Monday, July 9, 2007

Roots.

I've been spending a lot of time lately with the American roots of rock & roll music: blues and country (aka hillbilly or mountain music). I'm not talking about what passes for most blues or country today. I'm talking about the blues and country that began in the American South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These two styles share so many commonalities, yet back then they were worlds apart simply because of skin color.

They were both the music of the downtrodden and lower-class. They sang of heartbreak and bad luck, and praised Jesus. They dreamed of having more than they'd ever have, and arriving in Heaven an equal with everyone else.

As a guitarist, I've been drawn to both of these styles equally. And because of the wonders of modern technology, I've been able to recently bolster my collection of both musical styles considerably.

There are two collections I recently picked up that deserve much praise, and many, many listens.


The first, Goin' Mad Blues, is a 200-song compilation of the real roots of American blues music. It's got the Bigs: Big Bill Broonzy, Big Joe Turner and Big Joe Williams. The Blinds: Blind Boy Fuller, Blind John Davis and Blind Willie McTell. The John Lees: John Lee Hooker and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Leadbelly, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, "Hot Lips" Page, Lightnin' Hopkins, the one and only Robert Johnson, and many, many others. Without this music, there would be no Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or Beatles or Who or any rock & roll. This is where it all began.


The next collection is Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961 - 1965. This three-disc box set of 55 live performances (53 previously unreleased) comes from 14 concerts in New York City in the early '60s. It's a wonderful cross-section of traditional American bluegrass and folk music, with performances by legends like Fred McDowell, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Doc Watson and Maybelle Carter (of the Carter family), as well as lesser-known artists Annie Bird, Joseph Spence, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, Ed Young and Emma Ramsay, and Jesse Fuller.

10 comments:

Joe the Troll said...

Both of these sound great! I LOVE old - time blues and country blues. In fact, I just last week snagged a Lightnin' Hopkins bootleg from the early 70s. But who, oh who, would I have around to share such a thing with?

Natsthename said...

It's all good, man; it's all good.

O, brother, where art thou?

Jeff said...

"But who, oh who, would I have around to share such a thing with?"

Hmmm... I wonder...

I just downloaded that uTorrent thing. Haven't had a chance to mess with it yet, but when I have, oh the fun I'll have!

mirk said...

Upon occasion I have been known to put some Robert Johnson on the old turntable and most enjoyable it is to.

Interesting site!

Joe the Troll said...

Thanks for coming, Mirk!

Robert Johnson is the very foundation of my musical taste. I DREAM of a Robert Johnson boot, even though I know that such a thing only exists in dreams.

Jeff - we'll put that program to good use, believe me!

O' Tim said...

When Jeff said "the wonders of modern technology" I was sure he was talking about Bit Torrent. You ain't seen nothing yet, Kos. Oh, and be careful around Joe - he's dangerous with that thing!

Jeff said...

I was actually talking about digital music in general, not so much specifically bit torrent. But yes, bit torrent has been good to me, and will continue to be...

O' Tim said...

Since I took up "playing" guitar about two years ago, my already healthy appreciation of blues and classic country has become even more robust. This is for the simple reason that the stuff's pretty easy to learn, and hella fun to play.

Bluegrass I love also, but it's a bit trickier since it's more technical. That, and experienced bluegrass players are a picky lot, no pun intended.

Jeff said...

I totally copied your picture style, O'Tim. And I don't feel bad about it whatsoever.

O' Tim said...

You know what would be cool? To put together a string of one line comments with icons that would make a flip-book cartoon. Somebody should do that, yeah.