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I've got apples on my table, got food on my shelf. You wanna hear the blues baby, you sure gotta sing 'em yourself - Honeyboy Edwards, Water Coast Blues

Author Topic: American Epic PBS  (Read 7030 times)

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Offline CF

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #30 on: May 24, 2017, 09:44:11 AM »
I'm finding this series a disappointment so far. It feels very random & unfocused, like the producers found a few scraps of ephemera like some photos & film footage and then cobbled this together around those finds. 
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Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #31 on: May 24, 2017, 09:57:51 AM »
CF,
I agree though reading interviews with the filmmakers it seems that that was their intent, i.e. they didn't set out to make a cohesive documentary on the history of '20s and '30s non-popular recordings but rather a documentary of their personal journey to discover more about a few artists they were particularly interested in, a journey that led them to discover photos and footage and to conduct interviews with those still living that had connections to the musicians, they then used all of that as the basis for the documentary. That said, I agree a more sweeping and cohesive documentary would be nice, but I'll still take what they were able to give.

Lew

Offline Stuart

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #32 on: May 24, 2017, 10:05:15 AM »
I enjoyed last night's episode as well. I thought that it was interesting how they delved into Elder Burch and his influence. And who can hate seeing Charley Patton in prime time?

CF: I understand your point and why you find it disappointing, but while many of us would put together a quite different and greatly expanded series about American roots music, etc., given the time and resources, I'm choosing to look at American Epic for what it does, and not for what it doesn't do. I think that by limiting the focus to a few people, they avoid the "mile wide, inch deep" approach. (I'd prefer a thousand miles wide and a thousand miles deep, but one can't do that in three hours). Anyway, I'm enjoying both watching them present information about things that I didn't know, along with the human element (relatives and descendants), as well as things that I already know about. But that's just my approach and opinion and you are certainly equally entitled to your own.

Offline jpeters609

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #33 on: May 24, 2017, 10:29:55 AM »
The highlight for me was the Alan Lomax footage of Honeyboy Edwards from 1942 (and in color, too). They did a nice job of dubbing his L.O.C. recording of "Army Blues" over the clip. It synced up nicely -- it looks like that was indeed the song he was singing when the silent film was shot.
Jeff

Offline Slack

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #34 on: May 24, 2017, 12:08:43 PM »
I agree Jeff, the Honeyboy mashup was great!!

Offline btasoundsradio

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #35 on: May 24, 2017, 02:29:41 PM »
It was very cool seeing Charlie's descendants, but I wish they would've tied the story together better such as how the Cannon's were actually related to him along with more about his life and some of his story. I was glad they showed his huge impact on the birth of the blues into rock n roll and played some of his songs etc. Sound quality was amazing, as was the flood footage.
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline outfidel

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #36 on: May 24, 2017, 03:23:14 PM »
I really like the series -- I only wish there was more of it! Ken Burns devoted 19 hours to jazz -- 3 1/2 hours for American roots music just isn't enough for me.
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Offline islandgal

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #37 on: May 24, 2017, 04:14:09 PM »
I agree. It would be great to see more, but I am enjoying it for what it does have and learning about people I hadn't heard of like Elder Burch.

Offline oddenda

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #38 on: May 24, 2017, 11:13:50 PM »
islandgal -

          That's the intelligent and useful way to approach something like this. Accept it for what it is. Good on ya', as they say here in Oz.

peter b


Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #39 on: May 26, 2017, 05:08:07 AM »
I believe this project started out as Bernard MacMahon trying to find out what ever happened to the musicians on Harry Smith's "Anthology." I remember someone talking about that in 2005. The "Anthology" was mentioned during Episode 2, but I guess this original idea was abandoned as being too esoteric for PBS. But if you noticed that a lot of the people/songs (not all) featured in American Epic are "Anthology" artists, it isn't coincidental.

It shows that this project has been gestating for a long time. I imagine Bernard and his crew compiled tons of footage; a shame that it had to be condensed to only three hours.

I enjoyed the Elder Burch material, though Dizzy Gillespie's modern jazz intruded strangely upon a bunch of acoustic blues, gospel and country. But it shows how everything was connected.

The David Edwards 1942 footage was amazing.

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #40 on: May 26, 2017, 06:52:48 AM »
I watched the second episode last night and I also kept thinking "this had to originally be focused around the Anthology." Almost all the people they focus on were on the AAFM. It seems to have a long, drawn-out production history based on the fact that it includes a lot of things seemingly filmed a decade ago, and I'm curious to know if PBS revived an earlier Anthology-focused documentary attempt and shifted the focus.

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #41 on: May 26, 2017, 08:07:57 AM »
Thanks for the insights Gilgamesh, it is interesting that this project has taken so long to complete, it's hard to imagine staying focused on a project for so long, but I'm glad they did. I haven't read anything about the 'Anthology of American Folk Music' inspiration for the film, though I too noticed that most of the artists featured in Episodes 1 and 2 also appeared on the Anthology and of course the box set heavily features not only artists from the Anthology but often the same songs. Though honestly I think anyone making a documentary on 1920s and 30s old time, blues, cajun etc would be hard pressed to not have a huge overlap with the Anthology. It's also worth noting that the 3rd episode features Lydia Mendoza and Hopi Indian Dancers who sadly don't appear on the Anthology.

Lastfirstface, I don't get the feeling that PBS had much to do with the actual content of the documentary. It appears to have started as a passion project of Bernard McMahon who later brought in others and then likely partnered with PBS and the BBC. That said, a documentary focused solely on the Anthology would be wonderful.

Here's a little more on one of the initial sparks for 'American Epic':

"In 2006, the filmmaker Bernard MacMahon travelled to Cumbria to interview three musicians performing at the Mayport Bitter And Blues Festival. At the time, Honeyboy Edwards, Homesick James and Robert Lockwood Jnr were all in their nineties. Although he admits now that he had no specific project in mind, MacMahon instinctively knew he had to document the memories of 'the three oldest surviving blues men'." More here: http://www.uncut.co.uk/blog/americas-greatest-untold-story-100075

Also, here's a link to an mp3 of an interview with Bernard McMahon, the audio isn't the greatest and it starts out a little slow but there's some nice insights into how driven McMahon was to find the ephemera and behind the scenes stories of the musicians who recorded in the '20s and '30s and how the early recordings were made.

https://www.analogplanet.com/images/0517BMcMahon.MP3
« Last Edit: May 26, 2017, 09:15:35 AM by TenBrook »

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #42 on: May 26, 2017, 09:12:36 AM »
A couple of interesting take aways from listening to the above mentioned interview with McMahon:
1) Some of the songs used in the box set were pressed to vinyl from the original metal plates and then transferred in order to include in the box set.
2) They spent a long time hunting down the best copies of the records that couldn't be repressed from the original plates. And in doing so they found that EMI in England has a trove of pristine copies of every Victor record pressed from 1906 through '19-thirtysomething'.

Here's T Bone Burnett expounding on that:
"A friend of Bernard (MacMahon, the documentary director and soundtrack album compiler) was painting the Hayes archive north of London, a big warehouse north of London where the EMI tape library is. He came back to Bernard and said, ?You know, those RCA records you love, there are boxes and boxes of them in the Hayes archive.? Bernard went up there, sure enough, there were crates. It turned out that in 1906, the head of RCA ? which was the first record company in the United States ? went to England to compare notes with the head of EMI, which was the first record company in the world. And as he was leaving, he saw a Nipper, and he said, ?I love your logo ? his master?s voice. Would you mind if I put it on my records?? And the head of EMI said, ?No, I wouldn?t, as long as you send me one copy of every record you press with my logo on it.? So from 1906 to 19-thirtysomething, there was one pristine copy of every RCA 78 sent to the Hayes archive. And it?s there ? 30,000 records, pristine.?
From here: http://variety.com/2017/music/news/t-bone-burnett-american-epic-jack-white-pbs-1202429519/

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #43 on: May 26, 2017, 03:36:53 PM »
I'm thunderstruck by this Hayes Archive news. If MacMahon didn't know about it, I assume that the rest of the 78 record world was unaware of it also?

Offline oddenda

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #44 on: May 26, 2017, 07:54:33 PM »
The Hayes archive has been known for some time. That's where the Jack Goudelock 78 and the last Luke Jordan came from for "The Blues Collection" #84 a few years back! I did not know it was so deep and wide, though.

pbl

 


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