This fine Labor Day, I want to run a series of posts remembering the great history of work and the lack thereof in American music. For the first post, here’s some Dave Alvin. A former member of The Blasters and X, Alvin has a long history of writing about unions and work in song during his long solo career. Here’s an early example, “Brother on the Line.”
Also from his first solo album is “Jubilee Train,” a good example of remembering how great the New Deal was for the American working-class.
During the Bush years, he wrote “Out of Control,” which he would dedicate live to the Dick Cheney economy:
Finally, on his latest album, Alvin wrote one of the best songs about working people in the last several years, “Gary, Indiana 1959″ about the 1959 steel strike:
It’s also worth remembering that today is anniversary of the Rock Springs Massacre, so this is a good time to remember that the history of American work is very much also the history of immigration and racial oppression.
This is super cool. Old news, but I didn’t know about it and I assume most of you didn’t either.
Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk music traditions from around the world. Now thousands of the songs and interviews he recorded are , many for the first time. It’s part of what Lomax envisioned for the collection — long before the age of the Internet.
Lomax recorded a staggering amount of folk music. He worked from the 1930s to the ’90s, and traveled from the Deep South to the mountains of West Virginia, all the way to Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. When it came time to bring all of those hours of sound into the digital era, the people in charge of the Lomax archive weren’t quite sure how to tackle the problem.
“We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible,” says Don Fleming, executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity, the nonprofit organization Lomax founded in New York in the ’80s. Fleming and a small staff made up mostly of volunteers have digitized and posted some 17,000 sound recordings.
“For the first time, everything that we’ve digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online, on our website,” says Fleming. “It’s every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music.”
Lomax’s recordings were so great. He had such a great ear to what was wonderful in the enormous varieties of mid-20th century folk music, the forms of which are sadly almost all gone today. I have a couple of albums from the Southern Journeys series on Smithsonian and think they are great. Here’s a couple examples:
One of the unsung legends of country music. More known as a producer than performer or songwriter, but he was everywhere in country music for 50 years. “Let’s All Help the Cowboys Sing the Blues” is probably best known because of Waylon Jennings doing it on his seminal album Dreamin’ My Dreams, but it’s a Clement song.
He also produced most of Townes Van Zandt’s early records. Some thought he overproduced them but I have no problem with adorning someone with a rough voice like Townes with a higher level of production, even including the string section on “Kathleen.”
I was not a fan of George Duke’s solo work, but his work as a member of Frank Zappa’s band in the 70s was outstanding and well worth remembering upon his death.
Since the hippie post has so many people up in arms (and I’d like to mention that myself and an occasional LGM commenter and unionist who shall remain anonymous managed to have a lovely Eugene evening while avoiding all hippies, a real accomplishment), here’s a little followup in my head.
I want to get the crabs and sleep on Owsley’s floor.
J.J. Cale has died. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of a style this laid-back, which can become outright sleepy. But Cale could write some excellent songs.
If you haven’t already listened, I heartily recommend the Jason Isbell Fresh Air episode. There’s some fantastic stuff; Isbell gives a very good interview, and even covers Don’t Let it Bring You Down. As for the new album… it’s not really my cup of tea. Isbell’s greatest strength is marrying interesting, insightful lyrics to genuinely good rock songs, and that’s not what this album is about. I like that people like it, and after a few listens I can appreciate why people like it, but I don’t see myself including it in the mix all that often. But that certainly won’t stop me from seeing Isbell in Lexington on August 22.
Here’s a Stereogum list of the 10 best Townes Van Zandt songs. I’ll offer my own 10 best, which look pretty different. Between about 1997 and 2002 or so I was in a huge Van Zandt stage, which soon morphed into following Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, and so many others of that generation and genre. Today, I don’t listen to Townes all that much, maybe an album every 3-4 weeks. That said, I think I’ve heard them all about 4000 times. So here we go. These are not really in any meaningful order, because that order would probably change tomorrow. Sure he couldn’t really sing and he really couldn’t play the guitar. The amazing amount of substances he put into his body during his all too short life helped none of these things. But he’s one of the top 5 songwriters of the last 50 years. I’m terrible at discussing individual songs. I find it almost impossible to write about without slipping into cliche. But these are 10 pretty awesome ones.
1. “Tecumseh Valley”
3. “Don’t Take It Too Bad”
4. “Poncho and Lefty”
7. “Dollar Bill Blues”
8. “Why She’s Acting That Way”
9. “Snowin on Raton”
10. “Two Girls”
If I could have expanded this to 15, would have included “Tower Song,” “Waitin’ Round to Die,” “Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls,” “Pueblo Waltz,” and maybe “If I Needed You.”
If you are looking to buy particular albums, I’d go with Our Mother the Mountain, the self-titled album, and Live at the Old Quarter, probably in that order.
I’m not sure if “great” is exactly the word for the bluesman T-Model Ford, but “interesting” certainly qualifies. He has died at the age of 94.
The projected violence following the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman Trial is coming to pass.
Lester Chambers, a seventy-three year-old musician known for his work as a member of The Chambers Brothers, was assaulted on stage at a blues festival last night after he dedicated a song to Trayvon Martin.
Chambers’ son, Dylan, posted the following on Facebook last night: “Lester was just assaulted on stage at The Russell City Hayward Blues Festival by a crazed woman after dad dedicated People Get Ready to Trayvon Martin. He is on the way to the hospital now.”
Wait, I thought only black people acted crazy? You mean violence is caused by white people?
Typical that a song as bad as the Star-Spangled Banner would have a neo-Confederate history.
The section that favored the “Banner” was the South. By the 1920s when the newly established NAACP was making an issue of the imposition of Jim Crow laws and the practice of lynching in the South, the campaign for the “Banner” was a way to defend the prerogatives of the South, to wrap the ideology of the Confederacy in the red, white, and blue bunting of American patriotism.
Of course, no one said as much during the hearings on Linthicum’s bill. No African-American witnesses were called, and only one dissenting witness was heard—the tireless Stetson. Otherwise, all present extolled the “Banner” as the perfect expression of American patriotism. There can be little doubt that most Americans agreed. Supporters submitted a petition calling for the designation of the “Banner” as the national anthem that was signed by 5 million people.
A year later, Linthicum’s bill came up for a vote, and the House and the Senate approved it by wide majorities. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed it into law. Thus, 117 years after it was written, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem.
The unspoken racial agenda of the “Banner” supporters was displayed on June 14, 1931, when the National Society of the Daughters of 1812 and the state of Maryland, sponsored a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore to celebrate the new national anthem. The parade was led by a column of Boy Scouts carrying three flags: the Stars and Stripes, the red and gold flag of Maryland, and the Stars and Bars of the army of the Confederate States of America.
Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic pulled out at the sight of the banner of their former enemies. “GAR Balks at Southern Flag in Parade,” reported The Baltimore Sun. Gen. John F. King, past national commander of the GAR, “ordered the Union men to disband and fall out line,” said the Baltimore Afro-American.
Chew on that while you celebrate the 150th Vicksburg Day today.