Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The mouth organ and the stringband

The evolution of modern American popular music, like the occupants of this continent, is a blend of styles and cultures from around the world.

The first white settlers of the Appalachians were Irish and Scottish immigrants who moved south along the Blue Ridge from Pennsylvania, bringing the music of the British Isles. Newly freed slaves migrated north from the plantation lands of the Piedmont and Delta regions, bringing with them the polyrythmic music of western Africa and the banjo. It was the medicine shows and traveling minstrels that gave birth to Blues, Bluegrass, and Country music. Black and white musicians playing and swapping techniques and songs. It's not a coincidence that black blues musicians and white hillbilly musicians shared many songs in their repertoire.

One of the instruments that was also a common link was the harmonica. Mass produced, inexpensive, and small enough to transport, the harmonica was a common instrument used by both black and white musicians.

For the most part, the harmonica has fallen from use in country and bluegrass. Charlie McCoy (the modern master of bluegrass harmonica), Jimmie Fadden (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Terry McMillan (Nashville's top session player for the past twenty years) are the only names that come to mind nowadays. That wasn't always the case. The harmonica was a common instrument in stringbands of the late 1800s, and early 1900s. Unfortunatley, the harmonica was beginning to lose it's place in the hillbilly band just about the time the record companies started to take an interest in rural music. Hence there isn't alot of harmonica mountain music preserved.

The Woodie Brothers were from Ashe County, North Carolina and didn't venture far from home. During the Great Depression they cut a record or two, but givin' that folks were having trouble putting food on the table, buying records was a luxury. The Woodie Brothers sold only 864 copies of their record. But they knew they would be rewarded "over there", even if they had to hit ol' Satan "on the head with a two by four".

Woodie Bros - Chased Old Satan Through The Door.mp3

Woodie Bros - Likes Likker Better Than Me.mp3


Blogger countrygrrl said...

apart from a wee toy piano this was my first instrument..i used to 'sook and blaw' at the guisin...the time when kids go round the doors at halloween for cash and sweets. unlike the kids now who just ask for the swag we had to perform. my sister did a great version of the dubliners weelia weelia walis. A song where there is a murder and a hanging. this fair shocked the adults that a sweet wee 8 year old could sing such stuff. my brother did 'tie me kangaroo down' by rolf harris. aye we made a great guisin team and always came home with a stash of goodies. i would play rabbie burns tunes such as my love is like a red red rose and the rowan tree. aah these were the days indeed!!

April 20, 2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Renditions of "weelia weelia walis" and "tie me kangaroo down"? I'll bet you lot did bring home a stash!

April 20, 2006 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Likes Likker..." Cool! We put that on one of our records. Alas, no harp. Makes my dog howl, eh.
Colonel Tom
The Backstabbers Country Stringband
Toronto CANADA

April 21, 2006 10:45 AM  

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