November 21 2020

Ballad Hunter

Pioneering musicologist and folklorist, John A. Lomax, did much for the preservation of American folk music. Thanks to Lomax, there are more than 10,000 original sound recordings to archive American Folk Song housed at the Library of Congress.

Lomax was a Texan at heart if not by birth. He was born in Goodman, Mississippi, in 1867, but grew up in rural central Texas. As a child, Lomax was exposed to cowboy song. At the age of nine, John Lomax befriended a former slave by the name of Nat Blythe. Lomax taught Blythe how to read and write. Blythe taught Lomax traditional song and dance steps.

John would later write, the friendship between he and Blythe is what gave his life it’s “bent.”

Saving his money, Lomax left the farm to attend college. He first began at Granbury working on a teaching degree but later moved to the University of Texas at Austin to major in English. Upon arrival in Austin he carried with him the book of cowboy songs that he had written as a child. The English professors of the time didn’t care for the songs. English professor Morgan Callaway discounted them as “Cheap and Unworthy.”

In Adventures of a Ballad Hunter , John Lomax memoir, he recounted how he took the whole bundle of songs behind the men’s dormitory and burned them.

Upon his graduation, John gained employment at the University of Texas, and then later took a position as an English professor at Texas A&M University in College Station.  

John Lomax married Bess Brown June 9, 1904 and the two made plans to settle in College Station near the A&M campus. However, by 1906, aware of the deficiencies of his early education, John began to seek ways to improve himself.

John Lomax took advantage of a chance to attend Harvard University as a graduate student. Harvard was the center of American folklore studies of the time.

At Harvard, Lomax studied under Barrett Wendell and George Lyman Kittredge. Unlike his previous professors in Texas, these Scholars in Massachusetts actively encouraged his interest in cowboy songs.

It was Kittredge who pioneered modern methods of ballad study and encouraged collectors to get out into the country- side to collect ballads first- hand.

“Go ahead and get this material while it can be found… Preserve the words and music. That’s your job.”

George Lyman Kittredge

Lomax later returned to Texas to resume teaching at Texas A&M. This time with a Master of Arts degree. His work was interrupted February 7, 1908 when “The Great A&M Strike” broke out. Unable to teach because of the strike, John Lomax resumed his work in gathering his collections of the cowboy song.

In November 1910, this collection would be published as an anthology. Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. Lomaxpast professor and first major supporter, George Kittredge, considered it as “one of the greatest western ballads.”

The collection of songs in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads gained Lomax national recognition. It emerged as a major collection of Western song and sparked a huge surge for interest in folk songs. Because of this collection, many other students gained the inspiration to search for folk music in all regions of the nation.

In 1909 John A. Lomax and University of Texas Professor Leonidas Payne founded the Texas Folklore society. The society focused on gaining interest and preserving folk music. Lomax used his prestige as a nationally known author to raise money for folklore studies and to establish other state folklore societies. These societies would become branches to the American Folklore Society. In 1912 John A. Lomax was elected as President of the American Folklore Society.

Thanks to a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies Lomax set out in June 1933 on his first recording expedition for the Library of Congress. With recording equipment supplied by the Library of Congress mounted in the back of his Ford sedan, John Lomax and his son Alan set out to tour the south.

The pairs travels took them to Texas Farms, prisons and rural communities. Lomax sought to record traditional music in its original form. They recorded work songs, ballads, and the blues.

Lomax was especially proud of his prison recordings. These recordings provided an isolated musical culture untouched by the modern world.

“Thrown on their own resources for entertainment they still sing, especially the long term prisoners, who have been confined for years and who have not yet been influenced by jazz and the radio, the old melodies.”

John Lomax

Among the recordings housed at the Library of Congress are John Lomax original recordings of blues music by Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), and McKinley Morgan, known professionally as “Muddy Waters.” Lomax and his son also made some of the first recordings of Folk Singer Woody Guthrie.

Folk music and Americana are songs about people. They are collections of song from the regions of where someone came from. In my opinion the greatest and most pure music comes from this original form.

I am thankful for men like John Lomax, who preserved the earliest music for a guy like me to kick back and continue to enjoy today.

Pancho.

September 27 2020

Folk Fest

Today at Noon Central time I was able to tune into Tom Russell’s First International Folk Festival. This Facebook Live event was just one of many live shows that Tom has done in this season of social distancing.

Tom opened the show with a version of “Railroad Bill” and went into a medley of hits by other remarkable folk musicians. He covered Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” along with Guy’s “L.A. Freeway

I felt that the show was successful with 2.6K viewers watching with me and Facebook comments streaming into my feed from around the globe. Tom has been a light in the darkness by finding new and innovative ways of promoting his music and that of others in this uncertain time.

Tom wore his signature bandanna around his neck a purple one on this day.. one commenter weighed in that Tom Russell was wearing masks before wearing a mask was cool. The masks have been the new normal as this global pandemic continues to spread worldwide. I’m so over it already and I hope these wonderful musicians who spend their lives out on the road making music for us to enjoy will have the freedom to do so in the very near future.

Tom Russell’s wife Nadine helped him in making this project possible she filmed him from the beautiful back drops of Switzerland as he told his tales and sung his music for the world to enjoy.Tom told of his song “U.S. Steel” a one armed gas station attendant in Pittsburgh inspired him to write this song.. An end of an era, the man Tom met at the gas station that day had lost his arm in the mill and later would lose his job when the local steel mill had shut down.


The first guest on the show was David Massengill who sang about growing up in an orphanage. The stunning video shot in the beautiful green forest of the United Kingdom.


Tom introduced Australian songwriter Eric Vogel. His rosy cheeks and bubbly smile along with Vogel’s Soprano voice belting out lyrics “Sing while he has a voice/ sing while he has a choice- sing/ sing/ sing
The Vogel song made me smile It seemed I was floating out of my chair in time with the harmonies.


Austin musician, Eliza Gilkyson , daughter of the songwriter and folk singer Terry Gilkyson joined the festival and sang “Take off your old Coat” . This song is a tale of life traveled on a rough path but being able to still expect the gifts and blessings we will receive in the after life.


Three Hat Trio did a great performance from the Zion National Park in the picturesque state of Utah.


“Their musical style is a taste of Africa with a Cowboy Banjo”, Tom described.


I felt that it was the kind of bluegrass string music that would make the late great Bill Monroe want to tap his feet in time.


Songwriter Bernie Taupin , who has spent much of his career writing for Elton John, spoke of his own musical inspirations. Bernie said that he still listened to The Marty Robbins Album “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” at least once every other week.


“El Paso, had me at Hello” , Taupin explained “ it was the song that made me want to write songs”.

Taupin said that the song “El Paso” took him from the cold in the North of England to the hot deserts of Texas.

Tom reflected from his personal studio in Switzerland.
I love Tom’s space. The studio walls are adorned by Tom’s art work. He paints the most wonderful abstracts of musicians like Townes Van Zandt. His paintings of Indian Teepees, and one of a lone white rooster caught my eye today.


See more at : Tomrussellart.com


Rosie Flores joined in live from her own space in Austin, Texas. She was wearing a Dylan T-shirt and red diamond studded glasses that would make Elton John drool with envy. Rosie did a fantastic cover of the Joan Baez song “Love is just a four letter word”.

Rosie has a new album out now. “Simple Case of the Blues”. You can support her and her music at rosieflores.com


From a front porch in the green hills of Switzerland, Florian Schneider swaps songs with Tom. Tom’s song the “Rose of Roscrae” was recorded in Swiss German by Florian.

And a time to cut the wild dogs loose“, echoed across lush greenery in the background.


Joe Ely joined the festival from Texas to promote his new album “Love in the Midst of Meyhem”


Ely performed his song “Indian Cowboy” .

Joe Ely stated that the song came to him “via Guy Clark and the Wringling Brothers Circus“.


He sang, “When the white horses leap the ring of fire


Visit Joe Ely at JoeEly.com


Tom Russell introduced instrumentalist Fats Kaplan. The introduction showed Tom under an umbrella on a rainy afternoon In a cow pasture near his Swiss home. A red cow could be seen in the video feed grazing away, unaware or unbothered by Tom’s presence.


Tom relayed what Rambling Jack would say about “buskers”. The word comes from the Spanish word “Buscar” which means to seek.


Fats harmoniously played from his accordion a Tex mex sound.


Bill Hearne joined into the festival from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Hearne has a new cd coming out called “A very short time”.

Hearne did a wonderful job performing the Tom Russell/Ian Tyson tune “Navajo Rug”.


Catch more of Bill at Bill Hearne.com


Tom sang the Byrds song “He was a friend of Mine

This section of the festival was a tribute to the late Dave Van Ronk. Van Ronk is known as The Godfather of 60s Folk.

Tom told of his time spent touring Europe along with Van Ronk and vocalist Nanci Griffin.


A street in New York was renamed Van Ronk in his memory.


Dave Van Ronk played the outcast role on Tom’s album “Man From God Knows Where


Tom Russell calls Dave “The mayor of folk heaven“.


The festival featured Ralph McTell from the UK. although I am not familiar with this artist , I decided that he looked like somewhat of a pirate as he had a large hooped earring. He strummed a great tune, and i enjoyed heraring him sing with British accent “ it’s a long way from Claire to here”.


I’ll plan to visit RalphMcTell.co.uk in the near future to learn more about this songwriter.


The online folk festival ended with a live feed from Caffe Lena. This coffee house in Saratoga Springs, New York has proudly hosted Folk Music since 1960.

Steve Gillette , who used to open for Ian and Sylvia Tyson , and his partner Cindy Mangsen picked the classic folk song “Darcy Farrow” to end the show.


See Compassrosemusic.com to see more of this talented duo.

I appreciate Tom Russell . His wide variety of songs and his utmost respect for all the other great musicians of the world. Tom is an artist, a writer , and a wonderful performing artist.


I’d like to thank Tom, Nadine, John ,Frontera Records, and all of his guest artists who took the time to entertain us, the fans , on this September afternoon.


What a great Folk Festival… don’t forget to tip your waitress.
Pancho

September 18 2020

Don’t Let it End Like This

“ Don’t let it end like this. Tell them, I said something.” Pancho Villa

These were reportedly the final words of the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. “Don’t let it end like this”As a writer and storyteller, I am here to tell you that this is only the beginning.. My wife Jennifer and I are creating this page to share our story and our views and poems and music to the world.. our beginning, our middle and our end is entirely up to us , and we hope our future followers will enjoy following us and provide the feedback and direction of this page.
My opinions are mostly my opinions. I am influenced by great people who came before, other poets, storytellers and the singer songwriter. I am a fan of Folk and Americana music.
  I have an attachment to the desert and the mountains and finding beauty in all Gods creations like  the rocky, dry sands of West Texas and the rivers that run through it.
My goals here are to paint you a picture through my words of this land called West Texas. It’s people and it’s music.

~Pancho