We’ve seen a lot of coverage of lockouts lately because professional sports league owners have used the tactic to try and wring major concessions out of unions. But it is an increasingly common phenomenon around the nation. Emboldened bosses see the end of their hated unions in sight and are capitalizing. This includes in classical music, as orchestra bosses around the nation are locking out their musicians in order to squeeze more money from them and concentrate resources at the top, where The Gospel of Wealth says they belong.
The great saxophonist David S. Ware has passed at the age of 62. I knew he had been sick for a long time. He received a kidney transplant 2 years ago, donated by a fan, which goes to show the devotion of the followers of this titanic artist. I had hoped this would mean many more years for a man at the peak of his artistic powers, but alas, no. However, those additional two years of life meant some more great music. RIP.
Some re-enactors have formed camp bands to play music that soldiers enjoyed hearing around battlefield campfires. The most popular tunes included songs from the minstrel stage.
Groups such as the 2nd South Carolina String Band pride themselves on their accurate impressions — right down to the exaggerated black dialect of songs with inescapably racist overtones.
Unfortunately, the AP story is short and underdeveloped. However, here’s an interview with the 2nd South Carolina String Band, an interview which jaw-droppingly openly discussed the performance of minstrel songs without a single mention of the racism of the time.
Every time I listen to the old Tex Williams song “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down,” I always think the relevant politicians are modern Republicans. The hypocrisy seems so perfect.
I prefer the Hank Thompson version of the song.
Good music for a Saturday night. Also, Sesame Street!
[SL]: A backhanded tribute to a great innovator: “Howlin’ Wolf looked at me and he said ‘Why don’t you take them wah-wahs and all that other shit and go throw it off in the lake — on your way to the barber shop?’.” Has anyone heard The Howlin’ Wolf Album? Sounds kind of fascinating, actually. I’m certainly always open to listening to Cosey; he was a marvel.
Doc’s story is well-known to fans of Appalachian music. Blind from infancy, Doc learned to play a guitar as a child. He made no money at it despite his skill and was selling pencils when Ralph Rinzler came to western North Carolina looking to record folk music. Doc was recruited as someone who could play almost anything; from those sessions he’s probably most noted for playing with Clarence Ashley when that old folk giant was recorded. But Doc was not the traditional unchanging Appalachian stereotype the early folk audiences of the 60s looked for. He was a man with one foot in the 19th century and another in the present. He played in local rockabilly and rock bands to earn money and had a great ear for turning old-time songs into resonant tunes for present day listeners. Because he was a guitarist playing fiddle parts on a different instrument, he tapped into the guitar-god stuff rock and roll audiences loved. And oh boy could Doc Watson pick a guitar. His deep baritone was a modern voice, as opposed to the scratchy, heavily-accented voices of a lot of old-time musicians and his voice stayed great until he was very old. He got big during the folk era, then was picked up for the Will the Circle be Unbroken sessions, then played with his son Merle. Merle died in a farming accident in the 80s, but Doc kept on, creating Merlefest, one of the most important yearly gatherings for bluegrass and old-time musicians. I’ve never been to this and I always wanted to go. Regrets abound.
I saw Doc Watson play twice. The first, at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville was a show with David Grisman. Grisman was friends with Ralph Rinzler as a teenager in New Jersey and was amazed upon hearing Doc’s work (more so than Rinzler). They became friends and finally toured together. This must have been 1998. In 2000, I saw Doc play a more traditional show with his grandson Richard in Maryville, Tennessee. Both shows were quite different and just really great. Grisman of course likes his jam sessions and Doc could pick with the best of them. Richard Watson was more of an acoustic white blues picker and so I got to hear Doc do some old blues tunes in the first half of that show, then pull out his more regular repertoire in the second half. Both were just amazing. He’d play these songs he’d claim his mom knew as a child and right there you have to figure this is a song from 1900 or even earlier. Yet here he was making it relevant for listeners a solid century later. He was a living history lesson, bringing part of the late 19th century to your ears.
There was nothing like seeing Doc Watson live, but here’s a couple of clips to give you a taste of his awesomeness. Here he is playing “Tennessee Stud,” which was a Jimmy Driftwood song but Doc probably did more than anyone else to keep it known, at least until Johnny Cash played it on the first American album.
And here’s him with Merle and some other guys doing “Summertime,” always a favorite.
There’s been way too many great musicians dying lately. I’m sick of writing these posts.