Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pickin' Women: Mary Z. Cox

Clawhammer banjo, perhaps more than any other instrument, is instantly associated with old-time music. Long before Earl Scruggs popularized his drop-thumb or three-finger style of banjo playing, the banjo was either strummed or fingered clawhammer style. (Note to all of you Charlie Poole fans, yes, I know Poole was playing drop-thumb style in the late 1920's, but it wasn't a common method until Scruggs hit the scene in 1948.) Most often played on an open-back (sometimes referred to as a "riverboat") banjo, the clawhammer style is the more melodic of the two styles.

Mary Z. Cox is one of the handful of true virtuosos of this often overlooked style. A third generation Floridian, Mary received her first banjo when she was twelve years old. Music runs in her family. Her Granddad Thompson was a professional banjo player and his father was an old time fiddler from St. Joe, Missouri. A multi-instrumentalist, Mary plays banjo, banjolin, and dulcimer with her husband, guitarist, Bob Cox. She has won contests in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama, playing banjo, mountain dulcimer, and old time string band music. Like many musicians with a passion for their trade, Mary teaches at camps and workshops to pass her love of old-time music to a new generation. She has three banjo CDs (and one in the works) and a dulcimer CD, available at Amazon, CDBaby, County Sales, Elderly, and, of course, directly from Mary Z. Cox.
Beautiful, laid-back melodies that will have your toes a tappin'. For all of you aspiring clawhammer players Mary has tabulature books for two of her banjo CDs and her also for her dulcimer CD.
Ya'll are gonna enjoy this...

Mary Z. Cox - Sally Ann

Mary Z. Cox - Snowdrop

Mole in the Ground (video) Quicktime movie, opens in new window. Give it time to load.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Old time roots

The north Georgia hills were mighty fertile grounds for old time musicians in the 1920's. Fiddlin' John Carson, Gid Tanner and his Skillet Licker's, A.A. Gray, Seven Foot Dilly (John Dilleshaw) and his Dill Pickles...
That's the Dill Pickles pictured here. You can see why Dilleshaw was known as Seven Foot Dilly, why he's left-handed!

John Dilleshaw, known as Seven Foot Dilly, was no doubt an imposing figure at 6'-7". The combination of bowed bass, tenor banjo, and powerful guitar runs made the Dill Pickles one of the premier strings bands of the 1920's. On March 20, 1930 John Dilleshaw and A.A. Gray met in Atlanta to record several sides for the Okeh label.

Ahaz Augustus (A.A.) Gray was born in 1881 in Carroll County, Georgia. His older brother taught him to play the fiddle when he was seven years old. Like most of the other rural musicians of his day, A.A. Gray was a farmer by day and a fiddler on weekend evenings. Saturday nights usually found the Gray family hosting a musical "get-together" in their home. His wife sang and played the guitar, as did their son Earl and their daughter, Gladys, who also played the organ. A.A. Gray was often a contestant, and frequently a winner, at fiddle contests throughout Georgia and Alabama.

A.A. Gray & Seven Foot Dilly - Streak Of Lean Streak Of Fat

Aside from the assumption that the Aiken County String Band hailed from South Carolina, nothing is known about them. This lone recording was made on September 19, 1927 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Aiken County String Band - High Sheriff

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Give me old-time music

Just what is "old-time" music? A lot of folks would guess that it is the rural music that preceded the string band music of the 1920's and '30's. Funny thing is, the artists recording in the 1920's called it "old-time" music! If it was already "old-time" in the '20's, just how old is it?
To most, "old-time" music conjures thoughts of music before mass media (video, TV, and even radio). Actually, the term was first used as a marketing move by Okeh Records around 1923. Fiddlin' John Carson, a Georgia farmer and local fiddle champion, recorded several discs for Okeh that turned out to be wildly successful, to the label's surprise. Even John Carson was surprised with his success, reportedly saying "I'll have to quit making moonshine and start making records".
At first Okeh listed the records under the "popular" section of their catalog, but they were out of place with the slicker jazz records there. They didn't belong in the "race" records section either. So Okeh settled on the "old-time" moniker and it stuck.

Arthur Smith & His Dixie Liners - Give Me Old-Time Music

Ernest Stoneman - All I Got's Gone

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Norman & Nancy Back Home in Sulphur Springs

Back home in Sulphur Springs. For over 30 years they have actually lived in an old house in Rising Fawn, Georgia, just down the road from Norman's childhood home in Sulphur Springs. It's been just about that long since Norman Blake has been in an airplane, preferring to travel by car and more recently by motorhome. I can't say as I blame them. The road can be tiring on body and soul.

Let's hope that they record and share some of the fine music you just know will be coming from their porch.

Norman & Nancy Blake-We're Living in the Future - from Nashville Blues (Rounder 1984)

Norman & Nancy Blake - Don't Be Afraid of the Neo Con - hidden bonus track from Back Home in Sulphur Springs (Plectrafone 2005) Buy it here

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Norman & Nancy's "Chamber-folk"

Norman And Nancy Blake are known for their preservation of the string band and old time music of the southern Appalachians. With both of them being talented multi-instrumentalists it was only natural that they would experiment with their sound and music. During the early and mid 1980s, they developed an old time parlor music sound with Norman on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle; Nancy on cello, fiddle, mandolin and single-row accordian; and their friend Charlie Collins on fiddle and second guitar. In 1981 they released Full Moon on the Farm under the name Norman Blake and the Rising Fawn String Ensemble. Critics loved the sound and took to calling it "Chamber-folk".

Norman & Nancy Blake - Forked Deer - from The Hobo's Last Ride (Shanachie 1996)

Norman Blake & the Rising Fawn String Ensemble - OBC #3 - from Full Moon on the Farm (Rounder 1981) OBC #3 is the third variation of the song "The Old Brown Case", first recorded on the Fields of November album.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Norman plays well with others

Norman Blake played with June Carter's road band, which led to his recording sessions with Johnny Cash and his inclusion in Cash's band for his 1969 summer TV show. His sessions with Johnny Cash led to his being asked to play on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album. After touring and recording with Kris Kristofferson and then Joan Baez, he joined forces with John Hartford, Tut Taylor and Vassar Clements to record the progressive Aereo Plain album. Tut Taylor and Norman Blake have since collaborated on several projects.

One of the finest recordings of the era was an album put together on the spur of the moment by David Holland, recorded on one Saturday afternoon in Nashville. Simply titled Norman Blake / Tut Taylor / Sam Bush / Butch Robins / Vassar Clements / David Holland / Jethro Burns.

Blake/Taylor/Bush/Robins/Clements/Holland - McKinley's Blues - from Blake/Taylor/Bush/Robins/Clements/Holland/Burns (Flying Fish 1974)

Tut Taylor & Norman Blake - Bad Blake's Blues - from Tut Taylor's The Old Post Office (Flying Fish [approx]1971)

-Bonus File-
I don't normally take requests, but this is just too good a song not to post.
Jean Ritchie's song of a mining town after the mine has closed, has been recorded by June Carter, Johnny Cash, and countless others. Norman's rendition is, to me, the most moving.

Norman Blake - The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore - from Directions (Takoma 1978)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Norman and the Railroad

While preparing yesterday's post and listening to my Norman Blake collection, it occurred to me that I could post two songs by Norman Blake every day for nearly two years and only post songs from his own albums!

I've decided to comb through my collection and devote this week to Norman Blake. As it turns out, this is not as easy as I first thought. I have 32 albums by Norman Blake and that doesn't include his collaborations with others, such as those with Tut Taylor, Red Rector, or John Hartford's Aereo Plain.

Norman Blake grew up in Sulphur Springs, Georgia up the hillside from the train depot. The trains were a big part of his life and have played a major role in his music.

Norman Blake - Southern Railroad Blues - from Fields of November (Rounder 1974)

Norman Blake - Slow Train Through Georgia - from Whiskey Before Breakfast (Rounder 1976)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

End of the road for Norman and Nancy?

Thirty-some years ago, Norman Blake set off with his first solo album, Home in Sulphur Springs. I bought my copy of that album when it was released in 1972 and still cherish it as one of my favorites. Acoustic Guitar magazine lists Home in Sulphur Springs as one of the top ten "essential" bluegrass and country recordings and Flatpicking Guitar magazine considers Norman a "Legend".

Over the years, Norman Blake has played and recorded with a varied assortment of musicians including; The Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford, Tut Taylor, Vassar Clements, Michelle Shocked, Steve Earle... And appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's legendary "Will the Circle be Unbroken" album. He also contributed to the soundtracks of the movies "Cold Mountain" and "O Brother, Where art Thou?"

Norman describes Home in Sulfur Springs and the new release, Back Home in Sulfur Springs, as "bookends" to a career. Nancy adds "We've always looked at the records he and I have made together as chapters in a novel. We never knew quite how it was going to end up. But this at least creates an off ramp for quitting the road. Not quitting the music. We'll be playing 'til we flop. It's just that the road's really kicking our rear end and we've got to find a better way."

Norman Blake - Down Home Summertime Blues - from Home in Sulphur Springs (1972)

Norman Blake - Church St. Blues - from Whiskey Before Breakfast (1976)

Both of these albums were released on the Rounder label and re-released as CDs. For the complete collection of Norman Blake on Rounder/Flying Fish look here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pickin' Women - continued

Phyllis Boyens, singer and actress, is best remembered for her roll as Loretta Lynn's mother in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter", but she has also had a successful singing career. She has sung with the Reel World String Band, folk legend Hazel Dickens, and recorded several songs for the "Coal Miming Women" cd. This cut is from the now out-of-print "I Really Care" lp from Rounder Records.

Mary Gilihan first played the Autoharp in fifth grade in east central Illinois. She performs with her husband, Robert, and their good friend Dave Smith as Harmony. This cut is from the great Autoharp Legacy 3 cd set.

Phyllis Boyens - The Last Old Shovel

Mary Gilihan - Fifty Miles of Elbow Room

Ya'll have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pickin' Women - part 1

"Abigail Washburn never set out to be a songwriter or a recording artist. So when she found herself on stage in a smoke filled Beijing club playing her banjo and singing old time Appalachian mountain music in Chinese to a packed house, she was as surprised as anyone." - from her myspace page

A trip to China while in her freshman year at Colorado College got her interested in Asian Studies. Upon her return home to the U.S., she became interested in the roots and traditions of American culture, particularly those of the Appalachians. Her cd, Song of the Traveling Daughter is a unique blend of East meets West. Co-produced by Reid Scelza and Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn sings and plays clawhammer banjo backed by Ben Sollee on cello, guitarist Jordan McConnell (of The Duhks), upright bass player Amanda Kowalski, fiddler Casey Driessen, percussionist Ryan Hoyle (of Collective Soul), keyboard and accordion player Tim Lauer, along with Bela Fleck's national steel guitar and banjo. Although the songs are traditional Appalachian in sound, she sings a couple of the songs in Chinese.

Abigail Washburn - Sometimes

Pickin' Women - part 2

Becky Schlegel was raised on the prairie lands of central South Dakota. After a childhood of piano lessons and choir practice, she joined her mother's country band while still in high school. While attending college in Minnesota, she traded in her keyboards for guitar and banjo and started down that slippery road to Bluegrass.

She has been featured at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual trade show, and has appeared on Public Radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" several times.

She has three cd's available here. This cut is from her first cd with her (then) band True Blue.

Becky Schlegel and True Blue - Carolina Rain

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

First, ya gotta empty that jug.

Regular riders here on the Bus know that we are fond of Jug Band music.
After the Civil War, homemade instruments were common, with traditional European instruments being very expensive, if they could be found. Especially for rural Black musicians, who improvised with whatever was at hand. Earthenware jugs, washboards, spoons, all were turned to musical service. Gus Cannon (Cannon's Jug Stompers) is said to have made his first banjo from a bread pan and a broom handle.

Jug Bands started along the waterfront in Louisville, Kentucky around the turn of the century and quickly spread along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The music was lively, and full of good cheer. By 1910 Clifford Hayes, Earl McDonald's Dixieland Jug Blowers (later known as The Original Louisville Jug Band), and many other Jug Bands were playing in Louisville.

The Memphis Jug Band played on the streets of Memphis as well as at high society parties and even at the mayor's inauguration ceremonies. Jug Band music was very popular in the south during the 1920s and '30s. In 1926, folks attending the Kentucky Derby heard sets by the Louisville Jug Band, the Mud Gutters Jug Band, Whistler's Jug Band, the Faust Brothers Jug Band, the Henry Smith Jug Band, the Jess Ferguson Jug Band, Mike Perkin's Jug Band, and the Clifford Hayes Orchestra. Pretty high faluten stuff for musicians playing household implements!

Cannon's Jug Stompers - Feather Bed

Memphis Jug Band - K.C. Moan

Cincinnati Jug Band - Newport Blues

Monday, January 16, 2006

Rag Mama

Although most of his recordings were from a relatively short period, 1935 to 1940, Blind Boy Fuller was one of the most influential of the early Piedmont Blues musicians. A superb vocalist and master of the National steel guitar, Fuller recorded in many styles; slide, ragtime, pop, and blues. Much of his repertoire is kept alive by the great Piedmont Blues artists of today, such as Cephus & Wiggins.
It was his uptempo ragtime recordings backed by Bull City Red on washboard and kazoo that are favorites of mine.

Blind Boy Fuller - Rag Mama Rag

Blind Boy Fuller - Jitterbug Rag

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"Oh, God, for one more breath"

The recent tragedy at the Sago Mine in West Virginia reminded us of what it takes to keep our electronic society going. In these days of telecommuting, Powerpoint presentations, and cell phones, none of it would be possible without the fuel to satisfy our electronic appetite.

A few of the worst mine disasters in North America:
1900 - Explosion - Scofield, Utah - 200 dead
1902 - Explosion - Coal Creek, Alberta - 128 dead
1902 - Explosion - Coal Creek, Tennessee - 184 dead
1907 - Explosion - Monongah, West Virginia - 362 dead
1909 - Fire - Cherry Mine, Illinois - 259 dead
1913 - Explosion - Stag Canon, New Mexico - 263 dead
1914 - Explosion - Hillcrest, Alberta - 189 dead

Phyllis Boyens - Blue Diamond Mines
Reel World String Band - What She Aims To Be
These two songs from the "Coal Miming Women" cd.
James Keelaghan - Hillcrest Mine
from the "Small Rebellions" cd.

The title of this post is from a note found on the body of Henry Beach, Fraterville Mine, Coal Creek, Tennessee, 1902. This post is dedicated to mining families everywhere.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Roadhouse Friday

It's Friday Again!
Whiskey glasses clink in a darkened, smoke-filled room. She struts across the stage to the microphone. In a flash the stage is flooded with white hot light as the band kicks into a driving blues beat.
Her voice is a cocktail of whiskey and honey. Lou Ann Barton has fronted Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Room Full Of Blues, The Five Careless Lovers, and Lou Ann and The Fliptops. Following in the footsteps of a long line of great women blues artists, Lou Ann Barton is one of the few female artists performing pure, raw roadhouse blues nowadays. Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli are the only others that come to mind. To truly appreciate the power they have over an audience, you need to see any of these women belt out a song live.

Friday night, kids, and I plan on steppin' out.
Ya'll have a good weekend.

Lou Ann Barton - I'm Old Enough

Lou Ann Barton - Brand New Lover

Lou Ann Barton with Rockola & Stevie Ray Vaughan -Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Serendipity & Television

The Folk Revival.
Good, clean, wholesome young folks.

The Serendipity Singers were formed at the University of Colorado in the early sixties and moved to New York in search of their fame and fortune. They got their break in 1964 with an appearance on the weekly ABC-TV folk showcase Hootenanny followed by a recording contract with Phillips. "Crooked Little Man" sat on the charts for over six months.

Another squeaky clean group from the same period were Joe & Eddie. Joe Gilbert, originally from New Orleans, and Eddie Brown, from Norfolk, Virginia, met and began singing together in high school after each of their families moved to Berkeley, California. At the urging of their choir instructor, they bagan singing for parties at the nearby University of California at Berkeley and at local clubs. Their big break came, much as it did for the Serendipity Singers, on the tiny black and white screen. They appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show, The Tonite Show, and, yes, Hootenanny.

The Serendipity Singers - Crooked Little Man

Joe & Eddie - Jerry

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pink elephants

Pink elephants and hangovers aren't the worst that those of us who enjoy a few spirits now and again have to endure.

Coley Jones - Drunkard's Special

Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers - Too Much Mountain Dew

Ian & Sylvia - Moonshine Can

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thoroughly modern Gents

The Country Gentlemen were without argument, one of the most influential bands in Bluegrass. Although the personnel changes were hard to keep up with over the years, it was the core of Charlie Waller and John Duffy that gave the Country Gents their unique sound.
While it is well known that John Duffy spent long hours at the Library of Congress researching the old and overlooked tunes of the past, one of the things that their fans looked forward to was their treatment of current popular music of the day. The traditional bluegrass bands of the era stuck to the old standards or wrote their own music based on the old standards. It was the Folk Revival and authenticity counted. The Country Gentlemen were not afraid to take the music of the radio and give it their own sound.

The Country Gentlemen - Sea Of Heartbreak
written by Paul Hampton and Hal David and recorded in 1961 by Don Gibson

The Country Gentlemen - Teach Your Children
written and recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The Country Gentlemen - Souvenirs
written and recorded by John Prine

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Born to be wild

Just like a lot of folks that grew up in the '60s and early '70s, my first interests in music leaned more toward the hard-edged metal rock of the times. Some of the first records I bought with the money from my paper route were by the Doors, Mountain, Jefferson Airplane, and Steppenwolf. I grew up in the greater D.C. area, so the turbulence of that time was not just images on the evening news. It was a period of questioning the status quo. The music was charged with social commentary. It expressed the bewilderment my adolescent mind was wrestling with.
Perhaps it wasn't such a far jump when I started listening to the music of earlier eras. My sister and I spent summers with our cousins down the road where our Uncle Bill would have folk records spinning on his big Magnavox High-Fidelity stereo cabinet. Dust bowl ballads of Woodie Guthrie, the Irish protest songs of the Dubliners, I started to notice some of the same sentiments that were in the records I played on my Montgomery Ward 'Airline' turntable at home.
Of course the connection was there long before I put the two together. Many of the rockers had been influenced by the earlier folk and blues musicians. For me, the fire had been lit. The history and evolution of musical styles would become an obsession I've still got some forty years later.

Steppenwolf - Renegade
John Kay's autobiographical song. Born on the Baltic Coast behind the Iron Curtain, John Kay and his mother escaped after the death of his father. During their race across the border, one of John's friends was shot by the border guards. He and his mother emigrated to Canada and eventually to the U.S.

Steppenwolf - Snow Blind Friend
Written by Hoyt Axton. Legend has it that John Kay was working as a dishwasher at a club where Hoyt was playing one night. After hearing Hoyt play his song "The Pusher", John Kay said "If I ever have a band, I'm going to do that song". Years later, Hoyt Axton, his wife and new baby were broke and afraid they'd lose their Montana ranch when they received the royalty check for the use of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" in the movie Easy Rider.

John Kay - Many A Mile
From John Kay's solo lp "Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes".

John Kay - Walkin' Blues
Also from "Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes".

Forget the biker/doper image that comes to mind when you mention Steppenwolf. John Kay knows the blues. Go back and re-listen to your Steppenwolf albums. I know you still have them, and if you don't, go here and get some.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dutch fais do do ?

Yesterday's post reminds us that American roots music travels well.
Daniel Lohues, a fine young blues artist from the Netherlands, has taken the heart and soul of the music of Louisiana and made it his own. Preferring to write and sing in his native Drents, a rural dialect of Dutch, Lohues and the Louisiana Blues Club are top 40 material in the Netherlands. I can't make heads nor tails of the lyrics, but the music is guaranteed to have you on your feet and dancing.

Lohues & the Louisiana Blues Club - Nils Holgerssons blues
Lohues & the Louisiana Blues Club - Zydeco

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

City Pickers

It started slowly at first and built up to a mass exodus during WWII. Rural hill folk of the Appalachians moved to the cities and factory jobs. They found plenty of work, but they also found slums, crowded conditions, and prejudice. To ease the longing for their native hills, they turned to the familliar sounds of home.

Originally frowned upon, this hillbilly music started to gain a new following of people who had never known the morning mist in a hollow. Bluegrass had moved to the city! By the early 1960's, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland had become the center of the Bluegrass music world. The Country Gentlemen, The Seldom Scene, Red Smiley, Bill Harrell, The Bluegrass Cardinals... the 40 mile stretch from Baltimore to Washington was fertile ground for some of the best bluegrass had to offer.

The musical migration had started. First to other cities throughout North America, then across the oceans to Japan and Europe.

Blue Harvest Band - Cripple Creek from New York City
visit them here

Mudd Creek - Long Journey Home from Green Bay, Wisconsin
hear more here

The Rosinators - Cindy's Breakdown from London, England
more info here

Hillbilly Dust - Longbranch Instrumental from Caroline, Alberta
read more here

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Aloha Ya'll

The days have been a bit chilly here for a while, so why don't we turn up the furnace a bit, don your best flowered shirt, and put something tropical in the blender. Paper umbrella optional.

Ry Cooder - Chloe
Buy it here

Jim Kweskin's Jug Band - Ukelele Lady
Buy it here

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong - You'll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me
Buy it here

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Happy Yodel

Happy New Year, Folks!
What better way to start this new year off than with a rousing yodel!

While the idea of the yodeling cowboy is pure Hollywood, that's what most of us raised on black and white westerns think of when someone mentions yodeling (as if yodeling comes up in normal conversation!).
Yodeling (or something similar) is more common around the world than most folks realize. Perhaps, sometime in the coming year I'll put together an intelligent post on yodeling, but for now I'm just going to nurse this bottle of gin and kick back to a little yodeling goodness.
Pull up a chair and have a snort, I think you'll enjoy.

Sorry about the quality of the first two, they were pulled from some scratchy old 78s.

Jimmie Rodgers - The Brakeman's Blues
The "father of country music" left us in 1933, but he's got a website

Roy Harper and Earl Shirkey - The Yodeling Mule
complete recorded works available from Document Records

The Girls of the Golden West - My Love Is A Rider (Bucking Bronco)
read more here

Jill Jones and the Lone Star Chorale - Mockingbird Yodel
rope some more here

Randy Erwin - The Alpine Milkman
mosey on by cowboyrandy.com

Bill Staines - Ballad of the Maples (live)
Bill is a favorite on the Bus. Visit him here