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Cream of The Crate: Album # 142 - Leadbelly: The Library Of Congress Recordings


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 142 - Leadbelly: The Library Of Congress Recordings

    "Leadbelly left his mark on his era; his steel voice, his steel on the twelve strings and his high voltage personality captured audiences everywhere.(Alan Lomax)
    "He bequeathed to us also, it is true, a couple of hundred of the best songs any of us will ever know." (Pete Seeger)
    "The blues is like this. You lay down some night and you turn from one side of the bed to the other all night long. It's not too cold in that bed, and it ain't too hot. But what's the matter? The blues has got you." (Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter)


    This is album review number one hundred and forty two in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called
    Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production.

    The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page. The artists featured this week could rightly be described as the "Grandfather of the Blues" and the box set is one of my absolute treasures..

    The boxed set consists of three albums by the legendary Lead Belly. The set is titled:
    The Library Of Congress Recordings: recorded by John A and Alan Lomax.The album set is vinyl and this particular release is on the elektra label and it has the identifying code of EKL-301/2 (Mono) and was released in 1976. It is a re-release and It features a total of 51 tracks across the 3 LP's.


    The tracks have been split into seven categories. across the three albums. In a technique not used often, the tracks are not laid out in the traditional style of "LP number 1 - Side1 and Side 2. They have been laid out to allow for automatic turntables with the ability to load multiple discs, so that when LP number 1 had finished, LP number 2 would drop down, with side 2, and then to LP number three with side 3. So, LP number 1 has sides 1 and 6; LP number 2 has sides 2 and 5 and LP number 3 has sides 3 and 4. Unfortunately in this day and age we generally no longer use the multi-loading turntables, so if you want to play the tracks in the order in which they were meant to be played, you need to be careful. In addition to this is the fact that the albums are broken into seven categories -

    Texas, Louisiana, Barrelhouse
    * Square Dances, Sooky Jumps, Reels
    * Penitentiaries
    * Spirituals
    * Blues
    * Ballads and

    * Topical, Protest

    Track Listing:

    Texas, Louisiana, Barrelhouse

    A1 Mr. Tom Hughes' Town - 5:11
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    A2 De Kalb Blues - 5:00
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    A3 Take A Whiff On Me - 2:57
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    A4 The Medicine Man - 3:37
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    A5 I'm Sorry Mama - 2:04

    Square Dances, Sooky Jumps, Reels
    A6.1 Monologue: Square Dances, Sooky Jumps
    A6.2 Po' Howard- 4:11

    Interviewer – Alan Lomax
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    A7 Monologue: Dance Calls, Dance Steps - 1:58
    Interviewer – Alan Lomax

    B1 Gwine Dig A Hole - 3:37
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    B2 Tight Like That -1:35
    Interviewer – Alan Lomax Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    B3 Green Corn - 2:09
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    B4 Becky Dean - 3:57
    Voice [Speech] – Alan Lomax

    B5 Monologue: Prison Singing - 4:38
    Interviewer – Alan Lomax

    B6 Midnight Special - 2:53
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    B7.1 I Ain't Gonna Ring Dem Yellow Women's Do Bells
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter
    B7.2 Rock Island Line
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    B8 Governor Pat Neff - 4:53
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    C1 Irene (Part I, Part II) - 6:55
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter, John A. Lomax

    C2 Governor OK Allen - 4:10
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    C3 Git On Board - 3:45
    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter Edited By [Edited With Additional Material By] – John A. Lomax And Alan Lomax*

    C4.1 Hallelujah
    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter Edited By [Edited With Additional Material By] – John A. Lomax And Alan Lomax*
    Monologue: Joining The Church
    Interviewer – Alan Lomax
    C4.3 Backslider, Fare You Well
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter
    C4.4 Amazing Grace
    C4.5 Must I Be Carried To The Sky On Flowered Beds Of Ease?
    C4.6 Amazing Grace
    C4.7 Flowered Beds Of Ease
    C4.8 Down In The Valley To Pray - Total - 15:06

    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter Edited By [Edited With Additional Material By] – John A. Lomax And Alan Lomax*

    D1 Let It Shine On Me -2:18

    D2 Run Sinners - 1:41

    D3 Ride On- 1:35

    D4 Monologue: The Blues - 2:08
    Interviewer – Alan Lomax

    D5 Thirty Days In The Workhouse - 3:53

    D6 'Fo Day Worry Blues - 3:51

    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    D7 Matchbox Blues - 4:40
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    D8 You Don't Know My Mind - 4:11

    D9 Got A Gal In Town With Her Mouth Chock Full Of Gold - 3:48

    E1 Alberta - 4:50

    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter

    E2 Take Me Back - 1:17
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    E3 Henry Ford Blues - 3:27
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    E4 Ella Speed - 9:08
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    E5 Billy The Weaver - 1:30
    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter Edited By [Edited With Additional Material By] – John A. Lomax And Alan Lomax*

    E6 Frankie & Albert - 4:20
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    E7 If It Wasn't For Dicky - 4:10
    Arranged By [New Words And New Music Adaptation] – Huddie Ledbetter Edited By [Edited With Additional Material By] – John A. Lomax And Alan Lomax*

    F1 Mama, Did You Bring Me Any Silver? - 6:17
    Edited by [Edited With New Additional Material By] – Alan Lomax Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    Topical, Protest
    F2 The Bourgeois Blues - 5:35
    Edited By [Edited With New Additional Material By] – Alan Lomax Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    F3 Howard Hughes - 2:10
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    F4 Scottsboro Boys - 5:01
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    F5 The Hindenburg Disaster - 3:19
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    F6 Turn Yo' Radio On - 3:07
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    F7 The Roosevelt Song - 2:19
    Music By, Lyrics By – Huddie Ledbetter

    Before discussing this amazing album, maybe a recap on the life and times of this remarkable man - whose beautiful and emotive blues were partially the result of a fairly horrific life.
    Huddie Ledbetter is better known as Leadbelly, but in fact "Lead Belly" was how he referred to himself, but despite that, most releases of his music and most writings about him refer to him as Leadbelly.

    He was born in the late 1880s (the date is uncertain) in a country setting in northwest Louisiana. He attended school in Texas until around age 13, playing in a school band, and then worked the land with his father.

    The young Huddie began learning how to play musical instruments as a youth and eventually focused on the guitar, performing as a teenager at local dances. At age 16, he headed out across the Deep South, settling in Shreveport, Louisiana, for two years, where he supported himself as a musician. Around 1912, now living in Dallas with his new wife, Ledbetter met Blind Lemon Jefferson, an accomplished street musician, and the pair began playing together. It was at this point that Ledbetter concentrated on what would become his signature instrument: the 12-string guitar.

    In December 1917, Ledbetter was arrested and charged with murder and was found guilty. Prison is where it seems he picked up the nickname Lead Belly. In early 1924, only a few years into a 20-year sentence, Lead Belly sang for Texas Governor Pat Neff a song in which he asked for a pardon. A year later, Neff pardoned Lead Belly and he was a free man. Only five years later, Lead Belly was involved in a stabbing incident that led to "assault with intent to murder" charges and another prison sentence. Budget issues caused by the Great Depression allowed him to apply for early release, which he did, and the sitting governor approved the application in 1934. (He also sang a song to this governor, pleading for release.)


    Lead Belly subsequently ended up in New York and tried to establish himself as a professional musician. It worked to an extent, as his music was embraced by the fervent left wing, and Lead Belly found himself rubbing elbows with the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

    Unfortunately, in March 1939, Lead Belly was again arrested in New York for stabbing a man and served an eight-month sentence. After his release, Lead Belly appeared on two radio series—"Folk Music of America" and "Back Where I Come From"—and landed his own short weekly radio show. He also recorded an album called The Midnight Special and Other Southern Prison Songs before moving to the West Coast a few years later.

    While in Los Angeles, he signed with Capitol Records and finally began some serious recording. Even as he achieved success he developed health issues, though, and in 1949 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He toured a little after the diagnosis, but the ALS caught up with him for good in December, and he died at age 61.

    He is best remembered for songs such as Goodnight, Irene, Rock Island Line, The Midnight Special and Cotton Fields and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

    In regard to the Library of Congress recordings, these were recorded by John and Alan Lomax. Leadbelly met the two folk musicologists in 1933, John Lomax and his son Alan. The Lomaxes were traveling throughout the South and its prisons, seeking music to record for the Library of Congress. Lomax recorded an initial session with Lead Belly of hundreds of songs (Lead Belly claimed to know 500), which included an early version of a song he’d learned from an uncle called “Irene”.  It was during this period that Lead Belly was being written about and referred to as Leadbelly, so for the sake of continuity I'll know refer to him as Leadbelly. In 1934, the Lomaxes returned to Angola and recorded a second session, including Midnight Special and a song in support of Leadbelly’s petition for early release under a good behavior program. The Lomaxes delivered a copy to the state Governor, who granted Leadbelly’s petition. Although the state denied any connection, Leadbelly would promote the idea that he’d sung his way out of prison twice. I think this is a distinct argument that he may have been right!

    Released in 1934 into difficult depression conditions, he offered his services to the Lomaxes as an assistant on prison trips, where he expanded his repertoire with songs from other inmates such as Rock Island Line. Lomax brought Leadbelly to New York at the end of 1934. He was a sensation, performing at colleges for musicologists and society functions for white admirers, while the press trumpeted his violent past.

    The darling of society

    John Lomax became his manager, and facilitated a recording deal with the American Record Corporation. During this period, Lomax began work on a book, "Negro Folk Songs as sung by Lead Belly", and helped the artist make additional recordings for the Library of Congress. Leadbelly sent for and married Martha Promise, whom he’d met after his release from Angola.

    Huddie Ledbetter and wife Martha in 1935

    In 1935, Lomax tired of Leadbelly’s unreliable behavior and terminated the relationship. Leadbelly retreated to Louisiana and sued for additional money. A settlement was agreed upon and after which Lomax published his book - it was 1936, but the working relationship was over. That year, Leadbelly returned to New York. With help from the younger Alan Lomax, he recorded again for the Library of Congress between 1937 and 1939, during which period he found a new base of support with the folk/political left-wing.

    The complete set was released in 1966 on 10" disks, and I had that set which unfortunately, was later stolen. It was then re-released on the Elektra label in 1976 which is this set, and I believe there is a re-release on Document Records in Austria, was released in 1990 but little is written on this release.

    The Elektra set comes with a magnificent booklet, and sadly I lost my copy years ago. The biggest shame about that is that it included the original words to all of his songs. However this album is in fact a pride and joy of my collection because in my mind Leadbelly is indeed, one of the most crucial men in the history and development of Blues music.

    An unusual picture of Huddie Ledbetter playing an accordion and not the guitar

    There are simply far too many stories about the various tracks in this set, so I am going to choose one or two tracks from each of the seven categories the music has been assembled in - starting with "Texas, Louisiana, Barrelhouse"

    The title refers to the characteristic bass pattern of the barrelhouse piano, that Leadbelly adapted, and what he called "walking the bass". It was a style he used on his six-string guitar and later on the use of his twelve-string. The barrelhouse piano style of playing was used extensively throughout Texas and Leadbelly played that style throughout Louisiana.

    Leadbelly with 12-string guitar

    I have chosen track number 5 which is the last track from this category, and it's title is, I'm Sorry Mamma.

    Every time I go downtown
    Somebody's kickin' my hide around

    I'm sorry, sorry mama to my heart

    Makes no difference if I am a hound
    You gotta quit kickin' my hide around

    I'm sorry, sorry mama to my heart

    Sift that meal and save your bran
    Can't raise nothin' but potatoes on a sandy land

    I'm sorry, sorry mama to my heart

    Every time I go to school the teacher keep a whippin' me with that rule

    I'm sorry, sorry mama to my heart

    And it makes no difference if I am a fool
    They gotta quit whippin' me with that rule

    I'm sorry sorry mama to my heart

    I'm sorry, sorry, sorry mama to my heart

    I'll rell you the truth and the natural faxts and I
    don't chew nothin' but the battle axe

    I'm sorry sorry mama to my heart

    (repeat chorus)

    I'm Sorry Mamma

    Moving into the next category - Square Dances, Sookie Jumps, Reels. Not sure what a Sookie Jump is? Well Lomax interviewed Leadbelly while in jail, and spoke to him about this prior to him then playing Po' Howard - as an example of this music. This track really is an excellent example of Leadbelly's fantastic guitar playing style. It commences with a discussion between Leadbelly and Lomax on the style of dance and its history.

    Po' Howard

    The next category is - Penitentiaries. This is almost the best section, not only are the interviews quite revealing, Leadbelly sings with all his soul, and why not? The prison system was very crude and cruel in this period and as a black man, his treatment bordered on extreme cruelty. Yet it's this terrible situation that seemed to stir the very soul of his man and the six tracks are absolutely sublime Leadbelly. It was so hard to decide on which track, so I decide to play two, and that created another problem, because there are three absolutely outstanding tracks, Midnight Special, Rock Island Line and, Irene. I have chosen the first and third of these.

    Midnight Special is considered by some to be a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South. Yet there seems to be no doubt in the mind of serious music researchers that Leadbelly indeed composed the song in the form that we now know it, although it is possible he was encouraged by some of the traditional songs he would have been exposed to. The title comes from the refrain, which refers to the passenger train the Midnight Specialand its "ever-loving light" (sometimes "ever-living light"). It possibly refers to the Missouri Pacific's Houston to New Orleans train called the Houstonian which departed Houston's Union Station shortly before midnight.
    Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me,
    Let the Midnight Special shine her ever-loving light on me.

    The song is historically performed in the country-blues style from the viewpoint of the prisoner and has been covered by many artists, but this is the original version sung by the man who composed it.

    Midnight Special

    Irene is one of Leadbelly's best known tracks, Interestingly it has always been called "Goodnight Irene" but we must defer to the work done by the Lomaxes, who interviewing Leadbelly in jail, would have had first hand information from the composer, and indicate it should be referred to as simply, "Irene". Given the time they spent with Leadbelly much credence should be given to their position.Yet at the same time the well thought of magazine - The American Blues says
    Leadbelly never claimed full authorship of the song, having mentioned that he learned it from a relative. They go on to say that regardless of how much of the original song was borrowed, it was greatly modified by Huddy, and since it’s recording, has always been attributed to the singer. (“Goodnight") Irene was essentially a song of heartache, and the lyrics discuss "Irene" breaking the narrator’s heart by staying out all night gambling. The narrator toys with the idea of suicide to ease his heavy heart– overdosing on morphine or jumping into a river.

    I have provided you with about the first three minutes of the track.

    Irene good night Irene good night
    Good night Irene Good night Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams

    Last Saturday night I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife have parted
    I'm gonna take a little stroll downtown

    Irene good night Irene good night
    Good night Irene Good night Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams

    Some times I live in the country
    Some times I live in town
    Some times I take a great notion
    To jump in the river and drown

    Irene good night Irene good night
    Good night Irene Good night Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams

    Quit your rambling quit your gambling
    Stop staying out late at night
    Stay home with your wife and family
    And stay by the fireside of right

    Irene good night Irene good night
    Good night Irene Good night Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams
    Irene good night Irene good night
    Good night Irene Good night Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams


    The next category has been identified as Spirituals. Certainly the composition of the style of music labeled "Spirituals" pre-dates the classification called the blues, as it has its roots back in Africa and is entwined with the spiritual songs that the native Africans sang. Then with their conversion to Christianity came the development of the spirituals as we have come to know and appreciate through the development of the style in the USA. This classification of spiritual music is certainly a stand-alone element of blues music but it also provided a platform of the development of the music from called "Church Style", which really is the spiritual form taken into the suburbs of the cities and as sung by greats such as Solomon Burke.

    Hallelujah is a good track to share in this review as it is a'capella, just Leadbelly and his handclaps and it leads into an interview with Leadbelly conducted by Alan Lomax. I think it is fair to say that every track in every section is historical and just wonderful and so I could pick any track and it would be a brilliant example of the man and his music.


    I have chosen to jump through to the track Let It Shine On Me. Lomax and Leadbelly have a chat about the three major styles of christian religion that attracted the American blacks and how those three forms of worship affected the music. You might also recognise that a number of contemporary tracks have taken their themes from this song. The track is preceded with Lomax asking Huddie to describe the difference between how the three major religions formed their own style of music presentation.

    Let It Shine On Me

    ​The next category that Lomax has divided the tracks up into is, The Blue's. In one way there is an argument that can be mounted that every track in this set is "the blues" as it is either in a music form that has given birth to the blues, is is simply a direct firm of the blues, as the music we call the blues really has many forms and styles.

    I have chosen three tracks, the first two dovetail beautifully. Lomax has included part of a talk he had with Leadbelly while incarcerated, on the topic of the blues, so I think it's a great idea to share it with you not as track for any of us to evaluate, but rather to be privy to the two and a bit minutes of talk between the two men. The track then flows nicely into Thirty Days In The Workhouse.

    The Library of Congress track identification card

    This is a brilliant piece of writing by Huddie, who relates in song the the story so many people be they men and women, black and white, people who experienced terrible times during the terrible years of the Great Depression.

    Lomax talks to Huddie about the Blues

    John and Alan Lomax

    Thirty Days In The Workhouse

    The third track is Alberta. Now Wikipedia claims there are four versions of this track, they say: "
    Lead Belly recorded a song "Alberta" in four versions. One of these was recorded in New York on January 23, 1935 (for ARC Records, which did not issue it), and a similar version was recorded in New York on June 15, 1940 (included on Leadbelly: Complete Recorded Works, vol. 1, 1 April 1939 to 15 June 1940). Another version, recorded in Wilton, Connecticut, on January 20, 1935, included the lyrics "Take me, Alberta, take me down in your rocking chair" and is included on Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In (Rounder Records, Library of Congress Recordings, vol. 2). Lead Belly's fourth recorded version survives on recording disc BC-122 of the Mary Elizabeth Barnicle–Tillman Cadle Collection at East Tennessee State University,[3] recorded near the date of June 15, 1948, with which several related discs are labeled."

    However this set put out by Elektra records has it's own version and we know it is the version recorded in prison by the Lomax's in July 1933, when they acquired a then state-of-the-art, 315 pounds (143 kg) uncoated-aluminum disk recorder. Installing it in the trunk of his Ford sedan, Lomax soon used it to record, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, including recordings of the twelve-string guitar playing of Leadbelly.

    Alberta, Alberta,
    Where you been so long?
    Alberta, Alberta,
    Where you been so long?
    Ain't had no loving
    Since you've been gone.

    Alberta, Alberta,
    Where'd you stay last night?
    Alberta, Alberta
    Where'd you stay last night?
    Come home this morning,
    Clothes don't fit you right.

    Alberta, Alberta,
    Girl, you're on my mind.
    Alberta, Alberta,
    Girl, you're on my mind.
    Ain't had no loving
    Such a great long time.

    Alberta, Alberta,
    Where you been so long?
    Alberta, Alberta,
    Where you been so long?
    Ain't had no loving
    Since you've been gone.


    We then come to the penultimate category of Huddie Leadbetter's music - Ballads! Frankie and Albert is a very interesting song and in fact demonstrates one of the utterly charming elements of Leadbelly's music, his penchant for creating patterns of spoken narration and exposition - a technique actually often used in opera, where the narrative forms a spoken story often a first hand experience or observation, and the 'exposition" is the singing which reveals the general story.

    Leadbelly was a master at this technique and this song is a great example of it. I have provided some words in parenthesis, these he used to draw members of his audience into the refrain, while words in italics are words that he adlibbed, and in different versions you find these words changed around. Another thing that should have become clear by now is that while his guitar playing was strong and dominant, his vocal delivery was not particularly articulate and at times it's impossible to even understand some of his words.

    Italso seems to me listening to this track that it formed the basis for a later version called Frankie and Johnnie.

    The following is an example of some of the lyrics to this song and the use of exposition and narration.

    Frankie was a woman
    Everybody knew
    Paid one hundred dollars
    To by 'er man a suit of clothes.
    [He] was her man
    'Cause he done her wrong
    He was her man
    'Cause he done her wrong

    Frankie, you know what she did? Worked in a white folks' kitchen, wearin' the white apron. O'l Albert, toted a smokin' forty-one. You know what he did? he was so low he couldn't even look at a snake. The woman was payin' his bills and everythin. Come home one night, and hit the bed. Pulled the covers up - he went to bed, but he didn't kiver up his head. Frankie had on her white-folks' apron, and she walked back. said, "Listen daddy, I'll be right back." But he had a smokin' forty-one under his pillow, but she didn't take that. But she went out and came right back, and when she got back that cat was gone. You know that! But he left the forty-one. here what happened:

    Frankie went out walkin'
    Did not go for fun
    had in her apron
    Albert's smokin' forty-one.
    "Gonna kill my man
    'Cause he done me wrong.
    Gonna kill my man
    'Cause he done me wrong."

    The Journal of American Folklore © 1951 American Folklore Society]

    Of course Leadbelly wasn't the only blues singer to use this technique but it is believed that this his work was amongst the earliest recorded examples, and certainly amongst the very best examples. This also the noisiest track on the set, and it is the only track that i have run through noise reduction software to make it a little more presentable.

    Frankie and Albert

    The final category is the material that the Lomax's categorised as Topical, Protest

    The Blues is many things it's roots when push comes to shove, is the cry of a "man's" soul. As Lomaxes demonstrate in their seven categories, it certainly can be broken down into a variety of genres, and protest is certainly one of the subsets that the Lomaxes have created I think an argument could in fact be mounted that "Protest" in fact might rightly stand on it's own as a category. Often when a man or woman sung the blues it was a protest, be it a protest against the law's that victimised them, a protest against the treatment from their partner or indeed society. There was much to protest about and the blues songs are filled with those protests.

    Certainly Leadbelly was no saint, he was as we know a murderer. But he was also a human, a black human who like most black people suffered incredibly from the direct and indirect actions of the white community. However Leadbelly was also an astute man, and he recognised the forces behind the scenes and those forces included the "political" forces that were arraigned not only against those who skin was dark, but indeed man and women of any colour who were poor and forced to deal with the part of society referred to as the Bourgeois.

    The Bourgeois Blues
    is a lesser known Leadbelly song, that he wrote during his visit to Washington, D.C. on June 22, 1937. As a first impression of Washington, it was an incisive, damning indictment of the city’s rampant Jim Crow segregation and was conveyed in 3 minutes of rippling 12-string blues.
    Leadbelly's journey to Washington came at the request of Alan Lomax, who at the time was the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress, and who having met Leadbelly while he was in jail, now wanted to record some of his songs in the Library's studio. Within hours of his arrival in Washington, Leadbelly came face to face with racism.

    According to Lomax: "He came to stay with me in Washington. Washington, at that time, was a Jim Crow town, and blacks weren't supposed to enter white hotels or houses. Well, I lived in a little apartment across from the Library of Congress, and Lead Belly and his wife, Martha, came up to spend the night with us. The landlady objected, and Lead Belly and Martha, at the head of the stairs, heard the argument that I had with the lady - she said she was going to call the police and have us all put out. So we finally had to get in a car and find a hotel. But Lead Belly made a song about this called "Bourgeois Blues."

    So here are only part of the lyrics but i have provided the full track at a little over five and a half minutes.

    Me and my wife went all over town
    And everywhere we went people turned us down
    Lord, in a bourgeois town
    It's a bourgeois town
    I got the bourgeois blues
    Gonna spread the news all around …

    I tell all the colored folks to listen to me
    Don't try to find you no home in Washington, DC
    'Cause it's a bourgeois town
    Uhm, the bourgeois town
    I got the bourgeois blues
    Gonna spread the news all around

    Bourgeois Blues

    I would also argue that all blues is topical in terms of when it was written as it related directly to the experiences that the writer observed or indeed, experienced. I can only assume that these tracks were classed as "topical" as they were recorded in a similar time frame as to when the events occurred. A classic example of this is Leadbelly's track The Hindenburg Disaster, which was written in 1937 very shortly after the loss of that airship. It shows that Leadbelly was a man whose concerns went much further than his own trials and tribulations and that he in fact took on the traditional role that the English Minstrels, that is recording major events in song and spreading the stories of those events through those songs.

    The Hindenburg Disaster

    When Leadbelly died in December of 1949 he was penniless, but within six months his song Irene had become a million-record hit for the singing group the Weavers; along with other pieces from his repertoire, among them tracks like The Midnight Special and Rock Island Line, have become absolute standards. He was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, in Caddo Parish


    So much has been written about Leadbelly, and this boxed set could easily be retro-reviewed over many weeks as it is rich in history, it is rich in the culture of the day, it is rich in storytelling, and, it is incredibly rich in the music style that we loosely label, The Blues. The Lomaxes did a wonderful job, not just collecting the stories, but collecting the music of a man who is legendary among many forms of American music, and they captured that music by capturing the man playing it live.

    The sound reproduction is, by today's high fidelity-stereophonic standards, rather dim. A great many of these recordings were made in field settings on early primitive portable disc-cutting equipment. This equipment along with various aluminium and acetate discs, though not of the highest quality in so far as sound is concerned, have served to preserve the many brilliant performances of Leadbelly. It is felt that Leadbelly never sounded as well anywhere else as he did when he was recording for the Library of Congress and it is also a testament to the skill and perseverance of both John and Alan Lomax. On these recordings Leadbelly sounds relaxed, strong, crisp and creative.

    This is an amazing boxed set and it sits proudly in my collection. It is available if you search around, but then again there are many, many albums of Leadbelly's music that have been 'clean-up" to be more presentable to today's listening requirements.

    Some of the released Leadbelly albums

    There is nothing wrong with these re-released albums, but if you want to hear the music as it was played and heard in the day, then
    The Library Of Congress Recordings: recorded by John A and Alan Lomax is the definitive set!


    VIDEOS - Not surprisingly, there are few live clips of Leadbelly, here are two plus a fascinating piece featuring Alan Lomax


    Lord,Lord,Lord (1939)

    Alan Lomax - Southern music & Lead Belly

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed by me, just click here

    Past album Reviews - Numbers 101 onward:

    Number 101 - Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley's Beach Party

    Number 102 - Les Paul & Mary Ford: The World Is Still Waiting For A Sunrise

    Number 103 - Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica

    Number 104 - Ariel Ramirez & Los Fronterizos: Misa Criolla

    Number 105 - Bobby Bright: Child Of Rock And Roll

    Number 106 - The Nylons: One Size Fits All

    Number 107 - Jimmy Cliff and others: The Harder They Come

    Number 108 - Paul Simon: Graceland

    Number 109 - The Ventures: The Very Best Of

    Number 110 - The Pardoners: Indulgences

    Number 111 - Atlantic R & B Series (Volumes 1 -3) (1947 to 1957)

    Number 112 - Atlantic R & B Series (Volumes 4 & 5) (1957 to 1965)

    Number 113 - SUN ~ Roots of Rock Vol. 12 Union Avenue: Various Artists

    Number 114 - David Fanshawe: African Sanctus

    Number 115 - A Reefer Derci (Live at the Reefer Cabaret: Various Artists

    Number 116 - Dr John: Ske-Dat-De-Dat (The Spirit of Satch)

    Number 117 - The Walker Brothers: The Walker Brothers (Self Titled)

    Number 118 - Peter Gabriel: Peter Gabriel (Self Titled)

    Number 119 - Curved Air: Air Conditioning

    Number 120 - The Delltones: The Best of The Delltones

    Number 121- Hound Dog Taylor: Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers

    Number 122 - Bessie Smith: Queen of the Blues

    Number 123 - The Shadows: The Shadows Greatest Hits

    Number 124 - Gil Scott-Heron: Reflections

    Number 125 - The Dingoes: Five Times The Sun

    Number 126 - Bert Jansch and John Renbourn: Bert and John

    Number 127 - Nat King Cole: The Complete After Midnight Sessions

    Number 128 - Various Artists: The Rock and Roll Collection(A Boxed Set)

    Number 129 - Sam Cooke: 16 Most Requested Songs

    Number 130 - Various Artists: Australian Rock Heritage Volume 1

    Number 131 - Wilson Pickett - The Exciting Wilson Pickett

    Number 132 - Martha and The Vandellas: The Best Of

    Number 133 - Van Morrison: The Best of

    Number 134 - The Marvelettes: Greatest Hits

    Number 135 - Various Artists: So You Wanna Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star Vol. 1

    Number 136 - Various Artists: Zydeco (The Essential Collection)

    Number 137 - King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King

    Number 138 - Slim Harpo: The Best Of

    Number 139 - Mary Wells: The Best Of

    Number 140 - Various Australian Artists: So You Wanna be A Rock 'N' Roll Star - Vol 2 : The Psychedelic Years Of Australian Rock 1967 - 1970

    Number 141 - Lou Reed: Walk On The Wild Side
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