Archive for the ‘78 rpm’ Category

Here’s another YouTube find: an ‘old weird America’ version of Bonepart’s (sic) Retreat from A. A. Gray.

Ahaz Augustus Gray was born on September 7, 1881 in Carroll County, Georgia. He is best remembered as the fiddler for several “Seven Foot Dilly and his Dill Pickles” (John Dilleshaw) recordings on the Vocalion label.

Bonapart’s Retreat is the only solo piece A. A. ever recorded. The Okey label released the performance in 1924 .

I really enjoy A. A.’s version – he plays the tune in about as crooked a way as I’ve ever heard. Here’s how I count it out:

A part: 4 – 5 – 4 – 3 (once)
B part: 4 -3 – 4 – 2 – 4 -3 – 4 – 3 (once)

‘Tis a thing of great beauty and a pleasure to behold; I especially like the way the DDAD tuning grumbles and growls. This tune and maybe The Falls of Richmond will be the perfect tunes to play or listen to while I watch the Great February Blizzard of 2010 drop snow here in the Cuyahoga Valley.


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Here’s another YouTube find from the ‘they just don’t make ’em like they used to’ bin.

My ears perked right up; the guitar playing is sooo good here. I normaly don’t think of Huddie as a bottleneck player, but he has this one nailed down tight. Huddie learned to play by busking with Blind Lemon Jefferson in Dallas and later performed with Josh White, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and it really shows in this performance.

I can only reflect on how different this version is from the one Carl Perkins popularized from his rockabilly sessions at the Sun Studio.

Huddie made his reputation with popular melodies like Good Night Irene and folk songs and I sometimes forget that he was in fact a real-deal bluesman. John Lomax first recorded Huddie when he was serving hard time at Louisiana’s notorius Angola Prison Farm. Huddie’s first recordings were hundreds of blues tunes recorded there in Angola.

John Lomax described Huddie as ’emotionaly volitale’. There is a real visceral anger to In the Pines and Bourgeois Blues. Huddie had killed one man, had tried to kill at least four others and threatened to kill Alan Lomax (John Lomax’s son and Huddie’s touring manager) several times.

The process whereby this all gets turned into compelling, beautiful music is still a great mystery to me.

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I’m tired of all the political and corporate scoundrels and I’m tired of all their mischief. My brains are roiled and I am otherwise distressed. I believe my circuits are overloaded and I am in danger of blowing a fuse.

I am forcing myself to take drastic measures.

I’m returning to First Principles; caves and American traditional music. Here’s a great way to enjoy both – Vernon Dalhart’s Death of Floyd Collins.

In January, 1925 Floyd “The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known” Collins became trapped in Kentucky’s Sand Cave in a narrow crawlway 150 feet from the entrance. Efforts to save him became a worldwide media sensation, and many would say it was the media circus surrounding the event that eventualy killed him. After four days where he could be fed, a cave-in closed the entrance passageway to everything except voice contact. Collins died of exposure and starvation after about fourteen days underground, three days before a rescue shaft could reach his location. His body (minus a leg) was recovered two months later.

His embalmed body was displayed as an attraction at Crystal Cave in a glass coffin for many years before the body was stolen. The body was eventualy recovered and buried at last in a private Flynt Ridge cemetary.

Dalhart documented the affair with a number of recordings for various labels. I have a copy of a Columbia recording pressed under the pseudonym “Al Carver (Caver?)” in my own collection of 78’s. Vernon took vocals and harmonica duty while his regular collaborator Carson Robison performed on guitar.


The folk and Americana purists among us (and you know who you are) consistently wrinkle up their dainty noses at the odor of commercial success surrounding poor Vernon. The rap against him was that he was a little too popular and that his vocal delivery was a little too polished due to his conservatory training and that he sold a few too many records (over 400 titles for Edison, Victor and Grey Gull) to completely qualify him as a ‘folk artiest’.

But to my ears, Vernon Dalhart contributed hundreds of great performances in the service of hundreds of great tunes (The Wreck of the Old 97′, The Prisoner’s Song and the wonderful depression tune Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat come quickly to mind).

Vernon had a huge hit in 1925 with The Wreck of the Shenandoah. To those of us here in Ohio the crash of the dirigible Shenandoah was the stuff of legend for our parents and grandparents. The great ship went down in Nobel County not far from my Grandmother’s childhood home and I can remember her telling of how my great-grandfathered drove out to survey the wreckage strewn over many acres. Vernon and Carson Robison wrote the tune and published the song under the pseudonym “Maggie Andrews”.

wreck of the shenandoah

I went on the Mammoth Cave wild tour a few weeks ago with some members of the Cleveland Grotto. After we finished the tour we took a short side trip to Sand Cave where Floyd met his maker.

There is an observation deck built to look over the cave and the rescue site, but you cannot see the actual cave shaft from the deck. Curt, Phil and I walked down what was left of the path to the cave and found the shaft sealed with a steel grate in the back of the cave. The pathway down to the cave was overgrown and covered in poison ivy.

It is a dirty, muddy, dark and an awful place. The sealed shaft is filled to about five feet from the top with leaves and garbage. My imagination could make out how the shaft wound down to its intersection with destiny.

That’s Phil on the left and me on the right. We are standing on the grate.

phil and gary at sand cave -1

There’s a solid streak of populism and down home charm that shows itself all the way through the Dalhart catalog. Vernon built a twenty two year recording career by capitalizing on tragic topical stories and by combining morality tales with wry observations of the world around him – in short, by using the palette of the American folk musician.


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a YouTube find from Blind Blake

they just don’t make ’em like they used to…

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Saturday – 05/17/2008
The Lakewood Art Walk
Madison Rose Bookstore
13705 Madison Ave, Lakewood, Ohio 44107
3:00 PM – See you there!

Here’s a goofy clip I found on YouTube of Harry Smith rolling a fatty while discussing synchronicity, spiritualism and mediumship. He concludes by threatening to burn a witch.

I wish I could find this in some kind of context…

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The High Ground, Honesty and Authenticity

from David N. Meyer’s

Twenty Thousand Roads – The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music

“For those who controlled the conversation in the Village, the moral high ground continued to be held by what was deemed the honest expression of (presumably) unsophisticated rural folks, black and white. The unknowing inauthenticity embedded in this urban yen for rural simplicity was summarized best by Rodney Dillard. Rodney played with his brother Doug, a banjo virtuoso who later toured Europe with Gram and the Byrds. Dillard told author Richie Unterberger (for Unterberger’s excellent history of folk rock, Turn! Turn! Turn!):

‘I came from a rural area, grew up on a farm with no electricity and no bathroom until I was fourteen. We were coming out of that music which had been around like dogs in the yard. These intellectuals who discovered bluegrass were coming from an intellectual/educational/social approach. At that time, everyone was wanting to put bluegrass in a museum, keep it the way it was, look at it once in a while, and protect it so it didn’t change.

‘Our first album, Back Porch Bluegrass, had echo on the record. And one of the critics from on of the little back-East rags said, ‘Since when did they have echo chambers on back porches?’ Well, the guy had probably never been off of his block. Because you sit here on my back porch right now and you get nothing but echo, because I live up the side of a mountain.’

“Primitives were supposed to remain primitive and thus support widely held preconceptions about an anticommercial vox populi. The seminal text for those notions was collector and rural music historian Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952. Smith’s six-LP set included murder ballads, country blues, Hawaiian slack-string guitar, jug bands, mountain folk songs, and Southern gospel. It seemed a paragon of rural authenticity, but there were deceptions galore even in this fantastic collection of American weirdness.

“Many of the twenties, thirties, and forties down-from-the-hills / up-from-the-hollers musicians the folkies so admired were not consciously preserving a back-porch tradition. They wanted radio play and popular success. It did not seem to register on their future listeners that these hillbillies might have deliberately altered their seemingly primitive style in search of more airplay and bigger sales. Similarly, for the staunch folkies, Dylan’s decision to go electric was a betrayal because it meant he was superficializing his music, willfully reaching out to the rock mainstream. Dylan had only done what most of the musicians in Smith’s Anthology had. Or would’ve, given the chance.”

Saturday – 04/12/2008
The Book and Bean
50 Front Street – Berea, Ohio – 44017
8:30 PM to 10:30 PM – See you there!!

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resized promotional photo

Hi! I’m an American old-time musician/traditional singer working out of the rust belt here in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m a singer and play harmonica, guitar, mandolin and fiddle.

I want the world to know that I have personaly busked for better than $14.00 out of some hippy coffee shop tip jar! Who says there’s no money in folk music?!?!?!

Here’s where I’ll be playing in December, 2006: – Please stop by and say “zup…?”

Saturday, December 23rd
Six Steps Down Bookstore – “Directly north of the West Side Market”
1921 West 25th Street – Cleveland, Ohio – 44113-3418
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

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