In 1931, the Republic Bank of Dallas fails. Among the executives there is John Lomax (1867-1948). He lose his job, like many others in those days. Originally he is an English teacher and folklorist, previously he was full professor at Texas A&M University (Agricultural & Mechanical), later worked as a member of administrative staff at University of Texas, and was co-founder of Texas Folklore Society. He is a nation-wide known figure owing to his anthology of cowboy songs and folk ballads.
In sight of his father’s depression his eldest son encourages him to begin a new series of lecture tours about American folk music. In the course of this they go to New York and Washington. Lomax concludes agreements with a publishing house and the Library of Congress. For the latter he takes to make field recordings on him. In the summer of 1933 his expedition starts. His youngest son, then 18 years old Alan go with him. Go after sounds to plantations and farms, at juke joints and penitentiaries. At Angola Prison Farm in Louisiana he discovers twelve-strings guitar player Lead Belly, who has been sentenced for attempted homicide in a knife fight. In 1934, after his release he become driver and assistant of Lomax’s next round. He gets publicity and recording contract through Lomax, and finally become one of the most influential blues musicians. Just very few names who covered his songs: Abba, Nick Cave, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, The Fall, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits.

And there is the infamous Parchman Farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi. There he makes recording with Bukka White (1909-77), who has been imprisoned for shooting assault. Parchman Farm Blues about the hard times was written by him, but this is “When Can I Change My Clothes”, because there’re old pictures from the farm

“Most of the guards were untrained men, employed because they knew how to ‘handle and drive niggers’. We saw with horror that there were sadists among them who took pleasure in persecuting, beating, and torturing the helpless prisoners. We did meet sincere, kindly men trying to better the lot of the prisoners, but they were hampered by the limitations of the institution itself. A report in the New York Post confirms my own impression of a generation ago: ‘The state penitentiary system at Parchman is simply a cotton plantation using convicts as labor. The warden is not a penologist, but an experienced plantation manager” – said Alain Lomax. Also here were inmates such famous murderers as Son House (self-defense, pistol, 1902-88) and R.L.Burnside (dice game, pistol, 1926-2005). And there were many nameless prisoners whose songs has been recorded by the two Lomax

1. Bama – I’m Going Home 2. Bama – How I got in the penitentiary (interview) 3. 22 and Group – When I Went to Leland

Bama – How I got in the penitentiary: Well, boss, the way I got in trouble the first time: the folks was barin’ me, and I cut and shoot a feller up. So, I just got in the penitentiary and just worked and worked and worked so much. I had to work. Cut up the fellow, shoot’um up. And then, when I got out of the penitentiary, I thought I had worked enough, and I decided I could make my livin’ without workin’. And I commenced with puttin’ pistols on folks. And that wouldn’t do. And I commenced to stealin’ everything that wasn’t hot and nailed down. And the polices commenced to runnin’ me every whichaway – every way I turn. So, after I got’um started runnin’ me, I just kept on doing wrong – fightin’, stealin’ – you know – an’ robbin’. And sometimes I wouldn’t (doing) be nothin’ but I’d been doin’ so much ’til that when they’d get me, I’d due to been got anyhow. An one, two time they ‘rrest me, an’ I told’um I hadn’t done nothin’, an they said, “Arrest you in egvance – you gonna do sumpin’.” So that way I just stayed in the penitentiary all the time, boss. In and out, in and out, for the last 18 years.

Alan Lomax (1915-2002) , after death of his father in 1948, continued his father’s mission. He introduced Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger and others on radios and in concerts and records. His big fish was Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904-72). He also went after songs to the Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa. “Neighborhood investigation shows him to be a very peculiar individual in that he is only interested in folklore music, being very temperamental and ornery. … He has no sense of money values, handling his own and Government property in a neglectful manner, and paying practically no attention to his personal appearance. … He has a tendency to neglect his work over a period of time and then just before a deadline he produces excellent results” – was written by an FBI agent, for Alan Lomax was observed as a supposed Communist between 1940 and 1980.

44 songs from his Parchman Farm recordings between 1947-59 on 2CDs with 124-page hardcover book have been released this month by Dust-To-Digital. These Negro work songs are perfect for your everyday job.

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essence of delta blues by rnr666

 


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