I3D FMs Lone Tony Joe to gives us the low down on
"ROOTS MUSIC : Putting it all back together."

The Mississippi Sheiks, marketed as "Hillbilly"

It may be inexperience, disinterest or lack of space but increasingly music shops are taking weird stabs at placing back catalogue & non- commercial artists on their racks. The cagey ones though now use the “one size fits all” category of Roots. Maybe its no bad thing that Blues, Country, Folk, Gospel …jazz …even sometimes World get placed together just alongside nostalgia & easy listening but a long way from the front of the store where its more likely to be Dance, Hip Hop, Soundtracks, Popular & maybe Alternative.

Blues and Country music have been a lot closer at times than is widely appreciated. Country gets called white mans blues, but these days it seems that its white guys singing the blues while young black guys lean to rapping & hip hop.

Deford Bailey, a black harmonica wizard, was the first act heard on the original Grand Ole Opry in 1926 & continued to open broadcasts for years with his signature “Pan American Blues”
It’s also reported that for 20 years, until 1958, the Opry featured a white ‘ Talking Blues Man’, Robert Lunn. He was, apparently, the “country’s foremost exponent of the style” utilizing a dry & droll recitation style later adapted by Woody Guthrie… and that leads to Dylan.

The Nashville based Black Country Music Association reports that between 17 – 24% of black Americans listen to country music yet are still struggling to prove there’s currently a market for black country artists. The banjo is supposed to have come from Africa but it sure aint cool these days to be a black banjo player …or a white one for that matter & that’s a pity!

‘Black Texicans’: ( Rounder CD 1999 ) surprises with its 1930s field recordings of 29 black cowboy singers. This little known group are at yet another cross roads further west. Black cowboy blues… currently awaiting market exploitation. Don’t hold your breath.

The Coen Bros “Oh Brother…” movie celebrates the marriage of country & blues when the escapees pick up a young black blues dude” at the Crossroad and then have to swing between claiming to be either black or white for the blind producer wanting product to tap into current fashion.

But why didn’t more black guys get into country. Now you say, what about Charlie Pride? But who ever hears much of him now. Ray Charles started a life long flirtation with “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music” in the sixties despite being known for soul & rhythm & blues. There are others still doing it today, like Clarence Gatemouth Brown & Big Al Downing. Both can move effortlessly between blues and country almost within the same tune but neither widely heard in Australia.

Jimmy “Father of Country Music” Rogers picked up his chord changes working amongst black railroad labourers. Jimmy’s series of 13 Blue Yodels in the late 1920s became the founding canon of the new genre that wasn’t even called country music yet. Blue Yodel No1 :T for Texas, became a million seller before such things were thought possible. Both he, and later Roy ”King of Country” Acuff even spent time working Black Face in touring medicine shows.

What made Dock Boggs , a hillbilly favourite in the late 20s was picking his instrument in the style of blues guitar instead of the then widespread claw hammer technique. Most people, on first hearing Dock’s 1927 “Country Blues” would assume he was black & singing blues. And they’d be right, only he was white & singing country …or was that folk …or blues?

It is said record companies in the late 20s & 30s thought mainly of demographic target markets rather than styles of music. The result was often haphazard categorisation with white groups using black sounding names being sold to the ‘Race’ market and some black artists sold as white Hillbilly acts.

The characteristic country music yodel of 30s & 40s “Country Blues” 1927 may have its origin in middle Europe but as a primordial outlet of emotion yodeling seems a very close relative to Blues wailing, groaning & moaning. Try it next time you are feeling down.

Hank Williams claimed tuition from an elderly black street singer Rufus Payne (Tee-Tot). What was his breakthrough number….Lovesick Blues! When you think about it, Hank Williams lived the same unhealthy lifestyle as Robert Johnson and both died from it an early age.

Bill Monroe “The Father of Blue Grass” also claimed a black mentor. Is the blue in Blue Grass a colour or a mood?

Even young Elvis was forever sneaking out to hear black singers but to gospel sessions in local churches rather than blues shacks.

The actual meeting place for Blues & Country was the honky-tonk bar & the music form it gave birth too. All those Cryin’ in your beer songs. Working man laments & regrets about losing girl, job, dog, truck, friend, money etc etc . Honky-tonk Blues, Long Gone Lonesome Blues, (both Hank Williams) If country isn’t blues what is it…Opera?

The Dance clubs of today are just updated honky-tonks anyway. In Brixton, England, a group of underground Dance veterans running all night parties prompted Elemental Records label producer to say “ what struck me was how they recognise the link between Robert Johnson & Hank Williams and how they fused it. They had a specific social, political & moral standpoint and a very punk attitude” The subsequent group releases under the name of “The Alabama 3” come across as authentic …but authentic what ?
Put it in “Roots”.

LoneTony Joe.

Adelaide’s 3D 93.7 FM
HillBilly Help Desk – Yodel Action.
Alternating Saturdays 11 am.

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