Sunday, July 5, 2015

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber - Book Review




Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber (University of North Carolina Press, 2008, 440 pages, $35.99/19.99) tells the story of how workers in cotton mills and other industrial settings in the Piedmont were essential to the development of what we know as country and bluegrass music just after World War II. Focusing on the lives of four seminal mill hands during the 1920's and 1930's, Linthead Stomp argues persuasively that without the intermediary insertion of the factory experience, country and bluegrass music could not have developed. The legend says that the music grew and developed on the back porches and parlors of farms in the mountains of Appalachia. This myth has been ably reinforced by the heavy emphasis upon the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers important recordings during the 1927 Bristol sessions held by Ralph Peer of the Victor Recording Company, whose newspaper advertisements invited country musicians to come make recordings, many of which soon became "Hillbilly" hits. This book emphasizes that Peer also made field recordings at sessions in the Piedmont regions of North  Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Birmingham which featured many old-time musicians whose skills had been developed in the environment of the mill villages surrounding textile mills in that region.

In his priceless introduction, Huber develops the ideas surrounding the upwelling of musical expression in which men and women migrating to the industrializing South after post Civil War reconstruction were housed in mill villages, employed in the menial drudgery of factory work, and paid near starvation wages which were still better than what the way they were able to live on their subsistence farms back in the mountains and on marginal farms. These workers were exposed to a range of musical influences previously unavailable to them which included radio, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and African-American Piedmont blues, jazz, and the popular music of Tin Pan Alley. Even in the rigidly segregated society of this time, the songs of Appalachia, many handed down for generations from their English, Scottish, and Irish origins, were able to merge and be influenced by a broad cultural mix. Many of the mills provided educational programs, particularly in home-making skills, athletics, and music, which served to provide recreation for the mill hands, largely in order to forestall labor unrest and discourage organized labor from becoming influential in the South during the post WW I era. The availability of cheap, factory made instruments was also crucial in this development. Using four emergent musicians as representatives of this influence, Huber concentrates on biographical portraits of Fiddlin' John Carson, Charlie Poole, Dave McCarn, and Dorsey Dixon, each of whose contributions were significant while representing different strains that found their voice as country music and its offshoot, bluegrass, developed and dominated.

Fiddlin John Carson (1868 - 1949) was an old-time country fiddler who portrayed himself as a Hillbilly from the north Georgia mountain environment of moonshine liquor was born in Fannin County on the Tennessee border, lived most of his life in and around Atlanta, where he worked in a succession of cotton mills in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He performed in and around Atlanta, at regional and national fiddler's conventions, at political and KKK rallies. His song "Little Mary Phagan" son inflamed protesters that a black worker was wrongfully convicted of murder. Later in his life, he became a strong supporter of Governor Herman Talmadge, often playing at his election rallies. Huber discusses at some length whether Carson was simply a vicious racist or, a more nuanced view, an opportunistic music professional who played where he could make money, i.e. a union rally supporting a black worker and wherever else he and his daughter and touring partner Rosa Lee Carson (Moonshine Kate) could get work.

Fiddlin' John Carson - Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane



Charlie Poole (1892 - 1931) spent most of his short, alcohol soaked life seeking to avoid working in the cotton mills. Born in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina near Eden, Poole lived most of his life in the mill village of Spray, now incorporated into Eden. Poole recorded and traveled with the aptly named North Carolina Ramblers. Sammy Shelor once told me that his grandfather had had a mill, and "where there was a mill, there was a still, and where there was a still, Charlie Poole could often be found." Poole taught Shelor's grandfather to play the banjo, and Sammy learned from him. Poole was strongly influenced early ragtime banjo player Fred van Eps who experimented with an early three finger style. Though frequently drunk and often in jail, Poole, as a performer was a disciplined student of music who always performed in a suit and tie with his trio. The revolutionary three finger rolling style made famous by Earl Scruggs (a later refugee from the textile mills) can be directly traced to Poole's work and recordings.

Charlie Poole sings "White House Blues"



Dave McCarn (1905 -  1964) was born in a mill town, lived in them almost all his life, which appears to have been a lifelong effort to escape work of any kind, mostly by escaping into drink. He spent a good deal of time in jail, mostly as a result of wife beating. Though McCarn only made twelve recordings during his life, he is credited with writing what were essentially protest songs about the working conditions in the mills. His best known song "Cotton Mill Colic" has been recorded by Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Joe Glazer as well as the Blue Sky Boys. McCarn wrote catchy, lyrics sung playing a bouncy style, folk guitar.

Dave McCarn - Cotton Mill Colic



Dorsey Dixon (1897 - 1968) came to singing and song writing out of a Pentacostal Free Will Baptist conviction that his songs would provide spiritual relief and lead to the salvation of souls. He was a deeply convinced, practicing believer all his life. Born in the mill village of Darlington, SC he began working at age twelve, and despite poor health exacerbated by the working conditions in the mills, worked in them until his retirement. He recorded about sixty sides with his brother Howard and several with his wife Beatrice. He was, perhaps, as well known as a poet, writing poems of support for people who had suffered great losses. These were often published in newspapers and translated into songs. He also wrote some songs and poems about life in the mills, but was frightened that those songs would be seen by mill management as being critical and of supporting unions, which may have led to much of the depression that plagued his life. His best know song was "Wreck on the Highway" also known as "I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray," which has been widely recorded by the likes of The Louvin Brothrs, Roy Acuff, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. After a lengthy copyright battle, Dixon subsisted at least partially on the royalties from this song for the rest of his quiet but eventful life. Late in life he was rediscovered during the folk craze and appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. 

The Dixon Brothers - I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray


Patrick Huber

Patrick J. Huber is a professor of History & Political Science at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, Missouri. He has written widely about old-time and country music during twenties and thirties as well as about the hidden presence of African American musicians in it. He has recently been awarded a Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award for his essay on African American contributions to the creation of hillbilly music through a grant from ASCAP. In addition to his research in country music prior to World War II, Huber’s research interests include the American South, popular music, working-class culture and race relations.

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber (University of North Carolina Press, 2008, 440 pages, $35.99/19.99) provides a comprehensive view of the lives and problems of living in the industrial Piedmont region during the period from 1920 - 1940 with an emphasis on four musicians whose lives as musicians were formed in and dependent upon the mill system that developed as the South became industrialized after Reconstruction. The book is an unusual piece of scholarly research in that it is also exceptionally readable as well as being very well annotated. My reading of this book was much enriched by the availability of the artists' work through audio streaming on Spotify and YouTube searches. The descriptions take on a new life when actually heard within the contexts of the artists' performances. I read the book in hardcover version supplied by Dartmouth College on Inter Library Loan from the Keene (NH) Public Library. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival 2015: Saturday & Sunday - Review




Saturday at Jenny Brook dawned bright, clear, and a little chilly with the promise of heat in the air, although the weather forecast looked a bit ominous for later in the day and into Sunday. Since the day audience at bluegrass festivals usually stands as the difference between maybe breaking even and perhaps making a small profit for the event, Saturday's gate is always crucial. The schedule was full of music, workshop interviews, Bluegrass University classes, and Grass Seeds Stage performances along with the band contest included there. Blue Highway was scheduled for one evening performance and the Gibson Brothers, long the favorite draw at Jenny Brook and now even more so with their increased national prominence, were coming. It looked like a great day was coming.

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

This very fine band continues to grow on me. Bob Amos brings both broad experience and deep thought to his writing and arranging. Deeply informed especially by the Stanley Brothers music, he's a writer of rare depth whose songs strike chords deep within. The relationship he has with his daughter Sarah, whose rich voice continues to gain in nuance and power, is a joy to behold. The band communicates a deep reverence for tradition while living in today. Catamount Crossing is truly a Saturday band at any festival, and 10:00 AM is way too early to schedule them.

Bob Amos

Sarah Amos

Bob Dick

Freeman Corey

Gary Darling

Steve Wright




Lost & Found

Allan Mills lives along the Crooked Road in Southwest Virginia watching the world go by. Lost & Found has been a significant force in bluegrass music for over forty years. Mills songs and calm demeanor have been there for longer than that. It's significant that the band was a headliner at the first Jenny Brook festival in 2001 and returns for the fifteenth anniversary of the festival this year. 

Allan Mills

Scott Napier

Ronald Smith

Dan Wells


 The Seth Sawyer Band

Seth Sawyer has long been known in the region as a talented song writer and soulful singer, several of whose songs have been recorded through the years. With the release of Green Mountain Girl he has achieved the dream of recording many of his songs while reporting he is hard at it on more. The results of Bob Amos' work with the band in the studio have not only produced a strong CD, but have improved the performance value of this regional band, now settled into a solid four person band with the experienced support of Dave Shaw and Dave "Tex" Orlomoski. Candi Sawyer plays bass and sings some lead vocals. The band has a busy performance schedule in New England this summer.

Seth Sawyer

Candi Sawyer


Dave Shaw

Dave "Tex" Orlomoski

Whole Belly Clams
A New England Delicacy

Big-Time Jam

Grass Seeds Gazebo Stage



Saroyan Kids with Painted Faces

Smokey Greene

Smokey Greene, at age 85, is on his last tour. His career as a performer, singer, songwriter, and promoter in upstate New York and New England as well as Florida is legendary. You can read his account of his life here. Accompanied by his son Scott on bass, Smokey plays a combination of old country songs, bluegrass standards, and novelty songs, many of which he wrote himself. His smooth baritone voice and solid guitar play on his old Martin guitar (Ben Martin) have provided countless fans with entertainment and fond memories.

Scott Greene

Scott & Smokey Greene

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy appeared at Jenny Brook with a new member, Caleb Cox, at the guitar and harmony singer position, replacing the recently departed Jesse Smathers. Caleb's fine flat picking and strong harmony singing will fit into the band, as will his lively personality. This band brings humor and liveliness to every event they play at. Whether the setting is a large or small event, or their position in the lineup has them facing a full house or closing to more empty space than any band deserves, it always give its best. They always bring a breath of fresh air to a festival.

Mike Andes

Mitchell Davis

Caleb Cox

Chris Sexton

Tony Shorter

The Trio


As the day wore on, the weather continued to deteriorate, although there appeared to be little chance that the skies would open up during the evening's show. Nevertheless, it was decided to move the show inside, where a pretty good-sized barn could hold what remained of the audience, many day trippers and a few campers having left. And then something special happened. An aura of intimacy was established creating something special that rarely happens at bluegrass festivals. Perhaps it was being forced indoors by the threatened deluge. Maybe it was lights. Or the closeness. For whatever reason, the indoor performances on Saturday night contained a magical quality not easily explained. Photos in this section are taken from both indoor and outdoor sessions.

Blue Highway

Blue Highway came for a single show in the evening. They were greeted with great enthusiasm and performed a single longer set. Blue Highway has had, for over twenty years, a quality of making old songs sound contemporary and contemporary songs echoing the ancient tones. Good stuff!

Wayne Taylor

Tim Stafford

Jason Burleson

Rob Ickes

Burleson & Ickes Go at it Face-to-Face



Jule & Pat - the 50/50 Girls

The 50/50 Big Winner



The Mandolin Raffle Winner

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers once again turned their appearance at Jenny Brook into a personal triumph by just being the Gibson Brothers. Over the years we've seen Leigh and Eric when they're road weary, discouraged, or anxious about something. Never once has any hint of personal concern entered into one of their performances even though the essence of their show and their popularity is presenting themselves as just who they are, two farm boys from northern New York who love bluegrass and country music and do their best to write and sing it through their own special lenses. The intimacy of the barn, and the barn jokes growing out of it were just right. After all, they spent plenty of time in barns in their time...at least Leigh did. Sister Erin had sung one song in the afternoon, and they brought her onstage to sing again in the evening, to huge acclaim and a couple of encores. Once again, they provided a Gibson Brothers moment that Jenny Brook attendees will remember well into old age.

Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson

Erin Gibson LeClair

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock

Leigh & Mike

Eric & Erin

 Eric & Leigh







 

Sunday

Sunday continued cold and drizzly, further confirming the decision to move the remainder of the festival indoors. People stayed for the Gospel Sing & Jam and the performances that followed. Most of the vendors shut down, except, thankfully, for the fried dough truck which provided some hot food for those who were packed and ready to go.

BearTracks

BearTracks performed a part gospel and part bluegrass/country set on Sunday morning to open the show with their usual energy and fun loving approach to the music. Pictures of Tom, Julie, and Harry are included in the Wednesday Clem Hawkins Band. 

Scott Hopkins


Out of the Blue Grass

Out of the Blue Grass won the Grass Seed Stage band contest held on Saturday, earning a gig on the Main Stage on Sunday afternoon. They were tuneful and pleasant to hear, playing both bluegrass standards and some material written from within the band. Nice job.

Mac Petriquin

Jeff Belding

Peter Conklin

Bert Wilson


Jenny Brook Kids Academy

The Jenny Brook Kids Academy put on another fine performance. Each year, since Aaron Foster the Kids Academy has grown and continued to improve. Some of them have become real pickers. 

Here's a Link to My Pictures of the Kids Academy Performance. Help Yourself:


Parents and Friends

Zinc & Company

Zinc & Company was scheduled for the usually pretty thankless job of performing on Sunday afternoon. They performed their mostly classic country repertoire with zest and professionalism.

Corey Zinc

John Rock

Larry Neu

Ray Evans


Nothin' Fancy presented the last set of the day on Sunday afternoon to a surprisingly good crowd. Maybe it was the same size as usual but appeared larger because they weren't sitting under the shade tents half a football field away. Despite chilly threatening weather for the last two days, the fifteenth anniversary of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival was another success. 



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