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HillBillieBlues

HillBillieBlues

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Published by Erwin Bosman
About white blues
About white blues

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Published by: Erwin Bosman on Sep 19, 2011
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09/19/2011

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- Hillbillie Blues
Posted on July 19th, 2011
One of the earliest recordings of Uncle Dave Macon in 1924 during his session in New York was ‘Hill BillieBlues’. It was the first song, according to Charles Wolfe – a country music historian – that carried the word‘hillbilly’ in its title. Uncle Dave Macon (1870–1952) was an American banjo player, singer, songwriter, andcomedian. He gained regional fame as a vaudeville performer in the early 1920s and would later be a star of the Grand Ole Opry. As Charles Wolfe wrote, “If people call yodelling Jimmie Rodgers ‘the father of country music,’ then Uncle Dave must certainly be ‘the grandfather of country music’.In our present terminology we tend to associate ‘hill billie’ or ‘hillbilly’ with white country music, and ‘blues’with black, African American, folk music. We like to see it as two genres that exist on different sides of thesegregation fence, two different musical spaces entertaining an audience on different sides of the ropedividing the dance floor into a white and a black group. This approach however seriously distorts our viewand stands in the way of the full understanding (and appreciation) of the roots of American (and presentpop) music. Uncle Dave Macon for instance, the grandfather of the country music, had a significantrepertoire that he had learned from black singers, and his ‘Hill Billie Blues’ was a reworking of W.C. Handy’s‘Hesitation Blues’ (Wolfe). Clearly, on the field, the racial dividing lines that record companies tried tomaintain were not as impenetrable as they seemed at first sight.
 MyBlues
The way I feel about blues
- Hillbillie Blues | MyBlueshttp://www.myblues.eu/blog/?p=12371 van 1621/07/2011 20:18
 
Uncle Dave Macon (born David HarrisonMacon)
Isn’t it for instance striking that Jimmie Rodgers, the father of the“country music”, boosted his recording career with a little help from theblues? Ralph Peer, at that time talent scout – but above all a shrewdbusiness man – for the Victor Talking Machine Company, recalls thatRodgers didn’t really have enough material to record when he hadgone over to New York for a follow up on his Bristol session, and that atthe end of the day he agreed that Rodgers performed one of his bluessongs. It was initially called ‘T for Texas’, but was finally released as‘Blue Yodel’, the start of a success story in the American country music.Lesley Riddle (1905 – 1980), an African-American (blues) musician,had a decisive influence on the shaping of country music by the Carter Family. Some go even as far as to say that country music may well oweits very existence in part to this one-legged African-American (SteveLeggett, Allmusic).(1)Another illustration of the ‘vagueness’ of the racial division line was visually very notable during the fieldsessions which were organised by the record companies. “Black songsters sat waiting next to white gospelquartets; black blues singers took their turns with white fiddle bands. The give and take between white andblack music “in the field” was always greater than the segregated record companies implied.” (Wolfe). And,try it out yourself: close your eyes when you listen to some of the early folk recordings of the twentiethcentury and make a bet on the colour of the performer. There is a fifty to fifty chance for a great deal of themthat you can’t link a skin colour to the voice. Well, neither could the listener then at the time. For someperformers, even today, not enough material is available to make a definitive statement on their racialbackground (see a previous post here on the “Two Boor Boys”). The case is also documented of the (white)
- Hillbillie Blues | MyBlueshttp://www.myblues.eu/blog/?p=12372 van 1621/07/2011 20:18
 
Allen brothers, looking like a couple of “well-mannered college students”, who were fascinated by the bluessongs that they heard around them and who initiated a lawsuit against Columbia because in its rush (andperhaps clumsiness (see my post here)) the record company bosses had published their recordings in the“race record” series in 1927, which was clearly not what the Allen brothers had expected. Finally, theydropped their lawsuit, signed with the competing Victoria and made a career with … blues songs. Blueswas popular and rewarding.Even if we admit that the label blues was often misused by some musicians and was added to many songswhich were not (formally) blues only because its label was valuable on the market, the above makes clear that – I try to find the correct words – it would be a mistake to interpret the roots of American folk music,country, rag, jazz, blues and other, along the sole dimension of race. It is tempting at this stage to raisequestions such as: is blues only black, or: can whites play the blues? I have the impression that thisdiscussion is still heavily emotional and that even raising this type of questions is still today sometimesavoided. It seems at least extremely hard to approach the issue in an unbiased way, as I concluded from areading from Paul Garon’s article called ‘White blues’.I dare to assert that raising such questions stands in the way of a complete understanding of the historicalevolution of blues and its roots. I tend to agree with the hypothesis that a combination of two dimensions isessential for a full understanding of the blues genesis:(a) the social and ethnic mixture, and(b) the social and economic change after the Civil War.Both need to be viewed together. Trying to apprehend blues only from a one dimensional, racial/ethnic,viewpoint, would be as trying to understand the human being only from the outside. It is as scratching on
- Hillbillie Blues | MyBlueshttp://www.myblues.eu/blog/?p=12373 van 1621/07/2011 20:18

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