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Author Topic: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548  (Read 712 times)

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Online Johnm

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"Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« on: March 07, 2018, 10:24:46 AM »
"Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues--The Lost Dr. Oster Recordings"--Arhoolie CD 548:  1) Boss Man Blues 2) Backyard Boogie 3) Bad Luck And Trouble 4) Diggin' My Potatoes 5) What's Wrong With You 6) Chicago Bound 7) If I Had Listened To What My Mama Say 8 ) On Mr. Walter's Farm 9) I'm Goin' Home On The Morning Train 10) I'm Goin' Away Baby 11) Way Back In The Country Blues 12) Shake Shake Mattie 13) I'm Wild About You, Black Gal 14) Arkansas Blues 15) Terraplane Blues 16) Goin' Home Blues 17) Boogie Gal

This CD was released around 2014--2015, and made a significant addition to the recorded legacy of Robert "Smoky Babe" Brown.  The history leading up to its release is interesting, for it sheds some light on the happenstances that can prevent perfectly good recordings from being released in a timely fashion.  Dr. Harry Oster first met and heard Smoky Babe at a party in Scotlandville, Louisiana in 1960, and realized that Smoky Babe had a musical style and presence that people outside of his circle needed to hear.  The resulting recordings of that meeting were "Louisiana Blues", originally released on Dr. Oster's Folk Lyric label, and eventually sold to Arhoolie, winding up on a CD split between Smoky Babe and Herman E. Johnson, and "Hottest Brand Goin'", which wound up on Prestige-Bluesville.  These two records, along with a couple of scattered tracks on "Country Negro Jam Session" on Arhoolie, gained a reputation among serious fans of Country Blues as some of the strongest singing and playing by a present-day player working in the style, with an incredibly infectious rhythm and energy.  Smoky Babe's allure was increased by the fact that he never made it onto festival or coffee house stages in the 1960s, and so remained a figure of some mystery.

Dr. Oster sold his recordings to Arhoolie in 1970.  In 2001, upon Dr. Oster's death, his widow sent the remaining tapes in his collection to Arhoolie.  In the course of putting together a collection of Dr. Oster's recordings in the early 2000 teens, Chris Strachwitz noticed that there were recordings of Smoky Babe listed in Dr. Oster's inventory that he (Chris) did not have in his possession.  He contacted Dr. Oster's widow and received another box of tapes, among which were the recordings that ended up comprising this CD.  They evidently had been made in between Dr. Oster's "discovery" of Smoky Babe in 1960 and August of 1961, when Dr. Oster and Smoky Babe made a trip to Vance, Mississippi to visit Smoky Babe's mother, Annie.  One can see what a slender chain of circumstance led to these recordings being re-discovered and finally issued.

First, the good news:  the music on this CD is in no way inferior or a step down from the previously-issued Smoky Babe material on "Louisiana Blues" and "Hottest Brand Goin'".  It has, perhaps, a more controlled sound than does the music on "Hottest Brand Goin'", but if that is the case, it may also be said to have more spot-on execution in the playing.  All but two of the tracks on the CD were played by Smoky Babe in Spanish tuning, of which he was a major stylist.  There are a couple of covers in the program--"Diggin' My Potatoes", "I'm Goin' Home On The Morning Train" and "Terraplane Blues", but for the most part, Smoky Babe was playing his own material and songs.  A couple of his songs, "Boss Man Blues" and "On Mr. Walter's Farm", bring to mind Charlie Patton's propensity for peopling his songs with personal acquaintances.  A host of the other songs evince a quality that Smoky Babe seems to have shared with Henry Townsend:  the ability to make up original blues lyrics speaking to and of his life, if not on the spot, than at least very quickly.  There are a couple of dance numbers, "Backyard Boogie" and "Boogie Gal" that testify to Smoky Babe's ability to get people up and moving to his music.  And despite that fact that so much of the program is played in Spanish tuning,  fifteen out of seventeen tracks, a certain sameness of sound is avoided by the guitar being pitched at Spanish differently throughout the program, careful sequencing of the tracks and changing up of tempos.

On two of the CD tracks, "If I Had Listened To What My Mama Say" and I'm Goin' Away Baby", Smoky Babe strayed away from Spanish tuning, and in a spectacularly exciting way that will be of particular interest to Country Blues guitar fans.  Listening to these two tracks the day before yesterday, I realized that Smoky Babe was playing them in a tuning that I have never heard another Country Blues guitarist employ:  EADF#BE, while playing in E position (relative to standard pitch tuning).  The sound he gets in this tuning and position is remarkable and would not be achievable in any other way.  By tuning the third string to the II note of the position he's playing in, he gets a first fret hammer on the third string to the minor third of E, a really eerie sound.  What's more, he is able to do that hammer simultaneous with doing a hammer on the open fourth string to the second fret, going from the bVII to I there.  Hearing those two hammers done together is a treat for anyone who loves this music.  All credit to Smoky Babe for arriving at and figuring out how to make something out of a tuning of which he is the sole practitioner!  I'm attaching a link to "If I Had Listened To What My Mama Say", a sort of version of "Catfish" without a catfish, so that those of you who are curious can hear what Smoky Babe made of this tuning (apologies if non-U. S. weenies can not view the video).   



As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get any better than that!

I'm afraid this CD did not make as big a splash as it should have when it was released, perhaps partly because it was released relatively shortly before Arhoolie was sold to Smithsonian/Folkways.  If you've not heard it, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen, and preferably buy it.  Companies that put out such strong music need our support to continue doing that.  And Smoky Babe was one of those musicians, like Barbecue Bob and Frankie Lee Sims, whose music had such excitement and vitality that it constantly exists in the present.  It always seems like it is happening RIGHT NOW!

All best,
Johnm

     
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 05:25:08 AM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2018, 03:48:11 PM »
Thanks for making us aware of this album by Smokey Babe, John, and for the detailed and informative post. Here's the link to the S-F page:

https://folkways.si.edu/smoky-babe/way-back-in-the-country-blues/music/album/smithsonian

Online Johnm

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2018, 04:25:44 PM »
Thanks for providing the link, Stuart.  That's a real assist in encouraging sales, and I hope folks will seek out the CD.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2018, 07:02:20 AM »
This is really good news. Smoky Babe is one of my favorite Blues players of any time. I have a special fondness for those previously undiscovered Blues musicians who made their first appearences on the Prestige Bluesville label and a few other labels in the early sixties. The "Nowness' of their music, which you astutely picked up on John, seems to me to be of a different and hitherto undiscussed nature than twenties, thirties, and forties recordings. These were people who were playing music long past its popular days in styles close in some aspects to first generation players but informed by later players. There is a special poigniancy to that for me. This often imparts an odd "unstuck in time" feeling to it. Maybe Country Blues of the Atomic Age might be a good way to think about it. The resulting hybridization is really not something we'd heard exactly this way before. Is there a more propulsive Guitar player in the whole cannon than Smoky Babe? Dr. Ross might be a Peer but otherwise I can't think of any. There seems to me to be a less generic more personal quality to these "undiscovereds" songs. many less standard lines appear I think, replaced by images from their actual experiences, in many ways a fulfilment of the descriptions people often apply to older Blues artists work which rely heavily on stock lyrics. Herman Johnson's songs are some of the best and most affecting of this kind of songwriting.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline CF

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2018, 08:24:49 AM »
What a great review John and wonderful follow-up impressions, Phil, I will pick this CD up asap. Exciting music!
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2018, 09:04:03 AM »
I may have broached this topic before but I think it's time for the songwriting of the brilliant lyricists of Blues to be considered for their songwriting as well as their overall musical efforts. The best writers like Blind Willie Mctell, Blind lemon, Big Bill, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James, Herman Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Bukka White write lines , songs that have infinitely more power and poetic originality than someone like James Taylor or Joni Mitchell can muster on their best day and yet they are consigned to "those old "Traditional Blues players catagory, which safely removes their work from examination and contention with more recent, White and sucessful "singer/songwriters". Of those there's only a few, like the Nobel Lauriate and Michael Hurley, both long apprenticed to the Blues who write comparably interesting lyrics.
Interesting in light of the fact that nobody excludes the country exemplar Hank Williams from consideration in the songwriting arena. I'm eager to hear someone answer in response to who's your favorite songwriter, Bukka White of course!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2018, 01:08:29 PM »
I agree, Phil, but I don't think that anything is gained by giving modern people like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell short shrift. Let them stand alone on their own merits--or lack thereof.

Decades ago I wanted to do something along these lines for a class at UVM.  My point was that the Blues artists expressed great insights into various aspects of the human condition very eloquently, and in many instances quite forcefully, through the lyrics of their compositions. They could nail something with just a few well chosen words or phrases, many of which have no equal (or parallel), IMHO. They were certainly gifted with "their way with words." Pure artistic genius.

Sam Charters wrote The Poetry of the Blues in the early sixties, but I haven't looked at it in decades. Sam is no longer with us, but perhaps it's time to revisit the topic, perhaps in a separate thread.

BTW, I never wrote the paper because we decided that it was too far afield and I would only be able to demonstrate control of the course's material in a very convoluted way. But I never forgot about it.

Offline Gumbo

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2018, 01:44:19 PM »
Thanks for the review, Johnm. On the basis of your enthusiasm I just ordered an 'as new' copy from am*z*n. It says Arhoolie - hopefully it's not an autorip version. It's the only Smokey Babe CD i can afford from the looks of the prices of his others!

Where is the weenie amazon link btw? I can't find it.

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2018, 02:03:03 PM »
Where is the weenie amazon link btw? I can't find it.

On my screen, it's down on the lower left, between "Like Us On Facebook" and "Weenie's CD." The bar above the Amazon USA, UK and Canada search boxes says, "Support Weenie!"

Offline Gumbo

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2018, 03:28:05 PM »
Hmm. That's the way I remember it. There was a sidebar down the left that I don't have. I don't see the 'like us on fB' either. I have a link to the weenie cd at the top right though. Could AdBlocker be doing something I wonder?

Online Johnm

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2018, 03:38:25 PM »
Hi Gumbo,
If you want to get that left side menu to show, click on the little plus sign up and on the right, just above the Quote Generator.  See if that helps.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2018, 03:38:59 PM »
Could be. There's so much running behind the scenes these days that given the combinations and permutations, the possibilities for conflict between 0s and 1s--the little grey cells of software--are boundless.

I'm using Firefox with AdBlock Plus with a few subscriptions and the Amazon link is there. You could try turning off any ad blocking software and/or programs like Ghostery and NoScript if you have them installed and see what happens. And you could also try using a different browser if you have one installed.

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2018, 03:43:33 PM »
Hi Gumbo,
If you want to get that left side menu to show, click on the little plus sign up and on the right, just above the Quote Generator.  See if that helps.
All best,
Johnm

Good thinking, John. --It's very small and right above the quote box. When I clicked on mine (changing it from a minus sign - to a plus sign +), the left side of the page became hidden.

Offline Gumbo

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2018, 04:25:08 PM »
Very small indeed!
Thank you John, and Stuart.  All is returned to normal.

And thanks again for the review John. I'm looking forward to the CD arriving.

Offline Rivers

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2018, 04:37:45 PM »
Strange. In Chrome on my macbook the amazon links appear in both minus- and plus+ modes. We should get around to testing it with all other browser combinations. We routinely do that when doing a major update but it's very easy to miss something, there are so many controls on each screen. Better make a list.

Thinking about it though, it's probably working correctly on your browser, and not on mine!

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #15 on: March 08, 2018, 04:52:55 PM »
And thanks again for the review John. I'm looking forward to the CD arriving.

I just got word that my copy is on the way. Now excuse me while I go camp out by the mailbox. It could arrive any week now and I wouldn't want to miss it!

Offline Rivers

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #16 on: March 08, 2018, 06:10:27 PM »
Smoky Babe has always been respected on weeniecampbell since his name first was mentioned. When it first came up a long time back I'd never heard of him and I soon remedied that. O'Muck is right when he alludes to the recognition and inclusion he should have gotten during the revival era. So I too, obviously, am looking forward to getting my hands and ears on this disk.

Offline Vermonter

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #17 on: March 10, 2018, 07:27:50 AM »
Purchased! Thanks for letting us know about this.

Offline jostber

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #18 on: March 14, 2018, 02:25:52 PM »
Would love to get the vinyl version of this one, but it seems a bit hard to find:




Online Johnm

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #19 on: March 14, 2018, 02:42:58 PM »
Hi jostber,
The material on this CD was never previously released and was never released on vinyl by Arhoolie.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2018, 03:25:26 AM »
Hi jostber,
The material on this CD was never previously released and was never released on vinyl by Arhoolie.
All best,
Johnm
I bought this CD when it came out. Having the earlier stuff on vinyl, I would quite like to have had this release in that format as well. Whilst I often prefer vinyl, at the end of the day I'm more interested in the music than the medium.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline jpeters609

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #21 on: March 15, 2018, 08:54:15 AM »
Actually, this album was also released on vinyl at the same time as the CD in 2014 -- with fewer tracks, of course. But it does not appear to be available in that format on the new Smithsonian Folkways/Arhoolie site. There is a used copy currently listed at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Back-Country-Blues-Smoky-Babe/dp/B00OWHZ9JY/ref=sr_1_2_twi_lp__3?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1521129010&sr=1-2&keywords=smoky+babe




Jeff

Online Johnm

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #22 on: March 15, 2018, 09:45:06 AM »
Thanks for the catch, Jeff.  I didn't realize Arhoolie was doing new releases in vinyl at that late date.
All best,
Johnm

Offline TenBrook

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #23 on: March 15, 2018, 01:41:51 PM »
Looks like you can purchase it on vinyl directly from Chris' online version of his Down Home Music store.
http://www.downhomemusic.com/product/smoky-babe-way-back-in-the-country-blues-lp-548/

Offline jostber

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #24 on: March 15, 2018, 02:49:09 PM »
Looks like you can purchase it on vinyl directly from Chris' online version of his Down Home Music store.
http://www.downhomemusic.com/product/smoky-babe-way-back-in-the-country-blues-lp-548/

That is great, thanks for this link!


Offline hms

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #25 on: March 23, 2018, 11:34:24 AM »
First time for me to hear Smokey Babe.
Wow, just wow!
Thanks johnm for the intro.
H

Online Johnm

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #26 on: March 23, 2018, 04:09:22 PM »
It's great to see folks getting excited about this recording, and I hope if it sounds good you'll all pick up a copy.  It's great!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Gumbo

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Re: "Smoky Babe--Way Back In The Country Blues"--Arhoolie CD 548
« Reply #27 on: March 26, 2018, 02:13:59 PM »
Just arrived today and playing loud  ;D

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