Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blind Blake Higgs - Bahamian Songs

Blind Blake Higgs - John B. Sail (buy) (1952)

Blind Blake Higgs - JP Morgan (buy) (1951)

E.T. Mensah - John B. Calypso (buy) (1958)

One of the great discoveries I made while exploring the music of the fifties.
Alphonso "Blind Blake" Higgs, not to be confused with the great Piedmont bluesman and guitar virtuoso, was a singer-guitarist from Nassau who was very popular there from the 1930s to the sixties.

Elijah Wald in anarticle says that the similarity between his name and the bluesman's may have been a coincidence, but I seriously doubt that. Just listen to the intro of the first song I posted and you'll hear a typical Blind Blake intro on the guitar, with his signature ragtime chord progression.

Just like the island it comes from, this music is a bridge, a doorway between the Southern United States and the West Indies, between the blues, jazz and American pop on onehand and calypso, mento, and other carribean styles on the other. The songs originate from the island tradition ("John B."), but also from Trinidad (the famous "love love alone")or Afro American numbers ("the Yas Yas Yas").

And of course there is the John B. song, made famous by the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds.

Like a lot of carribean songs, that one crossed the Atlantic in the 1950s and eventually ended up in Ghana, as the E.T. Mensah instrumental that I added especially for you, attests.

Go here to get the whole compilation

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Before country (4/4) : 1916-1921

Returning soldiers : the 1916-22 ear saw America engage in World War I.

Here's the final part of my series about pre-country music, which in fact encompasses a lot of different old recordings of all styles. I stop in 1921 because 1922 is the year of what is now considered as the first hillbilly commercial recording.

So as in the previous posts (part 1, part 2, part 3), I will go through this playlist made of sentimental songs, vaudeville numbers, blues played by military bands, hawaiian music, everything that influenced what people would call country music decades later.

1. Harry Lauder - Loch Lomond (1916)
Second song by this Scottish celebrity. A later great version by Bennie Goodman Orch. on their 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert album.

2. Ford's Hawaiians - Aloha Oe (1916) : the first years of the century were years of Hawaiian craze. See here for more Hawaiian music.

3. Prince's Band - Saint Louis Blues (1916) : Before the first blues were recorded by Afro American artist (in 1920) military bands recorded a lot of them, especially stuff by WC Handy. See more pre-blues here.

4. Don Richardson - Arkansas Traveler (1916) : this is one of the first recordings of a traditional country fiddler.

5. The Versatile Four - Circus Day In Dixie (1916) : The Versatile Four were an Afro american ragtime ensemble. They toured in Europe around WWI.

6. Harry C. Browne - Old Dan Tucker (1916) : Both a great fiddle tune and an everlasting folk song. Bruce Springsteen included that song on his traditional folk album in 2006.

7. Al Jolson - When Did Robison Crusoe Go With Friday On Saturday Night ? (1916) : one of the biggest "hits" of 1916. According to Wikipedia, Al Jolson (see picture above) was the "first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America".[1] His career lasted from 1911 until his death in 1950, during which time he was commonly dubbed "the world's greatest entertainer”.

8. Vernon Dalhart - Star Of Bethlehem (1917) : before becoming one of the first country superstars, Dalhart was a sentimental pop singer singing sirupy songs. But he was very popular too, and Edison issued a Blue Amberol of this song for christmas 1917

9.Ada Jones & Billy Murray - Lilley of The Valley (1917) : a funny vaudeville number

10. Peerless Quartet - Oh! Susanna (1917) :
probably the best-known of all American old folk songs (even here in France), here performed by the famous Pearless quartet (on the picture above)

11.Harry C. Browne - Carve Dat Possum (1917) : someone suggested me that song after my first post, and now it's one of my favorite songs of the acoustic era. A great cover by Uncle Dave Macon. Yeah, I know, it's a "coon song", but I've heard much worse and the music is appealing. In the late 1910's coon songs were less frequent. Good riddance !

12. Samuel Siegel & Marie Caveny - Ragtime Echoes (1918): great banjo ragtime piece.

13. Charles Hart & Lewis James - Till We Meet Again (World War Song) (1918) : a sentimental song about the parting of a soldier and his sweetheart. Find the song's story here.

14. Al Bernard - St. Louis Blues (1919) : another "St Louis Blues", but a vocal version by vaudeville singer Al Bernard. Like Vernon Dalhart, Al Bernard recorded hilbilly music when it became popular.

15. Charles Hart & Elliott Shaw - I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (1919) : a Tin Pan Alley hit that was also very popular in the UK, so much that it became the anthem of soccer team West Ham United. Read more about the song here.

16. Frank M. Kamplain - In Tyrol (1920) : a singer specialized in yodelling, one of the most popular attractions in vaudeville shows. In 1924, Riley Puckett became the first hilbilly artist to yodle on record.

17. Ben Hokea - Beautiful Ohio (1921)

18.Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra - Rainbow Isle (1921)
Let's close this selection with Hawaiian music. What's striking in these pre-1920 popular recordings is that you never hear a guitar unless it's a Hawaiian band. Listening to the Ben Hokea track tells us how much Hawaiians influenced country and blues performers.

I would like to thank the site Bluegrass Messengers which listed a great part of the songs featured here in their "country music timeline.

BEFORE COUNTRY VOL. 4 (1916-1921)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Listmania : 1950

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs - Foggy Mountain Breakdown (buy) (1950)

Professor Longhair - Mardi Gras in New Orleans (buy) (1950)

On the forum, we're doing a decade poll every year. Last year we did the seventies, and in 2010 we're doing the 50's and 60's. I've decided to post here my favorite albums and songs of the fifties from time to time, starting with 1950.

If you feel like taking part in these polls, don't hesitate. We are nominating our favorite albums and songs from the years 1953 to 1955 this month. And roots music do needs some support at Acclaimedmusic !

So here are my 10 favorite songs of 1950 :

1. Percy Mayfield - Please Send Me Someone To Love : Go here if you want to hear it
2. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs - Foggy Mountain Breakdown
3. Hank Williams - My Son Calls Another Man Daddy
4. Hank Williams - Long Gone Lonesome Blues
5. Professor Longhair - Mardi Gras in New Orleans
6. Fats Domino - The Fat Man
7. Archibald - Stack-a-Lee
8. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Dream a Little dream Of me
9. Ruth Brown - Teardrops From My Eyes
10. Henri Salvador -Le Loup, la Biche et le Chevalier