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Author Topic: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly  (Read 2341 times)

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Offline Rivers

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The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« on: January 26, 2008, 09:02:25 AM »
I'm reading Leadbelly's bio (Kip Lornell & Charles Wolfe) at present, first published 1992 so I guess some of you have read it. It's a very refreshing read. The authors make themselves invisible and just tell the story, pretty unusual in this genre. They are obviously very knowledgeable about music but there are no extended rambles based on pet theories, they usually stick to the facts while appreciating the art.

The descriptions of Lead really help to fill out your understanding of the man. He comes across as driving, passionate, smart, crazy about women, with a touch of the obsessive / compulsive, all of which help get him into trouble of course. The description of the shooting that got him sentenced from 7 to 30 years for murder is well handled, given the ambiguities, conflicting reports and lack of documentation.

The book makes it clear how Lead, during his first serious stretch in jail in Sugarland Texas, got around the power elite, charming the visiting governor into giving him a pardon after 6+ years, a few months short of the minimum term, at a time when the 'money for pardons' scandal had blown through and very few were getting pardons.

Great descriptions of Lead getting called in from the fields to get into his clean white pressed 'glad rags' to entertain the gov and his party on his Stella 12, with improvised heart-tugging songs about his wife, children and elderly parents waiting for him on the outside. He got his pardon some months later as one of the last acts of the outgoing governor.

I'd guess he treated John and Alan Lomax in the same way, gave 'em exactly what they wanted. I haven't got that far yet. I'll add more to this review as it's fresh in my memory. I'm only a third of the way through, at the point where he's been sentenced to a second prison term in the dread Angola. Great book folks.

Here's a quote that illustrates how the writers manage to convey hard information while creating incredible imagery, in this case describing how the song Midnight Special got its name. This is a superb piece of writing in my opinion:

"The title alludes to a Southern Pacific train that left Houston every night a few minutes after eleven for San Antonio and points west. As it rolled westward and entered Fort Bend County about twenty-five miles from downtown Houston, it crossed the Brazos River bottomland and passed near the buildings of the prison farm. Often its lights flashed through the cell windows and its whistle echoed across the prison farm. To the men who nicknamed the train the "Midnight Special" it became a cruel, tantalizing and regular reminder of life beyond the Sugarland fences."
« Last Edit: January 26, 2008, 09:31:27 AM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2008, 09:20:55 AM »
One of the best blues books I've read.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2008, 09:52:38 AM »
The authors make themselves invisible and just tell the story, pretty unusual in this genre. They are obviously very knowledgeable about music....
Charles Wolfe died a few years back though the four line publisher "bio" on the inside back flap of the bbok's dust jacket doesn't nearly do him enough credit. They could have perhaps listed some of his other nine books to indicate the depth and breath of his expertise.

He was also extremely approachable and helpful. Much the same can be said of Kip Lornell as the prompt response to my query regarding Stephen Tarter for this forum attests.

Offline Stuart

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2008, 12:29:35 PM »
Just a note to reinforce what Andrew and BH have said. An excellent book by two solid scholars. Highly recommended.

Offline Rivers

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2008, 05:41:54 PM »
I finished the book and my opinion is unchanged, an excellent piece of work all round. I could go on but suffice to say I recommend the book to all.

Offline doctorpep

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2008, 03:55:45 PM »
I just got done reading the Josh White bio. and have ordered the Leadbelly one. It'll be my next read. I can't wait! Leadbelly had OCD, you say? Sounds like this will be a great read!
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline Rivers

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2008, 04:52:06 PM »
Not officially diagnosed with OCD, except by me. I mean having your overalls and red bandanna washed, ironed and starched every day is one clue. There are other little quirks that appear throughout the narrative. I'll be interested to hear if you get the same impression.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2008, 05:18:54 PM »
I just got done reading the Josh White bio.

Me too. What'd ya think?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: The Life And Legend Of Leadbelly
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2008, 05:29:43 PM »
Probably best to post it on the existing Josh White book thread.

Tags: Leadbelly books Review