of Rozelle Ming's stomping feet (a sound that gave the Pep-Steppers their name). Rozelle had initially declined to stomp her feet during the recording session, fearing that the sound would get in the way of the music. Producer Ralph Peer is credited with insisting on the sound of stomping feet. In his notes, Smith points out that the sound of drumming feet is rare outside of religious music. This number is the second on the "Social Music" volume to feature the sound of the human voice. The voice likely belongs to Hoyt Ming, although the higher voice may be Rozelle's. In his notes, Smith remarks that the title "Indian War Whoop" was not indicative of any Native American influence, but rather "Romanticism akin to that of 'western' movies." Hoyt Ming's fiddling is wild and (possibly deliberately) primitive. A version of "Indian War Whoop" was recorded by the late John Hartford for inclusion in the Coen Brother's O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song is used in scene in which a mob is carrying off gangster George "Babyface" Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

"Indian War Whoop" is the last of seven tracks in a row to feature the fiddle. It is also the last of seven largely instrumental performances.

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.

Behind The Shameless Plug Department: The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Here's a spirited early '80s performance of "Indian War Whoop" by Doctor Scantlin's Red Hot Peppers...



Download and listen to Floyd Ming and His Pep-Steppers - "Indian War Whoop"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Brilliancy Medley" - Eck Robertson and Family


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Six: "Brilliancy Medley" performed by Eck Robertson and Family. "Violin with two guitars, banjo." Recorded in Dallas on October 11, 1929. Original issue Victor 40298A.

Alexander "Eck" Robertson was born on November 20, 1887 in Delaney, Arkansas. At the age of three, his family moved to a farm in the Texas panhandle where Robertson was raised. His father, a Confederate Civil War veteran, was a fiddler as were Robertson's grandfather and uncles. At five, Robertson began studying violin, later taking up guitar and banjo. In 1904, at the age of sixteen, Robertson left home to become a professional musician and traveled through the Indian Territories with a medicine show. By 1906, Robertson was married and settled in Vernon, Texas. Nettie, his wife, was also a musician and they performed together in silent movie theaters and in fiddle contests. They also performed at Old Confederate Soldiers Reunions throughout the South. It was at one such event that Robertson met Henry C. Gilliland, a 74-year-old fiddler who became Robertson's performing partner. In 1922, Robertson and Gilliland went to New York City in order to audition for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Passing the audition, Robertson and Gilliland recorded four fiddle duets which are now regarded as the very first country records ever made. The records were not strongly promoted until Fiddlin' John Carson's Columbia recordings were released in 1923, sparking a sudden boom in "Old Time Country Music." Once the electrical recording process became standard after 1927, Robertson's 1922 recordings fell out of print.

Robertson was not recorded again until 1929 in Dallas, Texas. Robertson - accompanied by Nettie and their daughter, Daphene on guitar and son, Dueron, on banjo - recorded ten sides, including this recording of "Brilliancy Medley." Robertson would be recorded only two more times in his life. One session, from 1940, yielded no releases and no written studio records have survived to tell us what was recorded, although it is claimed that Robertson recorded more than 100 fiddle tunes during the week long session. A second session, in 1963, was eventually released on the LP Eck Robertson, Famous Cowboy Fiddler. Meanwhile, Robertson continued performing, appearing at the UCLA Folk Festival in 1964 and the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. He died in 1975.

According to Smith's notes, "Brilliancy Medley" is made up of "traditional tunes," but I have been unable to uncover exactly what these tunes are. If anyone has any information, please e-mail me at wheredeadvoicesgather1@gmail.com.

Smith also notes that Robertson's style on this recording is "quite archaic in its studied and exaltant (sic) formality." However, he goes on to say that the tune is rhythmically modern, stating that it "is more suited to the popular dance steps of the 1920s than for square dancing." This might have been a choice made by the supervisor on the session, or it may have been a personal choice made by Robertson who wished to make a record that would sell.

This recording of "Brilliancy Medley" is certainly full of energy. The rhythm laid down by Nettie and Daphne Robertson is infectious and makes even a modern listener (or at least this modern listener) want to take to his heels and dance. This may be a function of the relatively "modern" rhythmic style described by Smith, but Robertson's high spirited fiddling is at least as much of a factor.

"Brilliancy Medley" is the sixth recording in a row on the "Social Music" volume to feature the fiddle. Smith's deliberate highlighting of the fiddle on this volume speaks to the instrument's prominent place among both whites and blacks in the dance music of the American South in the period leading up to the 1920s.

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 Devil In The Shameless Plug Department: The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Here is the British Folk-Rock group the Fairport Convention performing "Brilliancy Medley" on a 1973 episode of "The Old Grey Whistle Test."



Download and listen to Eck Robertson and Family - "Brilliancy Medley"

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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

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).



Download and listen to Andrew and Jim Baxter - "Georgia Stomp"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"La Danseuse (The Dancer)" - Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Four: "La Danseuse (The Dancer) - Fox Trot" performed by Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard. "Violin with guitar." Recorded in Chicago on January 26, 1929. Original issue Vocalion 5303.

Delma Lachney was a fiddler and vocalist from around Marksville, Louisiana, which is located in the central part of the state. There is little biographical information other than birth and death dates (1896-1947) and the fact that Lachney traveled to Chicago in 1929 to record a handful of sides for Vocalion. On most of these sides, he is accompanied by Alcide "Blind Uncle" Gaspard (1880-1937) on guitar. Gaspard was from neighboring Avoyelles Parish, although there is no evidence to suggest that he and Lachney had played together before this recording session (at which Gaspard also recorded several solo sides).

This recording marks the first appearance by Cajun or Acadian musicians on the Anthology. The music of the Acadian people is a major part of the Anthology and their history deserves to be examined in brief.

Modern Cajuns are descended from French settlers in the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada and what is present day Maine. In the mid-1700s, these settlers were violently expelled from Canada by the British. Some became indentured servants in New York and Pennsylvania, while others were sent to South Carolina and Georgia, where they were sold into slavery. In 1754, the first Acadian settlers arrived in Louisiana from New York. By the 1760s, Acadians were settling in Louisiana (which was still a French territory) in large numbers. Over time, elements of Spanish, English and African cultures were mixed with their French heritage - largely through intermarriage - resulting in a wholly unique culture. Even their language, while still nominally French, is entirely distinct from the language as spoken in France and in French Canada. Several industries established by Cajuns, including rice cultivation and the shrimp fishery, have evolved into some of the major industries in the state of Louisiana.

When the Acadians were expelled from the Maritimes, they brought with them the traditional music of their French homeland. In the late 1800s, affordable accordions had become available while at the same time popular dances such as the waltz and the two-step were becoming widespread. These elements combined with the traditional French ballads already sung in the bayou to create what eventually became Cajun music. Modern Cajun music seems to have evolved around 1900, roughly the same time that jazz and blues were starting. Several pioneering Cajun artists appear on the Anthology, including Columbus Fruge, Joseph Falcon, and Le Breux Freres, all of whom we will hear later on this set.

According to Smith's notes, "La Danseuse" is notable for the "steady and regular unison rhythm" which is "very typical of Louisiana." Compared to the first three selections on this set, "La Danseuse" is comparatively sedate in mood. The guitar, played by Gaspard, keeps a steady Fox Trot rhythm while Lachney's fiddle plays a brisk melody punctuated by sections of slow bowing, creating a certain tension which is suddenly released when Lachney returns to the brisk melody. This selection is the fourth of seven tracks in a row which feature the fiddle.

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...What?: 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

Unable to find any video of a latter-day performance of "La Danseuse," I have instead selected a video featuring Cajun fiddle playing. Here's PeakFiddler (who isn't a Cajun) performing in the Cajun style.



Download and listen to Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard - "La Danseuse"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Wake Up Jacob" - Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers


Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Three: "Wake Up Jacob" performed by Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Rambers. "Violin with two guitar." Recorded in Dallas on June 26, 1929. Original issue Okeh 45375 (402730).

Born in Terrell, Texas in 1900, Archie "Prince" Albert Hunt was a master fiddler. He frequently collaborated with guitarist Harmon Clem, who appears on this recording of "Wake Up Jacob" along with an unknown second guitarist. Hunt's style is considered to be a forbear of Western Swing. Hunt was known to have performed in blackface and was reportedly well-versed in the blues, still a relatively new style during Hunt's early years. In addition to playing with his own Texas Ramblers, Hunt was also known to have performed with fellow Texans Oscar and Doc Harper. He recorded two sessions for the Okeh label during the late '20s, recording "Wake Up Jacob" during his second session in 1929. Hunt was shot to death by a jealous husband in 1931.

According to Smith's liner notes, "Wake Up Jacob" is also known as "Wild Horse," "particularly in North Carolina, Kentucky and other central eastern states." It is also known as "Stony Point," "Stony Point Reel," "Hop Along Sally," "Old Dad," and "Hop Skip Squirrel," among other titles. The song is reportedly descended from "Kelton's Reel." The song dates from the early to mid 19th century. Among its earliest published forms is in Old Dan Emmett’s Original Banjo Melodies (1844). There are also versions of this song that contain lyrics.

In his liner notes, Smith points out the "elaborate complex of accent variations" in this performance, noting that "relative freedom with melody took place earlier in Texas and Louisiana than in more northern states, probably because of a greater diversification of cultures along the Gulf Coast." In the next selection, we will encounter one of those diverse cultures that made this region so creatively fertile...

"Wake Up Jacob" is the third of seven tracks that feature the fiddle in combination with various instruments. The addition of a second guitar on this track allows for considerable interplay between the two guitars, in addition to the interplay between guitar and fiddle. The tune is repetitious, but Hunt's playing is spirited, always holding the listeners interest and almost compelling one to move about. As is the case with the other tracks heard thus far on this volume, the rhythm is simple and driving.

The Shameless Plug Department - Yada yada yada: 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?

You can also become a fan of "Where Dead Voices Gather" on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Where Dead Voices Gather: Using today's technology to promote yesterday's music!

The great Porter Wagoner is best known to many music fans as the man who introduced Dolly Parton to the world (as well as being a superb duet partner for her). He was more than that, of course. Here he is performing a vocal version of "Wake Up Jacob," complete with fiddle. Look for Dolly in the chorus!



Here's an excellent version of the song performed as "Stoney Point" on banjo.



This is another version of "Stoney Point," this time performed on guitar by "Coty."



Download and listen to Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers - "Wake Up Jacob"