Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hillbilly Blues

Once the bottle was uncorked there was no puttin' it back.

The white farmers, coal miners, and mill workers of the Southern Appalachians understood the low-down, hard-luck feelings of the blues. Once they were introduced to the blues stylings of the black musicians that had migrated to the cotton mills and coal mines of the mountains they took them to heart.

Two of the finest of the "white country blues" performers were Dick Justice and Frank Hutchison. I've written about both here before. For our new riders, I'll reprint the introduction I wrote last November for Frank Hutchison.

"Frank Hutchison was a white coal miner in Logan, West Virginia who could associate with the hard-luck tunes of his black coworkers. The miners, both black and white worked side by side in a dangerous, low paying job. They knew the blues as well as any share cropper in Mississippi. Hutchison learned the guitar at an early age, listening to a black railroad worker named Henry Vaughn, that he had made friends with when he was 8 years old. He played and traded licks with Bill Hunt, a crippled black guitarist who lived nearby and his neighbor, Dick Justice, both accomplished musicians also. Hutchison usually played his guitar lap style and used a pen knife as a slide. Noted author, historian, and ethnomusicologist, Charles K. Wolfe calls Hutchison the "first real white bluesman to record". His successful recording career spanned from the early '20s until pressure from his record company, Okeh, to add a fiddler and play more honky tonk tunes ended it in 1929, when he returned to Lake, West Virginia where he owned and operated a grocery store."

Dick Justice was a friend and neighbor of Hutchison's back there in the mines of Logan County.

Frank Hutchison - Coney Isle.mp3

Dick Justice - Brown Skin Blues.mp3

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