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Author Topic: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?  (Read 5251 times)

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Offline outfidel

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Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« on: August 15, 2005, 05:26:23 PM »
When Harry Smith assembled his great Anthology of American Folk Music, he included 4 songs by The Carter Family. But he didn't include any songs by Jimmie Rodgers.

Rodgers and The Carter Family are credited with launching country music on record with their 1927 Bristol sessions. Also, Rodgers had plenty of songs that would seem to fit into Smith's "weird old America", with plenty of rambling, gambling & shooting. And trains, too.

So why do you think Smith left Rodgers out of the Anthology? Was Rodgers "too popular", i.e. not obscure enough for Smith's purposes? Was Rodgers "too modern", i.e. too similar to 1950s Grand Ol Opry sound of Smith's day?
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Offline waxwing

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2005, 05:47:52 PM »
I don't know? Why do you think, Michael? You're more versed in Country than most of the folks on this country blues oriented board. 'Course I know you like to throw the dogs a bone now and then to see what kind of tussle ensues, eh?-G- So how 'bout giving your opinion first?
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Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2005, 06:34:14 PM »
Both Rodgers and the Carters were very commercially succesful, so I think that the availability of records at the time Smith was collecting may have been the determining factor.

  RCA Victor kept Rodgers recordings in print continuosly, year after year up through the '80's.

  On the other hand, a lot of Carter Family stuff was out of print for a few decades.
  My guess would be that because the Carter Family stuff was harder to obtain at the time, Smith may have viewed them as being more esoteric. 
   Just a guess.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2005, 08:36:16 PM »
A provocative question. I remember reading somewhere that there was an element of "content analysis" in Harry's thinking (Fahey's notes? Spottswood maybe?)--But that's hardly conclusive--or even a clue given the content of both the Carter Family's 27-32 sides as well as Rodgers'. I agree with Mike B that his stuff grabs you. When I first got the JSP set and was listening to it, my daughter who was 16 at the time said, "This music is unbelievable!" (She was also taken with Blind Lemon Jefferson, early Bill Monore, as well as Charley Patton around the same time.) In addition, I remember hearing an interview on NPR with Leon Redbone who went on to remark that he sang three of Jimmie Rogers' songs on his first album and went on to give the reasons. But I digress--as for deconstructing Harry reasoning, I don't know why he left him out.

P.S. In checking the spelling of his (Spottswood's) name, I ran across this link:

http://www.wamu.org/programs/ds/

Maybe they do a webcast

And for Emma Lee, and the rest of you in Seattle, the UW Music Library has his "Ethnic music on records : a discography of ethnic recordings produced in the United States, 1893 to 1942" in seven volumes. Here's the link:

http://catalog.lib.washington.edu/search/aspottswood%2C+richard+k/aspottswood+richard+k/1%2C2%2C21%2CB/frameset&FF=aspottswood+richard+k+richard+keith&5%2C%2C20

Offline outfidel

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2005, 05:16:43 AM »
'Course I know you like to throw the dogs a bone now and then to see what kind of tussle ensues, eh?-G- So how 'bout giving your opinion first?

Hey now - that Stokes/Rodgers thing was an honest question - I didn't know a tussle would ensue. But it did become kinda interesting, didn't it?  ;)

As to my guess as to why Harry Smith included The Carter Family but not Jimmie Rodgers: in the early 1950s, the stuff being played on the Grand Ol' Opry probably sounded like a direct descendant of Jimmie Rodgers' music. Smith was looking for an older, "lost" sound - Rodgers may have sounded "too mainstream" at the time. But that's just a guess.

I'm also curious as to why Smith didn't include any Blind Blake in the Anthology. He did include Blind Lemon Jefferson & Charley Patton (Masked Marvel), who were the other 2 country blues giants of the 1920s. I wonder if Blake's ragtime style sounded "too modern" to Smith's ears.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2005, 05:21:49 AM by outfidel »
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2005, 07:44:10 AM »
Didn't Harry Smith just put together stuff he thought was cool and would go together? He seems to have approached the anthology more as an art project than a rigorous survey of commercial music from the 20s and 30s. And I suspect Jimmie Rodgers was just too popular for him.

Offline Cleoma

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2005, 08:39:36 AM »
You got that right, Uncle Bud!  Harry Smith was a certified Bohemian wierdo Rennaissance man, and I have heard the following stories from various people who knew him, about how he put together the Anthology.  They might all be true:
1.  Harry Smith obtained many of his 78's from one source, a warehouse in Richmond California (he lived in Berkeley at that time) where I believe they were slated to be melted down and recycled.  This would mean that his collection was somewhat random.
2.  There is a numerological basis for the selection (he was into some pretty arcane spiritual stuff)
3.  He just picked the wierdest stuff he could find.
4.  His various extreme experiments with various drugs influenced his choice.
5.  His goal with the Anthology was to subvert the youth of America (and I'd say he had some success with that!

One thing I'm pretty sure of, which is that Harry Smith was NOT trying to choose either a representative selection OR the best example of each genre.  Otherwise, how do you explain his choice of Cajun material?  I mean, Blind Uncle Gaspard doing One Morning In May, but no Dennis McGee, no Amedee Ardoin???

It seems to be more of an expression of one wierd person's esthetic than anything else.  I believe that this is one reason why the Anthology is so powerful -- it holds many mysterious unexplained and unexplainable choices of music, this keeps the listener wondering and searching. 

By the way, among Harry Smith's other artistic endeavors were:  avant-garde film-making (I've seen some of these and they are pretty out there!), making field recordings of Native American music, collecting various kinds of folk art, including Ukranian easter eggs, American quilts, paper airplanes, and  (I think) Central American textiles, painting, and taking drugs.  If you are interested in Harry Smith, there's a book called (I think) "Think of the Self Speaking" that is well worth reading.  He makes people like Allen Ginsberg or Neal Cassady look really, really mainstream.
Suzy T.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2005, 10:03:04 AM »
Another Harry Smith book:

"American Magus Harry Smith : a modern alchemist" / edited by Paola Igliori 
(New York : Inanout Press, 1996 )

The more I read about Harry, the more I'm convinced that the Anthology was the most "mainstream" thing he did. I think that his family was from the Bellingham area. Seems to have the eye of an anthropologist, but with a tongue in cheek approach. I don't know whether the Anthology on some levels is a parody or a daydream--perhaps the parody of a daydream. You tell me.

Uncle Stuie

Offline Stuart

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2005, 02:04:28 PM »
For you Puget Sounders:

The Seattle Public Library has:

Think of the self speaking : Harry Smith-- selected interviews / introduction by Allen Ginsberg ; edited by Rani Singh.
by Smith, Harry Everett, 1923-1991.
Seattle, WA : Elbow/Cityful Press, 1999. 
Other Authors:  Singh, Rani.
 
Call#:  700.92 SMITH 1999
 
Edition:  1st ed.
Description:  iii, 186 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
ISBN:  1885089066 (pbk. : alk. paper)

I haven't checked the King County Library System, but they might have it as well.

Offline phhawk

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2005, 06:20:26 PM »
Hello all,
 I think the original title of the Harry Smith anthology might explain why artists like Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Blake, etc. were not included. The original title was "Folkways Anthology Of American Folk Music". Technically speaking; Jimmie Rodgers and Blind Blake were not Folk artists in the true sense compared to, say, The Carter Family, Blind Lemmon, Charley Patton, etc. as there music was more homogenized rather than having evolved from a specific area or style and were meant to have broader appeal than true folk music. Folk artists can become very popular, but the market comes to them, rather than the other way around.

Coincedentally, I have an interview of Harry Smith in an old "Sing Out, The Folk Song Magazine", April/May 1969, where he talks about the Anthology. He says, "The Anthology was not an attempt to get all the best records... a lot of these were selected because thye were odd-an important version of the song, or one which came from some particular place".

I should say that, I don't have a copy of this Anthology and I don't know what is on it, therefore I might not know what I'm writing about here. Anyway, if anyone would like a copy of the interview they can email me and I can send them a copy and if thye want to post it on WC, have at it. Personally, I'm to lazy.

Regards, Phil?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2005, 06:43:37 PM »
"Folk artists can become very popular, but the market comes to them, rather than the other way around."

Have to comment, that's a very astute observation. I've never known where to draw the line. The crossover begins when the marketers start the first campaign. The art of "selling out" successfully may be by maintaining the illusion of not really caring much if people like (buy) your music while promoting the hell out of it all the way to the bank. Not a criticism as such, we've all got to eat.

The record companies owned and ultimately mismanaged the supply chain, turning music into consumer product long ago. We'd be much better off if folk-with-a-small-f musicians could act independently outside the machine and still make a buck.

Offline outfidel

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2005, 11:55:10 AM »
Technically speaking; Jimmie Rodgers and Blind Blake were not Folk artists in the true sense compared to, say, The Carter Family, Blind Lemmon, Charley Patton, etc. as there music was more homogenized rather than having evolved from a specific area or style and were meant to have broader appeal than true folk music.

I'm not sure that I agree with this. Blind Blake came from the southeast USA playing ragtime Piedmont style blues. In what way was his music more "homogenized" than Blind Lemon & Charley Patton?
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Offline Stuart

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #12 on: August 17, 2005, 01:46:16 PM »
I'm with Outfidel. I hate to be a troublemaker, or argumentative, but what is "a folk artist in the true sense?" Let's at least get a definition or range of meanings that we can use as common ground, or at least agree on. We hardly know anything about Blind Blake--nothing about his early musical biography. The Carter Family, Charley Patton and Blind Lemon all were successful professional musicians, as were Blake and Rodgers. Are "folk artist" and "professional musician" mutually exclusive? What is the criterion or criteria that we are to use for our classification system? And is any of this really necessary??!! Was the musical soul of McKinley Morganfield who was recorded in the early forties by Lomax different from that of Muddy Waters who recorded for Chess in the fifties? Please tell me, because I want to know.

Stu (aka Mr. Know-It-All  ;) )
« Last Edit: January 07, 2009, 08:25:46 PM by Stuart »

Offline frankie

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2005, 08:52:36 AM »
The terms "folk artist" and "professional musician" seem to have personal value that occasionally makes discussion awkward, if not difficult.  It might be worthwhile to dredge up this thread from a while back that managed to touch on a number of related issues.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Harry Smith anthology - no Jimmie Rodgers?
« Reply #14 on: August 26, 2005, 09:55:36 AM »
"Awkward?" "Difficult"--that's probably an understatement. Sometimes it's clear-cut, but othertimes when we get into the gray areas....

I was just trying to contribute to the discussion regarding what criteria Harry used. I'm continuously fascinated by the AAFM, but I don't think we'll ever really completely know why Harry put it together the way he did. It's a great topic for discussion, however.

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