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Author Topic: Gone to the Country  (Read 3388 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Gone to the Country
« on: January 24, 2012, 09:02:47 AM »
Gone to the Country
The New Lost City Ramblers and the Folk Music Revival

I just finished reading Gone to the Country: The New Lost City Ramblers & the Folk Music Revival by Ray Allen (University of Illinois Press). A thoroughly enjoyable read that for me was a fascinating look at the Ramblers and their music from the late '50s through to the 1970s and a little beyond. Since I was not following their musical careers at the time, much of the information in the book was new to me, and the coverage of the growth of the traditional and old-time music scene covered in the book, from the early New York days to the later West Coast scene, filled in a lot of historical background that I was only vaguely aware of. Along the way the book also covers the growth of the Newport Folk Festival as well as the Friends of Old-Time Music concerts, TV shows like Rainbow Quest and Hootenanny, and the pop side of the folk revival in the music of the Kingston Trio and the like - the enemy as far as NLCR were concerned.

The book includes quite a bit of discussion not only of the history but the Ramblers' particular approach to traditional and old-time music, as well as the question of whether they should even be playing it, despite the fact that they were at the centre of rebuilding its popularity during this period. Not just a philosophical question either, for it meant they could not get certain gigs if, for instance, a festival was dependent on a certain grant promoting traditional arts, as they were considered northern city slickers, revivalists, not traditional players by birth, while at the same time they were helping to promote not just the music but many southern players outside their home territory. It's also sobering to note that despite their prominence at the time (and now looking back from 2012 when their historical significance is well established), record sales were always sluggish and limited and income from performing was generally modest to poor - despite being some of the most successful musicians playing this kind of music outside of the south, really at the forefront. 

The very deliberate eclecticism and multi-instrumentalism of NLCR is also inspiring to read about from a musician's point of view. It allowed them the freedom to approach many styles within the broad tradition of southern music and experiment within those traditions, with each member bringing their own interests and discoveries into the NCLR musical realm. They could be very broad-minded musically with this approach, while at the same time staying very grounded in the musical vocabulary of the genres they chose to play.

Sources for the book include numerous interviews with all of the Ramblers and the book integrates their individual perspectives on their approach to music, the personal tensions their music careers and careers outside music created, and the difficulties of being full-time performing musicians.

Recommended!
« Last Edit: December 13, 2014, 08:14:23 AM by Slack »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2012, 05:13:38 PM »
I liked this book a lot as well, more so than the recent Mike Seeger biography.

One thing that I think is pretty fascinating (and a real shame as far as I'm concerned) is that many of the young old-time musicians that I know pretty much ignore the Ramblers and their music. Much of their inspiration comes from the next generation (or even a couple of generations) of bands since the Ramblers and some old-timers, but mostly old-timers recorded since the '60s and '70s. There's not a huge influence of music from 78s. I don't know if others have found this in your local old-time communities as well -- I think at least part of it is due to the neglect of songs in favor of instrumental music.

It's too bad, especially because totally apart from the NLCR's historical significance they're a great band!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2012, 06:22:28 PM »
Thanks very much for the review, uncle bud.  I haven't read the book, but it sounds fascinating.  I was fortunate enough to see the New Lost City Ramblers perform a lot when I was a kid, in the '60s.  The first time was, I believe, at the 1964 Swarthmore College Folk Festival, when I was thirteen.  Tracy Schwarz had recently replaced Tom Paley in the band.  Their shows were always wonderfully varied.  They were (and are, in the case of Tracy and John Cohen) all multi-instrumentalists, and the love they felt for the music and respect for the tradition and their elders in the tradition came through loud and clear, but in a fun way, not stiff or censorious.
I owe them a great deal for steering me and so many others to so much great music and for finding and making so many wonderful musicians available to us.

I know what you mean about the younger Old-Time crowd not being interested, Chris.  In Belingham, we have a pretty active Old-Time scene, and it's hard to get the young folks to come out for shows of people who are great musicians in the style.  I suspect there are a number of reasons for this--lack of money to pay to attend a show, and possibly, the feeling of wanting to play but not being interested in sitting and listening.  We were all young once, and some still are.  At my current juncture, it seems like such a treat to hear great musicians play, and to hear how the listening and playing of a lifetime has manifested in their ways of making music.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2012, 06:54:21 PM »
it's hard to get the young folks to come out for shows of people who are great musicians in the style.  I suspect there are a number of reasons for this--lack of money to pay to attend a show, and possibly, the feeling of wanting to play but not being interested in sitting and listening.  We were all young once, and some still are.

Hey, I resemble that remark. It works both ways. I'm an old guy and I'd rather stay home and play than listen to the 99%. The other 1% I'll go out of my way to see play. I'll also attend festivals and pick in the camp site with friends, and have been known to never go see what's happening on the stage.

I'm just not interested in most of the stuff that gets out there on the live stage, never have been, never will be. It drains my energy to make the effort to go see acts I'm supposed to like but just plain bore me to death, for whatever reason.

I don't know much about music but I know what I like. I like to play.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2012, 06:57:03 PM by Rivers »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2012, 08:57:10 PM »
I can understand the liking to play rather than going out to see bands, but there is something special about seeing someone in that 1%. I was lucky enough to see the NLCR play once at a festival in Bishop, CA in 1993, and I learned more about banjo in one 2-hour workshop that Seeger and Cohen gave than I had learned in nearly 3 years of playing. And all they did was play one tune after another; they weren't "teaching." And they were fun to see live, too, as John says. Certainly none of the behind-the-scenes animosity mentioned in the book was apparent.

I was referring to recordings, though, too -- a lot of the folks I know, in addition to not listening to the NLCR, wouldn't be the least interested in Buell Kazee or Uncle Dave Macon, for instance, or even Roscoe Holcomb, and especially not in anything like Charlie Poole or Riley Puckett. I enjoy many of the folks that they enjoy listening to, it just seems to me like they're missing out on some good stuff.
Chris


Offline Stuart

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2012, 11:33:18 PM »

Offline Cleoma

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2012, 07:43:59 AM »
I think that to the young'uns, the NLCR seem antiquated, and not in a good way -- however, many of the young'uns DID appreciate Mike Seeger, who continued to seek out and encourage young players right up to the end.  Mike somehow was able to do this in a way that minimized the generation gap, certainly I felt that much less with him than with John and Tracy, and I've hung out with all of them a fair bit over the years.  Rayna Gellert said something when we were interviewing her for the NLCR film, like "Every younger old time musician has been influenced by the NLCR, even if they don't know it."
 I think Mike's "style" was something the young people could relate to, and Mike himself was genuinely respectful and appreciative of them, so that made it easier for them to be that way toward him. For me that is such a great example and one that I try to emulate.
I feel so lucky to have gotten a chance to be around them all and am also very glad to have made the film, even though it wasn't exactly the film I would have made on my own.
Suzy

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2012, 08:12:24 AM »
John, re. the Ramblers not being stiff or censorious, another thing the book makes abundantly clear is the amount of humour and fun they brought to their performances. It's pretty evident in their live recordings too.

Chris, I have noticed in my limited experience at old-time festivals that the instrumental fiddle-driven playing dominates by far, but I've also noted there are some songsters still around, even some young ones. I remember one night sitting and watching a younger banjo player swapping Uncle Dave tunes with two older more experienced players. Pretty great.

One topic dealt with towards the end of the book is the subsequent generations of old-time string bands, some deliberately using the more fixed instrumentation one often sees today in certain circles. ( I'm not much of a fan of the upright bass in today's old-time contexts. Very occasional use for some different texture perhaps, but I find that even more than adding a guitar player, adding a bass immediately smooths things out, makes form and phrasing more regular and the overall sound too modern.)


Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2012, 08:26:05 AM »

 I think Mike's "style" was something the young people could relate to, and Mike himself was genuinely respectful and appreciative of them, so that made it easier for them to be that way toward him. For me that is such a great example and one that I try to emulate.
I feel so lucky to have gotten a chance to be around them all and am also very glad to have made the film, even though it wasn't exactly the film I would have made on my own.
Suzy

Well expressed, Suzy! I second the emotion.

Lyle

Offline jaycee

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2012, 09:29:17 AM »
just checked the price of the book decent enough price at amazon u.k. for the paperback edition of the book. so i will order myself a copy, thanks for the review uncle bud.
jaycee

Offline matt milton

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2012, 03:40:34 PM »
Living in London I am fortunate enough to be able to hear and watch Tom Paley play and sing every single Tuesday night at Sharps Folk Club, if I want to. That's a great thing - especially because, to reply to an earlier poster, you get to listen AND play, one of the nice things about the informal nature of folk "singarounds" in the UK. Tom also still plays quite a lot of long solo gigs and is just about to release a new album. Pretty good going for an 80something.

Offline frailer24

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2012, 12:48:09 AM »
There's not a huge influence of music from 78s. I don't know if others have found this in your local old-time communities as well -- I think at least part of it is due to the neglect of songs in favor of instrumental music.

It's too bad, especially because totally apart from the NLCR's historical significance they're a great band!

Where I live, I'm pretty much the old-time community! All joking aside, I have noticed that 99.9% of the "new" old-time groups sound alike, right down to the fiddle tunes. I tried once, at a local jam, to introduce a few interesting (ok, obscure), tunes, and promptly got a load of grief. It is enough to drive a man insane. Whatever happened to the musicians willing to learn something new, if only to give their playing more variety? I feel that I am the last of a dying breed, so to speak.

Thanks for letting me ramble, I'll hush that noise now.
-Larry
« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 12:53:35 AM by frailer24 »
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Stuart

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2012, 11:37:07 AM »
I tried once, at a local jam, to introduce a few interesting (ok, obscure), tunes, and promptly got a load of grief.

Only once? You give up too easily--Welcome to the human realm.

But in all seriousness, Larry, it can be quite frustrating, to say the least. AM top 40, FM top 40, Country Blues top 40, Old Time top 40--they are all limiting, IMHO. We all have stories about how someone discovers a new musical genre, embraces the "mainstream" content, but rejects or is closed to almost everything else. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, you can hear a lot by listening. But some people refuse to listen or even entertain the notion that there is a lot more great music out there to be heard and played. Illegitimi non carborundum

Offline kenneth

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #13 on: July 15, 2015, 09:43:04 AM »
This book is wonderful and is very informative I am a long time fan of the NLCR and was lucky enough to see them live in 1967, in Leeds Town Hall, it even gets one line in the book. I also met, and spent some time with Tom Paley just after he left the band and came over to the UK, where he still lives, and plays at a grand old age. NLCR fans might check out this wonderful offer on Amazon,The first 6 NLCR Albums which were, and still are on Folkways Records

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00NUJ77E0/ref=ox_sc_act_image_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE
Kind Regards- Kenneth

Offline RobBob

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Re: Gone to the Country
« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2015, 11:29:54 AM »
I have known all three of the Ramblers and kept up with them somewhat at different times.  They are remarkable performers and at one time were "the" example that many followed in playing old time even though they pointed you to their sources as more valid.  But like anything else change comes and the fads of that the revival they were all important in starting left them behind.  John and Tracy still perform some and you will be wiser for seeking them out and hearing what they are doing.  They are old men now (a decade older than me) but are still sharp enough and know more about the music than any ten books can tell you.  I learned a lot from Tracy who was a neighbor of mine at one time.  We even played some bluegrass in different bands together (if that makes sense at local shows) way back when.

The book is good and brought back many memories of the early days. Tom Paley of course has been in England for a long time although he has made more recent forays to the states.  All of them were/are fully immersed in the tradition.