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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


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Showing posts with label Ledbelly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ledbelly. Show all posts

Monday, December 9, 2013

Document Records - Blues, Blues Christmas Volume 3 - New release Review

I just received the newest release, Blues, Blues Christmas Volume 3 and it's a lot of fun! Led Belly opens with Christmas Is Coming, a rudimentary Led Belly chant blues followed by Rev JM Gates in a rousing Gettin' Ready For Christmas. Victoria Spivey does a great job on I Ain't Gonna Let You See My Santa Claus, a great blues number. John Lee Hooker sings and plays Blues For Christmas in great style and it goes without saying that his older work stand strongly on it's own merit. Johnny Hooks plays a nice sax part on this track as well. Dee Dee Ford does a cool shuffle number, Good Morning Blues. On The Penguins, Jingle Jangle, Christmas and the blues sees a rhumba beat. One of my favorite tracks on the first cd of this two cd release is The Magnolia Five singing a solid early gospel/ field call version of The Holy Baby (acapella). The Famous Jubilee Singers do a straight up gospel rendition of Go Tell It On The Mountain which of course is a strong stand alone tune. Cordell Jackson does Rock And Roll Christmas, an early rock a billy style track with time appropriate steel guitar. Coy McDaniel & Shorty Warren do a country (real country) track Christmas Choo Choo Train. This is a fun little track with nice vocal harmonies and simple accompaniment and soloing. The Davies Sisters sing the Christmas Boogie, catching a real super groove and impeccable vocal harmonies. Thelma Cooper belts out I Need A Man, a swing blues track. Another of the best tracks on disc one, has a super sax solo by an unidentified sax player. Jimmy McCracklin steps up with a more modern blues cut, Christmas Time Part 1. Wiley Kizart plays a real sweet sax solo on this track backing McCracklin's vocals. Bumble Bee Slim does a classical blues interpretation of Santa Claus Bring Me A new Woman. This is one of thise blues tracks that you would just say was good blues if you never heard the words. Nice construction and execution. Ella Fitzgerald joins Louis Jordan for the big band ballad track Baby It's Cold Outside. Of course the vocals are flawless. Amos Milburn does his standard piano shuffle blues on Christmas (Comes Once A Year). This is a cool track on it's own as well with Milburn not only right on with his vocals but also on keys. Freddy King steps up with classic Christmas Tears and does what Freddy does best, call and response with his own vocal and guitar. Terrific. Another country song, this time with a Texas Swing, Jo Poovey and the Big "D" Boys deliver on Santa's Helper. Cajun style Fiddlin' John Carson gets your feet tappin on Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over. Wrapping the first disc is Wardell Gray with the Dexter Gordon Quintet and Jingle Jangle Jump, another big band swing track. Disc 2 opens with classic Lightnin' Hopkins and Santa Claus, my favorite track on the release. Hopkins has a special style and this is it. Jimmy McCracklin is back with Christmas Time 2 and a cool easy swing blues and another thundering sax solo from Kizart. Hop Wilson accompanied by Elmore Nixon with great piano sings a smokin blues track, Merry Christmas Darling, also adding some cool slide. Duke Ellington Orchestra does a classic instrumental of the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy. Really smooth. Ozie Ware joining Ellington's Hot Five sings a super blues vamp, Santa Claus, Bring My Man Back,  followed by Barney Bigard on clarinet and Freddie Jenkins on trumpet. Rev. Rice's Sanctified Singers does a revival style Who Do You Call That Wonderful Counselor. Spartanburg Famous Four do a really solid acapella, Go Where I Send Thee. Super! The Ravens perform a very classic and straight up version of Silent Night for the traditionalists. The Youngsters sing a playful Christmas In Jail, a light hearted sing track. The Jackson Trio really rock out with Jingle Bell Hop, a blend between rock and new Orleans jazz. Very cool instrumental track. Cordell Jackson rocks the joint with Be-Boppers Christmas. Vernon Dalhart sings a very period piece in Santa Claus That's Me. This is a clever UK based track with simple accompaniment and fiddle. Lil McClintock has a driving country blues style on Don't Think I'm Santa Claus with only simple acoustic guitar and vocal. Walter Davis does a nice piano blues, New "Santa Claus" and his vocals are gripping. Very nice. BB King rolls out is the kings typical with full orchestra on Christmas Celebration but of course adds some tasty guitar riffs to his already super vocals. The Larks do big band swing Christmas To New Years. The Five Keys do 50'S style ballad on It's Christmas Time, a strong vocal harmony track. Oscar McLolli and His Honey Jumpers roll out a really swinging blues track, Dig That Crazy Santa Claus and the title tells a lot. Done in a light hearted manner, this track is a super choice to begin the wrap up of this set. Billy Ward And His Dominoes perform a multivoice Ringing In A Brand New Year. Last up is Ella Fitzgerald singing the ballad, The Secret Of Christmas. Fitzgerald has always been one of the benchmarks for vocalists and she does a super job here.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Story of Huddey "Leadbelly" Ledbetter 2/2

Born Huddie William Ledbetter on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana, the younger of two children to Sallie Brown and Wesley Ledbetter. He had an older sister named Australia. "Huddie" is pronounced "HYEW-dee" or "HUGH-dee". Ledbetter was probably born in January 1888, though his grave marker lists his birth date as January 23, 1889. The 1900 United States Census lists "Hudy William Ledbetter" as 12 years old, and his birth date as January, 1888. The 1910 United States Census and the 1930 United States Census also list his birth year as 1888. In April 1942, Ledbetter filled out his World War II draft registration, listing his birth date as January 23, 1889. His parents married on February 26, 1888, but had cohabited for several years. When Ledbetter was five years old, the family settled in Bowie County, Texas. By 1903, Lead Belly was already a "musicianer", a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms. At the time of the 1910 census, Lead Belly, still officially listed as "Hudy", was living next door to his parents with his first wife, Aletha "Lethe" Henderson, who at the time of the census was 17 years old, and was, therefore, 15 at the time of their marriage in 1908. It was also there that he received his first instrument, an accordion, from his uncle, and by his early 20s, after fathering at least two children, he left home to find his living as a guitarist (and occasionally as a laborer). Influenced by the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, he wrote the song "The Titanic", which noted the racial differences of the time. "The Titanic" was the first song he ever learned to play on a 12-string guitar, which was later to become his signature instrument. He first played it in 1912 when performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897–1929) in and around Dallas, Texas. The song is about champion African-American boxer Jack Johnson's being denied passage on the Titanic due to his race — in point of fact, although Johnson was denied passage on a ship for being black, he was not denied entrance to the Titanic — with the iconic line, "Jack Johnson tried to get on board. The Captain, he says, 'I ain't haulin' no coal!' Fare thee, Titanic! Fare thee well!" Lead Belly noted that he had to leave out this verse when playing in front of white audiences Ledbetter's volatile temper sometimes led him into trouble with the law. In 1915 he was convicted "of carrying a pistol" and sentenced to do time on the Harrison County chain gang, from which he escaped, finding work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was imprisoned a second time, this time after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. In 1918 he was incarcerated in Sugar Land west of Houston, Texas, where he probably learned the song "Midnight Special".[page needed] He served time in the Imperial Farm (now Central Unit) in Sugar Land. In 1925 he was pardoned and released, having served seven years, or virtually all of the minimum of his seven-to-35-year sentence, after writing a song appealing to Governor Pat Morris Neff for his freedom. Ledbetter had swayed Neff by appealing to his strong religious beliefs. That, in combination with good behavior (including entertaining by playing for the guards and fellow prisoners), was Ledbetter's ticket out of prison. It was quite a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (pardon by the governor was at that time the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole). According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell's book, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Ledbetter perform. In 1930, Ledbetter was back in prison, after a summary trial, this time in Louisiana, for attempted homicide — he had knifed a white man in a fight. It was there, three years later (1933), that he was "discovered" by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm. Deeply impressed by his vibrant tenor voice and huge repertoire, they recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned to record with new and better equipment in July of the following year (1934), all in all recording hundreds of his songs. On August 1, Lead Belly was released (again having served almost all of his minimum sentence), this time after the Lomaxes had taken a petition to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at Ledbetter's urgent request. The petition was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, "Goodnight Irene". A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Ledbetter's singing had anything to do with his release from Angola, and state prison records confirm that he was eligible for early release due to good behavior. For a time, however, both Lead Belly and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from Angola. Bob Dylan once remarked, on his XM radio show, that Lead Belly was "one of the few ex-cons who recorded a popular children’s album" There are several somewhat conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired his famous nickname, though the consensus is that it was probably while in prison. Some say his fellow inmates dubbed him "Lead Belly" as a play on his last name and reference to his physical toughness; others say he earned the name after being shot in the stomach with shotgun buckshot.Another theory has it that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine, home-made liquor which Southern farmers, black and white, used to make to supplement their incomes. Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy thought it came from a supposed tendency to lay about as if "with a stomach weighted down by lead" in the shade when the chain gang was supposed to be working.[14] Or it may be that it is simply a corruption of his surname pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing, and it stuck. Regarding his toughness, it is also recounted that during his second prison term, another inmate stabbed him in the neck (leaving him with a fearsome scar that he subsequently covered with a bandana), and he took the knife away and in turn almost killed his attacker with it By the time Lead Belly was released from prison, the United States was deep in the Great Depression and jobs were very scarce. In September 1934, in need of regular work in order to avoid having his release canceled, Lead Belly met with John A. Lomax and asked him to take him on as a driver. For three months he assisted the 67-year-old John Lomax in his folk song collecting in the South. (Alan Lomax was ill and did not accompany them on this trip.) In December, Lead Belly participated in a "smoker" (group sing) at an MLA meeting in Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where John A. Lomax had a prior lecturing engagement. He was written up in the press as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. On New Year's Day, 1935, the pair arrived in New York City, where John Lomax was scheduled to meet with his publisher, Macmillan, about a new collection of folk songs. The newspapers were eager to write about the "singing convict" and Time magazine made one of its first filmed March of Time newsreels about him. Lead Belly attained fame (though not fortune). The following week, he began recording with ARC, the race records division of Columbia Records, but these recordings achieved little commercial success. Part of the reason for the poor sales may have been because ARC insisted on releasing only his blues songs rather than the folk songs for which he would later become better known. In any case, Lead Belly continued to struggle financially. Like many performers, what income he made during his lifetime would come from touring, not from record sales. In February 1935, he married his girlfriend, Martha Promise, who came north from Louisiana to join him. The month of February was spent recording his and other African-American repertoire and interviews about his life with Alan Lomax for their forthcoming book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936). Concert appearances were slow to materialize, however, and in March 1935, Lead Belly accompanied John A. Lomax on a two-week lecture tour of colleges and universities in the Northeast, culminating at Harvard. These lectures had been scheduled before John Lomax had teamed up with Lead Belly. At the end of the month, John Lomax decided he could no longer work with Lead Belly and gave him and Martha money to go back to Louisiana by bus. He gave Martha the money that Lead Belly had earned from three months of performing, but in installments, on the pretext that Lead Belly would drink it all if given a lump sum. From Louisiana, Lead Belly then successfully sued Lomax for the full amount and for release from his management contract with Lomax. The quarrel was very bitter and there were hard feelings on both sides. Curiously, however, in the midst of the legal wrangling Lead Belly wrote to John A. Lomax proposing that they team up together once again. It was not to be, however. The book about Lead Belly that the Lomaxes published in the fall of the following year, meanwhile, was a commercial failure. In January 1936, Lead Belly returned to New York on his own without John Lomax for an attempted comeback. He performed twice a day at Harlem's Apollo Theater during the Easter season in a live dramatic recreation of the Time Life newsreel (itself a recreation) about his prison encounter with John A. Lomax, in which he had worn stripes, even though by this time he was no longer associated with Lomax. Life magazine ran a three-page article titled, "Lead Belly - Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel", in the April 19, 1937 issue. It included a full-page, color (rare in those days) picture of him sitting on grain sacks playing his guitar and singing. Also included was a striking picture of Martha Promise (identified in the article as his manager); photos showing Lead Belly's hands playing the guitar (with the caption "these hands once killed a man"); Texas Governor Pat M. Neff; and the "ramshackle" Texas State Penitentiary. The article attributes both of his pardons to his singing of his petitions to the governors, who were so moved that they pardoned him. The article's text ends with "he... may well be on the brink of a new and prosperous period". Lead Belly failed to stir the enthusiasm of Harlem audiences. Instead, he attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados. He developed his own style of singing and explaining his repertoire in the context of Southern black culture, taking the hint from his previous participation in John A. Lomax's college lectures. He was especially successful with his repertoire of children's game songs (as a younger man in Louisiana he had sung regularly at children's birthday parties in the black community). He was written up as a heroic figure by the black novelist, Richard Wright, then a member of the Communist Party, in the columns of the Daily Worker, of which Wright was the Harlem editor. The two men became personal friends, though Lead Belly himself was apolitical — if anything, a supporter of Wendell Willkie, the centrist Republican candidate, for whom he wrote a campaign song. In 1939, Lead Belly was back in jail for assault, after stabbing a man in a fight in Manhattan. Alan Lomax, then 24, took him under his wing and helped raise money for his legal expenses, dropping out of graduate school to do so. After his release (in 1940-41), Lead Belly appeared as a regular on Alan Lomax and Nicholas Ray's groundbreaking CBS radio show, Back Where I Come From, broadcast nationwide. He also appeared in night clubs with Josh White, becoming a fixture in New York City's surging folk music scene and befriending the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger, all fellow performers on Back Where I Come From. During the first half of the decade he recorded for RCA, the Library of Congress, and for Moe Asch (future founder of Folkways Records), and in 1944 headed to California, where he recorded strong sessions for Capitol Records. Lead Belly was the first American country blues musician to see success in Europe. In 1949 Lead Belly had a regular radio broadcast on station WNYC in New York on Sunday nights on Henrietta Yurchenko's show. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion, and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. His final concert was at the University of Texas in a tribute to his former mentor, John A. Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband. Lead Belly died later that year in New York City, and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, in Caddo Parish. He is honored with a life-size statue across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport. If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!

The Story of Huddey "Leadbelly" Ledbetter 1/2

Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, his virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced. He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly", he spelled it "Lead Belly". This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name "Leadbelly" could be altered to "Lead Belly" in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist's correct appellation. Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot. The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor, prison life, and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes. In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Story of Huddey "Leadbelly" Ledbetter Part 2


Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician, notable for his strong vocals, his virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.

He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly", he himself spelled it "Lead Belly". This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name "Leadbelly" could be altered to "Lead Belly" in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist's correct appellation.

Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.

The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.

In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
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The Story of Huddey "Leadbelly" Ledbetter


Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician, notable for his strong vocals, his virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.

He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly", he himself spelled it "Lead Belly". This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name "Leadbelly" could be altered to "Lead Belly" in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist's correct appellation.

Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.

The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.

In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Write on our Facebook Wall or post your Photos of great blues events! Here

Friday, May 20, 2011

Leadbelly's "Midnight Special" Prison in Sugar Land Closing (Although It Might Not Be the Prison He "Wrote" It in)

Thanks to the Houston Press Blog for this story:


Texas legislators are likely to agree to closing the century-old Central Unit prison in Sugar Land, mostly because it sits on land near the airport that can be developed.

It's one of several Texas Department of Criminal Justice units in the area; a compound of four units is nearby in unincorporated Fort Bend County.

One question to be considered: Is the Central Unit the prison where Leadbelly "wrote" "Midnight Special," his epic ode to being arrested in Houston? Some signs point to yes.

TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons tells Hair Balls there aren't really any unit histories that would list "celebrity" inmates, but various historians say Leadbelly spent time in both the Central and what became one of the Jester units in the county.

Wikipedia says the Central Unit is where he "learned" the song (he didn't write it; it was an old folk standard) and put his Houston lyrics in it:

In 1918 he was incarcerated in Sugar Land west of Houston, Texas, where he probably learned the song "Midnight Special". He served time in the Imperial Farm (now Central Unit) in Sugar Land.

As authority, it cites Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire and Alan Lomax's Folk Song USA.

As it happens, our John Nova Lomax comes from the Lomax family. Alan Lomax, perhaps the most famous of the family, is his grand-uncle. In the video up above (which John describes as "cringe-worthy" for its Boss Hogg aspects) is his great-grandfather John A. Lomax Sr.

And he says, as with many aspects of Leadbelly's pre-fame life, no one can be sure of the details.

He does note that the song's co-writing credits include Lomax, something for which he has gotten shit through the years.

"I always tell people I spend the royalties on booze and gambling, just like Leadbelly would," he says.

One more point: Some people think the Central Unit was the location for some of the scenes in Steven Spielberg's The Sugarland Express. The arbiter of all such things, imdb.com, says scenes were actually shot at the Jester Unit's pre-release facilities.