Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Take it away, Leon"

Pour yourself a congratulatory drink; you’ve made it through another work week.

Here in the U.S. we’re looking forward to a three day holiday weekend. Labor Day officially closes the summer vacation season. It also marks the beginning of the second festival season here in the South. I’m already getting geared up for the National Folk Festival which will be spending its third, and final, year in Richmond.

On the Bus we usually like to close out the work week, or more appropriately start the weekend, with some up beat music. Let’s get those feet moving with some western swing from steel guitar great Leon McAuliffe. This is another treasure from Wes’ incredible collection of 78s.

Our good friend and frequent Bus rider, Greg, is our resident western swing aficionado and has kindled in me a fuller appreciation of the genre. Anyone with the slightest interest in western swing knows the name Bob Wills, and anyone who is familiar with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys probably knows Steel Guitar Rag. The talented and inventive steel guitar on those Bob Wills recordings was the work of Leon McAuliffe.

Leon McAuliffe was born in Houston, Texas in 1917. He started to play the guitar and steel guitar at the age of 14. In 1931 he joined a group of performers for a local radio show, billing themselves as the Waikiki Strummers. In 1933 he joined up with the Light Crust Dough Boys and with them recorded his first record in Chicago at the age of sixteen. Two years later he was invited to join Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

During WWII McAuliffe served as a flight instructor. After the war he returned to music. He started his own band in Tulsa. This new band leaned more toward the big band sound, but did have a song, Panhandle Rag, go to the number 6 spot on the Country/Western charts in 1949. The band went by the name of the Cimarron Boys for most of their duration, but on just a few of their earliest recordings they were simply listed as “Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band”.

That’s what it said on the label as I was looking through a stack of 78s from Wes. Leon McAuliffe and his band had only recorded a few sides for Columbia under that name and I had to hear this one. I’ve included both sides from the Columbia 78 for today’s post as well as Leon McAuliffe’s signature song from when he was with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Turn it up! Guaranteed to get your feet moving.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Steel Guitar Rag.mp3

Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band - Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy.mp3

Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band - Rag Mop.mp3

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Gem of a Find

One of the joys of searching through old 78 records is finding an artist that you weren’t familiar with. It’s even better when the music on the record is really good.

Halfway through the first album of records from Walt and Wes I came across a record by Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman's Virginia Ramblers.

Short side trip: It occurred to me that the younger riders on the Bus may not know what I mean by ‘album’ when talking about 78 rpm records. In the days of 78s, one would buy a bound album, similar to a photo album with a hard cover and a dozen empty, heavy paper sleeves bound inside. One would bring their new records home from the store (at first records were sold in furniture stores since that’s where you bought the record player) and place it in one of the sleeves in the album. On the inside of one of the covers was usually a blank index for one to write the name of the performer and the name of the song on each side of the record. The albums of records could then be stored on any bookshelf. My grandmother’s old Magnavox had two doors below the workings of the platter where two shelves held her collection of record albums. Since 78s had only one song on each side, each album would hold two dozen individual songs. When the long-play record (LP) came out, it contained nearly as many songs as a dozen 78s, so it was referred to as an ‘album.’

Getting back to the Virginia Ramblers...
As I said, I was not familiar with Dee Stone, Ted Prillaman, or The Virginia Ramblers, so I was anxious to give them a spin. I gave the record a good washing and was amazed at how black the wash water turned with decades of dust and grime. The record’s surface was in fairly good condition with just a few surface scratches. The label has the stylized word ‘Liberty’ on the top. It didn’t appear to be the logo of the well known Liberty Records of Hollywood, California. Liberty Records was founded in 1955 and released a long string of hits, mostly rockabilly, until they were bought out by United Artists. The Liberty logo always included a silhouette of the Statue of Liberty, as you can see in the photo, this was not California’s Liberty. Besides, to my knowledge, Liberty Records of Hollywood (later moved to Los Angeles) never issued 78 rpm records. This record must have been from another Liberty Records.

After the record was cleaned, dried, and treated, I put it on the turntable. Hey, this is some really good fiddle music! What a great find!

I have searched my books and looked on line trying to find some information about Dee Stone, Ted Prillaman and the Virginia Ramblers. I have not found much more than a mention that they were popular in Southwest Virginia and from the Roanoke area. One of the songs on this record Answer to Little Pal was recorded by Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman and the Virginia Ramblers and released as a 45 on Mutual Records in 1951. It is one of those ‘answer’ songs in response to the song Little Pal. The song is sung by Al Jolson in the 1929 film “Say It With Song” and is a goodbye from a departing dad to his young son.

"Little Pal, if Daddy goes away
Promise you'll be good from day to day
Do as Mother says and never sin
Be the man your Daddy might have been
Your Daddy didn't have an easy start
So this is the wish that's in my heart"

Since the record is from our friend Walt’s cousin Wes’ collection, and Walt and Wes are from the area west of Roanoke, it is probable that this record is from a small pressing by the long gone Liberty Records of Roanoke.

Great fiddle music, a little history, and a bit of mystery.
I just love this stuff!

Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman's Virginia Ramblers - Square Dance Polka.mp3

Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman's Virginia Ramblers - Answer To Little Pal.mp3

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Country Music and Choke Harmonica

I’ve been going through the stacks of 78s from Walt and Wes and must say that I am envious of the collection. This past weekend the temperatures along the Piedmont Breaks in Virginia remained around 105°F (40°C) and while much of the country is floating in unwanted storm waters, we are experiencing another long drought. It was a good weekend to hold up in the air conditioning and transfer some of these 78s.

I have always enjoyed the up-beat sound of the Delmore Brothers. They seldom resorted to the stereotypical themes so popular in country music at the time (unfortunately, many of those corny traps pervade country music to this day.) Their harmonies inspired a whole generation of brother duos and their high energy boogie/blues/country paved the way for rockabilly and rock and roll. The addition of Wayne Raney’s harmonica really set the Delmore Brothers music apart.

Wayne Raney was born in Wolf Bayou, Louisiana in 1920. The story goes that he learned to play “choke” style harmonica from a black blues musician. I was not familiar with choking a harmonica, so I asked a friend who plays what this meant. His explanation was (and any rider on the Bus who has knowledge feel free to enlighten us if I got this wrong as my friend and I discussed this over a few beers) the careful placement of the tongue over a hole on the harmonica and the slow withdraw of the tongue while blowing to cause the reed to flatten, or choke. He likened it to the clutch in a car, releasing the pedal just to the pressure point and holding it there. I can sort of visualize the act, but not being a harmonica player, I’m not sure I could identify the unique sound.

I do know that I like the way Raney played. There is a soulful, bluesy character to his playing that isn’t all that common in country harmonica playing.

Wayne Raney - I'm Square Dab From The Country.mp3

Wayne Raney - Red Ball To Natchez.mp3

Wayne Raney - Lost John Boogie.mp3

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hillbilly Boogie

Of all the harmonizing brother groups in country music, Alton and Rabon Delmore set the standard that all others have strived to equal. The Delmore brothers were born in Elkmont, Alabama and raised in poverty by tenant farmer parents.

The Delmore Brothers combined country, gospel, and traditional Appalachian folk music (and in the 1940s, boogie) with their beautiful, soft harmonies. Although both were quite talented songwriters, the elder Alton wrote most of the duo’s original material. They auditioned for WSM in 1932 and were soon appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. They stayed with the Opry through 1938 and those years probably account for their early widespread popularity.

It was when they signed with King Records in 1944 that their music took on a new aspect that would launch them to stardom, and eventually earn them an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1946, the brothers expanded their sound from an acoustic guitar duo to add a full band with mandolin, fiddle, steel guitar, harmonica, and additional guitars. Merle Travis added guitar on many of those mid-‘40s recordings and credits Alton Delmore as one of his greatest influences. The most influential of the new band members was Wayne Raney. Raney’s blues influenced harmonica helped carry the Delmores into their new roles as the leaders of hillbilly boogie.

While the Delmore Brothers rode that boogie train further than any country group, they didn’t forget their roots. Their biggest hit ”Blues Stay Away From Me” was a slow, bluesy number featuring the lonesome harmonica of Wayne Raney.

Those King recordings of the late 1940s and early ‘50s laid some of the foundation for what would become rock and roll.

Delmore Brothers - Goin' Back To The Blue Ridge Mountains.mp3

Delmore Brothers - Mobile Boogie.mp3

Delmore Brothers - Waitin' For That Train.mp3

Delmore Brothers - Blues Stay Away From Me.mp3

A word of thanks goes out to our good friend Walt and his cousin Wes for these fine old 78s.
I have finally gotten around to transferring the stacks of 78 rpm records that these two kindly let me borrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rising Waters

This summer has brought an extraordinary amount of water to places where it shouldn’t be. Seemingly endless rains have sent rivers over their banks in the UK, Bangladesh, Romania, and now the American Midwest.

As a canoeist and kayaker, rivers hold a special place in my life, one of awe, inspiration, and respect. Moving water has a tremendous amount of power. When uncontained by their banks rivers bring disruption at best and devastation in the worst of circumstances.

Our hearts and thoughts are with those around the world affected by this year's extraordinary flooding.

Blind Andy Jenkins & Mary Lee - Alabama Flood.mp3

Flatt & Scruggs - Down in the Flood.mp3

The Country Gentlemen - The Galveston Flood.mp3

The Seldom Scene - Muddy Water.mp3

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 5 - Africa

The ethnic group that had the most profound affect on the music of the Americas didn’t come here by free will or choice.

The language of music, especially folk music, interprets and communicates the daily lives of its people perhaps even more so than their literature. Music has always been used to pass on tradition, serve as an emotional outlet, and bring a community together. The music of a people is a direct reflection of their daily lives, struggles, joys, and shared values. The story of Africans in America has been accompanied by the most astounding soundtrack.

Europeans had begun taking Africans as slaves as early as the late 14th century. These unwilling immigrants most often were put to work as servants in the homes of the wealthy in Europe. Had it not been for a lifestyle that included domestic animals, the enslavement of Africans for work in the New World might never have happened.

The people of the Old World, from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent, had all domesticated animals for food or to provide work. Living in close proximity with these animals allowed many animal-borne diseases to mutate and infect their human caretakers. Over tens of thousands of years the population of the Old World developed antibodies to combat these inter-species diseases.

As the first wave of European explorers came to the New World they unknowingly brought with them diseases that would decimate the native populations. The people of the Americas had never domesticated animals and had no immunities to the diseases that accompanied them. It is estimated that anywhere from 40-80% of the population of the New World succumbed to the diseases unleashed on their world within one generation.

Europeans established large plantations, at first on the islands of the Caribbean, and enslaved the native population to work the large farms and mines. Soon their workforce dwindled and replacement workers were needed. In Cuba alone, the native population was estimated at over 1.5 million in 1512, within twenty years there were less than 2,000 left alive. The plantation owners found a solution along the coast of Africa. By 1540 an estimated 10,000 Africans slaves were being brought to the New World annually.

The music of the African slaves was as varied as the cultures that they had been taken from, but had several attributes in common. Perhaps most important in the evolution of American music were the call and response and polyrhythmic syncopation. Field hollers and call and response songs were most probably sung to ease the difficult work in the fields. One can imagine that music was used as an emotional outlet at night when the day’s work had been completed. The European overseers introduced Christianity to the slaves, and it soon took a prominent place in their lives and in their music. Many of their songs of struggle and perseverance have become anthems for just about all communities of repressed people since.

The African slaves built instruments similar to ones from their homelands, including a stringed instrument with a skin covered, drum-like body that would become the banjo. Along with their spirituals and work songs, some slaves with musical talents were put into service entertaining their European owners and learned to play European music.

After the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation many freed slaves continued to play songs of overcoming and endurance. It was the period of Jim Crow, and most African-Americans still faced many struggles. This was the period that produced one of the most influential of American musical genres, the blues. As African-Americans migrated to the larger cities in search of jobs, their music took on new aspects inherited from the other cultures encountered along the way. The musical stylings of African-Americans were spread to nearly all other musical styles through the swapping of licks amongst musicians on the traveling circuits. The minstrels and medicine shows brought the unique music of black Americans to new audiences across the country. As the medicine shows were replaced with vaudeville, White performers seized on the popularity of African-American music and began performing in Blackface. Vaudeville and the music publishing machine known as Tin Pan Alley helped spread the popularity of African-American music.

By the 1920s there were few musical styles in America that had not been influenced by the many styles of African-American music. Also in the ‘20s, the recording companies discovered a large audience for what they termed “Race” music and each company sent representatives into the South to find the next big hit. At the same time, these record “scouts” found that rural white music also had a potentially large audience and set up recording sessions from Atlanta to Bristol. At first the executives at the record companies didn’t know where to place this white country music in their catalogs. It wasn’t “Race” music and it surely wasn’t “popular”. Okeh Records decided to call it “Old Time” although it had already contained the effects of black musicians.

The mid-20th century saw an explosion of African-American inspired music, from ragtime and jazz, to the beginnings of what would become rock and roll. In 1954 Elvis Presley recorded Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s ”That’s All Right”. Young white folks took to this mediocre remake and the gates were opened for a flood of white remakes of black music.

The Folk Revival of the 1950s and ‘60s brought many blues musicians out of retirement and onto stages at festivals and colleges. The demand for blues musicians was greatest in Europe and many aging blues musicians enjoyed renewed careers touring the coffeehouses of Europe. This wave of blues in Europe inspired such musicians as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and John Mayall.

During the struggle for equal rights under the law, folk singers such as Odetta sang the old songs of freedom and strife. Songs such as ”We Shall Overcome” once again became cries for justice and entered our collective songbase.

With few exceptions, the contribution of African-Americans has left its unique mark on nearly every genre of America’s music. Jazz, country, bluegrass, zydeco, pop, and, of course, rock and roll have all been greatly enriched by the contributions of America’s unwilling immigrants.

Eddie Head & His Family - Tryin' To Get Home.mp3

Henry Thomas - Run Mollie Run.mp3

Robert Petway - Catfish Blues.mp3

Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup - That's All Right.mp3

Odetta - If I Had A Hammer.mp3

Buckwheat Zydeco - Zydeco Boogaloo.mp3

I've really enjoyed this weeks look at the influences on American music and hope that you folks on the Bus enjoyed the ride.

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 4 - France

Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent French colony in the Americas at Quebec in 1608. While French explorers did venture west, the French were not nearly as ambitious as the English or Spanish, as it would be another sixty years before they expanded south. In 1673 Luis Joliet and Jacques Marquette explored along the northern and central Mississippi River. They were followed by Robert Cavalier de LaSalle who continued to sail the entire length of the great river to the Gulf of Mexico. LaSalle claimed the entire territory for France, and named it Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV.

The French settlers that followed called the new land New France and established settlements in Detroit, Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez, and Mobile. In 1718, a port was established near the mouth of the Mississippi River to support the large, successful farms and plantations that developed in the lower Mississippi Valley. The port was named New Orleans and it became one of the busiest ports in the New World and an essential trading center.

Catholic missionaries and priests worked hard to establish parishes throughout the new land. As a result of their power, only French Roman Catholics were permitted to immigrate to Louisiana. The Huguenots (French Protestants) were forced to immigrate to the English colonies, were their small numbers were absorbed with little impact on music or culture. In fact, the French population in the America never achieved that of the English or Spanish. By the mid 1700s the French population of New France is estimated to be just around 80,000 people, spread thinly from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. In contrast, the population of the thirteen English colonies was about 1.5 million people, all concentrated along the eastern shore.

In 1754, a conflict between English and French settlers resulted in war. The French and Indian War ended when an army of English regulars and colonial militia lead by General James Wolfe defeated the French at Quebec in 1759. The battle was honored in song shortly after its conclusion with one of the first and finest (in my opinion) Anglo-Canadian ballads, “Brave Wolfe”. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris the Louisiana Territory was turned over to Spain in 1763. Spain returned the land to France in 1803 and, having no use for such a foreign outpost and in need of funds, the French sold it to the United States.

The French settlers of Acadie (now Nova Scotia) were summoned to the town of Grand Pre by the English Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence. It was September 5th, 1755, and the message he had for the French who had farmed and inhabited their land for nearly a century would become know to the Acadians as the ‘Grand Derangement’. The French-speaking people who's families had emigrated from the western areas of Berry Poitou, Santonage and Touraine in France had shared this maritime homeland with the English since 1621 were to be expelled from their land. They forfeited all of their land, livestock and belongings and watched as their homes and buildings were burned to the ground.

The outcast Acadians were loaded onto ships at gunpoint and shipped south along the coast to English colonies. After stops in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia, where they were not welcome, they set out for the Gulf coastal areas of Louisiana. The flow of exiles lasted nearly fifteen years. Although far from their homeland of Acadie, they continued to call themselves Acadians. The Spanish, and even French, of Louisiana mistook their heavily accented pronunciation of ‘Acadians’, and called the new settlers ‘Cajun.’ The Acadians have managed to hold fast to their heritage and language. Linguists claim that the Cajun French dialect is unique in that it is a patois of 18th century French.

The French impact on American music was much more regional than that of the English, Spanish, and German. The Huguenots tended to settle in English colonies and assimilate into English culture over time. The Catholic French in America were few in number and left little imprint on American music. The lasting gift to American music comes from the enclaves of French speaking people, mostly in Quebec and Louisiana, which have enriched our collective musical heritage.

Clemo Breaux & Joseph F. Falcon - Le Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme.mp3
Clemo Breaux & Joseph Falcon are the first family of Cajun music, and the first to record.

Oscar Doucet & Alius Soileau - O! Bébé!.mp3
Oh, Baby!

Ian & Sylvia - V'la L'bon Vent.mp3
The song is perhaps 300 years old, originally sung by explorers and fur traders in the wilderness of Canada. Here sung by Canada's most treasured folk music ambassadors.

Jo-El Sonnier - Jolie Blonde.mp3
I have written before of the importance of 'Jolie Blonde', considered a Cajun anthem.

Bruce Daigrepont - Laissez Faire.mp3
When I think back on the years that I lived in the Old Blue Bus in south Louisiana this song, and its title, summarize the experience perfectly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 3 - Germany & Eastern Europe

Unlike the English, Spanish, French and Dutch, the Germans never came to the Americas as explorers or as large sponsored companies to exploit the natural resources. Perhaps even more than the Puritans, the first German immigrants came to flee religious persecution in their homeland. William Penn traveled throughout Germany in 1682 inviting members of persecuted sects to come to Philadelphia, where they could worship freely. Many Lutheran, Menonite, and other Protestant sects had endured a lifetime of struggle during the Thirty Years War (1619-1648). The Rhenish Palatinate area of Germany was once again ravaged by war when Louis XIV sent French troops to the area during the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-1697). The Palatine area had been settled by people from Germany, Holland, and Switzerland who shared a common view on religion and sought the comfort and support of the like-minded population. Many of these people, tired of war and persecution, accepted William Penn’s invitation to leave their war-torn farms and villages for the unknown, but safe, farmlands of Pennsylvania. Many others fled to England, only to be sent to New York a few years later as ship builders for the Royal Navy.

Most of the first German immigrants settled along the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland (this border was made famous in 1760, when it was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in order to settle a dispute between the colonies.) By the 1720s, over two thousand German immigrants arrived on American shores annually. By the time of the American Revolution there were well over 100,000 German immigrants living between New York and Georgia. In fact, German immigrants made up the largest group of non-English speaking people in America. In the early years of the United States, Philadelphia, not Boston or New York, was the center of culture. New England was still mostly under the control of strict Puritan beliefs, including a disdain for music. The first really large concert on American soil took place at the Reformed German Church on Race Street in Philadelphia on May 4th, 1786. The concert featured over 250 vocal and 50 instrumental performers of both German and English decent.

During the years leading up to the Civil War, the German song style known as lied was introduced to enthusiastic audiences by the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. American composers were so taken by Lind, many traveled to Germany to study music and returned with fresh ideas for an “American” music.

Perhaps the longest lasting, and most significant contribution to American music came from the most conflicting of sources. If the Puritans of New England were seen as restrictive in their allowance of music, the Quakers were even stricter in their belief that music encouraged thoughtlessness and frivolity. The German and Dutch immigrants (predominantly Lutheran) held a much different view of music. The church encouraged the writing and singing of hymns. Music played an important part of the Lutheran faith, as the concert on Race Street attests.

No mention of German church music in early America would be complete without mentioning shape-note singing, also called sacred harp singing. The “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do” that most of us learned in grade school was developed as an aid to hymn singing, without the need to read musical notation. Each note has a unique shape and accompanying sound. It is believed that the basis of the system was developed in Philadelphia around 1790.

Large portions of North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia, were settled by German immigrants. Most notable were the Moravians that established the Wachovia Settlement in North Carolina. Music was an essential part of the religious beliefs of the Moravians, who included musical literacy as an essential part of education. Moravian children were taught to compose and play music as a normal part of their upbringing. There are accounts of a twenty piece chamber orchestra accompanying Christmas Eve services as early as 1756. But it was the brass bands that the Moravians were really known for. Not restricted by religious beliefs, the Moravians also enjoyed secular music and often played the works of European composers at social gatherings just for entertainment.

During the first wave of westward expansion, the German, Dutch, English, Scots-Irish, and French traveled the Buffalo Trail from Pennsylvania, along the ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Although no one knows the origin of the Appalachian (or lap) dulcimer, some speculate that it was derived from the German zither. One of my favorite instruments, the Autoharp, is a direct descendant of the zither, it’s inventor calling it a “chorded zither.”

During the 1800s and the expansion West, many immigrants from Eastern Europe, including Poland, Germany, and Switzerland headed to the upper Mid-west. Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Calgary, and Milwaukee all have large populations of people raised on polka (you knew I’d get there sooner or later.) Polka has a strong, loyal following in America, especially in the cities along the shores of the Great Lakes. The polka’s origins are probably from Poland or Bohemia (both claim credit) sometime around 1830. The dance, and it’s accompanying, up-beat music swept across Eastern Europe and with the immigrants, to the United States. While the polka remains popular along the Great Lakes, its biggest contribution to American music came from Central Texas, of all places.

Thousands of German, Czech, and Polish immigrants entered the American shores at Galveston, Texas during the mid to late 1800s. The new arrivals settled throughout Texas, but concentrated somewhat by nationality. The Czech’s settled in the area between Houston and Dallas, the Poles in the lands northwest of Houston, and the Germans around the towns of Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, in Central Texas. The beer drinkers amongst you know this area as the home of the Barvarian-style Shiner Brewery. Traditional polka is still very popular in Texas, but its influence on the music of its neighbors had a most profound effect. The accordion and many of the elements of polka found their way into the music of the Cajuns of Louisiana and the Mexican music of the border region. As the popularity of string bands was being replaced by the jazzier sounds of the Big Bands, Texans combined the two, threw some polka into the mix, and western swing was born.

Let’s not forget that other important contribution by German immigrants to America... BEER!

Joe Patek's Orchestra - Krasna Amerika.mp3
Czech polka. The title translates as "Beautiful America."

Louise Massey & The Westerners - Squeeze Box Polka.mp3

Don Reno & Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups - Beer Barrel Polka.mp3
The polka even found its way to the mountains!
Before you ask, yes, I did consider posting Flatt & Scruggs "Polka on the Banjo", but everyone's got that one.

Adolph Hofner - Happy Go Lucky Polka.mp3
Some early western swing, complete with Bob Wills-like "Ah-Ha"s.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 2 - Spain

Hola! Today the Bus is headed south, to the lands once inhabited by the great societies of the Aztec, Maya, Tlaxcala, and Toltec.

The first Europeans to explore the vast interior landscape of the American continents were the Spanish conquistadores. At one time Spain controlled nearly half of North America and had almost complete control of Central and South America. New Spain (now Mexico) was colonized around 1521. Spanish missionaries taught Western style music to the natives as a way of attracting them to Christianity. Native Mexicans took an affinity to the new music and were composing European style music and building European instruments. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, as early as 1540, native Mexicans were composing large scale musical works including one Mass by a singer in Tlaxcala.

The native people did not wholly discard their own rich musical heritage. The music they created may have sounded European, but it retained many of the features unique to their own culture, such as the use of flutes, drums, and falsetto voice.

Mexican culture had a profound affect on the culture of North America as westward expansion brought eastern farmers in contact with the successful vaqueros of Mexico (which included what are now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and California.) The American cowboy pattered their lifestyle, including cattle and horse handling, dress, and music, after the Mexican vaquero. The influence was so great that it affected the language as well as music. The cattle-raising operation that would have been a farm back east became a ranch (rancho, in Spanish), the rope used by a cowboy is a lariat (la riata, Spanish for rope), and a flat-topped hill is called a mesa (meaning table in Spanish.) In fact, the slang term used for a cowboy of the upper Great Plains, “buckaroo”, is a corruption of the Spanish word vaquero (the 'v' is pronounced as a ‘b’ in Spanish). Let’s not forget that the guitar is also a Spanish development.

During the popular music mill of the late 1800s and early 1900s, known as Tin Pan Alley, American composers explored many cultures for their inspiration. The music of Mexico was no exception. American composers such as Irving Berlin, Aaron Copeland, and George and Ira Gershwin turned out popular music with a Mexican flavor.

During the laying of rail through the Southwest for the Southern Pacific Railroad several brass bands were formed by the Mexican workers. In Mexico, tambora is a popular music performed by brass bands. As it crossed the border and picked up a little jazz influence it evolved into banda. A modernized Banda gained widespread popularity with the hits of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass and is still popular along the border.

During the 1940s, Mexican cowboy (vaquero) music regained popularity in Mexico. This music was played by wandering musicians playing guitars, violin, trumpet, and occasionally an accordion. The ensembles, and the music they play, are known as mariachi.

Unique to the United States, is a style that was developed during the 1930s by migrant workers in rural Texas. Usually, conjuntos were made up of four musicians on bajo sexto (a 12 string guitar, with extra bass strings), drums, bass, and button accordion. The accordion and the polka style of conjunto (or, tejano) were influences of the German settlers of South Texas, but we’ll save that for another story. Conjunto evolved from the music of Northern Mexico known as norteño (northern, in Spanish), which evolved from the mariachi bands of South Texas.

Of course, Spanish music from South America and the Caribbean has also had a great influence on American music. It seems as if there has been a Latino wave of music nearly every decade for the past century. The tango hit the American shores in the early 1900s, rumba in the 1930s, samba in the ‘40s, mambo in the ’50s (cha-cha-cha), bossa nova in the 60s, and salsa in the 70s.

The music of Spain, via Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, has had a profound influence on the American music scene, second only to that of the British Isles, I would reckon. That influence has been felt in nearly all genres of American music from jazz to country.

Trio San Antonio - Yo Me Enamore.mp3
some fine norteño

Conjunto Alma Jarocha - El Balaju.mp3
traditional music of Veracruz (including harp)

Don Santiago Jimenez Sr. - Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio.mp3
one of the founders of conjunto

Any Old Time String Band - I'll See You In C-U-B-A.mp3
Tin Pan Alley song from Irving Berlin, 1920.

Herb Albert & Tijuana Brass - Mexican Road Race.mp3
Oh, yea! Goes good with a cold cerveza, or two.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 1 - England

It is often said that “America is a country of immigrants”, I would like to add that “The proof is in the music.”

The first European settlers to these shores brought with them the music of their homeland for comfort and entertainment.
The music of the earliest settlements was identical to that of the settlers’ origin. The Spanish music in St. Augustine, English in Jamestown, and French in Charlesbourg-Royal was one of the common threads that helped hold the new communities together.

It wasn’t long before the number of settlements increased. Soon the Dutch built a port at the mouth of the Hudson River and German settlers followed William Penn to settle the land between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. The coastline was soon populated with ports and cities, and many adventurous folks headed west to find their dreams in the wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. As the number of settlements increased, the trade of goods, and music, was inevitable.

They call it the “Folk Process”, the evolution of folklore and music as it is passed aurally from one person to the next. In the “Old World” there was little daily interaction between common folk of different cultures, but in the “Mixing Bowl” of the “New World” it was commonplace.

In the time before radio and recordings, all entertainment was live and local. Communities, from bustling city to humble farm town, had church picnics and barn dances as a means of getting together for a couple of hours of good times, dancing and music each week. If a community wasn’t lucky enough to have a resident fiddler one would be hired from a neighboring community. Some musicians found that they could make a living traveling the backroads and playing at small get-togethers. Traveling minstrels and medicine shows brought music and entertainment to communities large and small. As musicians traveled and played together they traded licks and styles. Background, culture, even skin color did not matter.

A mighty river is made great by the many small creeks and streams that flow into it. This week, the Old Blue Bus is going to take a journey along some the streams that flow into American music


The largest numbers of early immigrants to America were from what are now the British Isles. It stands to reason that the music of England was the most prominent influence on the music of America, so that is where we will start our journey.

The basic tune of many American songs, including the National Anthem, can be directly traced to popular songs that the settlers from England brought along with them. The Old Time breakdown fiddle tune, “Black Eyed Susie”, has been traced back to a melody called “Rosasolis” by musical historian, Samuel Preston Bayard. Many more songs may have started as tradional English folksongs, but were made uniquely American through the workings of the Folk Process.

The music of England has long had a strong influence on the music of America, the British Invasion didn’t start with the Beatles.

Janita Baker - Greensleeves.mp3

Lonesome Strangers - Billy in the Lowground.mp3

New Lost City Ramblers - Blackeyed Susie.mp3

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Good Old Time

The weekend is at hand!

I have been letting the news, the stock market, and the SOBs I work for get me down lately. Let's put all of the week’s bad news behind us and head for the hills for some toe tappin’ good Old Time music. I can’t think of any better way to shake the blues, than with some good ol’ mountain fiddle. I believe I'll head for a cool mountain stream this weekend to set the world right again.

Hold on to that jug, while I turn this Bus around.

Blue Ridge Highballers - Green Mountain Polka.mp3

Clayton McMichen & Riley Puckett - Old Molly Hare.mp3

Oscar Ford & Dewey Grace - Kiss Me Cindy.mp3

Vance's Tennessee Breakdowners - Ragged Ann.mp3

I’ve got lots of old 78s from our friend Walt’s Cousin Wes to record this weekend. Lot’s of goodies to share with the riders on the Bus in the coming weeks.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Brother, can you spare a dime?"

The credit problem seems to be a larger problem than first thought. The stock market sank again yesterday, and as I write this the Korean market is down a record 7% for the day. It looks like we've got a long, rough ride ahead.

We've been down this road before. I was adopted and raised by my maternal grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression. The hard times of the Depression affected all of those who lived through it. Like many who survived the difficult times of the Depression, my grandparents remained frugal throughout their lives and never wasted anything or spent their hard earned money on anything frivolous. I suppose some of that frugal mindset was passed on to me.

Some people play the horses, some drop quarters in the slot machines, and those that don’t understand basic math buy lottery tickets. I drive a 40 year old car and squirrel away every dollar I can. My portfolio has taken quite a hit as of late, as has everyone’s. There’s no need to panic, yet, but one would be wise to keep a watchful eye on the market.

The Chad Mitchell Trio - Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.mp3

Zeke Manners & His Gang - Inflation.mp3

Buck Ryan & Smitty Irvin - Finger And Toes.mp3

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

That’s just nonsense!

Mid-week. We'll soon be over the hump and on the downhill slide toward the weekend!

This has been a rough week so far, and it’s still young. The stock market has continued its downward spiral, the Chinese are exporting their toxic waste as toothpaste and children’s toys , there is talk of reinstating the draft, and the president’s “Brain” is packing up and going home.

It seems to be the season for nonsense.

The Simon Sisters (Lucy & Carly) - Winken, Blinken and Nod.mp3

Erik Darling - FOD.mp3

Doc Watson - Sing Song Kitty.mp3

Monday, August 13, 2007

Someone to take us in

During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s the cities of the Northeast dealt with a tremendous influx of immigrants. The newcomers arrived by ships from Europe, but they also came from the rural South. They came for the opportunities and promise of a better life in the new textile mills, factories, and steel mills.

For some of the youngest, the big cities held neither promise nor opportunity. The orphanages and poor houses of cities like New York and Boston were overcrowded with “foundlings” and “street urchins”. Some where truly orphaned by the death of one or both parents, but many were “given up” by parents who could not care for or feed another mouth. Many more youngsters were turned loose or runaways who turned to the streets to fend for themselves. Some young street “orphans” sold matches, newspapers, or apples on the streets to survive, others banded together in gangs for support and protection.

In 1853, a young minister, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to help remedy the terrible plight of these “children of unhappy fortune.” Brace believed that they would fair much better in good homes in the country. He also knew that the farmers out west were in need of labor, and devised a way to solve both problems. Between 1854 and 1929, the Children’s Aid Society, and the like-minded New York Foundling Hospital, organized “Orphan Trains” to relocate “unwanted” children to more desirable locations.

On September 20, 1854, the first train left with 46 10-12 year old boys headed for Dowagiac, Michigan. Agents placed ads in local newspapers at stops along the way, well in advance of the train’s arrival. At each stop the children were lined up and displayed for prospective families. The Orphan Trains rolled west until all of the children had been “adopted”. Some have argued that the process was a thin disguise for a means to clean up the streets of New York, or to provide nothing more than indentured servents for the farmers, and in some cases I'm sure that is true, but for many children who found a home and family it was a blessing, and the begining of the foster care system in the United States. No one is sure how many children rode the Orphan Trains, but most sources agree that 150,000 is a conservative number, some estimates go as high as 500,000.

With the stock market crash and the beginning of the depression, few families could consider adding another mouth to feed, and the era of the Orphan Trains came to an end.

If you have ever wondered, as I once did, why there seems to be a strangely large number of songs from the turn of the 20th century about orphans, now you know.

Mac Wiseman - Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.mp3

Doc Watson - Little Orphan Girl.mp3

Bill Monroe - No Home, No Place To Pillow My Head.mp3

East Virginia - Wreck of the Carrie Norton.mp3
As this song tells, not all the Orphan Trains were trains.

Dry Branch Fire Squad - The Orphan Train.mp3

Futher reading: The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America by Marilyn Irvin Holt.

Luke Powers: Picture Book

“Not only was it recorded in a train-car, but it features a song in tribute to John Hartford.” That’s how Luke Powers introduced me to his new, semi-autobiographical CD, appropriately entitled Picture Book.

With Picture Book, Luke Powers offers glimpses into coming of age and living in the South. As a songwriter, Luke Powers has that rare ability to draw the listener into the story, whether it’s a song of adolescent first kisses in the graveyard, lifelong friendships, or the yearning to return to a childhood home.

During the day, Luke Powers is an English Professor at Tennessee State University with a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt and a M.A. in folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill. When not shaping young minds Luke writes. He writes fiction and poetry, and he writes songs, strong, concise, and sometimes haunting songs, full of vivid imagery and a touch of whimsy.

A few years ago he teamed up with the well known producer and multi-instrumentalist session musician, Tommy Spurlock and began the journey that would lead to Picture Book. Along the way the two collaborated on the protest CD Kakistocracy, which should be required listening for all Americans, whatever your political affiliations.

Picture Book was indeed recorded in a train car, as Luke claims. The tracks (no pun intended) were laid down at Spurlock’s “The Train” studio in Nashville, which is housed in antique Pullman rail cars. While Spurlock and Powers assembled an impressive group of musicians to work on Picture Book, tragedy and change were to prove part of the recording process. First, drummer Randy Hardison was killed by a mysterious blow to the head as he was checking mail at his apartment. While most of the drum tracks had been recorded, out of respect for Hardison, all remaining songs were recorded without drums.

Then, due to business and partnership problems, Tommy Spurlock lost “The Train” and relocated to the Austin area, where he built a new studio, Chiva Recording. It was at Chiva that the final mix was completed for Picture Book.

Picture Book is a solid release from a very talented songwriter, accompanied by great session musicians. Highly Recommended.

Luke Powers - Wishing On A Starry Night.mp3

Luke Powers - Ghost Of The Cherokee.mp3

Buy your copy of Picture Book at CD Baby or iTunes.

Check out the videos from Picture Book at YouTube.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Warning: Lazy Weekend Ahead

Whoa! It's Friday!
It snuck up on me this week. I've been so busy, I must have lost track of the days.

For the first weekend in as long as I can remember, I have no plans. As much as I love getting out and catching a concert, taking a road trip, or paddling a cool mountain stream, once in awhile a quiet weekend at home is just what the doctor ordered.

I’ve picked a few fun tunes to leave you with.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Don Reno & Red Smiley and The Tennessee Cutups - Country Boy Rock n' Roll.mp3

Al Dexter - New Broom Boogie.mp3

Bill Long - What a Waste (Of Good Corn Likker).mp3

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Open Road

The dog days of August are a traditional time to hit the road and get away for a while.

The American love affair with the automobile is a well entrenched part of our lives, and has been the subject of song since the days of crank starters. The car and the open road have been celebrated by the moonshiner, the young rebel, the jilted lover, and anyone looking for a little adventure.

The open road, it can be a four-lane interstate or a twisting back road. It’s not the road itself, it’s the journey that makes the difference.

Let’s take a road trip...

Sam McGee - Chevrolet Car.mp3

Doc Watson - Call of the Road.mp3

Kate Campbell - Galaxie 500.mp3
buy a copy at

Cheryl Wheeler - Driving Home.mp3
buy a copy at

Adrienne Young - River and a Dirt Road.mp3
buy a copy at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Down on the farm

When I was a child there was a small, insulated box that sat on the step outside the kitchen door. In the morning, as my sister and I were getting ready for school, my grandmother would reach out the door into that box and bring in the two quart bottles of milk that had been placed there in the pre-dawn hours.

I don’t remember when the milkman stopped delivering, but I do remember the odd taste that the milk in the bottles from the grocery store had. It took a while to get used to blended, pasteurized milk, but I adjusted. Years later, I married a dairy farmer’s daughter and enjoyed that wonderful taste of fresh milk whenever we visited her folks in Wisconsin. Their dairy farm is gone now, sold to a large agricultural corporation when my in-laws retired.

Like most folks, I love the taste of fresh food. I’m sure I have told the story of picking apples at the orchard up the road and the kindly elderly woman that would press those apples into cider. I was fortunate to grow up in a small community surrounded by farms.

One by one, all of my favorite places to buy fresh food have faded into nothing more than fond memories. The milkman, the butcher shop, the bakery, and the roadside stand were as hard to find as the cobbler that once resoled our shoes.

Fortunately, after several scares with the safety of food imported from far off lands, farmer’s markets are making a comeback. I have been shopping at the farmer’s market in Petersburg, Virginia for the past few years. Along with the fresh produce, grass fed beef, free range chickens, and goat cheese, there is always a jam session going on, all of it fresh and local. Now that’s my idea of shopping.

John Dilleshaw - Farmer's Blues.mp3

Carolina Tar Heels - Got the Farm Land Blues.mp3

The Strange Creek Singers - Poor Old Dirt Farmer.mp3

Flatt and Scruggs - The Homestead on the Farm.mp3

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Oh, God, for one more breath"*

Another repost. This should be the last week of overtime and long, strange hours at the plant. Until then, new posts on the Bus will be as I get time.

I wrote this on 15 January 2006, for the families of the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Unfortunately, it is appropriate once again. Only the location has changed.

The recent tragedy at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah remindes 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.mp3

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.
Our hopes are that the miners trapped in Utah will be found alive to rejoin their families.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer - It's A Start

Friday! I thought it would never get here.
The weekend starts as soon as the whistle blows at quittin’ time today.

Our favorite things on the Bus are good friends, good music, and good drink. Life just doesn’t get any better than when the three are combined.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Big Bill Broonzy - Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down.mp3

Tampa Red & His Chicago Five - Let's Get Drunk And Truck.mp3

Amos Milburn - One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.mp3

Side Note: I hope you caught Grace Potter & The Nocturnals on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Big black trains and cold, cold beer

Stop me if you’ve heard this...

I had to work extra late tonight and don't have the energy or time to write a decent post, so I've reposted one from the past. What’s this? Reruns on the Bus? Sorry, I do not plan to make a habit of this, but I figure it’s better than letting the Bus idle.

This post originally appeared on the Bus 2 February 2006. I have selected new music to accompany, so it is only my rambling that is repeated.

There is only one road out of the industrial wasteland where I earn make my living and that road is crossed by three railway crossings. Recently it seems that someone at Norfolk Southern Railroad has scheduled the assembly of a large freight train at beer-thirty on Wednesday afternoons. A long string of tank and hopper cars eases across the road, the engine well out of sight beyond the bend, ever slowing until the echoing jolt of the couplers is heard and then the parade reverses. As the last tank car approaches the crossing, the snake of cars comes to a stop once again as the brakeman throws the switch. The string of cars reverse down a new track this time until, bang!bang,bang,bang... yet another string of cars are added to the parade. Now much longer than when it first backed across my path to cold beer and freedom, the train slowly starts it's long journey to places far away.

I've sat in my car watching this slow-motion pong game for thirty to forty-five minutes every Wednesday and it occurred to me that most songs about trains speak of gaining your freedom on a train to somewhere new or of losing someone who was leaving on a train. Not a song comes to mind that presents the train as an impediment to freedom. Perhaps I could use my time, as the tank cars lumber by, to write a sad train song about my temporary loss of freedom.
Yea, or I could just throw a cooler behind the seats on Wednesdays.

The Titans - The Noplace Special.mp3

Arlie Miller - Big Black Train.mp3

Stan Johnson & The Sonics - Big Black Train.mp3

Floyd Fletcher - Move on Down the Track.mp3

Note: Our hearts go out to the folks affected by the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.