35 “Old Country Stomp” by Henry Thomas


April 22, 2010 by gadaya

Where the Texas Pacific Railroad ran through cotton gin towns
The lumber mills and the peach orchards used to stretch for miles around
He’d change cars on the Katy ‘cause he didn’t know where he’s bound

With his ragged clothes and old guitar he’d walk right through their towns

And they called him Ragtime Texas, Henry Thomas was his name
From Deep Ellum down in Dallas to the Texarkana cane
Kansas City to Saint Louis, Chicago in the rain
He’s on his way but he didn’t know where, just a-ridin’ on a train

His daddy sharecropped cotton in East Texas bottom land
He became a drifter before he was a man
Playing country dances, the cane quills he blowed
Then he found an old guitar and a hard life on the road

Down to cruel Huntsville prison farm they run him on in
He never knew from day to day if he had a friend
In the boxcars and the migrant camps, on the sidewalks of the town
He seen all them hard traveling men, on their last go ‘round

– Norman Blake, “Ragtime Texas”

Listen to “Ragtime Texas” by Norman Blake

There’s no better introduction to Henry Thomas’s world than this beautiful Norman Blake’s song.

Born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, Henry Thomas was one of the oldest black musician who ever recorded for the phonograph companies of the 1920’s and his music represents a rare opportunity to hear what american black folk music must have sounded like in the last decade of the 19th century. His repertoire and style is quite different from most of the blues singers recorded in the 1920’s. In fact, we don’t find much Blues in Thomas’s songbag, but a good mix of ragtime, minstrel, dance and folk tunes. He was more a “songster” than a bluesman and had a big repertoire of tunes and songs to please different audiences of white or black people.He was also a kind of hobo, travelling from place to place and busking in towns and cities around Texas.

In the fifties and sixities, a new generation discovered his music, thanks to the Anthology, and many covered his Fishin’ Blues (there will be a future post about this song which ends the Anthology…)His unique laconic vocal style coupled with his banjo-like guitar playing and the enchanting sound of the quills (a pan-flute type he played on a harmonica holder) makes each of his recordings a treasure of american folk music.

-For extended articles on Thomas, go to this page and this page

-The great guitar player and teacher John Miller discuss Henry Thomas’s musical style on Weenie Campbell

-For people like me who are curious about the quills Henry Thomas played on his recordings, go to this page

A complete discography is available on the excellent “Wirz’s american music site”

Here are Henry Thomas complete recordings:

  1. Fishing Blues
  2. Old Country Stomp
  3. Charmin’ Betsy
  4. Lovin’ Babe
  5. Railroadin’ Some
  6. Don’t Leave Me Here
  7. The Little Red Caboose
  8. Bob McKinney
  9. Honey, Won’t You Allow Me One More Chance?
  10. Run, Mollie, Run
  11. Shanty Blues
  12. Woodhouse Blues
  13. John Henry
  14. Cottonfield Blues
  15. Arkansas
  16. The Fox And The Hounds
  17. Red River Blues
  18. Jonah In The Wilderness
  19. When The Train Comes Along
  20. Bull Doze Blues
  21. Don’t Ease Me In
  22. Texas Easy Street
  23. Texas Worried Blues

Download Here

The Old Country Stomp (and the quills) Variations

After the amazing selections of fiddle tunes and styles picked by Harry Smith on side 1, “Old Country Stomp” starts side 2 of the “Social” set of the Anthology with an up-tempo number with guitar and quills and Thomas interspreading vocals in the manner of a call-dancer in a square-dance. It’s hard to tell if “Old Country Stomp” was Henry thomas’s spontaneous creation or inspired by  other dance tunes of the period, maybe both, but it’s certainly an inspired piece of music, with a very simple but powerful melody.

-I’ve compiled for your listening pleasure some tracks from my personal collection featuring quills playing in american folk music. You’ll hear some Alan Lomax recordings of Alec Askew and of Sid Hemphill, a wonderful african-american singer and quill player from Mississippi. “Quill Blues” by Big Boy Cleveland is a unique solo quill recording issued on a 78rpm records and “Baby Please don’t go” by John Lee is also a unique exemple of a more urban blues recorded after World War 2 featruring the quills. I’ve featured also the quill playing of Mike Seeger, who’s the only folk revivalist i know that played this instrument. Inspired by Mike and of course by Henry Thomas, Dom Flemons of the excellent african-american string-band “The Carolina Chocolate Drops” plays some quills on “Charming Betsy”, an Henry Thomas song interpreted by Allison Williams and on “Devilish Mary” by “The East River String Band”. Finally you’ll hear Jody Stecher’s beautiful version of “Old Country Stomp” (and Ruby Devine’s version, which is based on the Jody Stecher recording, is also included) , with Jody playing his unique style of clawhammer guitar and Kate Brislin on the 5-string banjo.

  1. Old Country Stomp Henry Thomas Texas Worried Blues
  2. Quill Blues Big Boy Cleveland The Secret Museum of Mankind Vol. 5 – Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-48
  3. Interview and tuning of 4-hole quills Alec Askew Field Recordings Vol. 15  1941 – 1942 “Rock Me Shake Me”
  4. Old Devil’s Dream Lucius Smith / Sid Hemphill Southern Journey, Vol. 3: 61 Highway Mississippi
  5. Emmaline, Take Your Time Lucius Smith / Sid Hemphill Southern Journey, Vol. 3: 61 Highway Mississippi
  6. Walk In The Parlor Lucius Smith/ Sid Hemphill Southern Journey Vol. 1: Voices from the American South
  7. Baby Please Don’t Go John Lee Rural Blues Vol. 1 1934-1956
  8. Old Country Stomp Ruby Devine Sugar Baby Mine
  9. Free Little Bird The New Lost City Ramblers There Ain’t No Way Out
  10. Quill Ditty Mike Seeger Solo – Oldtime Country Music
  11. Tennessee Dog Mike Seeger Solo – Oldtime Country Music
  12. Blow the Horn, Blow Mike Seeger True Vine
  13. Sail Away Ladies Mike Seeger True Vine
  14. Quills Dom Flemons American Songster
  15. Charming Betsy Allison Williams (with Dom Flemons) Give Me the Roses
  16. Devilish Mary Eden & John’s East River String Band with Dom Flemons Drunken Barrel House Blues
  17. Old Country Stomp Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin Our Town

Download here

I’ve made a little clip of myself doing my version of “Old Country Stomp” on ukulele, with also some banjo and harmonica. I was inspired both by Henry Thomas and Jody Stecher’s version of the tune.


9 thoughts on “35 “Old Country Stomp” by Henry Thomas

  1. Dom Flemons says:

    Thanks for the mention and the inclusion of my playing on the compilation. i also play a lot of quills on my newest album “American Songster”. What a great article!

    • gadaya says:

      Hi Dom, cool to hear from you… I really like what you’re doing, either solo or with The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Thanks for the kind words…

  2. Chris says:

    nice job on the banjo/uke!!!

  3. Scott says:

    Loving that Baby Please Don’t Go. True Primitive Rock!

  4. Bisbonian says:

    The uke is perfect for this, sounds a lot like Henry’s Thmas’ capoed guitar. Nice playing.

  5. pablo says:

    Nice music
    But what do You think about one of the Polish kind folk music (from my country) http://anglopolish.com/index.php/archive/14-polish-music/153-highlanders-music-part-i

    I recomend the first and the second songs on this page.

  6. Paul says:

    Just wanted to compliment the valuable and compelling work you’re doing here. Love the sound of “Old Country Stomp” on the uke!

  7. Hunter says:

    Hey Gael,

    I think you’ll enjoy this for some more quill playing, if you haven’t come across them before. Scroll down to “Joe Pat”: http://www.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/alphasongs.html


  8. Hlynur says:

    Thank you!

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