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Life have gotten miserable, seem like no more happiness to be made - Little Buddy Doyle, Hard Scufflin' Blues

Author Topic: Texas Field Recordings (1934/1939), Document Records DOCD-5231  (Read 6755 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Texas Field Recordings (1934/1939), Document Records DOCD-5231
« on: September 15, 2006, 11:08:00 PM »
Program:
Pete Harris:  Square Dance Calls; He Rambled; The Buffalo Skinners; Blind Lemon?s Song; The Red Cross Store; Alabama Bound; Is You Mad At Me?; Thirty Days In Jail; Carrie; Jack O?Diamonds (1); Jack O?Diamonds (2); Jack And Betsy; Standing On The Border Tricky Sam:  Stavin? Chain (210); Stavin? Chain (215); Ella Speed; Augustus ?Track Horse? Haggerty & Jack Johnson:  I Met You Mama; I Feel That Old Black Woman Is A Jinx To Me; Police Special; Hattie Green; It Was Early One Morning; Jesse Lockett:  Worry Blues; Smith Casey:  I Wouldn?t Mind Dyin? If Dyin? Was All; When I Get Home (w/Roger Gill); Gray Horse Blues; Shorty George; West Texas Blues (w/Roger Gill); Santa Fe Blues; Hesitating Blues; Jack O?Diamonds; Mourning Blues; Two White Horses Standing In Line; East Texas Rag

This CD presents recordings made by John Lomax on two collecting trips he made, the first with his son Alan in 1934, and the second with his wife, Ruby, in 1939.  The music was being collected for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.  The music in the CD is spectacular and excitingly varied.  In addition to including Blues and religious numbers, there are a number of folk songs that are widespread in both the black and white folk music traditions in the United States.  Rather than paraphrasing material covered in detail in the CD?s liner notes, written by David Evans, I?ll just recommend that interested parties get the CD and read the liner notes for themselves.

What of the music on the CD?  The program opens with thirteen cuts played and sung by Pete Harris, of Richmond, Texas.  Harris, who was approximately 34-years-old when he was recorded in 1934, is the only musician on the CD who was not a prison inmate at the time he was recorded.  He is described as a life-long resident of the farm of John Moore, though his role there is not made clear--share-cropper, hired hand?  In any event, Harris was really a versatile musician.  He opens with ?Square Dance Calls?, beautifully played with a thumb lead in Spanish at B flat, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Jim Jackson?s ?Old Blue?.  (Harris most often sounded around a minor third higher than the pitch his positions would normally sound in.)  He follows with a truncated version of ?He Rambled?, played in a one-chord, boom-chang fashion out of Vestapol at F (many of the performances on the CD end with fades--once John Lomax documented a performance to his own satisfaction, he had no compunction about stopping the recording mid-stream).  ?The Buffalo Skinners?, in a brutally excised version, is played in G standard, sounding at A flat.  ?Blind Lemon?s Song? turns out to be a superb version of ?See That My Grave Is Kept Clean?, played with a slide out of Vestapol at F.  ?The Red Cross Store? is played out of G standard at A flat, and has many verses in common with Leadbelly?s song of the same title.  Harris?s version of ?Alabama Bound? is one of the best I?ve ever heard, played with a smoothly flowing thumb lead in Vestapol, and containing verses singing of Elder Green, a la Charlie Patton.  ?Is You Mad At Me?? is another Vestapol slide song sounding in F.  ?Thirty Days In Jail? is played in E standard.  ?Carrie?, played with a slide in Spanish tuning at B flat, shares its melody with Furry Lewis?s ?Perlee?.  Harris does two different versions of Texas?s unofficial slide guitar anthem, ?Jack O?Diamonds?, the first of which uses a line used by John Hurt in ?Payday?,
   I?m gonna send you to your mama next payday
?Jack And Betsy? is, like ?He Rambled?, a one-chord number played in Vestapol at F, and ?Standing At The Border?, played in Spanish at B flat, utilizes a verse that turned up  later in Mance Lipscomb?s ?Rocks and Gravel?.
Throughout his performances, Harris sounds tremendous, with very strong time and powerful vocals, as well as a varied approach on the guitar. 

Tricky Sam, known to the state as Homer Roberson, was recorded at the Huntsville Penitentiary in 1934.  All of his three numbers, two takes of ?Stavin? Chain? and one of the Blues ballad ?Ella Speed? are played expertly out of C in standard tuning.  Tricky Sam sounds to have been a thorough professional, and his raggy guitar and crooning vocals make it seem like he might have been  a real hit-maker had he had the opportunity to record commercially.  His version of ?Ella Speed? is a particular beauty, with lots of verses I have not heard elsewhere, a memorable melody, and a sophisticated raggy progression. 

?Track Horse? Haggerty was evidently the leader of a prison work gang, and for all but one of his four cuts he is accompanied by Jack Johnson, a really smooth musician working, for the most part, in a style derivative of Lonnie Johnson, played out of a C position in standard tuning, capoed up.  My favorite cut of Track Horse?s is ?I Feel That Old Black Woman Is A Jinx To Me?, an archaic number done a capella, in a style that sounds like it came right from the work gang.  ?Hattie Green?, which Johnson accompanies out of A in standard tuning, utilizes a lyric from Charlie Patton,
   You can shake it, you can break it, hang it on the wall
Jack Johnson?s ?It Was Early One Morning? shows a vocal style reminiscent of Jesse Thomas?s.  Jesse Lockett?s ?Worry Blues? makes less of an impression than most of the material on the CD, but is none the less expertly sung and played.

The remainder of the program is devoted to Smith Casey, who, based on these very few cuts, must be considered one of the all-time greats of Country Blues.  He opens with ?I Wouldn?t Mind Dyin? If Dyin? Was All?, played with a slide in Vestapol at B flat.  (Like Robert Belfour, Smith Casey seems to have centered most of his tuning two whole steps or more lower than where the guitar is normally pitched.)  For ?When I Get Home?, Casey is joined by singer Roger Gill; the song is an up-tempo hymn accompanied in a snappy boom-chang fashion out of F, sounding at D.  ?Gray Horse Blues? is working a vaguely Lemonish territory in C standard sounding at A flat, while still showing lots of original touches not heard elsewhere.  ?Shorty George? is just gorgeous, played out E standard, sounding at C.  The rendition seems to have provided the model for Dave Van Ronk?s performance of ?He Was A Friend Of Mine?.  The accompaniment to ?Shorty George" is hypnotically intricate, but as great as it is, it is surpassed by Casey?s vocal, which just raises the rafters.  It is really hair-raisingly beautiful singing.  Roger Gill joins Casey again for ?West Texas Blues?, played in G standard sounding in E flat.  Once again, the accompaniment is working in a style obviously influenced by Lemon, but completely different and original.  Casey was really a remarkable player; time and again he gravitates toward  finely nuanced phrasing while still maintaining a strong pulse.  Next is ?Santa Fe Blues?, played in D position sounding at B flat or a little lower.  I will not say that it is the best Country Blues performance ever played in D standard, but I have no problem saying it is my favorite in that position.  Once again, a great guitar part is just about over-shadowed by an even more stellar vocal.  Casey?s version of ?Hesitating Blues? utilizes the melody employed by Charlie Poole for ?If The River Was Whiskey? and that Buddy Boy Hawkins used for ?Voice Throwin? Blues?.  Casey plays it out of G standard, sounding at D, and his version is really spiffy, with a lot of verses I had not heard before.  ?Jack O?Diamonds?, played with a slide in Vestapol at B, is a good bit like Harris?s version.
?Mourning Blues? is the odd tune out here, played in Vestapol at D by the sound of it.  Why would Casey not have low-tuned as was his custom?  Perhaps it was just a function of how the melody sat.  ?Two White Horses Standing In a Line? is another slide version of ?See That My Grave Is Kept Clean?, and the program concludes with the instrumental ?East Texas Rag?, played with a slide in Vestapol at B.  Casey?s time is so strong, and swings so hard, it just puts a smile on your face.  He sounds like he very well may have done his slide playing out of a lap position, for he often frets as many as four strings with the bar at once, something that is difficult to do with any kind of control holding the guitar in the conventional position.

The CD would be worth getting if it had only the Pete Harris cuts or the Smith Casey cuts, but it has both of their complete recorded works and more.  It is a sensationally strong program of Country Blues, a ?must-have? for any serious fan of the music, I think.  The sound is not great, they are field recordings after all, but I don?t believe they are any worse, or perhaps a bit better than the acoustic recordings of Lemon Jefferson or Papa Charlie Jackson.  And as I mentioned, a number of the tracks are cut short.  Still and all, this is a powerhouse of a CD.  What great music!
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: March 26, 2012, 10:33:36 AM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Texas Field Recordings (1934/1939), Document Records DOCD-5231
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2006, 11:54:30 PM »
I'll concur with John these are super recordings but, knowing Document booklets, good as the Evans notes might be I wonder if they quite equal the amazingly detailed and comprehensive booklets enclosed with the two LPs originally issued by Flyright. They are each six A4 sheets written by John Cowley who had spent time at the LoC unearthing all the information and material for that Flyright series. Years ago some folk (who shall remain nameless) were badgering Flyright to reprint that LoC series booklets as a pamphlet due to the wealth of insight and information they contained. It never happened, of course, and now their existence is only known to those who bought the LPs. Check out releases Fly 230-265, 541 & 542  at http://www.wirz.de/music/flyrifrm.htm

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Texas Field Recordings (1934/1939), Document Records DOCD-5231
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2006, 01:30:24 AM »
I actually bought this CD only a few weeks ago, merely on the strength of one track I'd heard (on the Juke I believe) - Pete Harris' "Blind Lemon's Song".  Believe me, it's worth the price just for that cut.  The slide is great and the powerful bass picking means it really rocks.  A kicking track.

As John points out, there are, of course, many other gems on there too.

I found it hard to track down in the UK, but eventually got it at a reasonable price from the US.  If I cannot find a CD I want over here, I start with a worldwide search on eBay and if that fails, I go to the Weenie Juke and access Amazon from there (so that the Juke gets its commission), which is often also successful, thanks to Amazon's "Marketplace" dealers.

If you like your slide guitar rough and ready, this one's for you!
"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 Slack

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Re: Texas Field Recordings (1934/1939), Document Records DOCD-5231
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2006, 07:08:09 AM »
PP, thanks for thinking of weenie.  I rushed out and bought my copy from our friend Malcolm at Venerablemusic.com - haven't seen a ship notice yet -- but I assume he can get copies.

Cheers,

 


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