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Country Blues => Super Electrical Recordings! => Topic started by: LeftyStrat on December 21, 2010, 01:28:26 AM

Title: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LeftyStrat on December 21, 2010, 01:28:26 AM
I've suddenly been hit with the idea that I should add more Blind Willie McTell to my collection (not a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination), however I'm having a really hard time making up my mind as to which of the following to get.

Perhaps you, fellow enthusiasts, could give some suggestions to help me out.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I've narrowed it down to these for now:

Trying to get home (The library of Congress Sessions)
Atlanta 12-String
The Last Sessions

I'm drawn to the first one because of the "monologues" that Willie gives on a few tracks.  Suprisingly, the fact that its a Document release plays no part, despite my seeming favor toward the label and my extensive collection of CDs from them.

The others, I can't explain except for the quality of the clips I've heard .

There's honestly a part of me that wants to grab up all 3, but I'm hesitant for some reason to let go of the price, even though I know it would be well worth it.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: TonyGilroy on December 21, 2010, 01:32:33 AM
There's a Snapper 6CD set that retails in the UK for about ?10.

Apart from the odd track it has everything but the Atlantics and the Last Session. They are of course essential but another tenner will get you those.

The sound quality is nothing special but is OK.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: maddoggirl on December 21, 2010, 04:00:34 AM
If you'll permit me to offer an opinion, I would suggest the Library of Congress recording. It was my first blues album ever and, obviously, my first McTell and it cemented him as my favourite bluesman of all time. It shows off his astounding range better than most recordings, giving him a chance to expand well beyond the blues - as shown by folk/traditional tracks such 'Will Fox' and 'Boll Weevil', and a few gospel numbers, too.

The monologues are short but he comes off as exactly the astute, intelligent gent that Michael Gray's biography depicts, despite a little insensitive interrogation on Lomax's part (particularly evident in the monologue on 'Accidents', which sees McTell deftly repelling Lomax's request for a song entitled 'Ain't It Hard To Be A Nigger?' with 'That's not in our times.')

It also contains the flat-out best versions of 'Delia', 'Kill-It-Kid' and 'Dying Crapshooter' that he ever laid down, which makes me put it above Atlanta 12-String, although that album does feature a few gems ('Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie' and of course 'Broke Down Engine'). Similarly, Last Sessions is a great favourite of mine these days, but it's really geared towards the devoted fan, given as it doesn't contain his most accomplished technical work. It is fun, though, and is voice rings out very deep and clear on some cracking songs. My favourites from that session are 'Pal of Mine', 'Beedle-um-Bum' and 'Wabash Cannonball'.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Bunker Hill on December 21, 2010, 05:25:43 AM
I've suddenly been hit with the idea that I should add more Blind Willie McTell to my collection (not a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination), however I'm having a really hard time making up my mind as to which of the following to get.
I've narrowed it down to these for now:
Trying to get home (The library of Congress Sessions)
If you click on the TAG below among the numerous BWMcT topics there's one devoted to the discussion of the LoC recording which may, or may not, be of interest.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: uncle bud on December 21, 2010, 08:09:50 AM
I'd second maddoggirl's choice of the Library of Congress recordings (that is, assuming you have the other prewar recordings, and taking into account that I'd buy it all). The LoC recordings catch McTell playing material you don't find elsewhere, and he is fine form. Recording quality is not great but OK for field recordings. Just some great performances.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: CF on December 21, 2010, 08:13:18 AM
A couple years ago I decided I had to have everything that Willie recorded. I got just about everything & I'd recommend . . . everything he recorded  :) Not many artists have such a strong catalogue from top to bottom, GET IT ALL!
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: unezrider on December 21, 2010, 09:10:58 AM
hello friend,
check the sale section on the document site. the LOC were on sale there last i looked. & to quote cheapfeet, "GET IT ALL!"
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: onewent on December 21, 2010, 09:31:39 AM
..ditto cheapfeet's idea.  But if you're limited, I agree on the LOC, but the Atlanta 12-String would be a top contender, too.  The recording quality is likely the best of all McTell recordings ..  you can really hear and appreciate Willie's voice and the timbre of his jimbo 12-string..this one's made for loud volume!  (well, both the CD and the 12-string)
Tom
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: jostber on December 21, 2010, 09:40:46 AM
"Trying To Get Home" is at special price at Document right now:

http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=BDCD-6001
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 21, 2010, 11:03:43 AM
I'd go for the first Yazoo personally. I do love the LoC recordings though.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LeftyStrat on December 22, 2010, 12:07:07 AM
Thanks to all for your input.  After reading your responses, I settled on the LOC recordings and "Atlanta 12-string" as a first step toward picking up as much as possible of Mr. McTell's catalogue.  Next will likely be Vol. 2 & 3 of the Document series along with the Document McTell/Weaver disc.   Even though I passed it up this time, The Last Sessions is a definite future pickup.

But I digress.  After I purchased and downloaded these at Amazon, I listened through both and remembered what drew me to "Atlanta 12-string". I was listening to clips a few days ago and heard a snippet of the next-to-last track "Pearly Gates". After listening to the song in full, I'm at a loss for words in trying to describe it.

Thanks again for your help folks,
Lefty
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: oddenda on December 22, 2010, 01:26:15 PM
The material recoded for Regal Records w. Curley Weaver in tow are the equal of the Atlantic sides. They were (mostly) on an Acrobat CD, but not sure of their availability at the moment. Mr. McTell was brilliant, even on a bad day!

pbl
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Johnm on December 22, 2010, 02:53:32 PM
Hi all,
I'm a little late to the game, but I would concur with O'Muck, on selecting the Yazoo Vol. 1.  Willie McTell is one of the only Country Blues musicians whose singing I like less and less as he grew older.  Normally I much prefer the singing of older musicians to their singing as young people.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on December 22, 2010, 03:16:54 PM
I agree with everybody!

A couple years ago, I wrote a little appreciation of Atlanta 12-String (http://www.donegone.net/?p=147).  I'll always have a soft spot for that record.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: unezrider on December 22, 2010, 10:42:37 PM
hello friend,
i should also mention that document has a sale on the three disc set of mctell for a super low price. i bought it just to have everything he recorded. & at that price you can't go wrong. i live in the states & it still cost about $8 or so to my door. real cheap. but when i want to hear the early stuff sounding it's best i look to the yazoo releases. (all three, but 'best of' in particular)
'pig & whistle red' is also very enjoyable. but i still agree, "GET IT ALL."  ;)
chris
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Parlor Picker on December 23, 2010, 03:37:24 AM
For more years than I like to admit, McTell has been one of my favourite country bluesmen, if not my absolute favourite: a beautiful voice and everything happening on the guitar (slide or fingerpicked). The first Yazoo LP has always been one of my all-time favourite albums.  Last night I dug out the LoC LP and, apart from the great music, I find the interviews fascinating. McTell was clearly a very intelligent man.

You simply can't have too much Blind Willie McTell.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: maddoggirl on December 23, 2010, 10:55:59 AM
Last night I dug out the LoC LP and, apart from the great music, I find the interviews fascinating. McTell was clearly a very intelligent man.


I've always felt that this was what was responsible for the tangible moments of tension between McTell and Lomax in the interviews. I get the impression that Lomax preferred his singers to be more of the raw, countrified type who were a little more easily led, shall we say. Although McTell was born in the country, he was very well travelled and also had a much more thorough education than most of his contemporaries (including being able to read and write Braille and Braille music). He was very well regarded amongst his associates as a intelligent and independent man who clearly spots Lomax's game very quickly and dodges it with tact but determination.

He just wasn't the kind of Black man that Lomax felt comfortable with. Although he had a fairly progressive attitude for his time and undoubtedly had sympathy with the plight of the prisoners and sharecroppers he recorded, I think deep down he liked the sound of a Black man calling him 'boss' and anything else made him uneasy.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 23, 2010, 01:59:09 PM
I don't think its fair to say that about Lomax. He was a staunch progressive and his failings as a person seem to lean heavily in the direction of being cheap and neglectful of his obligations towards some people he recorded rather than racist. Your choice, but these distinctions are meaningful.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: RobBob on December 23, 2010, 02:59:49 PM
If you go through the Amazon link on Weenie you will arrive at this link which is the best buy of Blind Willie IMHO

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Years-1927-1940-Willie-Mctell/dp/B00008Y3UT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1293145111&sr=8-1

But go through the Weenie link so they get the benefit of the purchase.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Stuart on December 23, 2010, 03:31:45 PM
I second the JSP set. Cf. disc 4 and the LoC tracks.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 24, 2010, 07:32:37 AM
Quote
Hi all,
I'm a little late to the game, but I would concur with O'Muck, on selecting the Yazoo Vol. 1.  Willie McTell is one of the only Country Blues musicians whose singing I like less and less as he grew older.  Normally I much prefer the singing of older musicians to their singing as young people.
All best,
Johnm

Interesting point John and one I hadn't been consciously aware of. But yes the vocal quality on his early sides is really spectacular, haunting, and unique and it doesn't improve with age. There is something about the song choices on that first volume Yazoo (The Early Years) and the way they build a coherent picture that is rare with this music I think. It really works as a start to finish listening experience..an album in the best sense. Maybe even a desert island album.

01. Broke Down Engine          
02. Mama, 'Tain't Long Fo' Day          
03. Georgia Rag          
04. Love Changing Blues          
05. Statesboro Blues          
06. Stomp Down Rider         
07. Savannah Mama          
08. Travelin' Blues          
09. Drive Away Blues          
10. Warm It up to Me          
11. Three Women Blues          
12. Writing Paper Blues          
13. Southern Can Is Mine          
14. Talkin' to Myself

Visting the Yazoo site I'm not finding it listed anymore so good luck
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on December 24, 2010, 07:45:23 AM
There is something about the song choices on that first volume Yazoo (The Early Years) and the way they build a coherent picture that is rare with this music I think.
....
Visting the Yazoo site I'm not finding it listed anymore so good luck

It's still available as a download from emusic:

The Early Years (1927-1933) by Blind Willie McTell (http://www.emusic.com/album/Blind-Willie-McTell-The-Early-Years-1927-1933-MP3-Download/11420707.html)

They're just mp3s, but better than nothing!
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: oddenda on December 24, 2010, 06:53:47 PM
It was the thirteen unissued McTell sides that got me to be unusually assertive and beard Ahmet Ertegun in his office regarding some blues vault LPs. I succeeded in getting six out, including "Atlanta Twelve String", but none of the next half dozen planned... six is better than none!

pbl
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Parlor Picker on December 27, 2010, 02:45:38 AM
The Rockwell LP "Atlanta Strut" is a fine selection. Inevitably there are are omissions, but all in all, it works well as a compilation. The sound quality is great as well. (Mine came from Honest Jon's Records in London - via Santa Claus, of course.)
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 27, 2010, 05:35:05 AM
Quote
It was the thirteen unissued McTell sides that got me to be unusually assertive and beard Ahmet Ertegun in his office regarding some blues vault LPs. I succeeded in getting six out, including "Atlanta Twelve String", but none of the next half dozen planned... six is better than none!

pbl

And the six unissued ones were..................?
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: oddenda on December 27, 2010, 05:20:29 PM
There were only two issued... on a 78 back in '49/'50; "Broke Down Engine"/"Kill it, Kid" if memory serves me right. None of the other sides saw the light of day until I put together the "Blues Originals" series of LPs on Atlantic back in the day. McTell was the lynch-pin to all that work for me.

pbl
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LB on January 07, 2011, 05:02:42 AM
(1) My vote, an absolute MUST OWN in any McTell collection will be the Pig and Whistle Red with him and Weaver as a SUPER duo.

(2) The Library Congress 1940 archive is priceless and the last sessions for the same reason, all the interviewing is crucial stuff.

(3) Of course it would be crazy to buy McTell and not have the Ga artists that surrounded him but the best collection for that is the JSP 4 CD boxset for Atlanta Blues which has killer track notes and details along with the Ga Browns stuff.

That would give you a taste of most Ga blues connected with McTell and then him in many eras. Ga Browns era, 1940, 1949 and 1950s. The only thing left would be the 1920s which others have made excellent recommendations. I have a number of old LPs I have captured to MP3 but not sure which is the best without examining them. Maybe Atlanta 12 or Death Cell would be that other one to get.

None the less I wouldn't live without the Pig and Whistle CD.



 
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Blind Arthur on January 07, 2011, 09:29:33 AM
I got the "Blues Collection" CD in the mid-nineties first, which has all the Victor titles (minus one alt. take "Mr. McTell?s Got The Blues"), plus the excellently packed Sony/Columbia 2CD box, which [naturally] has all the Columbia/Okeh and ARC tracks. Then came the wonderful LC document and only years later I stumbled across the suberp "Atlanta Twelve String". Hard to tell which is my favourite!

The Decca titles I like less much TBH. "Last Sessions" is good but does not reach the stellar status of any of the above CDs IMO.

Time for me to look out for the Regal sessions it seems :) especially since I am a fan of Curley Weaver?s singing and second guitar acc. on so many great duets with McTell.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LB on January 08, 2011, 02:15:45 PM
Not sure if this helps but the Pig and Whistle release I bought had somehow been mastered in some award winning way and suppose to have super sound quality. Make sure you get that one if there are more than one.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: JohnLeePimp on January 13, 2011, 05:33:52 AM
I'm really tempted to get this one

 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B001F18X98/ref=sr_1_album_1_rd?ie=UTF8&child=B001F18XUC&qid=1294925435&sr=1-1

also his sessions with curley weaver are beyond excellent

 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Postwar-Recordings-Willie-McTell-1949-1950/dp/B001U8ZWMC/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294925607&sr=301-1
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Rivers on January 14, 2011, 07:01:31 PM
I think this thread highlights the fact that you have to get them all, there is no definitive release or even couple of releases that has the full representation or best remastering. I like all the BWMcT CDs I own, which is most of them. To put it another way I never heard a BWMcT CD I didn't like.

I had high hopes for the remastering on the recent Yazoo McTell and it is really good but not exponentially better, unlike the recentish Yazoo Lemon which is a masterpiece, IMO, please do more.

He recorded a lot and I like every period. I play Last Sessions when it suits my mood, and likewise the early stuff, or Atlanta 12 String, or the Lomax stuff, when it suits my other moods. I love all of it. Actually I probably play Last Sessions most of all, for the narrative and pathos implied by the back story (read the liner notes). I hope to be that good when I have to busk outside a Piggly Wiggly in my old age. Must be getting sentimental in my late middle age.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: RobBob on January 15, 2011, 07:38:18 PM
Rivers,

I have been in front of some Piggly Wigglys lately that I wouldn't recommend standing in front much less busking.  But that is downstate SC for you.

Blind Willie was amazing, I really love his slide 12 string.  Back in high school we thought slide 12 was the height of self abuse.  ON a 60's Stella it was a challenge getting and keeping it in tune.  But what a sound when it is and Blind Willie had the touch.

As for back stories, it still pretty much sucks to be a black man in the south.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Rivers on January 18, 2011, 08:17:04 PM
Willie had such a voice, I never tire of listening to him sing, all eras, not to mention his taste in the guitar phrasing. BWM is my favorite vocalist by a long way.

Slide 12 on an old Stella the height of self abuse? Heh, I should be so lucky. I've pretty much given up looking for the perfect old ladder-braced 12 string. Or even a restoration job, they just never seem to come up for sale.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LB on January 21, 2011, 07:24:57 AM
I've got the same model McTell is shown in 1939 photo. It's the model thats actually a Harmony Roy Smeck Pro series and about the nicest one I've ever seen. Thinking about selling it to fund the building of another 20s Stella style. My friend has a 12 string that IS one of the actual models he played in the 20s and shown on older covers. It's semi-baritone and all hardwood, big brown beast with a giant neck but good GOD it sounds amazing and exactly like the old recordings. The guitars McTell was said to have owned around the last recordings might have been the more 50s models which I've owned and they are a far far cry from the older ones. My opinion of McTell's voice is unique and a stand out. That is perhaps one reason to choose him as a favorite but I love way too many other vocalists equally from that era.

I've always thought the double sets of strings on a 12 make it the ultimate slide machine because the slide floats so nicely on top of those unwound strings. The BIGGEST problem with 12 string players is they try to be virtuosos when the trick to a 12 string is playing way way LESS and more simple note runs, bass runs. I hear many players with all these reissues online demonstrating and they just hit my ear like a wall of over sustaining muddy mess of notes. I think there is a true art to playing these. And I also get a little bugged when I hear a lot of players over time insult McTell and the 12. One of the musicians I respect the most in this world just HATES it and says McTell would have been much better, more clear and easier to hear his artistry if he'd not cursed himself with that 12 string. I could not disagree more. The high voice, humor, and the low 12 was what made McTell in my opinion. I think with a 6 string he would have just been lost in history.

I also think he was amazing when Weaver was playing and singing with him. But I'm wandering off topic, sorry about that.


Oh here's my 12 string - Late 1930s Roy Smeck Pro 12 by Harmony I originally bought from Neil Harpe.

(https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Flittlebrotherblues.com%2FGear%2FSoundTest1%2Fthumb3.JPG&hash=f0d1638c2437e5a86d18142c0dc27684d89b13bc)
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Parlor Picker on January 22, 2011, 09:07:12 AM
Well said, Little Brother.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: RobBob on January 25, 2011, 11:46:12 AM
Slide 12 on an old Stella the height of self abuse? Heh, I should be so lucky. I've pretty much given up looking for the perfect old ladder-braced 12 string. Or even a restoration job, they just never seem to come up for sale.

Just getting those later ones to stay in tune while the neck slowly bowed.  That's all I was thinking of.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: LeftyStrat on November 24, 2014, 04:24:56 PM
Finding it hard to believe that it's been nearly 4 years since I posed the original question that started this thread....Tempus Fugit!

I've been on a serious Blind Willie McTell kick lately and I recently picked up the JSP set as a substitute for the 2nd and 3rd Document CDs  (the Document set was out of stock and my patience got the better of me), and after doing so I was reminded of the suggestion made by several folks throughout this thread to "Get it All" when it comes to which of Blind Willie's recordings to purchase.

Now, as it stands, I have:
The equivalent of the 3 Document CDs
The Library of Congress Recordings   
Atlanta 12-String
Last Sessions

I know there's a Document disc released of McTell and Weaver, and the CD titled "Pig 'n Whistle Red" out there, but my question is:

Is there anything else out there that's not a repetition of those 8 discs that I should be aware of, should I decide to follow through on my completionist impulses and follow through with the advice to "Get it All?"

It may take another 4 years or longer for me to get there, but...I'm trying :)
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: banjochris on November 24, 2014, 04:30:57 PM
All you need now is the post-war Document CD, plus a couple stray tracks on John Tefteller's calendar CD's:
http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=BDCD-6014 (http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=BDCD-6014)

http://bluesimages.com/html/product_html/order_cd_vol_5_new.html (http://bluesimages.com/html/product_html/order_cd_vol_5_new.html)

That should complete the collection, I do believe.
Chris
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Bed Bug Bill on March 29, 2015, 07:26:29 AM
Any and All.
The library of Congress Recordings by Lomax have to be up there,close to the top,of everyone's country blues list.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: EddieD on March 29, 2015, 05:31:29 PM
Quote
Hi all,
I'm a little late to the game, but I would concur with O'Muck, on selecting the Yazoo Vol. 1.  Willie McTell is one of the only Country Blues musicians whose singing I like less and less as he grew older.  Normally I much prefer the singing of older musicians to their singing as young people.
All best,
Johnm

Interesting point John and one I hadn't been consciously aware of. But yes the vocal quality on his early sides is really spectacular, haunting, and unique and it doesn't improve with age. There is something about the song choices on that first volume Yazoo (The Early Years) and the way they build a coherent picture that is rare with this music I think. It really works as a start to finish listening experience..an album in the best sense. Maybe even a desert island album.

01. Broke Down Engine          
02. Mama, 'Tain't Long Fo' Day          
03. Georgia Rag          
04. Love Changing Blues          
05. Statesboro Blues          
06. Stomp Down Rider         
07. Savannah Mama          
08. Travelin' Blues          
09. Drive Away Blues          
10. Warm It up to Me          
11. Three Women Blues          
12. Writing Paper Blues          
13. Southern Can Is Mine          
14. Talkin' to Myself

Visting the Yazoo site I'm not finding it listed anymore so good luck

I just bought this LP a week or two ago. It's was new not used. It instantly became one of my favorite albums.

As for the original post I love the Atlanta 12 String album. It was the first I heard followed by the LoC album. Great place to start but I'm hooked on his early recordings now.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 03, 2015, 07:32:41 AM
I LOVE BLIND WILLIE!  I have everything from him, some in duplicates (e.g., I have his two Yazoo albums as well as a complete compilation of his early commercial releases on Catfish, which both cover the same material).  I believe JSP has a boxed set of all his early commericial recordings and the Library of Congress recordings--basically everything except his early '40s stuff with Curley Weaver, the Atlantic recordings, and the Last Sesssion--as usual very reasonably priced (JSP is my favorite record company ever).

If, however, you want a single CD and you like your blues raw like I do, I say Last Session all the way, with the Document compilation of Willie and Curley Weaver in a close second.  I don't like the Library of Congress recordings very much, basically because of Alan Lomax.  Yes, I respect Lomax for all he did for American music, but personally he was a condescending prick.

McTell was more of a songster than anything else, and you can tell that when he gets the chance to play what he wants (like on the Last Session), he prefers minstrel show tunes and old Tin Pan Alley numbers, accompanying himself deftly in Piedmont style.  Lomax, however, seemed to think that most black people only ever played 12-bar blues, field hollers, and spirituals, and only knew how to play bottleneck, so it's obvious he's pressuring Willie into those types of numbers, and thus Willie isn't really at his best.  Not surprisingly, the best tracks are the novelty tunes he manages to squeeze in ("Baby, It Must Be Love," "Kill It, Kid," which are both also on the Last Session).  Also, the way Lomax asks leading questions until he gets the answers he wants is really annoying.  You can tell Willie is just acting out the part he knows is expected of him, but his irritation almost breaks the surface sometimes.  Here's an example (as verbatim as I can remember it):

LOMAX (asking the same question for the second or third time): Willie, don't you know any complainin' songs at all?  "Ain't It Hard to Be a Nigger, Nigger"?

MCTELL (with a slight WTF!? chuckle in his voice): That's not...in our time.

In my opinion, Lomax should have promoted Willie the way he promoted Lead Belly.  Willie was clearly a superior musician and showman, but you can tell from the 1941 recordings that he's not interested in taking Lomax's crap, despite being deferential on the surface.  It's also rumored he was offended by the paltry sum Lomax paid him, as he thought he was recording commercially (and I doubt Lomax did anything to disabuse him of that impression).  I guess Lead Belly was more accomodating.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Lyndvs on April 03, 2015, 08:04:28 AM
Buy everything You can by Willie.He was a genius.I disagree with iebiek and his opinion of the LOC sessions,they are fabulous and offer an insight into Willie`s wide repertoire.Willie sounds great and I`m glad he was"pressurised"into recording bottleneck by Lomax because these recordings contain some absolutely beautiful and delicate slide,some of Willie`s best.
        As for Lomaxes attitude to Willie,I thinks it`s useful to read M.Grays biography.We are hearing an edited version of the tapes. Apparently the unedited version shows Lomax in a better light.Things often being out of context on the edited version we hear.
        As for Leadbelly/Lomax.Leadbelly and Lomax fell out big time and legal action was taken by Leadbelly.I guess he wasn`t that accommodating.
       
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 03, 2015, 08:36:14 AM
Don't get me wrong, the LOC sessions are hardly junk.  They're just my least favorite of the whole bunch.  Where can I get the unedited version?

FWIW, I'm not basing my opinion of Lomax just on those sessions.  As much as I loved it for its historical value, I cringed on pretty much every page of "The Land Where the Blues Began" because of Lomax's ignorant and asinine comments.  As a rural Southerner myself, it's clear to me at times that Lomax's subjects are putting one over on him and he's eating it up.  I especially love where Son House and co. start shushing him when the police show up because his loud-mouthed, rich white boy enthusiasm is about to get them arrested.  Over the years, I've read about a few encounters other people in the recording business had with Lomax and usually they weren't flattering.  Moe Asch seemed to have had a particularly low opinion of him, especially of his treatment of Lead Belly (making him play in convict's clothes, etc.).  It doesn't detract from his enormous accomplishments of course, but I just have a hard time listening to him.

I don't recall anything Willie did for the LOC he didn't do commercially, including bottleneck and sacred songs.  He played slide on pretty much all of his commercial sessions.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: dj on April 03, 2015, 10:10:04 AM
Just to set the record straight, it was John Lomax, Alan's father, who recorded Willie McTell for the Library of Congress in 1940.

As for Lomax pushing McTell to record certain types of material, he did nothing there that any other recording director/A&R person would have done.  And in fact did do to Willie McTell.  If you look at McTell's pre-war commercial recordings, you can see that Victor was interested in having him record straight blues, Columbia/Okeh/Vocalion got him to record raggy stuff as well as blues, and Decca pushed him to record religious titles.  We have no idea what McTell would have recorded if he'd been able to record anything he wanted. 
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Lyndvs on April 03, 2015, 11:21:56 AM
iwbiek.Yes it was John Lomax not Alan that recorded Willie.
From reading M.Grays book I don`t believe the unedited LOC sessions have been commercially released.I f i remember correctly Gray says in the book that there were plans for an extensive boxset featuring the unedited version but it`s not happened.This is all from memory so check out the book if you`re interested in Willie`s story.I`d also recommend reading"the life and legend of leadbelly" to get the full story of Leadbelly`s relationship with the Lomaxes.Plus give Lead a listen He`s a different musician to Willie but not an inferior one by any means.
I agree with dj`s comments regarding Willie being pushed by Lomax into recording certain types of material.John Lomaxes fields recordings show a massive spectrum of pre war american music.I`m sure he was aware of what  a black musician could play and of many varying guitar styles-not just bottleneck.
     Yes,i am aware that Willie recorded slide and religious songs commercially.That is why I said the slide pieces recorded for the LOC were SOME of Willies greatest.If they were recorded because of "pressure" from John Lomax(which I very much doubt)then god bless him.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 03, 2015, 12:08:16 PM
Well, I put my foot in my mouth with the Lomaxes.  I remember now from years ago that it was John.  My mistake.  I mean, their voices did sound identical.  Regardless, yes, I've given more than a listen to Lead Belly.  I own much of Lead Belly's catalogue: all the released LOC stuff on Rounder, two CDs of his Columbia recordings, the Folkways "Lead Belly Legacy" CDs, some of his stuff on Tradition, some stuff he did with the Golden Gate Quartet, the Last Sessions.  I like him a lot, but if I had to make a choice between his stuff and McTell's in a desert island situation, I wouldn't hesitate.

Yes, I know the record labels pushed him into stuff too, but I thought the point of the LOC was to record the artists as they were, not to worry about what would sell.  (Not that I think that was a motivation for either of the Lomaxes: I just think they had very strong opinions of what "real" American "negro" music was and weren't comfortable with having those notions challenged, even by the "negros" themselves).
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 03, 2015, 12:10:22 PM
I`d also recommend reading"the life and legend of leadbelly" to get the full story of Leadbelly`s relationship with the Lomaxes.

Thanks for the recommendation.  I heard of this book years ago and forgot about it.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on April 03, 2015, 01:57:35 PM
I just think they had very strong opinions of what "real" American "negro" music was and weren't comfortable with having those notions challenged, even by the "negros" themselves

I don't know about you, but in that interaction, I hear two guys kind of uncomfortably sparring about what each thinks the other wants to hear.  Kind of amusing, really. I mean McTell *is* kind of putting it on thick during the introduction to Amazing Grace, and sells Murderer's Home (a chorus pop-blues if there ever was one) to Lomax as "one of the real old blues." Can you really blame Lomax for trying to pierce McTell's performing demeanor? The guy is kind of hard-wired to play what people *want* to hear...  if you object to the language, that was certainly part of the time.. of course none of THAT sits well in modern ears with modern sensibilities.

Taking potshots at Lomax is kind of besides the point, and easy enough to do in a situation like this.

The fact that these recordings exists at all (and countless others - the PRISON recordings fercryinoutloud) speaks to the Lomaxes vision and genuine interest.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: bnemerov on April 03, 2015, 02:28:42 PM
Hey frankie, how ya been?

I'm with you right up to the last sentence. I was exiled from Planet Lomax when "Lost Delta Found" was published, but Alan was not John and I have been in the uncomfortable position of defending Alan from time to time.

If one looks at all the AFS prison recordings made when John was running things (up 'til 1940 or so), note the % of recordings made by whites. One might conclude white people in prison weren't very musical at all. [There are reasons for this; though too arcane for discussion here.]

I broke this down at a meeting of black editorial writers where Robert Gordon and I were asked to speak. An op-ed writer from the Boston Globe interpreted (correctly, I think) that Lomax skewed our perception of black music toward a very specific, and non-representative, part of black culture. I don't think the Lomaxes had a "vision" as much as an "agenda."

best,
bruce
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: dj on April 03, 2015, 02:54:00 PM
Is there a good biography of John Lomax somewhere?  Or a fairly lengthy article detailing who/what he recorded and the reasons (if known) for recording what he did?  For good or ill he was tremendously influential, and I really don't know that much about him.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: bnemerov on April 03, 2015, 03:16:11 PM
Hi dj,
Yes, " Last Cavalier"  by Nolan Porterfield (who wrote a great bio of Jimmie Rodgers as well) is necessary reading if you want to understand how our view of black musical culture has been shaped by Lomax pere et fils.

best,
bruce
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on April 03, 2015, 07:35:58 PM
An op-ed writer from the Boston Globe interpreted (correctly, I think) that Lomax skewed our perception of black music toward a very specific, and non-representative, part of black culture. I don't think the Lomaxes had a "vision" as much as an "agenda."

Hi Bruce - I'm fine and hope you're the same! Just a lay-person's perspective here on this... I confess to not having read "Lost Delta Found" (guilty as charged), but if the issue here is that the Lomaxes focused on older folk forms to the exclusion of more current styles, could it not be said that there is ample evidence of those current styles in commercial recordings? I'm clearly under-qualified and over-simplifying, but maybe you see what I'm getting at... Personally, if I were in the mind to record music, I'd probably go looking for the fragile stuff about to disappear first and worry about what my perceived agenda might be a distant, distant second.

My only point in bringing up the prison recordings is that they represent an amazing bunch of music. The music in those recordings speak (sing!) louder to me than any particular agenda.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: bnemerov on April 03, 2015, 08:04:32 PM
I certainly don't disagree with you, frankie---and it's not so much about LDF (which only concerns one particular project A. Lomax took part in)---but rather John Lomax's methodology: recording blacks in prison because free blacks often wouldn't accommodate him. Thus he missed a lot of music blacks made for each other which I suspect was quite different from that made for a paycheck from commercial record companies or from music made by order of a warden to satisfy a white man from Washington.

And as for Alan, his peculiarities were in part set by his father's example and part in reaction against his father.
But I'm no psychologist and, as you say, this is a lay person's opinion. ....and you're right: they both recorded some wonderful music, but does it reflect an accurate image of the culture (a claim they both made many times)?

Just more s**t to think about.

best,
bruce
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on April 03, 2015, 08:39:32 PM
My understanding of the Lomax's reasoning for recording in prisons was that they felt it more likely that they would find OLDER kinds of music there. Whether or not that would have been true I don't know. As for being blamed for essentially depicting a prisoner culture as opposed to a more fleshed out representative one, I don't think they ever claimed that all Black people were in prison or that no Black Dentists ever hummed Perry Como tunes.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: oddenda on April 03, 2015, 10:09:45 PM


     Alan told me that his father went to prisons down South because where else would one find a large, enclosed population in one place! Disregarding the southern social flaws, it seemed to be a brilliant decision from the results obtained. It was a pragmatic judgement, and quite productive. All of "us" have been working in the dark as outsiders to the culture(s) we examine, stumbling along blindfolded in spite of what we may think. Would you rather NOT have any of those recordings, Bruce?
 
     My understanding is that it was John Lomax who insisted on Leadbelly's wearing overalls, and not Alan. JAL also recorded McTell in Atlanta while traveling for the LofC with his (Lomax's) wife. I've always felt that if one walked up to McTell on Ponce deLeon Ave in Atlanta, gave him fifty cents and asked for "The Beer Barrel Polka", he'd probably do it... and very well!

     It's my understanding that it was Larry Cohn who was putting together a "compleat" McTell that never came to fruition. Close, but no cigar.

     Being recorded was always a total serendipitous dumb-luck crap-shoot of major proportions. ALL who recorded African American musicians at any point in time went in with an agenda, commercial or otherwise. I do not exclude myself from this. Check out the monstrous BLACK EUROPE box set from Bear Family for further proof on many levels.

     We are lucky that we did not have to live through that life.

peter b.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 04, 2015, 12:03:44 AM
My understanding is that it was John Lomax who insisted on Leadbelly's wearing overalls, and not Alan. JAL also recorded McTell in Atlanta while traveling for the LofC with his (Lomax's) wife. I've always felt that if one walked up to McTell on Ponce deLeon Ave in Atlanta, gave him fifty cents and asked for "The Beer Barrel Polka", he'd probably do it... and very well!

That may very well be true.  I went back to look at Jeff Place's liner notes to "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", Smithsonian Folkways, and it just says Lead Belly was unhappy with the way "the Lomaxes" presented him, and mentions the convict clothes.

As for "Beer Barrel Polka," I don't doubt it one bit.  After all, in the Last Session McTell does both "Salty Dog" and "Wabash Cannonball."  It wasn't just McTell, either.  Let's not forget Willie Brown quoting "T for Texas" in
"Future Blues," and it's always been my opinion that Tommy Johnson's high, wavering falsetto was more than a little influenced by Jimmie Rodgers's yodelling.  I believe the black/white music dichotomy was considerably exaggerated by both the "race record" labels and the Lomaxes (for example the fake photographs to hide artists' true races and the covering up of Louis Armstrong playing on some of Jimmie Rodgers's records).  Imo, the cultural baggage they helped create had a lot to do with the later intense opposition (in both the black and white communities) against Ray Charles's country albums and, of course, Charley Pride.

Incidentally, some of my favorite blues playing is in the home recordings of Charlie Feathers and Junior Kimbrough jamming together on Revenant's "Get With It!" release.  Charlie's driving rockabilly rhythm guitar seems to almost provide a missing element to Kimbrough's typical style.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: bnemerov on April 04, 2015, 05:55:26 AM
Peter B,
I did not say I wouldn't rather have the recordings JAL made. I DID say that we need to be aware of what those recordings represent.

A careful reading of Nolan Porterfield's bio of JAL will give a better understanding of JAL's problems recording blacks in the "free world."
The blacks-in-prison rationale (as a source of endangered music) is a bit hard to accept when one digs into JAL's method of setting up prison sessions where the subjects had no right of refusal.

The Lomaxes did a lot of great work, but so did others---the Texas recordings made by John Henry Faulk come to mind.
Had the Lomaxes not co-opted so much of the government's resources, had others with "vision" , in addition to the Lomaxes, captured American musical life during this time, might we not have a better picture?

That's all for now.
best,
bruce
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: RobBob on April 04, 2015, 08:57:49 AM
He isn't pre-war but he is a blues artist that will tell you that they had to be ready to play anything down in Louisiana where he grew up.  Including country, rock and roll etc.  That would be Buddy Guy.  Furthermore I was on a teamster's picket line in the 70's and my partner in those days was Black and a great singer of country songs, especially Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on April 04, 2015, 12:40:00 PM
Had the Lomaxes not co-opted so much of the government's resources, had others with "vision" , in addition to the Lomaxes, captured American musical life during this time, might we not have a better picture?

It would probably just be a 'different' picture. Better in what way?  Would it mean that Tangle Eye, C.B., Jimmie Strothers, Joe Lee and Charlie Butler would all have gone unrecorded so that we could have a more 'academically balanced' view (so to speak) of the culture? Just on the outside chance that this may have been the unintended result - count me out.

All the best - frankie
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: bnemerov on April 04, 2015, 02:10:17 PM
Hi Frankie,
Not academically balanced at all---musically maybe. Might even be some stuff you'd like better. Or as well, at least.
If you can dig out John Henry Faulk's LoC recordings of A-A singers, or Bruce Jackson's prison recordings (on deposit @ Univ. of Texas, I believe and issued by Rounder a few decades ago), give a listen.
Stunning.
best,
bruce
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: iwbiek on April 04, 2015, 03:51:18 PM
Hi Frankie,
Not academically balanced at all---musically maybe. Might even be some stuff you'd like better. Or as well, at least.
If you can dig out John Henry Faulk's LoC recordings of A-A singers, or Bruce Jackson's prison recordings (on deposit @ Univ. of Texas, I believe and issued by Rounder a few decades ago), give a listen.
Stunning.
best,
bruce
Any of this stuff on CD?  The Lomaxes were so dominant in recording for the LOC, I've often wondered if other sources were available.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: frankie on April 04, 2015, 07:04:57 PM
Any of this stuff on CD?

Bruce Jackson's recording are. Look for "Wake Up Dead Man." The recordings are not without interest. The book Jackson wrote by the same title is actually far more interesting than the music itself. You might also want to note that the fact that Lomax made far, far better and earlier recordings did not prevent Jackson from making his own.

If you can dig out John Henry Faulk's LoC recordings of A-A singers, or Bruce Jackson's prison recordings (on deposit @ Univ. of Texas, I believe and issued by Rounder a few decades ago), give a listen.

I'll seek out John Henry Faulk's recordings - I may have heard them without specifically knowing it (the curse of digital media). I've heard two collections of Jackson's recordings: "Wake Up Dead Man" and "Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons." Both good recordings, but very far from the harrowing power and beauty captured in "Negro Prison Songs." Beyond the fact that all three were made in prisons, in my opinion, there is simply no comparison whatsoever. None.

Say what you will about his perceived agenda or abrasive personality. NO ONE is immune from those criticisms. The Lomaxes, to our everlasting benefit, had a musician's ear for music, and the results speak for themselves in that regard. As much as I respect Jackson's love for the music and his determination in recording and documenting it, Lomax's recordings are simply better.

All the best - frankie
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: Bed Bug Bill on May 02, 2015, 01:18:46 PM
Call me old fashioned .....but when I listen to the Mctell LOC Recordings,I tend to listen to Blind Willie.The interviewer or album design,is of no concern to me.I am aware that John Lomax turned on the recording machine,and glad he did.But I'm there,purely for the music.I am in no position to judge whether he should ,or could of recorded anything else.... because ..I am enjoying what he did record.
I thank the Lord,that he recorded Smith Casey...one of my favorites for nearly 40 years...and everyone else,I've heard,whether I play them or not.
I know very little about the Lomax clan,I have read that Alan was hard work,didn't compromise and generally rubbed people up the wrong way.I have read that the F.B.I. had it in for him,because he was a socialist and talked to black people,showing he had both a heart and a conscience.Two reasons to respect him and way,way ahead of his time,then and now.
But all of this,is of no concern.They recorded stunning music, time and time again,surely that's enough for anyone,regardless of what they had for breakfast.
The LOC Recordings were recorded over a few days ,while Willie was still at his prime.This,along with the conversation ,gives us a unique insight.He's at the top of his game,and playing material he is familiar with.
To my ears....he's going to play what HE wants to play,regardless of anyone.Maybe,it's because Lomax was ,who he was,that we got this incredible performance.Perhaps,nobody else ,could of got Willie to play like this,at this time...whatever.
The albums of the earlier material ,although great listening, usually span a wide time frame.To put things in context and to see how he,or any other player ,develops,it's more revealing to listen to them chronologically.This record is all in one hit.
I think this album ,gets us closer to Willie,than the others.
I also think Murderers Home, is up there ,with Broke Down Engine ,Stomp Down and all.....Just saying.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: harry on October 05, 2015, 05:26:41 AM
Found out that the JSP Set failed to include several alternate takes which are available on the Catfish set.

A three-disc, 74-track box set of Blind Willie McTell's prewar 78s, this collection from Britain's Catfish Records clearly replaces the Sony/Legacy double disc (also called The Definitive Blind Willie McTell) that was released in 1994. The Catfish set offers better sound, and where the Sony anthology collects sides from the Vocalion, Okeh, and Columbia labels, Catfish offers all of those and adds tracks from Victor and Decca as well, giving a more complete look at McTell's output between 1927 and 1935, including some selections in which he is a session player rather than the featured artist. The Sony compilation does have the better liner notes, mostly due to David Evans' long essay on McTell, while Catfish opts for more photos. These prewar tracks are also available in three separate single-disc releases from Document, but with even poorer sound than the Sony set. Catfish does botch the transfer of "East St. Louis Blues" here, inserting several seconds of another song at the beginning before the actual track snaps in, but in general, they have done a wonderful job of mastering this material, and until something better comes along, the Catfish box is the one to get. All Music To The Blues review by Steve Leggett

Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: funkapus on October 14, 2015, 07:56:45 PM

In the discussions here of the "complete"/"comprehensive" Blind Willie McTell sets out there, I've only seen one post in this thread that mentions the set from Snapper in the UK, _King of the Georgia Blues_.  This set is more complete than the Catfish, JSP, or Document sets (including some songs he did with Curley Weaver that I think are not available on *any* other CD).  It's also priced much cheaper as well.  I haven't done sound quality comparisons, but it doesn't sound bad to me.  So it would be by far the best choice . . .

. . .except for the fact that whoever they've contracted out to make their discs is apparently working with very poor quality master discs.  The tracks are *riddled* with glitches that are clearly in the digital domain, occasional tracking issues, etc.  The reason I think this is a problem with their disc master is that when I first encountered these problems, I complained to the vendor, and they sent me a second copy of the set for free, and that copy had exactly the same issues at exactly the same locations in exactly the same tracks.

Snapper's Blind Lemon Jefferson set paints exactly the same picture:  cheap price, a more comprehensive/complete set of tracks than any other set available, at least adequate sound quality, but messed up digital issues.

I really wish they would get this sorted out; but I swapped email with them a year or two ago and there don't seem to be plans to fix their problems.
Title: Re: Trying to decide which Willie McTell CDs to buy...
Post by: harry on October 15, 2015, 09:23:42 AM
This set is more complete than the Catfish, JSP, or Document sets (including some songs he did with Curley Weaver that I think are not available on *any* other CD). 

Which songs you mean?

The Curley Weaver songs (with McTell on 2nd guitar) are on Document Records (Curley Weaver  ‎? The Complete Recorded Works 1933 - 1935)

Trick Ain't Walking No More
Oh Lawdy Mama
Two Faced Woman
Early Morning Blues
Fried Pie Blues



 

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