Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959
Dust To Digital
124-page hardcover book containing 77 photographs and essays by Alan Lomax, Anna Lomax Wood, and Bruce Jackson. With 2 CDs of 44 audio recordings, 12 of which are previously unreleased. $35.00
Disc 1: 1947-'48 Work Songs and Hollers: 1. Jimpson and Group - Murderer's Home; 2. 88 and Group - Rosie*; 3. 22 and Group - It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad; 4. 88 - Whoa Buck; 5. Tangle Eye, Hard Hat, 22, and Little Red - When I Went to Leland; 6. Buzzard and group - I'm Going to Memphis; 7. 22 and Group - The Prettiest Train I Ever Saw; 8. 22 and Group - John Henry; 9. Dan Barnes and Group - John Old Alabama; 10. Foots - Hollers; 11. Dobie Red and Group - Stewball; 12. Bama - Levee Camp Hollers; 13. Tangle Eye, Hard Hat, 22 and Little Red - Early In the Morning; 14. Dobie Red and Group - I Got A Bulldog (Well I Wonder); 15. 22 and Group - Dollar Mamie; 16. Bama - Stackalee; 17. Dan Barnes and group - I Don't Want No Jet Black Woman*; 18. Bull, Foots and Dobie Red - Did You Hear About Louella Wallace; 19. Tangle Eye - Tangle Eye's Blues; 20. 22 and Group - Rosie; 21. Bama - I'm Going Home; 22. Jimpson and Group - No More My Lord; 23. Unidentified Group - The Weather Get Warm*I doubt if anybody who has seen the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? will have forgotten the opening sequence, the one where the hapless trio of heroes escape from a Mississippi chain gang to the sound of other convicts singing the work-song Po Lazarus. Actually, the convicts were not singing, they were, in fact, miming to a recording that Alan Lomax had made of the song years earlier at Parchman Farm.
Disc 2: 1947-'48 Blues / 1959 Work Songs and Holler: 1. Floyd Batts - Lucky Song; 2. Clarence Alexander - Disability Boogie Woogie; 3. John Edwards and Group - Berta*; 4. Clyde Jones and Group - Poor Lazarus*; 5. John Dudley - Cool Drink of Water Blues; 6. Ed Lewis - Levee Camp Holler / Interview; 7. Ed Lewis and Group - Black Gal; 8. Bama - I Don't Want You Baby*; 9. Grover Wells and Group - Rosie*; 10. Bridges Lee Cole - Hollers; 11. John Dudley - You Got a Mean Disposition; 12. John Dudley - Big Road Blues; 13. Ervin Webb and Group - I'm Going Home; 14. George Golden and Group - Berta*; 15. Grover Wells - Up the River*; 16. Clarence Alexander - Prison Blues; 17. Johnny Lee Moore, Ed Lewis, James Carter, and Henry Mason - Tom Devil; 18. Willie Washington - My Jack Don't Drink No Water*; 19. Leroy Campbell and Yancey - Sometimes I Wonder; 20. Henry Ratcliff - Look for Me In Louisiana; 21. Heuston Earms - Ain't Been Able to Get Home No More*
* Previously unreleased.
I was still at school in 1959 when I first heard some of Lomax's Parchman recordings. They were issued on an album titled Murder's Home and I doubt if I will ever forget that plaintive opening song:
Alan Lomax had visited Parchman Farm and some other Mississippi penitentiaries in 1947, '48 and '59. He took a recording machine with him and, in 1959, a camera. A year later, in 1958, Lomax said:
You can, I suppose treat this Dust-To-Digital package as being either a book, with CDs, or else as a CD set, which comes with a book. Actually, it does not matter what we call it, because the whole package is just superb, the CDs and the book complementing each other so that the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. Suddenly, seeing these photographs for the first time, we can put flesh and bone to what had once only been unidentified, anonymous voices. The folklorist Bruce Jackson, who has also recorded material in Southern US prisons, has this to say about the set:
But the majority of pieces heard on these two CDs are work-songs. Sometimes the singers use well-known songs, such as John Henry or The Prettiest Train I Ever Saw, both sung by Benny Will Richardson and gang, while other pieces seem to have been composed by the singers themselves. According to Alan Lomax and his father John Lomax, these work-songs had once been sung all over the American South, but, With the coming of the machines, however, the work gangs were broken up. The songs then followed group labor into its last retreat, the road gang and the penitentiary, flourishing there because they were essential to the spiritual as well as the physical survival of the black prisoners. We saw that the songs, quite literally, kept the men alive and normal. In 2013, Anna Lomax Wood could say that, In the years following Lomax's last visit, the racial integration of Southern prison farms and the mechanization of agriculture pushed the work songs into obsolescence. By the early 1970's, they had vanished.
One track that I remember from the Murderer's Home LP was that of a prisoner singing while chopping wood. At one point a piece of wood flew up and hit the microphone, making a bang, which Lomax left on the recording. It was the sort of thing that happens during actuality recording and I am reminded of this by the photograph on page 17 of the book, which shows another prisoner chopping wood in front of a microphone. And this brings me to the photographs reproduced here. I really had no idea that Alan Lomax was such a good photographer. His pictures, of prisoners at work and with their families on visiting days, complement the recordings and I especially like some of the captions, actually song verses, which have been placed alongside the pictures. This verse sits across from a picture of a group of men singing as they work with their hoes:
I have long had problems coming to terms with Alan Lomax. I never met him, but have met many people who did know him. Many said that he was arrogant; others said that he was a pain in the butt. I felt that he was too quick to copyright (to himself) any song that he came across. And yet, when I read his books, I have often come across another side of the man. He once said that his job was to be a conduit through which the common man could speak could tell his side of the story. Now that I like. I also like this story, told by Bruce Jackson in the book. In 1983 Jackson was attending the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society held that year in a Nashville hotel. Jackson had just been elected President of the Society and was expected to deliver a keynote speech that night. But, in the elevator, he met up with Bess Lomax Hawes, who suggested that they went to Alan Lomax's room to collect him, before going down to the conference room. When they arrived at Lomax's room Lomax suggested that they should have a drink. And, of course, one drink led to another. Soon, Lomax was telling stories, one after another, and before they knew it, three hours had passed. There were 'stories about working with his father, stories about people we all knew, stories about people only he knew, stories about doing the work. Three hours of it. It was just magnificent'. Jackson continues:
They squoze and they squoze, he said, and they produced another generation of pedants just like the generation of pedants they wanted to replace. But without the beautiful manners.
How can you not love somebody who can summarize a generation of ambitious and competitive pedants like that? That was the best evening I ever had at an American Folklore Society meeting.
Mike Yates - 8.12.14
|Top||Home Page||MT Records||Articles||Reviews||News||Editorial||Map|