Fiddle Favorites: African-American Fiddlers
African-American musicians had the most profound effect on the music of North America. The Banjo, the blues, and jazz are often cited as the major contributions of African-Americans to American musical culture, but it goes much deeper than that.
I know this is a theme that I keep returning to, but I don’t believe it can be overstated. The blending of African and Caribbean rhythms and syncopations with the traditional English and, later, European musical styles is what made American music unique and laid the foundation for Rock ‘n’ Roll. This blending was already evident by the time Edison invented his cylinder recording machine, so that by the 1920s, when the record companies were swarming all over the South, very little music did not already contain at least some Black influence.
Although Black and White musicians would freely trade licks backstage and at informal jam sessions, this was still the period of Jim Crow and recording sessions were strictly segregated. That is until Bud Landress, the fiddler with the popular White string band the Georgia Yellow Hammers, sat out of a recording session in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It was August of 1927, the Yellow Hammers had traveled to Charlotte to record for Victor. Riding on the same train, but a few cars back, were the Baxter Brothers. The Baxter Brothers were actually the father and son act of Andrew and Jim Baxter. They, too were on their way to record for Victor, although during a separate session.
The Baxters and the Yellow Hammers had played together plenty of times back in Georgia and when Bud Landress sat out of the session, Andrew Baxter sat in as fiddler for the Yellow Hammers. To my knowledge this was the first integrated recording session in the South. The song that Baxter sat in for Landress on was G Rag, and turned out to be one of the Georgia Yellow Hammers better selling records.
Andrew & Jim Baxter recordings are somewhat scarce today. Here are a few CDs that include some of their work:
Raw Fiddle available from County Sales
Roots of American Fiddle Music: Vol 2 available from HeaHeah
Last year I posted about the Georgia Yellow Hammers and the Baxters and shortly after I received an email from Paul Shoffner, Jr. of Calhoun, Georgia. He had been working for years to convince the powers that be in Calhoun that they ought to celebrate their native sons, Andrew and Jim Baxter. Well, the folks of Calhoun finally saw the light and on May 5th, 2007 the First Annual International String Band Festival will take place in Calhoun. The festival is being sponsored by the fine folks at Old Hat Records.
I won’t be able to make it to Calhoun, I’m still working too much overtime. If you can make it to the festival, leave a comment on the Bus and give your fellow riders a report.