Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My interview with Rob Walker on NOnotes

Well, the NOnotes interview has now been posted - in five parts!

The first part can be found here - mostly discussing "Dyin Crapshooter's Blues"
The second part can be found here - regarding AL Lloyd, John and Alan Lomax, The Unfortunate Rake, Iron Head Baker, Leadbelly . . .
The third part can be found here - regarding how Redman brought the song to Armstrong in Chicago
The fourth part can be found here - legal issues and early recordings
The fifth part can be found here - "St. James Infirmary" goes to court

Rob is, to put it mildly, an SJI enthusiast. His questions were probing, a challenge and a delight to answer.

If you are among the few who find this sort of stuff interesting, there's more in the book!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

copyright vs public domain and the web


I love bumping into sites like this. How can we share our love of music when reproducing it - perhaps by posting our own rendition of, say, a Beatles song - can leave us open to legal challenges and/or performance charges? Lucas Gonze is obviously a man very familiar with the Internet, and too familiar with the problems inherent in "this era of copyright extremism" which, he goes on to explain in a podcast on the Digital Media Insider site (also available, btw, at iTunes), "is just going to wipe out a lot of those inputs. I don't think that people are going to play Beatles songs. I think the Beatles are going to disappear from memory - because they're going to be locked away. You really can't get to the stuff. And instead the music that was available for free use, that was under a Creative Commons license, that was very clearly in the public domain, or that was made before the recording era, I think that's what people will be using. They will be doing the five trillionth cover of 'Home On The Range' instead of a much better song, like 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,' because that's what's in the culture, and passing back and forth references to the same material but used in different ways. That's what you're doing when you're making cultural artifacts. I think people will look back at these lost items and say, 'These were such great songs! What happened to them?'"

Soup Greens is devoted to music that is clearly in the public domain. But it goes deeper than that, directly addressing the issue of how music copyright affects us in everyday life. While looking at his site, make sure to visit the menu item "Just my music" - here's Lucas and his guitars, doing some fine renditions of songs that are firmly ensconsced in the public domain.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Emmett Miller - clarinet-voiced singer of Lovesick Blues

The first song Irving Mills was credited with writing was "Lovesick Blues." First recorded in 1922, Emmett Miller's 1928 version gave it the shape we recognize today - thanks, that is, to Hank Williams' 1949 rendition.

When Miller's record was released, though, it was the flip side, "I Ain't Got Nobody," that received most of the airplay. The poster below is advertising another record Miller released at about the same time, "A Thousand Frogs Sitting on a Log." You might think that's an odd song title, and you'd be right; this was a comedy skit based on the topic of elocution. According to Nick Tosches in his book about Miller, "Where Dead Voices Gather," the skit served as a running gag throughout his stage show. From a newspaper article quoted by Tosches: "Early in the evening the Interlocutor attempted to recite something about a 'thousand frogs on a log.' Instantly Emmett was growling in disgust, 'Can't get no thousand frogs on no log ...' Finally, the mention of 'a thousand frogs on a log' was sufficient almost to throw the audience into paroxysms of laughter."

Here, from a North Carolina Newspaper, is a 1928 advertisement for the thousand frogs. You can hear this performance via a download at the website "Western Swing on 78." That download will actually net 23 Miller recordings, about half his total output. The other half can be found here. Among these recordings, by the way, are both the 1925 and the 1928 versions of "Lovesick Blues." The earlier one, with piano accompaniment only, had long been assumed lost. This earlier version of the song sounds unformed to me - as if Miller had not yet imposed his own stamp on it.

Six of those MP3 files yield "The OKeh Medicine Show" - about eighteen minutes of a recorded recreation of medicine show skits and music, in which Miller is but one of the performers. Others included Fiddlin' John Carson, his daughter Moonshine Kate, and Frank Hutchison (a slide-guitar playing, blues singing ex-miner who recorded 32 song between 1929 and 1932). As you can see, Miller was the featured personality in an advertisement for the record.












Emmett Miller - minstrel math

Emmett Miller appeared in a 1951 film, "Yes Sir, Mr. Bones." An hour long, it tells the tale of a young boy who strays into a retirement home for elderly minstrel performers. Flashbacks allow the film (which actually exists on DVD) to recreate some of the old skits, including this excerpt from YouTube. Here Emmett Miller, now in his 50s and wearing his trademark bowler hat, gives a lesson in blackboard logic.