VA – Rural Parlor Guitar – Recordings from 1967-1971
Label: COUNTY CD-2744
Artists: E. C. Ball, Earl Blair, Lena Hughes, Lewis Thomasson
RURAL PARLOR GUITAR is the one of the very few commercial recording to focus on this genre, and the only one to include multitude artists from different regions. Each of the four musicians was raised in rural areas in the early 1900s: Lena Hughes in northwest Missouri; Earl Blair in the Arkansas Ozarks; Lewis Thomasson in the open plains of Coryell County, Texas, and E. C. Ball in the southwest mountains of Virginia. They learned to play — without sheet music, radio or recordings – from family and other musicians.
All the defining characteristics of the parlor guitar genre are here: open tunings; the use of three and four fingers, arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics. Many of the tracks have never been available commercially before; each is an excellent representation of parlor guitar. The tuning for each song is included.
“The guitar styles depicted in this CD are all different, yet very representative of what one might have found in the rural south eighty or more years ago. Only a handful of guitarists in the 1920s, such as Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, made commercial recordings in this flavor, making this collection an invaluable resource for parlor-style guitar.” – Jeremy Stephens
“19th century parlor guitar was the foundation or an influence for the playing of early rural guitar players as diverse as Elizabeth Cotten and Sam McGee. Probably even the early blues players. This CD presents some of the last players of this rarely recorded style.” – Mike Seeger
All the recordings, save for E. C. Ball’s two self-recordings, were made by Charlie Faurot on his trips to their homes from 1967 to 1971. The format is a guitar based follow-up to his highly successful Clawhammer Banjo Series, originally released on County LPs. The Clawhammer digital release was equally successful. Produced by Charlie Faurot and Jeremy Stephens, RURAL PARLOR GUITAR was digitally edited by Jeremy Stephens. It was mastered by Dave Glasser, twice a Grammy winner.
If you’re interested in blues guitar or country guitar, you should own–no, you MUST own this cd. This is where the history of American guitar begins.
Until about 1875, guitars were handmade and expensive. About that time, industry began applying to the guitar the same manufacturing techniques it had earlier applied to the fiddle (making it cheap and affordable–and a common folk instrument). This made guitars affordable. Unfortunately, hardly anyone knew how to play them.
In stepped a series of entrepreneurs who turned out books on how to play guitar. They aimed at the same market as had bought the piano–young, middle class ladies. The books included light classics, intermezzos, novelties, and numbers written especially for teaching the instrument. Later, when the syncopated music craze began to hit in the 1890s, cakewalks and rags were included in the books. Many of the numbers were in standard tuning. But, to help make learning more simple, many were also written in various opening tunings, particularly G, C, and D tunings.
Now, what does this have to do with country music and blues? Country first. One of the young ladies who started playing parlor guitar, about 1881, was Alice DeArmond Jones of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Later, she taught her son, Kennedy Jones, to play the instrument as she had learned it. Kennedy taught many youngsters in the area, including Mose Rager. And Rager, too, had a student–Merle Travis. And Travis became the model for Chet Atkins.
Now blues. Two of the most popular songs in the parlor guitar guitar repetoire were “The Spanish Fandango” and “The Seige of Sebastopol” (both included here). “The Spanish Fandango” was typically played in G tuning, and “Sebastopol” (as it was often known) was played in D tuning (here, however, it’s in C tuning). To this day, country bluesmen still describe the open G tuning as “Spanish” tuning and the open D as “Vastapol.” So, somebody sure was listening. Delta blues styles probably weren’t greatly influenced by parlor guitar, except that some of the upper-register slides and devices that parlor guitarist played with fingers, the Delta players played with a slide. Also, listen to “Cannon Ball Rag” on this cd and compare it to Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins.” Spooky. If you want to hear a style midway between parlor guitar and blues, check out Elizabeth Cotton’s two cds on Smithsonian Folkways, Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes and Shake Sugaree.
The performances on this cd were recorded 1967-1971 by four musicians who grew up in the early part of the century. The songs are, by our standards, sedate. They display, however, impeccable musicianship and an unmatched musical pedigree. The history of the American popular guitar begins here.
1 – Spanish Fandango – 2:41 – Lena Hughes
2 – Dewdrop – 2:19 – Earl Blair
3 – Sevastopol – 2:42 – Lewis Thomasson
4 – Walking The Wires – 1:23 – E.C. Ball
5 – Alone In My Rocking Chair – 2:24 – Lena Hughes
6 – Midnight Fire Alarm – 1:53 – Earl Blair
7 – Arlington – 2:52 – Lewis Thomasson
8 – Cannon Ball Blues – 2:20 – E. C. Ball
9 – Old Spinning Wheel – 2:08 – Lena Hughes
10 – Winter’s Waltz – 3:06 – Lewis Thomasson
11 – Mother’s In Heaven – 2:15 – Lena Hughes
12 – Home Sweet Home Waltz – 1:41 – Earl Blair
13 – Virginia Rag – 1:47 – E. C. Ball
14 – Echoes – 1:33 – Lewis Thomasson
15 – Lamplighting Time In The Valley – 2:10 – Lena Hughes
16 – Lewis Thomasson’s Schottische – 2:04 – Lewis Thomasson
17 – Sioux City Sue – 2:17 – Lena Hughes
18 – Grandfather’s Clock – 3:23 – E. C. Ball
19 – San Saba – 1:12 – Lewis Thomasson
20 – Wild Rose Medley – 1:44 – Earl Blair
21 – Pearly Dew – 2:35 – Lena Hughes
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