78 Blues

78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South

JOHN MINTON
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvd0f
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    78 Blues
    Book Description:

    When record men first traveled from Chicago or invited musicians to studios in New York, these entrepreneurs had no conception how their technology would change the dynamics of what constituted a musical performance.78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American Southcovers a revolution in artist performance and audience perception through close examination of hundreds of key "hillbilly" and "race" records released between the 1920s and World War II.

    In the postwar period, regional strains recorded on pioneering 78 r.p.m. discs exploded into urban blues and R&B, honky-tonk and western swing, gospel, soul, and rock 'n' roll. These old-time records preserve the work of some of America's greatest musical geniuses such as Jimmie Rodgers, Robert Johnson, Charlie Poole, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. They are also crucial mile markers in the course of American popular music and the growth of the modern recording industry.

    When these records first circulated, the very notion of recorded music was still a novelty. All music had been created live and tied to particular, intimate occasions. How were listeners to understand an impersonal technology like the phonograph record as a musical event? How could they reconcile firsthand interactions and traditional customs with technological innovations and mass media? The records themselves, several hundred of which are explored fully in this book, offer answers in scores of spoken commentaries and skits, in song lyrics and monologues, or other more subtle means.

    John Minton is professor of folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. He is also a musician, songwriter, and the author of"The Coon in the Box": A Global Folktale in African-American Tradition(with David Evans) and"Big 'Fraid and Little 'Fraid": An Afro-American Folktale.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-327-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Prelude SUPPOSING WE HAVE US A LITTLE TUNE HERE
    (pp. 3-10)

    It’s July 23, 1928, the offices of Columbia Records, 1819 Broadway, New York City. Three musicians from the Carolina-Virginia Piedmont have arrived to record Southern string band music. The North Carolina Ramblers—banjoist Charlie Poole, guitarist Roy Harvey, and fiddler Lonnie Austin—have long been a live attraction back home, where Columbia has recently discovered an untapped market for its phonograph records. The Ramblers have played a big part in that. Just three years before, their first release, “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues”/“Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister” (Columbia 15038-D, 1925), sold an unexpected 102,000 copies,...

  5. Chapter One LEARNING TO LISTEN
    (pp. 11-33)

    When I was eight or nine, my mother bought records at a neighborhood five-and-dime chain store. Her preference was country and western, but she listened to other styles as well. My own favorites were, predictably, the Beatles. I still remember the day she went after a record she had just heard on the radio, something called “Mr. Tambourine Man” by a folksinger named Bob Dylan. My mother came back home disappointed. The Woolworth’s did not have Dylan’s recording on a 45, so she had settled for a cover by the Byrds, a group of electrified former folkies who, by rearranging...

  6. Chapter Two TRUE RELATIONS
    (pp. 34-43)

    So what manner of musical events were old-time records? The key pieces to that puzzle are, of course, the records themselves, thousands of canned performances that by some accounts have ceased to be folksongs—or have at least lost their personal bearings. Thankfully, hundreds of these records argue just the opposite, actually taking time to announce their occasions.

    Have another listen to one item that started me on this quest, “Soldier’s Joy” (Columbia 15538-D, 1928), by Georgia’s premier string band, the Skillet Lickers. As the record begins, singer Riley Puckett strums his guitar and fiddler Clayton McMichen drawls, “Well, folks,...

  7. Chapter Three LET’S GET THIS DANCE STARTED
    (pp. 44-76)

    “Hello, folks, now I’m with you once again. I’m gonna play for you this time a little piece which an old Southern darkey I heard play coming down Decatur Street the other day because his good gal done throwed him down.” It’s April 2, 1927. The speaker is Riley Puckett, sometime Skillet Licker, presently recording solo at Columbia Records’ Atlanta studio on Peachtree Street. But Puckett and his listeners are imagining him out busking on another of his favorite street corners.

    In adapting folksongs for phonographs, Southern performers often framed records as depictions—but onlydepictions—of traditional music-making, describing...

  8. Chapter Four HERE’S ONE YOU CAN ALL SING RIGHT WITH US
    (pp. 77-94)

    “How do! Well folks, you heard about the Farm Relief, read about it, heard them talk about it.” Uncle Dave Macon seems to have a pretty good idea what his listeners have been up to. Certainly he knows what they are doing at the moment: listening to him. “Well, it finally got here,” he continues. “They’ve just about relieved the farmer of everything he’s got, now I’m telling you right. Now I’ll sing you about it after I play you a pretty little prelude on the banjo.” It’s June 20, 1929, and Tennessee’s prolific David Harrison Macon—better known to...

  9. Chapter Five A SPECIAL PRAYER ON THE MAN THAT’S A-CATCHING THE RECORD
    (pp. 95-124)

    Atlanta, Georgia, the third of November, 1926. The Seventh Day Adventist Choir is having church—in a recording studio. In most respects, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks We Stand” (Columbia 14178-D) is of a kind with hundreds of other church service records. Not so the benediction bestowed at its outset on the studio engineer recording the session. As he sets his machine in motion, an unidentified congregant announces the group is “holding service by the use of hymn: ‘On Jordan’s Stormy Bank I Stand.’ Before we sing this song, we’ll ask the Brother to lead us in a word of prayer....

  10. Chapter Six I OUGHT TO BE RECORDING RIGHT NOW
    (pp. 125-148)

    On April 22, 1938, John Adam “Sleepy John” Estes arrived in Decca’s New York City studio, most likely coming by train directly from West Tennessee, where he was born in 1904 near Ripley, just north of Memphis on the Illinois Central railroad line. Estes cut eight titles that day, last among them “Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)” (Decca 7491, 1938). “Special Agent” describes an encounter between an unpaid rail passenger and a railroad bull, one of the irregular police officers employed by the lines to eject tramps from trains. “Now when I left old Ripley, the weather was kind of...

  11. Chapter Seven A CORN LICKER STILL IN GEORGIA
    (pp. 149-210)

    “Remember, brother,” crows Clayton McMichen, “our fiddling is just exactly like our licker—high, wide, and handsome.” McMichen is addressing Atlanta radio promoter, singer, and Columbia Records A&R man Dan Hornsby, at that moment playing Tom Sly, an Atlanta bootlegger seeking booze for his gin mill. McMichen is playing himself (but so, arguably, is Hornsby): Clayton McMichen, champion fiddler and Skillet Licker, the group’s chief spokesman on their immensely popular fourteenpart dramatic series “A Corn Licker Still in Georgia.” That title’s pun on the name of Georgia’s preeminent old-time fiddle band confirms that, if only in word play, the Skillet...

  12. Coda WELL FOLKS, HERE WE ARE AGAIN
    (pp. 211-228)

    Bob Dylan has an amazing talent for re-creating himself. That is, after all, how he became Bob Dylan. In the new millennium the man once known as Robert Allen Zimmerman briefly took a new name: Jack Fate, the fallen rock legend at the center of the motion pictureMasked and Anonymous.¹ But Jack Fate may as well be Bob Dylan, who has always been as much an imaginary creation as any of his songs. Released from prison, Fate journeys through a hellish postrevolutionary landscape—what director Larry Charles describes as a “mythological Third-World America”—to perform at an enigmatic benefit...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 229-266)
  14. Record and Song Index
    (pp. 267-277)
  15. Performer Index
    (pp. 277-284)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 285-288)