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Play it while I think it over... - Bukka White, spoken over instrument break, Baby Please Don't Go, Sonet

Author Topic: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932  (Read 5861 times)

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Offline Prof Scratchy

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I came upon this link over at another web discussion and wondered if anyone could identify the player/singers on the albums posted at this site? There is some extremely strong playing and singing. The selection entitled 'Nobody Knows my Name' is particularly intriguing, a real mix of CB figerstyle playing with the occasional 'fancy' jazz chord thrown in. Anybody know who these folk are? Are these uploads from commercially available albums?
http://kingsolomon.free.fr/temp/

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2006, 12:15:59 PM »
'Nobody Knows my Name' is particularly intriguing, a real mix of CB figerstyle playing with the occasional 'fancy' jazz chord thrown in.
Nobody Knows My Name was a limited issue LP by Bruce Bastin on his Heritage label (HT 304, 1984). It's subtitle is Blues From South Carolina & Georgia 1924-1932. They were 'field' recordings made by Lawrence Gellert of unnamed/documented singers; as is the case of those on the other collection. During the intervening years it has been discovered that the four songs said to have been recorded in 1924 were in fact of a slightly later vintage. I'll unearth it and scan the track list, the other one has been around in one form or another for nearly four decades, the details of which should quite easily be found via a Google search.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2006, 01:38:48 PM »
Thanks for the info. I've searched the album titles and came up with as much info as appears to exist on these artistes on Stefan Wirz's site. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2006, 11:41:13 PM »
Thanks for the info. I've searched the album titles and came up with as much info as appears to exist on these artistes on Stefan Wirz's site. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

What follows is a portion of Bruce Harrah-Conforth's notes to the Heritage LP which discuss the songs. Be warned it's long:

The album's earliest pieces; Pick and Shovel Captain, 6 Months Ain't A Sentence Down In The Chain Gang, and Nobody Knows My Name, were all recorded (according to Gellert's notes), in Greenville, South Carolina in the surprising year of 1924! The examples here are played in a style that is related to other East Coast guitarists, most notably Blind Blake. Yet, if we are to believe Gellert's notebooks, the "ragtime" oriented guitar techniques used by these musicians preceeds Blake's earliest recordings by a full two years. While not as clean or fluid as Blake in their playing style, it is no less impressive to find this musical element in such early recordings. If Gellert's dates are correct, then one can only assume that this style was common to the area and not picked up as a result of the spread of 78 rpm records. Moreover, it may have been Blake who was influenced by guitarists such as these.

It is not known whether any of these 4 recordings are of the same guitarist, but their approach to the guitar is extremely similar. Perhaps the sound is best captured on Pick and Shovel Captain, where the syncopated thumb roll that came to typify the East Coast school of blues guitarists is clearly audible. 6 Months Ain't A Sentence incorporates similar techniques while replying textually on a very traditional lyric;

6 months ain't no sentence, 12 months ain't no great long time.
6 months ain't no sentence 12 months ain't no great long time.
Well I'm on the chain gang, but I did not make 99.

Down In The Chain Gang, while displaying similar techniques, concentrates more heavily on a moveable bass figure than the previous examples. On Nobody Knows My Name, the guitarist displays a fine sense of compositional arrangement by taking the piece through a number of rhythmic modifications while never deviating from the essence of the style.lndeed,thesefourexamples are quite astonishing for 1924. There are no real examples of this technical ability or stylistic format from that era, and as such one can easily question the validity of that date. One needs to remember however that Gellert had a knack for recording what others could not. The major criticism of his protest material was that there were no other examples of these songs to be found, and therefore his must be fakes. We now know that to be untrue, and according to eyewitnesses Gellert was indeed recording in South Carolina in 1924. If Blind Blake began commercially recording his "ragtime" guitar in 1926 is it really so unreasonable to accept that Gellert was able to record similar styles two years earlier?

Chronologically, the next piece on the album is I Been Pickin' and Shovellin which Gellert has dated 1926 from Spartanburg, South Carolina. More chordally based, this piece easily fits into our image of 1920's era blues. The vocalist here provides a very strong counter to a more simplistic guitar style. It is interesting that this piece is documented as being from South Carolina for the sound is more typical of the Mississippi delta region. Gellert however, is not known to have visited Mississippi, and this piece stands as a testimony to the diffusive powers of the oral tradition of the blues.

The remaining pieces all hail from Atlanta, Georgia and date from 1928 through 1932. Boogie Lovin' is the first of 8 pieces apparently played by the same guitarist. Gellert frequently travelled throughout the South with members of his informant network and it is not impossible that this guitarist may have travelled with him. Clearly there are different vocalists of varying quality on several of the pieces and at one point (following the 4th instrumental verse of Boogie Lovin') someone, probably the guitarist, can be heard to give the vocalist a cue to come in with the next verse of the song as he asks him to "sing it for me".

Very much in the Lonnie Johnson vein, this guitarist seems to be trying to translate jazz ensemble chording to the guitar. His ability to do so is limited, and he plays the same basic accompaniment on all the songs, regardless of lyric structure. He also seems to be quite fond of using a boogie-woogie bass pattern for a break. We hear it for the first time in the 3rd instrumental verse of Boogie Lovin', again in the traditional 30 Days in Jail, Prison Bound Blues and finally in Shootin' Craps and Gamblin'.

30 Days in Jail features the same guitarist teamed up with at least two other instrumentalists, neither of which appear to be near his level of competence. He seems to delight in overpowering them not only with volume but with technique. On Ding Dong Ring, the influence jazz had on this unknown guitarist is evident in his gratuitous use of chords. He does, however, create an extremely nice staggered rhythm effect on the last verse showing how much he owes to the idiosyncratic blues tradition.

On Hard Times, Hard Times he is his most relaxed and understated. It is on this song that we can most fully appreciate his attempt to blend the blues guitar styles of the times with more advanced jazz chords and structure. Prison Bound Blues incorporates parts of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell's version of the same song as well as other traditional verses. Recorded in 1928, the same year as Carr? and Blackwell's version, this example is akin to the chicken and the egg question. Which came first is not really important. What does matter is the occurrence of the song in oral repertoire and its mixture with other lyrics, showing how blues songs were constantly in a state of change, being updated and localized to fill the need for a more immediate relevance for their audience. Gonna Leave From Georgia, which Gellert had labelled as being a string band again features this same guitarist in the company of several lesser talented musicians. The latest piece in the collection, Gonna Leave From Georgia, dates from 1932 and evidence to this fact can be found in the Iyric of the first verse when the vocalist mentions the W.P.A. which was begun that same year. The fact that this same guitarist shows up 4 years later in the same area in which he was originally recorded may indicate that he was in fact from Atlanta and therefore could have indeed been influenced by Lonnie Johnson. Georgia Chain Gang and Shootin'Craps and Gamblin', again from 1928 are the final pieces in which we encounter this musician.

Trouble Ain't Nothin' But A Good Man Feelin' Bad, again a piece whose lyric roots lie in oral tradition dates from Atlanta in 1929. With its companion piece Black Woman we are presented with a more direct approach to the blues structure. The guitar line revolves around the lyric in a more cohesive manner than in any of the other examples. When the guitar deviates from the melodic accompaniment it is only to augment it not to create a separate theme, as our other Atlanta guitarist seems fond of doing. In a sense these blues are almost ballad-like in format.

The blues collected by Lawrence Gellert and represented on this album are unique for reasons far more important than their musical or lyric qualities however, for they present us with a link to the past. Rarely is one provided with a glimpse into the inner working of an artistic genre. Most of our knowledge about the blues comes from commercial recordings. While valuable as a source of musical data, those recordings can only provide us with insights into the material that producers thought worthwhile in recording and that was produced by blues "stars". Lawrence Gellert recorded whatever came his way. Through his collection we get a chance to examine blues as they were performed within the Black community, as influenced by, and as influence to the "race record" industry. In all probability the people Gellert recorded never went on to become anything more than what they were, members of their community. As such, the music they made is really the folk blues: blues without the intervention of commercial urbanity.

This album was titled Nobody Knows My Name because right now we don't know who these musicians were, but we do know to whom the music belonged ... it belonged to everyone.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2006, 04:34:18 AM »
This is fascinating stuff. If only there'd been a photo or two of the musicians who played these sessions, or  a notebook with a name or two - still, it adds to the mystery of these amazing performances. I can't get over how 'recent' these recordings sound. On listening alone, I would have put them, at the earliest, somewhere in the 1940's. Yet these Georgia musicians were active in the twenties, playing all those jazz chords and boogie riffs. Thanks for taking the time to type those liner notes.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2006, 08:19:09 AM »
the four cuts "from" 1924 are unlikely to be that early. They are (to my ear) electrical recordings on disc, and I don't see how Gellert could have had a portable electrical rig a year before Columbia, Victor, et.al. were using the technology in their permanent studios. Most (non-commercial) field work was still utilizing cylinder machines in '24---e.g., Hornbostel & Gordon.

I haven't had time to dig around in Gellert's work to try and understand why/how this early date got attached to these recordings. But sonically as well as musically, 1924 doesn't appear to fit.
bruce nemerov

Offline a2tom

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2006, 09:23:32 AM »
I agree Scratchy - this is wild.  I just love these "unkown" or "rarely recorded" types of things.

I have absolutely no basis on which to accept or challenge the 1924 date, but I did like the comment that if Blake recorded similar styles two years later, whether the recordings are authentically 1924 or not, it isn't hard to imagine that there were really folks out there playing the beginnings of the key styles through much of the 20's.  My general assumption is that, despite the efforts of the many great and legendary people who recorded this music, and later catalogued the history of it, that there must be huge holes.  And in particular, maybe there were legions of players who were good, but maybe not great enough to be oft or ever recorded, who still had little twists and novelties about them to make me wish we had heard them. 

The one player with 8 recordings and apparent Lonnie Johnson ties really is off the wall.  I find the review to be a bit too dismissive of his ability.  I mean, dude could play!  It's funny that he isn't the singer - at first it seemed obvious that he would be, but as you put it together you do start to get a different impression of the guy - that he was just acting as an accompiment for hire or some such.  And in a way, he does occasionally seem out his element.  It nearly knocked me out in Boogie Lovin' when he started jumping into all those funky jazz chords.  But while I love that and thought it all worked really well, there are other times in other songs where his style just isn't "right".

I'm still listening the this, but so far my favorite is Nobody Knows My Name.  Not the best recording, but the tune grows on you.  Has a quaint country blues lilt I really like.

Thirty Days in Jail sounds like a blues guitar class...

The whole set of songs seems awfully preooccupied with the chain gang...

Thanks for turning me on to this.

tom

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2006, 10:41:12 AM »
I haven't had time to dig around in Gellert's work to try and understand why/how this early date got attached to these recordings. But sonically as well as musically, 1924 doesn't appear to fit.
Indeed so. I think it was Tony Russell who gave the Heritage release a long well considered review making many of the same observations as you with many well founded arguments. I don't think it was in Blues Unlimited but a jazz magazine - I'll see if my 'little grey cells' are up to recalling where.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2006, 01:09:27 AM »
I haven't as yet been able to locate the Tony Russell review but here's what? Frank Weston said in Blues Unlimited:

Until recent years the name Lawrence Gellert was comparatively unknown among blues collectors until that is, Rounder Records released 'Negro Songs Of Protest' on Rounder 4004 [originally released in 60s on Timely label ? BH] which was later followed by a second album Rounder 4013. The most interesting thing about these two albums was the outspokenness of the songs against authority. Previously available material of this type such as those recordings by John and Alan Lomax had led us to believe that protest about the ways of Mr Charlie was always pretty well disguised and only formed a small percentage of the singer's material. Almost fifty per cent of Gellert's collection however was of protest material. Even bearing in mind that he was very much accepted in the black community this is a staggering amount. The frequency and intensity of this material in Gellert's collection caused him to be accused of faking the lyrics. His notebooks have since disproved this accusation

As interesting as the two above albums are, it has been left to Bruce Bastin's Heritage label to bring out the real killer album of Gellert's work as far as the blues collector is concerned. This album brings us thirteen tracks all with guitar accompaniment recorded between 1924 and 1932 in South Carolina and Atlanta. The guitar accompaniments alone will probably give the album a wider appeal, but what is truly stunning is just how modern

the guitar sounds on the 1928 Atlanta recordings. There is also a strong relationship on the 1924 Greenville, S.C. recordings to the music of Blind Blake who did not himself record until 1926. At least two people that I know have raised doubts about the accuracy of the dates given but I suspect that Gellert will once again be proved correct. The guitar player who turns up on eight out of ten of the Atlanta tracks is really intriguing sounding far more modern and jazz like in his accompaniments than one would normally expect on field recordings of this type. The sleeve notes suggest traces of Lonnie Johnson. I would liken him to an earlier Robert Lockwood. The opening track itself brings several musicians to mind, and on another 1928 track there is a strong similarity to the work of Leroy Carr who himself did not start recording until June of that year. The tune used on 'Black Woman' by a different artist and recorded in 1929 is another that I always associate with Leroy Carr. Would Carr's influence have been so strong so soon, or were the blues already well formed and far more widespread before the advent of the first commercial recordings than we have been led to believe? There is one track here 'I Been Pickin' And Shovellin" recorded in Spartanburg, S.C. in 1926 which sounds like almost pure Mississippi complete with bottleneck.

As the album title suggests absolutely nothing is known of the identities of the singers and musicians appearing but work is going on to try and dig up whatever information may still be available.

Quality of reproduction for field recordings of such an early date is surprisingly good. An album worthy of a place in every pre-war blues collection. Buy it, enjoy some really good music and also probably have some of your pre-conceived notions knocked sideways.

[It perhaps should be noted that Gellett first published some of this research in a magazine entitled The New Mass over several issues between 1930 and 1932. In 1933 the British 'socialite' (for want of a beter term) Nancy Cunard republished this in her mammoth Negro; An Anthology. She also included a piece by John L Spivak entitled 'Flashes from Georgia Chain Gangs' which show photos taken by Spivak of brutal punishment treatments such hog-tieing, on the rack and in stocks along the none too pleasant and outspoken views of wardens towards their charges. BH]

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2006, 04:59:48 AM »
This review very much sums up what I felt about these recordings when I heard them. Could they be genuine? From 1924 onwards?? How come everybody was suddenly singing about chain gangs - Had somebody else written these songs??? Etc etc. Given that these recordings have been around for such a long time, how come no researcher in Georgia (Little Brother maybe?) had been able to establish the identities of the musicians? In the sixties and seventies there must still have been people around who could've aurally identified at least some of these singers and musicians? Anyway, seems like all these questions have been posed before and - so far, so good -it appears that these are genuine '20's field recordings, despite the high recording quality and the almost anachronistic modernity of the guitar styles. Whatever, these tracks are some of the most exciting I've heard in years, and I can hardly believe that it's taken so long for me to find them.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2006, 06:32:42 AM »
Here is a scan of the note which precedes the entry on page 673 of B&GR4:

SONGS OF PROTEST
This credit has been given to LP issues of songs recorded under the supervision of Lawrence Gellert between 1933 and 1937 and now held in the Lawrence Gellert collection of the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music. These come from a collection of 500 Gellert recordings of a similar nature, details of which are not available.

Of the titles issued on Timely T112 and Rounder 4004, copies of which exist with a Timely label on one side and a Rounder label on the other, at least half are stated to have been recorded in the County Jail, Greenville, S.C., the remainder at other locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. No information is available about the provenance of the titles on Rounder 4013, but they are assumed to be of similar origin.

For Heritage HT304, the Archives supplied location and date information, reproduced in good faith by the producers of the record which on aural grounds alone cannot possibly be correct unless, as one commentator has put it, Lawrence Gellert was the inventor of electric recording. These dates are quoted here in inverted commas for purposes of identification, but it must be emphasised that aural evidence suggests that these were recorded over approximately the same date span as the recordings I Rounder. In view of this situation it is impossible to form a judgment as to the validity of the location details also supplied.

In the circumstances, no attempt has been made to list this material in chronological order.

Offline dj

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2006, 07:41:43 AM »
From John H. Cowley's essay Don't Leave Me Here - Non-Commercial Blues: The Field Trips, 1924-60 in Lawrence Cohen's NothingBut the Blues:

"On the basis of somewhat doubtful dating, the first recordings in this survey were made by Lawrence Gellert in Greenville, South Carolina in 1924.  [...]  While Gellert undoubtedly began making field recordings in 1924, like others in this period, he first used a wax-cylinder acoustic machine.  Aural and other evidence indicates, however, that all items actually issued from his collection were recorded electrically, using a semi-professional portable disk cutter.  Reliable versions of the latter were first developed in the early 1930s, and it is likely that Gellert's surviving recordings date from that time."

Gellert apparently set out to document "black protest songs" (Cowley's words), which explains the high percentage of such songs in the examples of his work that have been issued. 

Whenever they were recorded, this is a great bunch of songs.  Does anyone know what happened to the rest of the Gellert collection?  Do the rest of his field recordings still exist?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2006, 08:41:12 AM »
From John H. Cowley's essay Don't Leave Me Here - Non-Commercial Blues: The Field Trips, 1924-60 in Lawrence Cohen's NothingBut the Blues.[cut]
Does anyone know what happened to the rest of the Gellert collection?? Do the rest of his field recordings still exist?
That's such a huge, hefty hardback that I rarely take it from its place on the shelves. :)
Bruce Nemerov may be able to give insight into the status of the Gellart collection.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2006, 09:06:58 AM »
Thanks, Bunker Hill, for digging out the reviews.
As for Gellert's stuff, I think most of the music is at Indiana's Archives in Bloomington. There is a HUGE collection of folk materials housed there as IU is one of the Grandfather schools in Folklore.
Indiana University is (I think) part of some meta-project, with the Library of Congress and others, to digitize these collections. Some of it should be cataloged on-line by now. I don't know if Gellert will show up though.
bruce nemerov

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Nobody Knows My Name - Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924 - 1932
« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2006, 09:25:29 AM »
Here's what Indiana University's libray website has to say:

Collection Description: US: North and South Carolina, Georgia, African Americans, 1920-1940
Collector: Lawrence Gellert
ATM Accession #: 82-406-F
Format: 221 aluminum and lacquer discs
Condition: These formats are inherently unstable. Open reel copies are experiencing sticky-shed syndrome.

Significance: Gellert was accepted as an insider in the African American communities in which he worked and was able to record protest songs that eluded other collectors of the time. A few recordings have been commercially issued but most remain unpublished.