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One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor - Eugene Swampman Goldsmith, instructions for making a blues recording

Author Topic: Willie McTell LOC recordings  (Read 2449 times)

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LoneWolf

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Willie McTell LOC recordings
« on: February 27, 2007, 12:36:34 PM »
What do you all think about this album?
I listened to it yesterday for the second time (The first time was a loooong time ago), I don't know what it took so long for me to pick it up again, I think it's beautiful. Alan Lomax can be pretty annoying sometimes though ::)
It sounds like there was some point where McTell got tired of playing blues and started exploring other types of music. It facinated me that in one of the interviews he mention his friendship with Blind Willie Johnson... Then Alan asked him "Is Willie Johnson dead?" and McTell said "I think he's dead", and Willie Johnson actually died much later.
Willie McTell's gospel singing is a beauty.

Offline natterjack

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2007, 02:29:13 PM »
I would agree - this is a great set of recordings. It's interesting to hear the different musical styles Blind Willie played that weren't recorded in a commercial setting.

I would say that Lomax is more than annoying, in fact he's very rude at times. Blind Willie remains the consummate professional throughout.

LoneWolf

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2007, 02:43:18 PM »
I understand that it's actually John, not Alan... Their voice is pretty similar.

Offline natterjack

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2007, 02:44:18 PM »
Yes, it is John.

LoneWolf

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2007, 02:49:01 PM »
Sorry Alan :)

Alan was actually a mighty fine person from what I understand, especially from the Muddy Waters interview.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2007, 08:28:02 AM »
I go through phases where I listen to little but Willie McTell's entire output (call me crazy), and this topic caught me in the middle of one. The Library of Congress recordings are indeed wonderful and quite fascinating from a repertoire perspective. While some of the choices can no doubt be attributed to Lomax's requests for certain specific songs and certain types of songs, these recordings still seem to me to represent a dramatic change in McTell's repertoire. His last recordings prior to these were in 1935 (1936?), only five years earlier, yet there is nothing from his prior recordings in here. And there is some great new material like Murderer's Home Blues, Chainey, not to mention the first appearances of McTell classics like Delia, Dyin' Crapshooter, King Edward's Blues/Baby It Must Be Love etc.

I think the aspect of these recordings that really gets me is McTell's slide playing. While earlier songs like Mama T'aint Long for Day or Love Changing Blues are more famous now as McTell slide pieces, I think that I Got to Cross the River of Jordan on LoC is his slide masterpiece. All of his slide playing here on the gospel numbers is great but this one is one of my favorite McTell performances of all. I think the Atlantic sessions from 1949 have some excellent gospel tracks as well, including Jordan, but this version is more impassioned than the version that occurs there, IMO.

While listening to these LoC tracks recently, BTW, I took out the notes for both the Document and JSP versions. Interesting to note some marked similarities between the two.

I look forward to Michael Gray's biography of McTell, so we get to read more than a few paragraphs about the man. Anyone hear any news about its publication progress?
« Last Edit: February 28, 2007, 08:30:08 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2007, 10:08:30 AM »
While listening to these LoC tracks recently, BTW, I took out the notes for both the Document and JSP versions. Interesting to note some marked similarities between the two.
FWIW Document remastered the CD in 2000, gave it a new cover, title (Trying To Get Home) and the booklet revised.
Quote
I look forward to Michael Gray's biography of McTell, so we get to read more than a few paragraphs about the man. Anyone hear any news about its publication progress?
Autumn this year was what the Bloomsbury web site were proclaiming last year but I see they've revamped the site and forthcoming publications page seems to have disappeared. Or perhaps I can't see for looking. Given the length and depth of Gray's previous books I can't imagine it will be small.  :)
« Last Edit: February 28, 2007, 11:57:08 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2007, 10:21:34 AM »
It facinated me that in one of the interviews he mention his friendship with Blind Willie Johnson... Then Alan asked him "Is Willie Johnson dead?" and McTell said "I think he's dead", and Willie Johnson actually died much later.
Yes, but that was 1940. Fifteen years later folk still weren't sure whether BWJ was alive or dead. His death was only confirmed in the late 50s, and the actual date and place of death 30 years later. Therefore it was a legimate question for John Lomax to ask. No?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2007, 05:28:58 AM »
Re. the song Chainey on BWMcT's LoC recordings, which I don't have yet, is that the same Chainey the shows up in Furrey's Kassie Jones? I recall we discussed this at length on the old list and nobody seemed to know. The line was (from memory) "Kassie said to the fireman better keep yourself hid, just gonna shake it like Chainey did...". Just wondering if this is another piece of the puzzle.

The obvious allusion to current events is unavoidable, swapping out "shake it" with "fake it"...
« Last Edit: March 02, 2007, 05:31:19 AM by Rivers »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2007, 09:57:27 AM »
Can't answer the specific question but in the 70s one-armed harmonica player Neal Patman from Wintergreen, Georgia remembered an elderley black guitarist named Babe Chainey whom he heard playing on a porch in 1950 while he was travelling in Georgia. He and Babe spent six months playing together and then between 1951 and 1955 toured the North and the Midwest.

At the time this recollection sparked speculation amongst cognoscente as to whether this might have been the "chainey" referred to by McTell rather than Stavin' Chain that most commentators suggested it was.

Offline zoner

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2007, 10:18:56 AM »
I'm a huge McTell fan, & this is one of my favorite McTell discs...tunes show up here that aren't heard on any other sessions...his singing & playing are dead-on, & the interview snippets are fascinating (& really interesting how totally unsensitive John Lomax is).

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2007, 12:28:04 PM »
This is all from memory of xeroxed documentation Simon Napier once showed me in the early 70s which he discovered at the Archive of Folk Song in late 60s. The recording that has circulated all these years was a tape made by the Archive for Larry Cohn's personal use and which Cohn paid them for. I think this was about 1959-60. Sometime in 1965-6 he passed the tape to Dick Spottswood who obtained permission from Archive of Folk Song to release it on his Malodeon label. From then until now that has been the source of all LP/CD releases. However, the tape as supplied to Cohn was not the entire interview. There is supposed to be conversation between Ruby Lomax and BWMcT which was too long to fit on the tape.

I emphasise that this is from memory so might be a bit at odds with actuality, but no doubt all will be made clear in either the BWMcT book or the booklet accompanying the CD project - which ever hits the streets first!
« Last Edit: March 05, 2007, 12:32:32 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2007, 08:43:22 PM »
Interesting. I wonder if those would have something to do with the "additional" recordings rumoured to be part of the CD set. Additional meaning in addition to the already additional recordings from the Ed Rhodes session.

Here's hoping they hit the streets soon, and not the skids...

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2007, 11:33:14 AM »
Additional meaning in addition to the already additional recordings from the Ed Rhodes session.
Here's Charters writing about the Rhodes stuff in Record Research 37, August 1961 (p.7 & 20) just prior to the release of the Prestige LP

BLIND WILLIE McTELL - A LAST SESSION
Samuel B. Charters
In an earlier issue of Record Research I discussed at some length the recordings of Blind Willie McTell, the interesting blues singer from the Atlanta area who had persistently recorded for a number of companies from the late '20's until 1952. Knowing McTell's habit of turning up unexpectedly - he even fooled me with a re-issue I did of a "Blind Willie" side on Vocalion, not realising it was McTell- I should have known that there would be a final session by McTell. Shortly after the book ''The Country Blues" came out I received a letter from someone named Jan Cox in Atlanta who offered to help get more information about singers and musicians in the Atlanta area. When I asked him about McTell he answered that a record shop owner named Ed Rhodes had recorded him in the fall of 1956 and had an hour tape of his singing and playing. The letter reached me while my wife and I were traveling in Israel, and it was with great impatience that I waited for our return to New York so that I could get in touch with Rhodes.

I was able to talk with him at some length a few weeks later when he flew to New York to deliver the tape to me. He had gotten to know McTell in the summer of 1956, and asked him to record for him. McTell was still bitter about some of his experiences with people in the recording field and at first he refused.

It was only after he'd known Rhodes for some time that he finally agreed to come into the shop and maybe put a few numbers on tape, When he got there Rhodes had the machine set up and a bottle of corn whiskey for him. This was enough for McTell, and he sat down and played for an hour, singing many of his favorite songs, and talking about his background and the story of the songs.

Two or three years later Rhodes sold his recording equipment and threw the tapes he'd done into a discarded barrel in the attic of his store. When he went to look for the tapes only one had survived, fortunately the McTell tape, When he tried to find McTell again in the winter of 1960 he was told that Willie had died during the fall; so it is possible that this session was McTell's last. It is beautifully recorded and covers a broad variety of McTell's songs, and it is in many ways a fitting last session for this very fine singer. The following is a master sheet of the tape and its contents from which a selection will be released by the Prestige Record Company, 203 S. Washington Ave., Bergenfield, New Jersey, in the fall of 1961.

BLIND WILLIE McTell, voice and guitar,
recorded by Edward Rhodes, Atlanta, Ga., fall, 1956.
Ampex equipment, telefunken microphone.
warm up   15"
BABY IT MUST BE LOVE   1'35"
Talk about "Dyin' Crapshooter's"   3'25"
DYIN' CRAPSHOOTER'S BLUES   2'50"
Talk about early life.   1'50"
PAL OF MINE   2'40"
More about life.   2'45"
DON'T FORGET IT   2'10"
Talk about "Kill It Kid"   2'00"
KILL IT KID   3'15"
Talk about "That Will Never Happen"   1'30"
THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN NO MORE   1'30"
A request for "My Blue Heaven" and a
performance of it.   3'30"
Some talk a bout drinking   1'10"
BEEDLE UM BUM   2'35'
A MARRIED MAN'S A FOOL   2'00'
Talk about "A to Z"   40"
A TO Z BLUES   1'40'
Talk about New Orleans   1'40
GOODBYE BLUES   1'45"
BASIN STREET BLUES   1'30"
Talk about people in room   2'45"
SALTY DOG   2'50"
Talk about "Salty Dog"   '1'40"
WABASH CANNONBALL   2'30"
Talk about "St. James"   45"
ST. JAMES INFIRMARY   2'25"
Talk and "If I had the Wings"    2'00"
INSTRUMENTAL   3'30"
As is always the case in a session of this kind the performances were uneven in quality; some of them uninteresting, but there was enough of McTell singing and talking to edit from it an interesting release.

Offline natterjack

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Re: Willie McTell LOC recordings
« Reply #14 on: March 06, 2007, 02:19:50 PM »
I go through phases where I listen to little but Willie McTell's entire output (call me crazy)

Isn't this normal behaviour? :D