By the early 60s the Great Folk Scare had hit, following on the heels of the dreaded McCarthy Red Scare. All of a sudden you had FOLK! music coming at you on Top 40 radio: “Walk Right In,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” A friend’s castoff Joan Baez albums brought me a little ways out of hit parade consciousness, Pete Seeger (no longer blackballed) and his hit version of “Little Boxes” brought me back in. Then the Singing Nun’s “Dominique-inique-inique” summed it all up as record producers searched far and near for anything folky, or exotic (“Sukiyaki,” anyone?), that might make them their next million. Bob Dylan was only just a songwriter credit, as I sang along with Joan Baez albums until my voice changed. . . . Then the Beatles came along and there was your next million or two or twenty.
In honor of Nathan Abshire’s birthday (June 27, 1913), here’s a great video clip of the man in action in 1976 at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana. After some introductory comments by host Revon Reed, Nathan and the band launch into his big hit “Pine Grove Blues.” Below the video are both sides of Nathan Abshire’s first postwar record, “Pine Grove Blues”/“Kaplan Waltz,” from 1949.
Nathan Abshire & His French Accordion • Pine Grove Blues • 1949
Nathan Abshire & His French Accordion • Kaplan Waltz • 1949
Nathan Abshire, vocal/accordion; Wilson Granger, fiddle; Earl Demary, rhythm guitar; Ernest Thibodeaux, vocal comments; “Coon” Guidry, bass. Recorded May 23, 1949, KPLC Studio, Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Thanks to SCRAMBLER390 for the video; and Lyle Ferbrache for the personnel info.
One thing about Sonny Boy Williamson and alternate takes: unlike a lot a recording artists and their progress towards a finished master, often when Sonny Boy does ’em you get a whole new song in a completely different arrangement. I’ve always had the impression he was making it up as he went. Usually it worked. When it didn’t you got “Little Village” the most notable aspect of which is all the cussing. I can see why Checker used the take they used on the original single and Down and Out Blues album. But this one is just as good if quite a bit different. Have a listen. (The originally issued take can be found here.)
Sonny Boy Williamson • The Key (To Your Door) • 1956
In the years between Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music and the start-up of Nick Perls’ Belzona/Yazoo Records in 1967, Pete Whelan and Bill Givens began to reissue country blues 78s on LP under the Origin Jazz Library imprint beginning in 1960. They drew upon the pioneering collections of Whelan, Bernard Klatzko, James McCune, and others, who had begun to acquire obscure country blues records back in the 1940s when very few record collectors paid much interest to the genre, concentrating instead on classic jazz. OJL’s first issue was Charlie Patton! 1929-32, the first microgroove collection to collect a dozen of Patton’s sides in one place. OJL kept up a modest reissue program through the mid-60s, issuing full LPs by Henry Thomas, another Charley Patton volume, Crying Sam Collins, and many anthologies featuring Mississippi blues, early female country blues singers, jug bands, early jazz, etc. Two of their country blues collections, Really! The Country Blues and Country Blues Encores introduced the folkie crowd to such great country blues artists as Tommy Johnson, William Moore, Son House, Skip James, George “Bullet” Williams, Garfield Akers, Blind Joe Reynolds, Jaybird Coleman, Charlie Jordan, and many others. The cover graphics were crude but effective, many of the LPs had booklets with essays and discographical information inside the sleeve, the remastering was adequate for the time period (Yazoo’s Nick Perls would bring 78 remastering up to state of the art a few years later), and the musical selections were outstanding. In 1967 Pete Whelan bowed out and Bill Givens took over, continuing to issue LPs up until his death in 1999. By that time, Yazoo had long been the premier reissue label for classic country blues, issuing on their own collections many of the blues sides originally put out by Origin with state of the art remastering, and the Austrian Document label was pretty far along in its ambition to issue every single prewar blues 78 ever recorded.
Here, then, is a selection of great country blues that first made the transition from shellac to vinyl on the first half dozen or so OJL albums. click on individual song titles to listen:
Here is a beautiful “lining” type hymn from the ever harmonious Pilgrim Travelers. A while back I posted a congregational lining hymn by Deacon Shinault which was inspired by a post on The Singing Bones that featured another quartet version of a lining hymn by The Echoes of Zion. This one by the Pilgrim Travelers is a real shiver-me-timbers affair with leads Kylo Turner and Keith Barber leading the way; the rest of the Travelers keep the cold chills meter on high: J. W. Alexander (tenor), Jesse Whitaker (baritone), Raphael Taylor (bass). Recorded in Hollywood, July 21, 1950. And, as a Playboy reviewer once wrote of a Staple Singers album, “you don’t have to dig the message to dig the music.” Amen.
Chuck Guillory, fiddle; Preston Manuel, vocal, guitar; Gervis Stanford, second fiddle; Michael Doucet, mandolin; David Doucet, lead guitar; Curzy “Porkchop” Roy, drums. Recorded in Crowley, Louisiana, 17 Dec 1982