1. Good Mornin' Blues [2:50]
2. Rock Island Line [2:31]
3. Pick A Bale Of Cotton [2:59]
4. Mister Tom Hughes' Town [3:04]
5. Looky Looky Yonder/Black Betty/Yallow Women's
Door Bells [3:05]
6. Bourgeois Blues [3:21]
7. Poor Howard/Green Corn [3:21]
8. Whoa Back Buck (Ox Driver's Song) [3:07]
9. Boll Weevil [3:08]
10. Gallis Pole [3:09]
11. Easy Rider [3:08]
12. Midnight Special [3;02]
13. New York City [3:00]
14. You Can't Lose A Me Cholly [3:01]
15. Leaving Blues [3:33]
16. Alabama Bound [3:03]
17. On A Monday [2:54]
18. I'm On My Last Go Round [3:08]
19. Can't You Line 'Em [2:52]
20. How Long Blues [2:13]
21. John Hardy [4:08]
22. Eagle Rock Rag [2:45]
23. Out on the Western Plains [1:33]
24. Bring Me L’l Water, Silvy [0:52]
25. Take This Hammer [2:58]
26. Goodnight, Irene [2:24]
Leadbelly [Huddie Ledbetter] (guitar, tap-dancing,
button accordion, piano) with The Golden Gate
Quartet and Sonny Terry (harmonica)
One of the more frustrating
things about Leadbelly’s legacy is the rather
unhelpful recording quality of his surviving
discs. Some of the Musicrafts, Asch and Bluebirds
were definitely not state-of-the-art though
in fairness that was not a feature characteristic
simply of them. Portable recording units of
the rough and ready kind were certainly staples
for many blues singers of the time.
But of course Leadbelly wasn’t
a blues singer, though he did sing the Blues.
He was more in the Songster tradition, a singer
and guitarist – and as this enterprising selection
shows, multi-instrumentalist – of catholic
tastes. Country songs, field hand songs, penitentiary
chants, ballads and traditional survivals,
as well as the Blues, laced his repertoire
– as indeed did contemporary popular song.
This last taste might not always have been
to the approval of his young admirers, who
wanted him to delve into his archaic musical
knapsack – much as Leadbelly’s contemporary,
the jazz trumpeter Bunk Johnson (with whom
Leadbelly performed) was frowned on when he
essayed swing era standards.
Leadbelly’s enduring legacy
lies in the quantity of songs that he, effectively,
codified as his own. The line from Leadbelly
to Pete Seeger, to Bob Dylan, to the skiffle
craze in Britain exemplified by Lonnie Donegan
and indeed beyond is a potent one. As Digby
Fairweather’s notes remind us that influence
was still apparent, if unacknowledged or unappreciated,
well into the 1970s.
The extent to which the skiffle
players simplified and jollified Leadbelly
can be heard in Rock Island Line where
Leadbelly’s twelve string subtleties – the
chugging of the railroad rhythm and its associated
subtleties – became ironed out in a sort of
kinetic and vulgarly enjoyable fabrication.
Try to listen to Leadbelly’s infectiously
driving rhythms on Leaving Blues, an
example his followers could barely hope to
An enduring part of his legacy
remains the chain gang holler and as a convicted
murderer he knew what he sang about. These
songs are reminiscent of the Murderers’
Home songs recorded somewhat later in
field trips to Parchman Farm and reminiscent
too of the many recordings made of prisoners
in the State Penitentiary, Angola (Rounder
and Arhoolie have done excellent work in CD
reissues though many of us will remember the
LP transfers). Leadbelly’s own songs must
have made a significant contribution to enthusiasm
to record this important feature of penitentiary
We hear him tap dance, play
his original instrument, the accordion, and
play some rudimentary but effective piano.
He essays politicised songs, declining to
be "mistreated by no bourgeoisie"
and is joined by the influential (but to my
ears sometimes tiresome) Golden Gate Quartet.
Being a braggart songster it’s amusing to
hear him appropriate the words of another
braggart, Jelly Roll Morton, in Alabama
Bound, the copyright of which was claimed
by Leadbelly and John and Alan Lomax. So maybe
the Lomaxes, who recorded Morton in the Library
of Congress, fed the guitarist some of Morton’s
Sonny Terry adds stature
to the tracks where he joins Leadbelly but
their collaboration on How Long Blues
is done down by Leadbelly’s weak falsetto
– and also by the unholy cheek of the songster
claiming Leroy Carr’s song as his own.
Still, this is a most attractive
compilation, sympathetically transferred and
well annotated by Fairweather. The run of
songs is especially effective when we are
presented with the multi-instrumentalist in
action and with his esteemed collaborators.
Then we really do see Leadbelly as the versatile
songster whose presence up North was an inspiration
to musicians, polemicists and fans alike.
Comments received October
Reading Woolf's notes on
Leadbelly's Good Morning Blues album I noticed
two misstatements. Here's the quote: "Sonny
Terry adds stature to the tracks where he
joins Leadbelly but their collaboration on
How Long Blues is done down by Leadbellys
weak falsetto and also by the unholy
cheek of the songster claiming Leroy Carrs
song as his own."
Here's the corrections:
1. "Leadbelly's weak falsetto"
is actually Sonny Terry trading off his harp
sound with his voice sound -- done so well
it's sometimes hard to hear the transition.
This action is a favorite of Sonny.
2. Leroy Carr's lyrics are considerably different
than Leadbelly's. In addition Leadbelly's
words have quite a bit more "poetry"
than Leroy's. Also, it's pretty typical of
country blues singers back in the early part
of the 1900s to take bits and pieces of various
songs (some of them their own and some of
others) and stitch them together into new
songs, or add verses to other, standard, songs.
Common among many of the original folk singers
of the day. In addition Leadbelly didn't have
"unholy cheek" --- because he was
the most accomplished musician of his genre,
he knew it, and all his audiences knew it.
If it's convenient for you, adding a note
to Woolf's notes would be appreciated.
I'm a folk musician who specializes in singing
Leadbelly's repertoire in various parts of
the US South.
Jonathan Woolf adds
The 'unholy cheek' lies in taking a tune
copyrighted by Leroy Carr and claiming sole
composer credit, thus pocketing the royalties.