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I have played so much guitar, it would make your ass hurt - Guitar Gabriel, Port Townsend 95

Author Topic: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways  (Read 3302 times)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« on: December 29, 2008, 08:57:40 PM »
While this purports to be a book about Smithsonian Folkways its really mostly about Moe Asch's revolutionary Folkways label. Richard Carlin is the author or compiler and it is gorgeously designed by one Laura Lindgren who has turned in an immensely satisfying and if there's any justice, award winning design which fully notes and displays the groundbreaking design work produced at Folkways. Not only were you getting paradigm shifting, bizarre and totally far out music when you took a flyer on a Folkways record, you were also getting some of the most beautifully designed packaging in the world at the time. Ultra Hip and luxurious, only the Harmonia Mundi label has come close (but not close enough) to equaling the feel of quality that Folkways had. The book is a gold mine of stories and facsimiles of important artifacts of the early Folk and Blues revival of the 40's, 50's and 60's. There's a photo of Sam Charter's typewritten letter to Moe Asch's assistant Marian Distler heralding the end of his five year search for Lightnin' Hopkins, There's a release form signed by Big Bill, Letters from Woody Guthrie, Tales of Harry Smith, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim,Elizabeth Cotton, John Hurt, Mary Lou Williams, Nat King Cole, Blind Snooks Eaglin, Willie Dixon and, unfortunately the following erroneous quote regarding my esteemed Guru  Rev. Gary Davis: "Like Terry (Sonny) he was a protege of Blind Boy Fuller" All I gotta say is that its a damn good thing for Richard Carlin that Brother Davis is in a place where he can't get at his gun or at Carlin! A mistake like that was so easy to catch given all the resources the author had at hand.
Of RGD's relationship with Fuller he said to me and to others that Fuller would have been OK if he had studied with him a little longer (Chill, Wax!).
But anyway I digress. If you grew up with these records or picked them up along the way or like me was captivated by the look and feel of their design and the  materials used in their manufacture as well as by the introduction to invisible worlds of music, and culture that they offered, then you will want this book. Asch was really kind of a genius, maybe he outSmithed Harry Smith, maybe he was a great artist of a new kind. A cultural collagist? You could certainly argue that "World" music is his baby. How about "The Sounds of the Office" literally a recording of just that, circa 1960? Or "Sounds of Insects" Then there was his political courage. Standing by Pete Seeger through the blacklist took major cajones. Long live Folkways! (and the Smithsonian).



My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline jostber

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2009, 08:02:38 AM »
Thanks for this recommendation, did just put an order in!


Offline doctorpep

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2009, 11:30:50 AM »
Mr. O Muck, do you mean to say that Davis disliked Fuller and was a better player than him? I know Davis disliked just about everyone except for Lonnie Johnson and Blind Blake. I'm guessing that this is what you're talking about.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2009, 12:16:04 PM »
Here's my read-between-the-lines on this, with some help with dates from B&GR. It's pretty obvious when you put it together.

Both men's first ever recordings were together, July 1935. Two musical buddies head off together to the studio, dreams coming true. Gary's classic early recordings were from these sessions, and likewise the knockout recording with Fuller of Rag Mama Rag. Listening to it I have to conclude Gary was far ahead of Fuller at that point, and indeed always was.

Davis wanted to record religious music, no secular. This limited his recording career at that time. Fuller went on to record flat-out through 1940, Gary didn't record under his own name again until... when? B&GR only says 'after 1943', probably early Sixties, somebody will know. [edit: somebody did know, in fact several somebodies, see below]

Davis maintained in several places Fuller copped a lot of stuff from him, 'studied'. Davis and Fuller used to busk together in Durham. They were both under the wing of social services in Durham. This is a classic case of a prodigy outpacing the master. No wonder Gary was snarky about it, he wouldn't have been human if he hadn't. Gary Davis was technically in a different league, yet Fuller had all the studio time and hits.

BTW I love BBF, don't get me wrong. Gary was, from a purely technical sense, the 'better' player though. There is no meaningful comparison, they both played guitar is about where it ends.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 06:42:50 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2009, 01:53:20 PM »
Like Rivers sez.  Rev. Davis did indicate to me a more formal teacher, student relationship between him and Fuller however. Ain't it great we have them both, and that they were both able to leave behind such a great legacy of recorded music? Willie Walker and Ike Zinnerman, and probably many others weren't so fortunate. I haven't made a single Goddamn 78 yet!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2009, 02:37:24 PM »
I haven't made a single Goddamn 78 yet!

So what are you waiting for?  ;D

(staying out of the Fuller/Davis debate  :P)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2009, 02:53:37 PM »
Thanks OMuck. I always wondered how Fuller could've afforded to pay for lessons, so tended to believe it was an informal set up, or Gary characterizing the relationship as teacher / pupil to make a point. Any idea what the remuneration was, if any?
« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 02:56:09 PM by Rivers »

Offline dj

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2009, 04:26:08 PM »
Quote
BTW I love BBF, don't get me wrong. Gary was, from a purely technical sense, the 'better' player though. There is no meaningful comparison, they both played guitar is about where it ends.

I think you could turn that sentiment around and say that, from a purely technical sense, Fuller was the 'better' singer.  But again, they were both good singers is about where it ends.

(Sorry, I just feel that way too often, a musician's singing ability tends to get ignored.  Even by me! )

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2009, 06:01:01 PM »
I believe John Cohen recorded RGD in '47 but Asch declined to release the record. John Cohen told me that it didn't strike people as all that good. I find that explanation hard to swallow. I have a hunch it may have had to do with the religious content of the songs. Blind Willie Johnson dead..OK, RGD alive and singin' 'bout Jesus, not OK? Just a hunch. Maybe they just didn't cotton to it. Anyway I thin this is the same record that was released by Smithsonian Folkways in the last several years. Asch turned down Bob Dylan too. "You know they refused Jesus too and he said "You're not him""!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2009, 06:04:45 PM »
It never occurred to me to ask RGD how or if or what BBF paid for lessons or if he did pay for lessons.
I think all it takes to give credence to this version of things were repeated requests from BBF for RGD to teach him various licks.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline oddenda

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2009, 06:09:45 PM »
Gary's last "race" 78 was done around 1949 - after that, he got "folked" and had a new career. Brownie & Sonny as examples?

Peter B.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2009, 06:51:46 PM »
Quote
I think you could turn that sentiment around and say that, from a purely technical sense, Fuller was the 'better' singer.  But again, they were both good singers is about where it ends.

I'm gonna have to agree to disagree on that one dj. Gary was an incredible singer, when he was trying. A lot of the recordings we have are informal and he's very laid back. Listen to the Live Newport ones though, absolutely incredible singing IMO, I think they are the best of his recordings for vocals. And the guitar ain't too bad neether!

Plus he had great emotional range, from that comic 'Huh? Shucks!' thing to hellfire, thunder and damnation, screeching, and so on. I dig the humor though, even on supposedly dire tunes like Death Don't Have No Mercy I detect a subtle element of piss-taking.

Fuller's voice really suited the material, hand in glove with the guitar and lyrics. Maybe that's why Fuller is so great, come to think of it. Tightly integrated unit. I daresay if he'd been recorded on portable cassette recorders in as many living rooms as the Rev he might have got a bit sloppy on occasion. The only Fuller recordings we have are of him making records, in the studio.

Apologies for taking this thread so far off topic, the whole Rev/Fuller thing has always been pretty fascinating to me.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 07:15:42 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2009, 07:21:18 PM »
I knew that John Cohen recorded RGD at his home in 1954 and those recordings were released on Smithsonian Folkways several years ago. 1947 sounds a bit early to me, as John Cohen would have only been about 15. Sad to say I can't find a comprehensive RGD discography on the net...seems such a shame considering all the other useless info out there.

I'm hopeless with dates and numbers. '47 rang a bell for some reason but I'm sure you're right. 1954 sounds more plausible. It could have been Asch-Stinson in '47 or thereabouts maybe?
I'll take a look over at Stephan Wirtz's site.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2009, 08:01:57 PM »
Well in looking through the very book under discussion, turns out that John Cohen recorded RGD in 1952, same year a certain O'Muck made his debut. I am sitting here with a twelve inch clear red vinyl LP on Stinson of Blind Gary Davis with Sonny Terry.
Its a 1963 reissue. Anyone know the recording date?
The estimable Herr Wirz amazingly enough doesn't seem to have a RGD discography but a link to a site that has a very incomplete one.
That John Cohen's got to be the hippest cat on earth. Hung with the Beats, and at the Cedar Tavern with the likes of DeKooning, member of the coolest urban old timey revival band ever, discovers and records Roscoe Holcomb, Records Gary Davis in '52, takes first rate photographs including fabulous early shots of the bard of Hibbing, makes documentary films, and even does some mighty fine drawing. To top it all off he had the prescience to be one of my  teachers for one of my brief college drop- ins.
They just don't make 'em like John anymore.

« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 08:20:09 PM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Worlds of Sound: The story of Smithsonian Folkways
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2009, 08:19:03 PM »
Quote
I think you could turn that sentiment around and say that, from a purely technical sense, Fuller was the 'better' singer.  But again, they were both good singers is about where it ends.

I'm gonna have to agree to disagree on that one dj. Gary was an incredible singer, when he was trying. A lot of the recordings we have are informal and he's very laid back. Listen to the Live Newport ones though, absolutely incredible singing IMO, I think they are the best of his recordings for vocals. And the guitar ain't too bad neether!

Plus he had great emotional range, from that comic 'Huh? Shucks!' thing to hellfire, thunder and damnation, screeching, and so on. I dig the humor though, even on supposedly dire tunes like Death Don't Have No Mercy I detect a subtle element of piss-taking.

Fuller's voice really suited the material, hand in glove with the guitar and lyrics. Maybe that's why Fuller is so great, come to think of it. Tightly integrated unit. I daresay if he'd been recorded on portable cassette recorders in as many living rooms as the Rev he might have got a bit sloppy on occasion. The only Fuller recordings we have are of him making records, in the studio.

Apologies for taking this thread so far off topic, the whole Rev/Fuller thing has always been pretty fascinating to me.

This is a pretty good assessment it seems to me. Sister Rosetta Tharp didn't call him "The deepest man I ever met" for nothing. Truth is that most people can't handle,or  process the polyphony he had going on between his singing and his guitar playing. two, three voices all observing their own discrete parts, bass going one way treble runs another, not necessarily cohering to the melody, unintuitive sounding rhythmic hiccups thrown in for good measure. I've been practicing on his songs (singing and playing) for almost forty years, and it seems the closer I get the farther away I am. (Insert deprecating comment here) :P But it ain't just me, there's a reason people stay away from his singing. Doing the two together is I've concluded unfortunately impossible, for anyone but him.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

 


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