Thursday, October 23, 2014

Week 10: Woody Guthrie

DOWNLOAD: Woody Guthrie on BOX:

READING: We can pick up again with the READER--there's a chapter included from Woody Guthrie's autobiography--Bound for Glory (pps. 57-91, with a good introduction by Studs Terkel). With drtawings by Woody Guthrie. Also see the section on his life, which starts on Reader p. 244. It's from Phil Hood, Artists of American Folk Music.  (There are other good sections from that book--on Pete Seeger, John Lomax, Odetta Carter Family, Elizabeth Cotten... I've included some of these in the Reader as well.)

Bound for Glory, cover, 1943

Also: Read this key chapter in John Szwed (Alan Lomax bio): Bohemian Folklorist (exploring the question of folksongs in the city), pps.141-167, particularly the section on Woody Guthrie in New York, pps. 157-167.  Posted on iDocs: 

SONGS: Here are the main songs for this week (all in your tan songsheets). They're ALL good songs to sing...

This Land Is Your Land  (also--compare the way Dylan recorded it early on, included in YouTube section, below)
Roll on Columbia
Blowin' Down the Road
we can also do
Do Re Mi
So Long It's Been Good to Know You (Dusty Old Dust)

Here are the (supplemental) titles on your Woody Guthrie download. I included some of his Dust Bowl ballads, (The Great Dust Storm, Tom Joad)  a "talking blues," his high-spirited version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody, some topical songs (Philadelphia Lawyer, Lindberg, and Jarama Valley) plus several other--to give you a good taste. There's of course lots more on YouTube, but this is a start (and the sound will be better...)

The Great Dust Storm (Dust Storm Disaster)
John Henry
Talking Dust Bowl Blues
Dusty Old Dust (So Long, It's Been Good To Know You)
Go Tell Aunt Rhody
Dust Bowl Blues
Blowin' Down The Road (I Ain't Going To Be Treated This Way)
Tom Joad - Part I
Pastures Of Plenty
Tom Joad - Part II
Do Re Mi
Dust Bowl Refugee
Philadelphia Lawyer
Gypsy Davy
Hobo's Lullaby
Roll On Columbia
Jarama Valley
This Land Is Your Land
When That Great Ship Went Down
Long John

Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax,and friends, New York, early 1940s

There are a number of great YouTube things as well. The first with Woody Guthrie live in an old film clip. These film clips of him are apparently rare. Can you find better? The first two are for LOOKING (so watch them carefully!!!); the next three, for listening:
Woody Guthrie performing, film fragment   
This Machine Kills Fascists  (A short Summary of the Year 1941). Sets Woody Guthrie's work in a historical context--what he (and his peers) were dealing with in the world. Good visuals...
This Land Is Your Land. Woody Guthrie's own version

Bob Dylan - (Rare The Minneapolis Party Tape) - This Land Is Your Land - YouTube 
The Bob Dylan's version I wanted you to hear is no longer on YouTube  (although I'm sure you can find it elsewhere). The one above (even earlier, from Minneapolis in 1961, will give you a good idea of how he did the song.)
Red River Valley. Woody Guthrie, early Asche recording. Compare with out S&P version (The Texian Boys, who were--in case it's not been mentioned--John Lomax and friends. I consider the Lomax version classic in terms of the meaning of the lyrics--one of our most beautiful songs. Woody Guthrie's version is sprightlier. Why do you think this is so?

Woody Guthrie's family, Okemah, Oklahoma

QUESTIONS: As with Leadbelly, there's a lot of social history in Woody Guthrie's songs--and in his life (he was born in Okemah, Oklahoma  and grew up with the music of that place--it was in him all throughout his life, even as he moved into and through MANY other social and artistic worlds. This is probably the key thing to consider: Woody Guthrie's heritage--and his life--as giving form to his songs. How did he become "a spokesman for the common man?"  (Oklahoman, vagabond, hobo, musical wanderer, hollywood radio show host, then new york, the recordings with moe asche (founder of folkways records), friendships with leadbelly, sonny terry & brownie mcgee and cisco huston, plus his influence on pete seeger (who loved the music, but didn't come from woody's "real" country background) and other subsequent "folk singers." And I left out his career in the Merchant Marine (his ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic during WWII) and the songs that came from his drawings and paintings...AND his jaunty autobiography (Bound for Glory). 

Woody Guthrie, Eric Shaal photo, New York, 1943

Monday, October 20, 2014

Weeks 8-9 Schedule Reminders

Week 8. No class this week (Thursday Oct 23). spend time with Harry Smith's 1952 Anthology, as described in my class blog. see last section in our reader for Harry Smith's original notes on the songs, published with the Anthology.

Week 9. For following week (Thursday Oct 28): we're doing LEADBELLY! We'll look at your Leadbelly projects, and I want you to know all the ins-and-outs of Leadbelly's life--give it some thought!   I'll also want to hear your comments on the Anthology.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Week 9: Leadbelly

Leadbelly & Woody Guthrie

DOWNLOAD: Leadbelly Songs

READING: Start the Alan Lomax biography, read John Szwed's introduction (pps. 1-4), and his two Leadbelly chapters: Road Scholars (pps. 31-58) and The Saga of Lead Belly (pps. 59-76). Together these will give you a good understanding the Lomax recordings--and what they went through to make them (including the unwieldy recording set up they carried in the trunk of their car). And the beginnings of an understanding of Huddie Ledbetter himself... (The Szwed book, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, is availailble in the UC Libraries (Main and Music). I believe it is available online--so that you can read this material on your laptop. Will check into a source for this--iDocs seems to have it posted: 

On the road, 1934--the Lomax car trunk

I kept this week's download a bit more manageable in size, but you'll still need to be selective as to what songs you concentrate on. Remember that our original S&P set has these three (they're basic):

Rock Island Line
Goodnight Irene
Midnight Special

The ones below are in the Leadbelly supplement download for this week. They're all good, of course, but I've picked out a few favorites. In particular, I want you to consider the words Leadbelly uses for Take This Hammer. The sequence of the verses as well...

The Gallis Pole
Duncan And Brady (Acapella)
Take This Hammer  (lyrics in gray songset--give them some thought)
Grey Goose
In The Pines
Bring A Little Water Sylvie (beautiful song to do together)
Corn Bread Rough
We Shall Be Free (with Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and Sonny Terry)
Let It Shine On Me
Blind Lemon
Sukey Jump

Leadbelly, cover of Life magazine, 1935

Here are some additional suggestions:

* Consider the chorus in Midnight Special. What WAS the Midnight Special? How did this image figure in Leadbelly's life? Look into this.
* With Rock Island Line, there's some important history: the song was subsequently covered (basically stolen) by the English Skiffle Band figure, Lonnie Donnegan (in the 1950's), who  recorded--and later copyrighted--the song as his own. Look into this. There are videos of the skiffle version on YouTube. (The same thing happened with Elizabeth Cotten's Freight Train--you can look into the details here as well.) We can discuss this phenomenon in general...
* In the Pines and Bring a Little Water, Sylvie are just plain beautiful songs...

Also, and VERY important--as you look for videos of Leadbelly, as always with YouTube it's a question of how to sort through the vast array. Here are three that I think are IMPORTANT to pay close attention to (I WANT YOU ALL TO DO THIS!):

1.  Leadbelly /  segment from the Gordon Parks film (1976)   
It's well worth watching how Gordon Parks (the distinguished African American photographer and film maker) depicts Leadbelly. There's a lot of "attitude" here--and it's worth paying close attention to. Ask yourselves, why is this film almost impossible to find...?

Leadbelly in Gordon Parks' film version, 1976

 2.  The Leadbelly "Newsreel"
In which the "story" of Leadbelly is told--with footage of John Lomax and Leadbelly acting their parts, and a narrative which stands in relief to Gordon Parks' treatment. Note that the script here was written by the March of Time newsreel producers, not John Lomax. Consider the audience--in other words, who was this for? Newsreel features were common at the time--shown in theaters before the movies. (The newsreel images are fictional--a picture follows of the actual Angola Penitentiary in a period photo.)

Leadbelly and John Lomax, from the 1935 March of Time newsreel

Angola Penitentiary (Angola, LA), period photo

3.  And finally, Leadbelly singing Goodnight Irene (with Martha Promise Ledbetter)
I just found this recently--it's a gem. Martha Promise was Leadbelly's wife...! The setting is "set up" of course--how could it not be--but their personalities shine through...

Leadbelly and Martha Promise, Wilton, Conn. 1935

A good question throughout--in fact, the main question I'd like to consider--who WAS Leadbelly? The man himself--and the figure he presented to the world (the several figures). How do we come to our own terms with the question? And in relation to Mississippi John Hurt? They both left what was home--at very different times in their lives, and under very different circumstances. How is this reflected in their characters--and in the character of their songs?


One more thought: Leadbelly's late recordings, from 1948 (made in  New York, in his apartment with Martha during those last years) are also worth looking into. (Where Woody Guthrie slept on the couch for something like a year.) They may not show Leadbelly in full vigor, but each one has a ranging introduction in his own voice--and these are priceless. Listen to his version of Goodnight Irene here--even just the beginning...

The Last Sessions
You can access these on the Music Library's Streaming Audio Databases, under American Song:
Search for Leadbell's Last Sessions and you'll find all the recordings. (There's a wealth of earlier Leadbelly material in this archive as well. Poke around!) I'm sure that at least some of it is posted on YouTube as well.


Week 8: The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music / A Sampler

For this interim week (no class on October 23) I want you to use the time to get acquainted with Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, published by Folkways Records in 1952. These three volumes, issued as a set of lps, were the source for a good part of the American folk music revival of the later 1950s and early 1960s. Harry Smith (among many other things) was an avid record collector--and the Anthology draws on his archive. The material included--mostly recordings from the 1920s and 30s--were ones some people had found again as individual records, but it was Smith's Anthology that brought the full range of them into view. It became "the folkies' bible." Note also that the Anthology was the source for two of Mississippi John Hurt's early recordings: Frankie and Spike Driver Blues, which lead to his "rediscovery" in the 1960s. We explored some of this last week. The key song was Avalon Blues--not on the Anthology, but the Anthology led to its rediscovery as well.

The Smithsonian (which acquired the Folkways records archive) reissued the Anthology as a 6-CD boxed set in 1997, with a reprint of Harry Smith's original booklet (see out Reader, pps. 269-96) and collateral essays. The original songs are all included.

It's in three sections, as devised by Smith in the original:
Volume 1:  Ballads
Volume 2:  Social Music
Volume 3:  Songs

Note that the final song on the Anthology was Henry Thomas' Fishin' Blues. That's the version that so many people learned during the folk revival--incuding Taj Mahal, who made it a central part of his early repertory. Here's his 1968 recording (now of course a classic in its own right:
There's also an earlier version  by The Lovin'Spoonful (1965). Both of these recordings will give you as glimpse of how the Anthology influenced the soon-to-follow folk revival movement.

Some have argued that there's an over-all narrative to the material (see Robert Cantwell's book, When We Were Good, a ruminative history of the Folk Revival which (as I recall) includes a very good chapter on the Harry Smith Anthology.)

I'd have you access the entire Anthology online through the Music Library resources, but apparently because of licensing issues, the full set is not available in one go. So, instead, I've put together a Sampler, posted on box, with a number of the songs. It seems most of the others are available individually on YouTube. (Or, you could purchase the box set from the Smithsonial online, about $78).  So, listen to the Sampler, and spend some time with Harry Smith's booklet (it's the last section in our reader). His mini descriptions of the songs are worthwhile in themselves, and you'll pick up a lot of other details--record labels, bibliographic notes, collage fragments--all part of Smith's eccentric genius.)

Follow your own path through this material, see what you find interesting, intriguing--do some exploring.


Note that you have some of these songs in other downloads I've prepared for the class. The source for all of them was Harry Smith's Anthology. That's why they're included here again. I wanted to chose representative samples--which means some repeats. Be sure to download the .xml file for track info.
For starts, listen to "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room," recorded by Rev. F.W.McGee.

Harry Smith, David Gahr photo

PROJECT: As announced, there's no class on the 23rd, but maybe make your own "Harry Smith" pamphlet entry (giving it a current, personal twist) for a couple of the songs--and post on your Digital Notebooks.

For the following week: LEADBELLY. See blog post for Week 9. We'll look at where Leadbelly takes you during our next regular class session, Thursday October 27.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Week 7: Mississippi John Hurt / The Songster Tradition

Mississippi John Hurt, 1964, David Gahr photo (detail)

For the next two weeks we'll explore the songster tradition--a wonderful example being the music of Mississippi John Hurt. First, here's a download on box with a selection of his songs:

READING. A good biography of MJH by Philip Radcliffe is available in the Music Library. This would be a good time to dip in. Also, you've read Norm Cohen on the folk revival movement, now (at some point) read another version--Eric von Schmidt ("Baby Let Me Follow You Down," Reader pps. 101-116) This was the period (early 1960s) when Mississippi John Hurt, by then in his 70s, became known to a wide audience... But for his story, we need to go back to Mississippi of the 1920s. Here are two very different versions. Read and consider them carefully!

*  Jas Olbrecht articlehttp://denniste/mjhurt/mjhjas.htm

And, for a more personal (and personally enlightening) view, I'll attach something Betsy (Elisabeth Dubovsky) wrote several years ago. Also a telling of the life of Mississippi John Hurt--as related to us one evening here in Berkeley by musician and poet friend Max Ochs. Max was part of the circle of people from the Washington DC area who located ("rediscovered") John Hurt in the early 1960s, in Avalon, Mississippi, invited him north, and helped introduce him to a wide and receptive new audience. Betsy's piece was published as a small chapbook edition, in 2005(Note: To maintain original formatting, you'll need to view online using MS word, or download before reading)

* With Mississippi John Hurt, by Max Ochs: 

And listen to John Hurt telling his own telling of this story (a clip from from Pete Seeger's 1960's television show, Rainbow Quest):

* Rainbow Quest: Mississippi John Hurt - Goodnight Irene - YouTube

Songs for the week. All of Mississippi John Hurt's songs are a delight, and for projects you're free to work from the ones you like best. But for singing together, here are three I like in particular:

Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor
Beulah Land(YouTube link--this song not on download)
Louis Collins

You can find all the lyrics here: MJH Lyrics – Compiled by Ken Whitfield 4-2008

John Hurt and Jessie

Also key: Avalon Blues, recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in one of those early sessions in 1928, and (because it made reference to Avalon, Miss., his hometown),  the route to his rediscover three decades later. It's on your download, but here's a YouTube link for convenience (below). The lyrics are important--you can find them in Ken Whitfield's compilation, in two versions:  MJH Lyrics – Compiled by Ken Whitfield 4-2008.     Consider where Mississippi John Hurt locates himself--the song speaks of this--and why. (How he juxtaposes Avalon, Miss. and New York City, where he'd gone for the first time to make the recording.)

* Avalon Blues:  Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues - YouTube

Montage by Ron Anton Rocz


During a later week, we'll pull the camera back and look at (and listen two!) a wider variety of songster material--and consider how it brought together so many streams from American popular music of an earlier era. More to come...