Sunday, June 29, 2008

Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways

Just the mention of piano blues summons the sounds of many different styles to my mind’s ears: barrelhouse, ragtime, boogie woogie, swing, R&B... Although all of these styles owe something to the barrelhouse piano players of the bordellos and saloons of major cities, the only characteristic that they all share is that the piano is the primary musical instrument.

Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways is a wonderful introduction to the various styles of piano blues performed by many of the innovators of the genre. Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways is the latest in the Smithsonian Folkways great ‘Classic’ series, which includes Classic Old-Time Fiddle, Classic Blues (Vols. 1 & 2), Classic Bluegrass (Vols. 1 & 2), Classic Old-Time Music, and a slew of other great recordings from the archives of Folkways Recordings founder, Moses Asch.

Included in this great collection, mostly recorded at Asch’s studio between the1940s and the ‘60s, are a few rare and wonderful cuts not widely available since originally pressed. Naturally, boogie-woogie is well represented with two renditions of Pinetop Smith’s classic “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” performed by Speckled Red and Little Brother Montgomery. Two other foot tapping boogie woogie tunes, Memphis Slim’s hopin’ “Dedication to Pete Johnson” and Meade “Lux” Lewis’ “Medium Blues” will fill your urge to boogie.

During the Folk Revival, Huddie Ledbetter was a staple for Asch’s Folkways. Although mostly known as a guitar player, Lead Belly was a multi-instrumentalist. Here he accompanies his signature vocals with a great little number on the piano, “Big Fat Woman.”

Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways is worthy of its title. This collection is chock full of great, classic piano blues recordings. ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree pays homage to the archive’s founder with a song entitled “On My Way To See Moe Asch.” Memphis Slim is accompanied by bass player Willie Dixon on “Wish Me Well.” Sammy Price presents a bluesy jazz number entitled “Harlem Parlor Blues.” St. Louis style blues are beautifully presented by Henry Brown on piano and Edith North Johnson singing a soulful “Little Drops of Water.”

Smithsonian Folkways has done an outstanding job of presenting some of the gems in its vast collection. I will be looking forward to Volume 2 of this collection. In the mean time Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways will be in regular rotation on the Bus.

Artist: Various
Title: Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
Release Date: June 24, 2008
Available from: purchase or download from Smithsonian Folkways or Smithsonian Global Sound
Also available from Purchase from Amazon or Download from Amazon.
Or purchase at your favorite local record or book store.

Memphis Slim - Dedication to Pete Johnson.mp3

Henry Townsend - All My Money's Gone.mp3

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Kinfolk said “move away from there”

City folk have long enjoyed poking fun at their rural cousins, and yet it seems many in the cities and sprawling suburbs envy what they believe to be the simpler, more natural life of the folks they call hillbillies and country bumpkins.

The media has, for decades, helped to foster the stereotypical view the inhabitants of rural areas, especially mountain folk. Since the 1930s, Al Capp’s comic strip exploits of Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, and all the folks of Dogpatch were a regular feature in newspapers across North America.

In 1960, CBS Television aired the first episode of the Andy Griffith Show. The setting for the show was the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Many believe that Mayberry was modeled after Mount Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s childhood home. Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Aunt Bea, and Opie were portrayed as small town Appalachian folks. The opening scene for the show is deeply ingrained in the minds of anyone of a certain age. Sheriff Andy and you Opie are walking back from a day of fishing at Myers Lake, accompanied by the now familiar whistling of Earle Hagen’s “The Fishin’ Hole”, which Hagen wrote for the show. Earl Hagen passed away last week, he had written music for many television shows throughout his life. No small town in Appalachia would be complete without a moonshiner and Mayberry had the Darling family, played by the bluegrass band The Dillards. The Dillards, and their music, were featured several times throughout the show’s history.

The Andy Griffith Show was hugely popular. The quaint tales of small town America captivated the country. Then in 1962, while shootin’ at some food, ol’ Jed Clampett struck it rich and kinfolk said “Jed, move away from there.” The Beverly Hillbillies were a surprise hit for the studios. Jed, Granny, Jethro and Ellie May were panned by the critics, but the show was one of the most popular shows on television. While plenty of fun was poked at the quirky family from the Ozarks, the real comedy was the satirical view of the contrived lifestyles of the wealthy inhabitants of those Beverly Hill mansions. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs provided the show’s theme music and made several guest appearances.

Back in the Clampett’s home region near Hooterville was Kate Bradley’s Shady Rest Hotel and Mr. Drucker’s store. The Shady Rest was located at Petticoat Junction. One would assume that Petticoat Juntion lies at the crossing of two rail lines, but only one was ever mentioned on the show. Lazy ol’ Uncle Joe was the caretaker at the Shady Rest, but I don’t recall ever seeing him actually do anything around the place.

Hooterville looked to me to be a fine place to live. Makes one wonder why the Clampetts moved away like they did. It was such a nice place that Oliver Wendell Douglas, a successful New York attorney, along with his wife Lisa, left the city life for the fresh air farm life in Hooterville.

By 1970, CBS Television purged its primetime lineup of all these rural-based shows for the hip new shows based on life in the big city. For all the fun poked at rural life, these shows remain popular in syndication.

I kinda miss those times when television was more rural, and entertaining.

Earle Hagen - The Fishin' Hole (Theme from the Andy Griffith Show.mp3)

Flatt and Scruggs - The Ballad of Jed Clampett.mp3

Curt Massey - Petticoat Junction.mp3

Green Acres Theme.mp3

The Dillards - Dooley.mp3