PLAYBACK! Listen To Roadhouse Radio on KEXP: 11/25/15 : Thanksgiving Folk

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This one is for all the folk heads. The hard core. Not the pop-folk, orchestral, or light and lovely granola style of late. But the real sound of folk music, which is basically the playing of traditional American songs – old-time standards – for a contemporary audience, over and over again for many generations. Like forever.

Most all of these songs are about life and death. Ok, mostly death. It was all pretty serious stuff back in the old days and these songs reflect that. You’ll hear multiple versions of old songs from multiple generations; from the original recordings (which are not the beginning of these songs) and lots of 60’s revival stuff. We play ’em back to back to hear the differences and the evolution of these traditional songs; like three versions of the murder ballad “Tom Dooley”  – the 1958 Kingston Trio version which often credited as the birth of the folk revival, and a live Grateful Dead version (from who knows when- does it matter?)-  five versions of “Old Blue”, a ballad about that good ol’ dog  (The Bryds has to be the best, but David Johansen of New York Dolls fame does it pretty good too) – two versions of “House Of The Rising Sun”, that ol’ brothel down in New Orleans and undoing of many a young woman (and apparently, according to Eric Burden, many young men too!) – and these are just a few you’ll hear on this Thanksgiving Special program. Oh, plenty of Odetta too (pictured above)

Things get pretty English ballad-y in the third hour, but Bob Dylan was briefly enamored with such songs and wrote “Masters Of War” based on the melody of the old English ballad “Nottuman Town”. And then there was the melody of “Merry, Merry Month Of May” which Dylan based the epic “With God On Our Side”.  You’ll hear those and other versions of originals too, but the Dylan creations are so lyrically heavy that it’s hard to imagine he was just a 22-year old at the time. This is the “protest singer” phase of Dylan’s career and you can see what all the fuss was about (Btw, I’m reading the new Elijah Wald book, Dylan Goes Electric and it’s fascinating with great research. It has informed this show and many more to come, I hope). It’s amazing how much “With God On Our Side” really resonates with our current religiously political climate.

Dylan was a student of folk and blues music and the folk process, and of course he learned a lot from Woody Guthrie. In particular the re-working of old melodies for new songs addressing contemporary concerns. Woody took the old song “Pretty Polly” (you’ll hear lots of that one, too) and made his classic “Pastures Of Plenty”. His classic “Tom Joad”, his take on The Grapes Of Wrath, is based on the melody of “John Henry”. Guthrie was a song collector and was steeped in American traditional songs

These are great songs not only because they’ve survived for over a 160 years, but because people sang them and shared them over and over again. Before records or radio.

Theses songs have been down thousands of times by a thousand people preceding the advent of recording technology in the 1920’s. Which means the songs of the 20’s and 30’s, the ones we  consider “old time”, were old tunes back then too. We incorrectly assume that they were the originals, when in fact these songs were “oldies” because everyone knew them from some unknown origin. Back then people just sang songs to each other. Regular folk shared and traded songs, in their community, as a way of entertaining themselves and this has become known as the American “oral tradition”.

Many of our traditional songs made the crossing over the Atlantic in the “carrying stream”,  from the old country to the new world, and became American folk songs after all the mutations, adapting, and interpretations in their shared community. Of course many regional styles from every rural pocket of America eventually developed – distinctive regional styles such as bluegrass, delta blues, and Appalachian mountain music- but every community put their own stamp on the old songs.

Maybe you’ll hear the evolution of these American traditional songs yourself on this special program.  It goes good with a turkey sandwich. On top of the show I have five versions of “Midnight Special”. Probably too many, admittedly, but they’ll all sound different to me. And it’s one of the best songs of all time. And Creedence does a version. What else needs to be said?

Click the link and Listen NOW! *Note: Once inside the KEXP Player, choose this program by either Show (Roadhouse 11/25), Host (Greg Vandy 11/25), or Date & Time (Wed 11/25, 6pm). It’s also available on the KEXP App for smartphones!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (LISTEN TO THIS SHOW)

Time Artist Song Album Label
6:01 Leadbelly Midnight Special In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down Storyville
DJ Comments: Welcome to the Thanksgiving Folk edition of The Roadhouse!
6:04 Harry Belafonte Midnight Special The Midnight Special RCA Victor
DJ Comments: Featuring Bob Dylan on harmonica ;
6:08 Creedence Clearwater Revival The Midnight Special Willy and the Poor Boys Fantasy
DJ Comments: This song live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970:
6:12 Van Morrison Midnight Special The Bang Masters Columbia/Legacy
DJ Comments: Live in 2000 with Lonnie Donegan and Bryan Ferry: ;
6:14 Odetta Midnight Special One Grain of Sand Vanguard
DJ Comments: It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in The Roadhouse without Odetta (and we’ll hear more from her later as well) ;
—- air break —-
6:20 Dick Rosmini 900 Miles Folksong ’65 Elektra
DJ Comments: The night before Thanksgiving means it’s time for all-traditional music in The Roadhouse! Stay tuned for tons of versions of more great tunes like John Henry, Pretty Polly, and Old Blue
6:22 Bert Jansch 900 Miles It Don’t Bother Me Transatlantic
DJ Comments: His second record, three years before he co-founded Pentangle ;
6:25 Terry Callier 900 Miles The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier Prestige
DJ Comments: Experienced a new round of fans and fame starting in the 1990s before he passed away in 2012:
6:31 John Prine Nine Pound Hammer Sweet Revenge Atlantic
DJ Comments: 3/5/16 @ Paramount ; this song live in 1973: ;
6:33 Ola Belle Reed Nine Pound Hammer Rising Sun Melodies Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: Recorded in 1976 ; download the extensive liner notes and more:
6:37 Odetta Roll On, Buddy One Grain of Sand Vanguard
DJ Comments: Live audio of this song from 1976:
—- air break —-
6:43 Jim Jackson Old Dog Blue Anthology of American Folk Music (Harry Smith ed.), Volume 2: Social Music (disc A) Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: One of the earliest recordings of this tune, from 1928
6:46 Dust Busters Old Blue The Dust Busters Down Home Radio
DJ Comments: Present-day old-time music (the band has transformed into The Down Hill Strugglers):
6:49 David Johansen Old Dog Blue The Harry Smith Project: The Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited (disc 1) Shout! Factory
DJ Comments: This song live at Harry Smith Project Tribute show:
6:53 Joan Baez Old Blue Joan Baez, Volume 2 Vanguard Records
DJ Comments: The Dillards doing the tune live in 1963:
6:55 The Byrds Old Blue Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde Columbia
DJ Comments: This song live in Holland in 1970: ; Bye bye Blue, you good dog, you.
—- air break —-
7:01 Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson Pretty Polly Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: Album recorded live in 1963 ;
7:04 The Stanley Brothers Pretty Polly The Complete Columbia Recordings Columbia/Legacy
DJ Comments: Ralph Stanley doing the tune a few years back, with the Clinch Mountain Boys:
7:07 The Byrds Pretty Polly There Is a Season (disc 3) Legacy
DJ Comments: An alternate version of the tune they included on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, from the box set ; Kristin Hersh did a version on her “Murder, Misery, and Goodnight” album:
7:10 Country Joe McDonald Pastures of Plenty Thinking of Woody Guthrie Vanguard Records
DJ Comments: The Pretty Polly melody ; Ramblin’ Jack Elliott doing this tune live:
7:13 Woody Guthrie Pastures of Plenty Columbia River Collection Rounder
DJ Comments: His tranformation of “Pretty Polly” ;
7:15 The Kingston Trio Tom Dooley The Kingston Trio Capitol
DJ Comments: Their debut album, with their hit version of this song
7:18 Frank Proffitt Tom Dooley Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs Folkways
DJ Comments: The actual originator of the song (his “grandma knew Tom and Laura”), recorded it in 1938 (but didn’t release a version until much later): ;
7:21 Grateful Dead Tom Dooley Live Rarities Collection Grateful Dead Records
DJ Comments: It’s the annual Thanksgiving Folk edition of The Roadhouse! All traditional all show long. Perfect soundtrack for baking your pies and brining your turkey, and perfect to play back during your gatherings tomorrow!
—- air break —-
7:27 Dave Van Ronk Green, Green Rocky Road Two Sides of Dave Van Ronk Fantasy
DJ Comments: Originally included on a 1963 release ; this song live in 1980, prefaced with his own remarks from 2001:
7:30 Fred Neil Green Rocky Road Fred Neil Capitol Records
DJ Comments: Karen Dalton recording her version of the tune:
7:34 Tim Hardin Green Rocky Road Tim Hardin 1 Verve
DJ Comments: Born and raised in Eugene, OR ; this was his debut album
7:36 Marianne Faithfull House of the Rising Sun Come My Way Lilith
DJ Comments: A live version of this song by Nina Simone:
7:41 The Animals House of the Rising Sun The Animals Columbia Records
DJ Comments: Live on TV with their very famous version: ; and another appearance:
—- air break —-
7:48 Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown James Alley Blues Anthology of American Folk Music (Harry Smith ed.), Volume 3: Songs (disc A) Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: Recorded in New Orleans in 1927:
7:51 David Johansen James Alley Blues The Harry Smith Project: The Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited (disc 2) Shout! Factory
DJ Comments: This version live from the tribute concerts ; here’s a studio version with his band The Harry Smiths:
7:55 Jeff Tweedy James Alley Blues The Harry Smith Connection Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: Wilco doing this song live at Farm Aid in 1998: ;
7:59 Tom Rush Pallet on the Floor Blues, Songs and Ballads Prestige
DJ Comments: Trailer for “No Regrets,” a Tom Rush documentary:
8:03 Gillian Welch Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor Soul Journey Acony Records
DJ Comments: Gillian live on KEXP with Dave Rawlings earlier this month: ;
8:05 Lucinda Williams Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor Ramblin’ Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: Video of Lucinda live on KEXP last February: ;
—- air break —-
8:13 Liam Clancy Patriot Game Irish Troubadour Vanguard
DJ Comments: Adapted from “The Merry Month of May” by Dominic Behan into a song about a young IRA volunteer, Fergal O’Hanlon, who was killed while the IRA attacked the Ulster Constabulary Barracks in 1957 ; The Clancy Brothers recorded it, and this is Liam’s solo version
8:17 Bob Dylan With God on Our Side The Times They Are A-Changin’ Columbia
DJ Comments: His adaptation of “Patriot Game” ; live on the BBC in 1964: ;
8:24 Jean Ritchie Nottamun Town Kentucky Mountain Songs Elektra
DJ Comments: More about the many versions and adaptations of this traditional song:
8:27 Fairport Convention Nottamun Town Heyday: The BBC Sessions 1968-1969 Extended Island Remasters
DJ Comments: Bert Jansch’s version from “Jack Orion”:
8:30 Kacy & Clayton Nottamun Town Kacy & Clayton Dahl Street
DJ Comments: Their 2014 live session, here in The Roadhouse: ;
8:35 Bob Dylan Masters of War Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University Columbia
DJ Comments: Recorded live in 1963 ; Dylan’s adaptation of “Nottamun Town” with lyrics for his modern day ; ; live in 1991 after Jack Nicholson gives him a lifetime achievement award…
—- air break —-
8:44 Joe Callicott Fare You Well Blues Ain’t a Gonna Lie to You Fat Possum Records
DJ Comments: His final recording sessions, recorded by George Mitchell in 1967 and ’68
8:46 Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger From Your Door The Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues Rough Trade
DJ Comments: Released his earliest version of this song in 1929 or ’30
8:51 Elizabeth Cotten Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie Folksongs And Instrumentals With Guitar Smithsonian Folkways
DJ Comments: About her life: ; video of Ms. Cotten playing “Freight Train”:
8:55 Odetta This Little Light of Mine Odetta Sings Folk Songs RCA
DJ Comments: Stunning live video:
8:58 Blind Willie McTell Mama, ‘Taint Long Fo’ Day The Definitive Blind Willie McTell 1927-1935 (disc 1) Shanachie