Some introductory notes


November 18, 2008 by gadaya

About 10 years ago, i bought the box-set reissue of “The anthology of american folk music” edited by Harry Smith and originally issued by Folkways Records in 1952. At that time, this compilation of 78rpm records from the 1920’s and 1930’s, was the first anthology to present America’s folk and vernacular music in a constructive way, including white and black performers, and classifying the music in three general categories: Ballads, Social music and songs. The styles of music were very diverse: Old-time country tunes and songs, early Blues, Gospel, Cajun, etc… The man behind all this, Harry Smith, was an eccentric artist and record collector with a vast colection of 78rpm record from witch he selected 84 selections. The anthology was very influential on young americans of the fifties and sixties and it was descibed has “the Bible of the Folk Revival”.

This is just a brief summary and for those who wants to know more about the Anthology and his influence, Harry Smith and Folkways records, i’ll gather a list of links who will explain much better than i can. 

To me, this anthology was a starting point and in the same time a summary of what i like about american folk music. It really opened a new world of musical and historical horizons, a quest for searching the most authentic in world’s cultural traditions and also the need to learn to play this music myself.

I should say by this point that i’m not american, as maybe you can feel by my writing, but french, and that i’m 33 years old, so i’m really dealing with things that i knew only by listening, reading and in the last years, exploring the web.

The name of this blog was took from Greil Marcus’s description of the Harry Smith’s Anthology on his book about Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. It’s an essential reading if you want to immerse yourself in all that stuff… it describes well the feeling you have listening to this music. It’s old, not only because it was recording in the twenties and thirties, but because the subjects and the musical styles of the songs belongs to a world that is now exctinct, vanished in the past, erased by a new, technological world that made dramastic changes in people’s lifes and long-carried traditions. And it’s weird because everything that  is foreign to the present superficial mass-media polished culture looks weird and strange… Even back then when this recordings were made, it should have sounded weird to city peoples and to everyone outside this traditions. To me, the beauty and authenticity of folk music in general is that it reflects not only the musicianship of the performers but also their very life, their environnement. Along with the notes, you can feel a glimpse of the air they breathed, the landscape where they grew, and above all the feelings they have about their human condition at this certain time and place…

10 thoughts on “Some introductory notes

  1. kami says:

    hey, just found this site and it looks like its gonna be quite a ride. i love the early american primitive blues… and early jazz, folk etc… they have a sound you just can’t get anywhere else. looking forward to taking the trip with you, cheers K

  2. Karl Eklund says:

    Harry Smith’s anthology came out when I was in the Army and was out of touch with the folk music world, so I thank you very much for giving me a chance to listen to it carefully. I started getting interested in folk music in 1945 when a high school teacher played some of the ’78s from “Talking Union”, and when the ’40s revival died after the ’48 election I had to scour 6th avenue for second hand records and the Peoples Bookstore in Boston for the occasional Moe Asch record I could afford as a student at MIT. After the Korean War I was a graduate student in New York and got involved with the ’60s revival. In the ’80s I edited the publication for the Eisteddfod Festival in S.E. Mass. But I never heard the Harry Smith collection. Now (being retired with more time than money) I can relive my life with folk music using mp3s. Keep up the good work

  3. gadaya says:

    Thanks Karl for your testimony.

  4. casper de weerd says:

    Founf you thru fuzzy. This seems to be the start of a wonerful journey, merci bien

  5. Kathryn Walker says:

    I just found this via Metafilter. I am so extremely excited to be reading this. If there was only one thing I could listen to for the rest of my days, it’d be The Anthology of American Folk Music. Thank you for doing this.

  6. Michael says:

    Quel travail fascinant ! Je suis moi-même un inconditionnel de pre-war-blues et de la musique américaine d’avant guerre en général et je me sens parfois bien seul dans cette passion… Alors un blog français sur le sujet ! Bravo ! Je viens pour la première fois sur ce blog et quelque chose me dit que ce n’est pas la dernière ! Bonne continuation…

    • gadaya says:

      J’espere que l’anglais ne te derange pas, je ne me voyais pas faire ce blog en francais de toute façon, vu le peu de monde que ça interesse ici comme tu dis…Pour le pre-war blues j’espere que tu connais le site “Weenie Campbell”, ils ont une radio en ligne qui diffuse du country blues 24h sur 24, 7 jours sur 7 et un forum qui est une mine d’or d’informations sur le sujet…

  7. Raul says:

    awesome website!

    it must have taken a lot of time to find all these recordings. thank you for making them available

  8. Roberto says:

    My conratulations, this is a heck of a site, and I’m really grateful I found it.
    Roby from Italy

  9. ridovem00 says:

    First heard many of these in the 1960s from a friend with a few Folkways records… and that got many of us playing & singing these songs. Thanks for bringing them out of the dusty, neglected past! I look forward to knowing more about this music. Merci! ^..^

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