Mike Seeger presents jug bands, field recordings, and the New Lost City Ramblers
Written by Randy Black on August 17, 2016
Viking Twang Show 98, August 17, 2016
Good morning, welcome to Viking Twang Episode 98. Hope you’re having a good summer as we head toward Labor Day and getting serious about school starting again.
One of our favorites here at the Twang is Mike Seeger, the musician, promoter. and musicologist who was vital in the late 50s fight for real roots music in the face of folk scare bands such as the Kingston Trio. Mike would have turned 83 this week, so we’re going to celebrate.
In today’s second set we’re going play a set of Seeger’s band, the New Lost City Ramblers, from the Newport Folk Festival, followed by some songs from an album called Close To Home: Old Time Music from Mike Seeger’s Collection 1952-1967. First, some classic jug and country blues.
1 – Turkey Red; W.C. Beck & the Portland Country Underground.
2 – Fishing Blues; Henry Thomas. Thomas is believed to be born in Texas in 1874. This is one of his dozen or so records recorded from 1927 to 1929.
3 – It’s Tight Like That; Tampa Red and Georgia Tom. Guitar wizard Tampa Red Whittaker andpiano player Georgia Tom Dorsey were already popular musicians when they met and recorded this song in Chicago in 1928.
4 – When the Levee Breaks; Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe. Lizzie Douglas and JoeMcCoy were a married couple about to break on the Chicago blues scene when they recorded this in 1929. Their recording was the inspiration for the Led Zeppelin song.
5 – Don’t You Make Me High; Blue Lu Barker. Barker was a New Orleans singer who recorded this in 1938; Maria Muldaur recorded it on her 1973 solo album.
6 – Banjoreno; Dixieland Jug Blowers. The Jug Blowers was a combination of bands led by jug player Earl McDonald and fiddler Clifford Hayes, brought together by Victor Records to record this and other songs in 1926.
7 – Memphis Shakedown; Memphis Jug Band. This band was organized in 1926 by Will Shade and had a revolving membership well into the 1950s, including Gus Cannon and Memphis Minnie. This is from 1934.
The New Lost City Ramblers were Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley. The band formed in 1958 as part of the New York Folk scene. But unlike some of the folk bands of the time, they tried to stay closer to the roots sound.
They discovered and recorded lost artists such as Roscoe Holcombe, and were part of the group that put on the early 1960s Friends of Old Time Concerts. Paley left in 1962 and was replaced by Tracy Schwarz. Mike, who was Pete’s half-brother, died of cancer in August 2009.
This is from an album from the Newport Folk Festivals of the 1950s and 60s. I think it’s highlights from several festivals; you’ll hear both Paley and Schwarz introduced here.
8 – Train 45; Based on Wade Mainer’s 1936 song, Riding on that Train 45.
9 – Hopalong Peter; A traditional song recorded by J.E. Mainer’s Mountainers in 1937 and FisherHendley and his Aristocratic Pigs in 1939; this is closer to Hendley’s version.
10 – Pretty Little Miss; An old song recorded as Pretty Little Miss Out in the Garden, probably most famously by the Stanley Brothers.
11 – Liza Jane; Another traditional song.
12 – When First Into This Country I Came; First recorded in 1934 by John Lomax, performed by the Gant Family in Austin, Texas.
13 – Gold Watch and Chain; A Carter Family song from 1933.
We’re going to close the show with a set of music from a 1997 Smithsonian Folkways album called “Close To Home: Old Time Music from Mike Seeger’s Collection 1952-1967,” a collection of songs he recorded in the field. Eck Robertson will introduce himself.
14 – Leather Britches; Eck Robertson. Robertson was the first traditional fiddler to be recorded, in 1922. This is probably his last recording session, in Newport, Rhode Island, during the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, backed by the New Lost City Ramblers.
15 – John Henry; Lesley Riddle. Lesley Riddle was A.P. Carter’s traveling and songwriting partner who influenced Maybelle’s guitar playing. Seeger recorded this in the Rochester, N.Y. barbershop where Riddle was working in 1965.
16 – Red Wing; “Lost John” Ray and Walk Koken. This was recorded in a parking lot at the 1967 Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention with Ray on fiddle, Koken on banjo, and an unidentified guitar player.
17 – The Train That Carried My Girl From Town; J.C. “Cleve” Sutphin & V.L. Sutphin. Cleve Sutphin and his son Vernon were a father-son, banjo-harmonica duo from Virginia, and friends with Hazel Dickens. Seeger recorded this at their home in early 1957.
18 – He Will Set Your Fields On Fire; Kilby Snow. Snow was a construction worker around the area of Galax, Virginia. Mike and Hazel Dickens recorded this at Wade Ward’s home in Virginia in August, 1957 on Ernest Stoneman’s recommendation.
19 – He Said If You Love Me, Feed My Sheep; The Stancer Quartet. Mike recorded this from a Sunday morning religious broadcast in Abingdon, Virginia, in January 1967. He didn’t have any information about the group, but said it was unusual for gospel quartets to have women singers.
20 – Poor Orphan; Kate Peters Sturgill. Sturgill was a radio DJ, guitar teacher for the WPA, and song-collecting compatriot of A.P. Carter. This was recorded in Virginia in 1967.
21 – In The Sweet Bye and Bye; Elizabeth Cotton. Elizabeth was working in the Seeger home when they discovered she was a great musician. Mike recorded this in November, 1952.
22 – Twang Theme; The Countrypolitans.