Sounds of the South, recorded by Alan Lomax


Well I seem to be on a roll of 4-cd box sets featuring expired musicians from the roots of the great tree of American music. I see no reason to reverse that trend now… and in fact this is one of the best box sets you can get. Except that you can’t get it, because it’s out-of-print (unless you want to spend $240!). But like I said, this is a great box set, and chances are you’ve already heard a few of the pieces, in a slightly-altered form. I don’t just mean that countless artists have covered the traditional material on here, though they have. I’m referring to the curious fate of a few of these songs, which ended up being vaulted into the top-10, on the triple-platinum-selling album ‘Play’ by the vegan techno-hack Moby. Yes, Moby lifted entire songs from this set, tacked on a lame synth riff and a 16-bar repetetive beat, and watched as the cash rolled in. And though he espoused a supposedly ‘non-commercial’ stance, Play was the first album in history to have every single track (18 in all!) used in a television ad. And despite the revenue from this and from selling over 3 million copies, he didn’t pay a dime to the Lomaxes or performers. Ha. Hairless invertebrete hack of a syphilitic contemptible whore. You can read about the whole fandangle here.

Hobart Smith & Bessie Jones

But back to the music, it’s a really terrific mix of raw roots recordings, from folk ballads, old-time hymns and proto-bluegrass, to delta and mountain blues to spirituals and work-songs, with a whole cd of children’s music thrown in to boot! Names you should recognize: Hobart Smith, Bessie Jones, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Vera Hall, Sid Hemphill, Estil C. Ball, Almeida Riddle. If you don’t know about them yet, you will. And you won’t be the same afterwards. Particularly after the fife’n’drum rendition of Chevrolet (pretty vastly different from the take by Geoff & Maria Muldaur with the Kweskin Jug Band).

Now some info on “That old bugger Lomax” (as Son House described him)

Alan Lomax – biography

Musicologist, producer, and writer Alan Lomax (b. Austin, Texas, 1915) spent over six decades working to promote knowledge and appreciation of the world’s folk music. He began his career in 1933 alongside his father, the pioneering folklorist John Avery Lomax, and in 1934 the two launched an effort to develop the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, which had been established in 1928. They gathered thousands of field recordings of folk musicians throughout the American South, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, as well as in Haiti and the Bahamas. Inspired by such a wealth of traditional music, the Lomaxes published several popular and influential collections of American folk songs, beginning with American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York: Macmillan, 1934). They also collaborated on one of the first serious studies of a folk musician in American literature, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (New York: Macmillan, 1936), which African American author/historian James Weldon Johnson called “one of the most amazing autobiographical accounts ever printed in America.”

After completing a philosophy degree at the University of Texas in 1936, Alan and his wife, Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold, spent several months in Haiti, conducting field research and recording local musicians. The next year, Lomax was appointed Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song; by 1939, in addition to doing graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University, he was producing the first in a series of national radio programs for CBS. American Folk Songs and Wellsprings of Music for the CBS School of the Air and the prime-time series, Back Where I Come From, introduced vast audiences to traditional music, giving exposure to such figures as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. Lomax built on the interest created by his books, records, and broadcasts with numerous concert series, including The Midnight Special at Town Hall, which introduced 1940s New Yorkers to blues, flamenco, calypso, and ballad singing, all still relatively unknown genres. “The main point of my activity,” Lomax once remarked, “was… to put sound technology at the disposal of The Folk, to bring channels of communication to all sorts of artists and areas.”

After his work with Lead Belly, Lomax hoped to further explore the genre of oral biography. His conversations with New Orleans jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, which produced the 1938 Library of Congress recordings, also formed the basis for the book Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz” (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949). A remarkably picaresque document closely based on Morton’s narrative, it has inspired two Broadway musicals. Lomax’s oral historical portrait of “Nora” in The Rainbow Sign (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1959) was drawn from 1948 49??? Recordings of Alabama folk singer, Vera Hall. Blues in the Mississippi Night, Lomax’s 1946 recording of music and frank talk by Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Boy Williamson, remains a classic recorded document of African American musical history (it was reissued by Rounder in 2002). “Every time I took one of those big, black, glass-based platters out of its box,” Lomax wrote of the recording process, “I felt that a magical moment was opening up in time… For me the black discs spinning in the Mississippi night, spitting the chip centripetally toward the center of the table…heralded a new age of writing human history…”

A joint field trip conducted by the Library of Congress and Fisk University in 1941 and 1942 , described in his 1993 memoir, The Land Where the Blues Began, took Lomax even deeper into the musical and cultural world of the African American South. In Mississippi, he became the first to document several extraordinary African-derived musical repertories, such as Hill Country fife-and-drum and quills (panpipes) music. While there he interviewed a 29-year-old singer and guitarist named McKinley Morganfield, later known to the world as Muddy Waters. In 1947 Lomax returned to Mississippi with the first portable tape recorder to make recordings at the notorious State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm.

In the 1950s, Lomax set his sights beyond North America and the Caribbean. Basing himself in London, he conducted recorded surveys of European folk music in Britain, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, through which he exposed scores of listeners to folk music on a series of BBC radio programs. His collaborations with Diego Carpitella in Italy, Seamus Ennis in Ireland, Peter Kennedy in England, and Hamish Henderson in Scotland helped to inspire folk-song revivals in those countries. During this period, Lomax compiled an 18-volume LP series anthologizing world folk music for Columbia Records, a project which anticipated a similar UNESCO world music series by several years.

Returning to the United States in the late 1950s, Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South, resulting in 19 albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early ‘60s. He also published the groundbreaking collection Folk Songs of North America (New York: Doubleday, 1960), which revealed his theoretical interest in music and culture and eventually led to a program of systematic research in human expressive behavior . Along with colleagues at Columbia in the 1960s, Lomax developed Cantometrics, Choreometrics, and Parlametrics, methodologies designed for analyzing song, speech, dance, and speaking cross-culturally. Initial results of this project were published in Folk Song Style and Culture (Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Publication No. 88, 1968; reprinted by Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ).

Subsequently, Lomax published numerous journal articles, recordings, films, teaching materials, and television programs. Cantometrics: An Approach to the Anthropology of Music, first published in 1976, was used to help students understand and analyze world musical styles. Three teaching films, Dance and Human History, Step Style, Palm Play, published in the 1970s, introduced students to Choreometrics and its anthropological analysis of dance. The Longest Trail (1986) combined historical data and Choreometric analysis of movement and dance to demonstrate cultural unities among the Amerindians of North and South America. As musical consultant for the disc accompanying the 1977 Voyager space probe, produced by Carl Sagan, Lomax saw to it that a worldwide chorus of human musical expression was carried to the stars with the blues and jazz of Blind Willie Johnson and Louis Arrnstrong, Andean panpipes and Navajo chants, a Sicilian sulphur miner’s lament, polyphonic vocal music from the Mbuti pygmies of Zaire and Caucasus Georgians, the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, and more.

American Patchwork , Lomax’s prize-winning five-hour television series on American musical regional cultures, aired on PBS in 1990. The Land Where the Blues Began (New York: Pantheon, 1993), a reflection on Lomax’s encounters with African-African musicians and on the Jim Crow South in the 1940s, won the National Book Critics Award for non-fiction. Sounds of the South, a four-CD set of Lomax’s 1959 stereo recordings of Southern musical traditions, was reissued by Atlantic Records in 1993, and the Alan Lomax Collection, a CD series anthologizing Lomax’s six-decade recording career, begun by Rounder Records in 1997, will ultimately number over 100 volumes.

After 1991, Lomax and a team of researchers and developers began compiling his most last big project, The Global Jukebox, a multimedia interactive database which looks at relationship between dance, song, and social structure. Lomax intended the database to serve both as a medium for scientific research into human expressive behavior, and as a tool for social science, arts and humanities education. With the Jukebox, he also hoped to further “cultural equity”—a concept created by Lomax call attention to the importance of giving all local cultures, worldwide, a valid forum in the media and in educational curricula , for the meaningful display of their arts and values.

Alan Lomax retired in 1996, and passed away on July 19, 2002. He was 87 years old.

…and for all that, he was still a bugger, paying musicians in Coke bottles instead of cash…


VA – Sounds of the South
A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta
recorded in the Field by Alan Lomax

Year: 1993
Label: Atlantic

Amazon Review:
Alan Lomax received funding from Atlantic Records in 1959 to head into the Southeast with the latest in stereo field recording technology, and this set collects the original eight records issued as a result of that trek in 1961. The sound quality is brilliant, the performances uncompromisingly raw, vibrant, plaintive, and real–everything the Greenwich Village folk movement tried to be is encapsulated on these slices of rural sound. Because of its high fidelity and the immense character found within the performances, this is the Lomax document to own if you absolutely have to pick a single one. Deep delta slide blues, enthusiastic shape-note singing from the Sacred Harp song book, lined-out hymnody, children’s songs, mountain bluegrass music, juke-joint barrelhouse blues–it’s all here and much more. This is vibrant, pure American music at its finest. –Mike McGonigal

Review by Lindsay Planer
The music on this anthology has been derived from several notable albums of field recordings by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax gathered in the South during the early 20th century. The primary components include the long-players Sounds of the South (1960), Blue Ridge Mountain Music (1960), Roots of the Blues (1960), Blues Roll On (1960), Negro Church Music (1960), White Spirituals (1960), and American Folk Songs for Children (1960). In Lomax’s 1993 written introduction, he reveals that the four and a half hours housed in the package were “culled out of eight hours of field tapes” documented during a two-month tour in the summer of 1959 that began in Virginia and progressed into the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta, and then the Georgia Sea Islands. While he goes on to explain the significance of his research, the authenticity of the living aural history really speaks for itself. Artists and songs of possible familiarity to enthusiasts of folk and blues are scattered throughout. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” “Shake ‘Em on Down,” and “Drop Down Mama,” the Mountain Ramblers’ “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “Shady Grove,” and Estil C. Ball & Orna Ball’s “Jenny Jenkins” are taken from the Sounds of the South and Blue Ridge Mountain Music entries. The trio of Boy Blue (vocal/harmonica), Willie Jones (guitar), and Joe Lee (drums) provides a seminal reading of “Boogie Children,” while Lonnie Young (vocal/bass drum), Ed Young (cane fife), and Lonnie Young, Jr. (snare drum) unleash a variation of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” from Roots of the Blues and Blues Roll On. Negro Church Music and White Spirituals’ sacred selections are highlighted by a “Sermon Fragment” from the Reverend G.I. Townsel as well as a “Sermon and Lining Hymn” featuring Reverend I.D. Back with his congregation and a stirring solo rendition of “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” by the previously mentioned Estil C. Ball. Perhaps most fascinating are the American Folk Songs for Children, as they transcend race or religious creed. Almeda Riddle’s “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” Bessie Jones’ “Hambone,” Hobart Smith’s “The Arkansas Traveler,” the Mountain Ramblers’ “Liza Jane,” Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Freight Train Blues,” James Shorty/Viola James & Congregation’s inspired “This Little Light of Mine,” and a rare confab between Felix Dukes and Mississippi Fred McDowell on “Motherless Children” all surpassed their era.


Disc 1 – Blue Ridge Mountain Music

1 The Banks of the Arkansas/Wave the Ocean – Neil Morris – 1:59
2 Hen Duck – Ed Young – 3:05
3 The Farmer’s Curst Wife – Ball, Estil C. – 2:59
4 Bollweevil Holler – Vera Hall – 2:03
5 Jesse James – Mountain Ramblers – 2:16
6 Jesse James – Neil Morris – 4:54
7 Kenny Wagner – Bob Carpenter – 2:35
8 Trouble So Hard – Vera Hall – 1:38
9 Baptizing Scene – Donaldson, Reverend W.A. – 1:36
10 Is There Anybody Here That Loves My Jesus – Donaldson, Reverend W.A. – 3:02
11 Windham – Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – 2:00
12 Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 2:45
13 Come On, Boys, Let’s Go to the Ball – Sidney Hemphill, Lucius Smith – 2:04
14 Join the Band – John Davis – 1:03
15 Lucky Holler – Ed Lewis – 2:21
16 I Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down – Ed Lewis – 2:36
17 Cotton Eyed Joe – Mountain Ramblers – 2:32
18 Big Tilda – Mountain Ramblers – 2:14
19 Jennie Jenkins – Ball, Estil C., Orna Ball – 2:42
20 John Henry – Mountain Ramblers, Cullen Galyen – 3:46
21 Rosewood Casket – Mountain Ramblers, Eldridge Montgomery – 3:01
22 Silly Bill – Mountain Ramblers – 2:27
23 Big Ball in Boston – Mountain Ramblers – 2:20
24 Chilly Winds – Wade Ward – 2:12
25 The Old Hickory Cane – Mountain Ramblers – 4:31
26 John Brown – Hobart Smith – 1:52
27 Poor Ellen Smith – Hobart Smith – 2:01
28 Shady Grove – Mountain Ramblers – 2:18

Disc 1


Disc 2 – Roots Of The Blues – The Blues Roll On

29 Jim and John – Lonnie Young, Ed Young – 3:06
30 The Wild Ox Moan – Vera Hall – 1:03
31 Been Drinkin’ Water Out of a Hollow Log – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 2:55
32 All Night Long – Miles Pratcher & Bob Pratcher – 3:33
33 Shake ‘Em On Down – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 3:19
34 Levee Camp Reminiscence – Forrest City Joe – 5:16
35 Chevrolet – Lonnie Young, Ed Young – 4:04
36 Levee Camp Holler – Moore, Johnny Lee – 2:46
37 Eighteen Hammers – Moore, Johnny Lee – 2:38
38 Drink on Little Girl – Forrest City Joe – 2:51
39 Drop Down Mama – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 2:49
40 Boogie Chillen – Boy Blue – 2:54
41 She Lived Her Life Too Fast – Forrest City Joe – 3:20
42 Sitting On Top of the World – Lonnie Young – 2:40
43 Cool Water Blues – John Dudley – 3:02
44 She Don’t Love Me That Way – Forrest City Joe – 3:21
45 Stop Breaking Down – Forest City Joe – 2:50
46 Joe Lee’s Rock – Boy Blue – 3:36
47 Bullyin’ Well – Hill, Rosa Lee – 3:22
48 When You Get Home, Write Me a Few Little Lines – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 3:24
49 Red Cross Store – Forrest City Joe – 3:37
50 Forrest City Jump – Forrest City Joe – 2:55

Disc 2


Disc 3 – Negro Church Music & White Spirituals

51 Death Have Mercy – Vera Hall – 1:50
52 I Want Jesus to Walk with Me – James Shorty – 3:43
53 Jesus Is Real to Me – Mary Lee – 3:14
54 I Love the Lord – R.C. Crenshaw – 2:47
55 A Sermon Fragment – G.I. Townsel – 3:02
56 I’m Goin Home on the Mornin’ Train – R.C. Crenshaw – 2:48
57 Power – Mattie Wigley – 2:34
58 On That Rock – Viola James – 2:56
59 Jesus on the Mainline – James Shorty, Viola James – 3:37
60 I’m Gonna Sail Like a Ship on the Ocean – Henry Morrison & Saint Simon’s Island Singers – 2:39
61 Blow Gabriel – John Davis, Bessie Jones, Henry Morrison – 2:24
62 What Do You Think About Jesus (He’s All Right) – Bernice McClellan – 2:58
63 Tribulations- Ball, Estil C. & Blair Reedy – 2:48
64 When I Get Home – Ball, Estil C. & Blair Reedy – 2:55
65 The Poor Wayfaring Stranger – Ball, Estil C. – 3:14
66 Baptizing Down by the Creek – Mountain Ramblers – 2:49
67 Sermon and Lining Hymn – I.D. Back – 3:32
68 Antioch – Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – 1:35
69 Calvary – Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – 1:39
70 Please Let Me Stay a Little Longer – Ball, Estil C. & Lacey Richardson – 2:41
71 Father, Jesus Loves You – Ball, Estil C. – 2:09
72 Lonesome Valley – Ball, Estil C. – 2:45
73 Father Adieu – Ball, Estil C. – 2:09
74 The Old Country Church – Mountain Ramblers – 2:29
75 The Cabin on the Hill – Ball, Estil C. & Lacey Richardson – 3:06

Disc 3


Disc 4 – American Folk Songs For Children

76 Johnson’s Old Gray Mule – Mainer Band – 2:14
77 My Little Rooster – Almeda Riddle – 1:49
78 Whoa Mule – Mainer Band – 1:29
79 Froggie Went A-Courtin’ – Almeda Riddle – 2:48
80 Glenn’s Chimes – Mainer Band – 1:53
81 Chick-A-Li-Lee-Lo – Almeda Riddle – 1:17
82 Old Joe Clark – Mountain Ramblers – :52
83 Go Tell Aunt Nancy – Almeda Riddle – 4:02
84 Train III – Mainer Band – 3:00
85 Johnny Cuckoo – Bessie Jones – 3:02
86 Mama Buy Me a Chiney Doll – Almeda Riddle – 2:27
87 Soldier, Soldier – Hobart Smith – 1:43
88 Mary Mack – Pratcher, Jesse Lee & Mattie Garder – :45
89 Hambone – Bessie Jones – 1:06
90 Banging Breakdown – Hobart Smith – 1:35
91 Green Sally, Up – Pratcher, Jesse Lee & Mattie Garder – :43
92 Sometimes – Bessie Jones – :54
93 The Arkansas Traveler – Hobart Smith – 1:48
94 Paper of Pins – Ball, Estil C. – 2:15
95 The Little Dappled Cow – Texas Gladden – 1:38
96 Go to Sleep Little Baby – Bessie Jones – 1:14
97 Paddy on the Turnpike – Wade Ward – 1:46
98 Jimmy Sutton – Spencer Moore – 2:34
99 Liza Jane – Mountain Ramblers – 3:08
100 Oree – Lonnie Young, Ed Young – 2:37
101 Train Time – Forrest City Joe – 4:31
102 Freight Train Blues – Mississippi Fred McDowell – 3:03
103 This Little Light of Mine – James Shorty, Viola James – 2:39
104 Motherless Children – Felix Dukes – 2:49
105 Little Moses – Neil Morris – 3:24

Disc 4
all mp3 192kbps | w/ covers

* out-of-print

This entry was posted in alan lomax collection, ballads, Blues, Field Recording, Folk, old-time, Roots, spirituals. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sounds of the South, recorded by Alan Lomax

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are on a roll here.

    Many thanks for your fantastic work

  2. This was my introduction to Alan Lomax back in 93 and is still one of the best collections of music I have. Hope it gets a lot of hits.

    Well posted!

  3. Anonymous says:

    thank you gentleman for having made me discover this fantastic collection ” the sounds of South ” !..

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this great series.
    Did you know the version Donovan made of Chevrolet?
    He called it Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness).

  5. Anonymous says:

    great. thank you.

  6. pj_legette says:

    One thing that's goes unmentioned here is that Shirley Collins-the British singer more well known for her excellent, groundbreaking recordings in the 60's and 70's that sought to revive the ballad traditions of southern England-was present with Lomax and assisted him with these recordings made in the late 50's. She has a fantastic book/memoir called America Over the Water where she describes this momentous journey across the american south. Being a British woman her perspective is quite interesting-without any inherent bias she's able to capture some of the strange subtleties of these musical characters, the ones found on these recordings, and also pick up on some heavier racial and religious undercurrents. I mean, this was the american south on the verge of the civil-rights movements. It is a must read if you are interested in these recordings. Thanks… and best of luck with you environmental endeavors.

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