Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Before country part 1 (1891-1909)

Edison Male Quartet - A Flower From Home Sweet Home (1907)

Edison Male Quartet - My Old Kentucky Home (1902)

Byron Harlan - Hello Central Give Me Heaven (1904)

Billy Murray - Casey Jones (1909)

It is admitted that the first documented country recording was Eck Robertson's Victor session in june 1922.

But what was there before ?

In the first years of the phonograph industry, before World War I, record companies only focused on an urban audience. They had not realized yet the importance of the rural population, at least as a specific audience.
As Bill C. Malone writes in Country Music USA (the main source for this post),
"Rustic types were staples of American entertainment, but these were usually sophisticated entertainers, such as John Denman or Cal Stewart(hear his "Uncle Josh In A Barber Shop"), who merely acted the parts of hayseed and rubes. Folk and rural songs likewise were not absent (...) but they were generally done by urbane song-and-dance men like Billy Golden (hear his "Turkey In The Straw" from 1891) or the Edison Male Quartet (see songs above)".

Out of curiosity for these unknown names, I went to archive.org and picked a couple of Edison Male Quartet tunes. These guys are really exciting to hear. Weird to hear music from cylinders more than a century old ! What I like the most is the man barking his announcements in a great sergeant-major style...

I listened to a few songs, then other ones, then others, and tried a little research on the Web. With the help of this page at bluegrassmessengers.com, I found so many great songs that I decided to make a little compilation you can download, in addition to the tracks posted above, featuring songs I think influenced country music. I only included tracks from the turn of the century (1891-1909). Of course, there will be (at least) a volume two.

Although, like Malone says, the instrumentation and performing style have nothing to do with hillbilly music, you'll find folk or Southern ballads ("My Old Kentucky Home", a great version of "Casey Jones") and many sentimental ballads, some of which were covered by country and hillbilly singers ("Silver Threads Among the Gold", with a melody that reminds me of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain", "Hello Central Give Me Heaven", later sung by the Carter Family), more satirical comedy sketches about hillbillies ("Arkansas Traveler"), and a lot of vaudeville and minstrel shows artists like Byron G. Harlan. There also were tons of terrible "coon songs", but i didn't include them; I didn't know they were SO popular in 1900 !!

The sentimental "pop" ballads, along with the old folk traditions, were an undeniable influence on country music too.

Here's what you'll find :

Before country vol. 1 (1891-1909)

Billy Golden - Turkey in The Straw (1891)
Cal Stewart - Uncle Josh In A Barber Shop (1896)
JJ Fisher -The Girl I Loved In Sunny Tennesse (1899)
Joseph Natus - A Bird In A Guilded Cage (1900)
Edison Male Quartet _ My Old Kentucky Home (1902)
Arthur Collins - Oh Didn't He Rambled (1902)
Richard Jose - Silver Threads Among the Gold (1904)
Byron Harlan - Hello Central Give Me Heaven (1904)
Len Spencer -Arkansaw Traveller (1904)
Haydn Quartet - My Grandfather's Clock (1905)
Edison Male Quartet - A Flower From Home Sweet Home (1907)
Ada jones & Bill Murray - Rainbow (1908)
Will Oakland - The longest Way 'Round Is the Sweetest Way Home (1909)
Bill Murray - Casey Jones (1909)
Arthur Clough - Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet (1909)


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Growling Tiger : Knockdown Calypsos

Growling Tiger - Money Is King (1979) (buy)

Growling Tiger - The Train Blow (1979) (buy)

First of all, I am deeply sorry for not posting those past weeks, I was too much busy with the Acclaimed music poll, which is now over.

Just after submitting my list of favorite albums, I found this gem, that I would heve included if I could. I knew one track already, the first one I posted, the delicious "Money Is King", on a great box set called Musica Negra In the Americas.

The album is a great surprise, even if "Money Is King" remains, IMO, the highlight of the lot. Neville Marcano, aka The Growling Tiger (1915-1993) was a calypsonian from Trinidad, an ex-boxer who became a star in the 1930s, when calypsonians started exporting their music overseas, and big names emerged like Lord Kitchener, Lord Invader or Roaring Lion (I don't know which one of Roaring Lion or Growling Tiger earnt his nickname first).

Check ou his bio here (Wikipedia) and here (Acousticmusic.com)

After a semi retirement, Growling Tiger was recorded by Alan Lomax in Trinidad in 1962 with an acoustic band, playing a traditional form of Calypso and even older styles. You can find these recordings on the Alan Lomax Series under the name The Growling Tiger Of Calypso.
Then 15 years later American enthousiast Steve Shapiro rediscovered a 64 year-old Tiger and recorded him again, this time with a more "modern" band featuring horns. These sessions gave birth to Knock Down Calypsos.

It is difficult to resist the Tiger's charms. His music, a sum of various influences from French, Spanish, English and African traditions, ranges from old-school minor-key calypso ("Money Is king") to derivations from more ancient styles like kalinda (a stick-fighting dance popular in Trinidad carnivals) or songs with a strong African heritage like "Youruba Shango".

A common trait in calypso, the lyrics and the singer's personality are very important. The singer must forge himself a strong identity in order to outshine the competition. Growling Tiger, with his deep barytone voice, was famous for his political and social lyrics, and never ceased to mock the rulers and the system, in pure carnaval tradition.

"Money Is King", both funny and serious, is a great example of his consciousness. The album also features bawdy songs like "The Train Blow". I couldn't understand the whole thing but it looks like the story of a romance on a passenger train. If somebody could help me with the lyrics exact meaning, that would be great (same goes for "Money is King") !

As Robert Leaver says, "A master of improvisation (extempo) and the competitive Calypsonian duel, Tiger could rhyme on diverse subjects with intelligence and wit. Rappers take heed -- Growling Tiger could school you".