Saturday, October 22, 2011

Roscoe Holcomb

Roscoe Holcomb (1911-1981)

I listen to this man and I feel the weight of life and eternity. It's like hearing the wind across a lake or an airy whistle through a cave. Before you read on, stop now and listen to the clip below!

In the summer of 1959, John Cohen, a member of the aspiring folk-music revivalist group the "New Lost City Ramblers", traveled down from New York City to find old time songs to add to his group's musical repertoire and experience first-hand the regional depression that Eastern Kentucky was going through, despite the general prosperity experienced in the rest of the nation at the time. Wandering out on the side roads off the highways in the Cumberland Mountains, he asked local folks if there was anyone around who played music. After listening to Roscoe sing "Across the Rocky Mountains" at his home in Daisy on a June afternoon, John later recalled,

"My hair stood up on end, I couldn't tell whether I was hearing something ancient, like a Gregorian Chant, or something very contemporary and avant-garde. It was the most moving, touching, dynamic, powerful song I'd ever experienced . . . not the song itself but they way he sang it was just astounding. And I said, 'Can I come back and hear you some more?'" from "John Cohen in Eastern Kentucky" by Scott Matthews

After John Cohen filmed and released his documentary about Roscoe The High Lonesome Sound (1963), Holcomb became a nationally-known musician. He was invited to folk festivals across the country, produced albums and was credited by many as their own inspiration. Bob Dylan said of him, " He has a certain untamed sense of control, which makes him one of the best." from Tom Netherland's site, see below.

Roscoe Holcomb on Rainbow Quest
still of Roscoe on Pete Seeger's TV show "Rainbow Quest" (1966)

"Roscoe Holcomb" by Tom Netherland, Musical Traditions Internet Magazine <>.

Roscoe's recordings: "The High Lonsome Sound"Smithsonian Folkways <>.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Juan Bautista Rael (1900-1993)

Juan Bautista Rael, a native of Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico was a highly influential ethnographer of his Hispano people of Northern New Mexico- Southern Colorado.

Trained as a linguist and folklorist at the University of California-Berkley, he came back to the little Hispano villages tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to record the Spanish folktales, songs, and linguistic patterns that make this region culturally unique.

He recorded over 500 New Mexican folktales for Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo México, his monumental and still the largest collection of spanish-language folktales. Under the mentorship of the renowned folklorist Aurelio Espinosa, Rael completed his doctrinal studies at Stanford and remained there as a professor for 31 years.

In 1940, on equipment borrowed from Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress Archive of American Folksong, Rael began recording alabados -New Mexican hymns-, wedding songs, folk drama, and dance tunes that he would later transcribe and donate to the Library of Congress.

This is available today online and is a great resource for the student of New Mexican folklore!
Included are hundreds of recordings of songs recorded in the 1940s, most with textual transcriptions, but without much analytical development.

Check it out:
Al Pie de este santo altar,
an alabado at the crucifixion scene of Our Lord.

The Juan B. Rael Collection- Library of Congress

Stanford Memorial Resolution of Juan's Death

Stanford's Latin American and Iberian studies collections

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alan Lomax (1915-2002)

Folklorist, ethnomusicologist, radio and concert producer, "Father of the Folk Revival"

Ah... Alan Lomax. So unknown, so under-appreciated, and so fascinating. Few people know or have even heard of him, and yet his contribution to the preservation of American and Global folklore has enabled and nourished the development of folk music (and its subsequent inspirations), as we know it today.

I'm not joking, this man is hugely important to capturing and saving evidence of our American folk music!

Starting in 1936, Alan Lomax began traveling across the United States, looking for and recording traditional songs before they would be virtually wiped out and replaced by the then-newborn, modern culture of pop music, robbing the people of cultural links to their rich musical heritage. He did this for the Library of Congress first, and then for Rounder Records later.

He recorded Negro work songs in prisons in Texas, where traditional songs still endured, isolated from outside sources and preserved in their own microcosym. He discovered and recorded musicians like Lead Belly, Ed Young, Hobart Smith, and Lucius Smith, in Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi, Tennesee, Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, among others.
He knew, played, and worked with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Zora Neal Hurston!
What a cool guy.
Insightful documentary about Lomax's European exploits, "Lomax: the Songhunter":
Library of Congress Collection:
Lomax Archive, a multimedia archive of documentation and scientific research:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lotus Dickey (1911-1989)

Fiddler, guitarist, poet, singer-songwriter of my home state of Indiana, Quinten Lotus Dickey was perhaps one of the last old-time musicians of the state, writing approximately 500 songs throughout a long, hard, little known, but deliberate and peacefully simple life in Orange County, Indiana.

I first discovered him by a mention from a member of the "Central Indiana Folk Music & Mountain Dulcimer Society". Needless to say, I soon looked him up on "youtube" and was charmed by his chipper personality and connection to the old way of life, which was so eloquently captured in Dillion Bustin and Richard Kane's 1982 documentary film "Water From Another Time".

As it turns out, the rest of the world (if they've ever heard of him at all) met Lotus through the film as well. The interest in this old timer (he was 71 at the time) launched a full time musical career for him.

"From 1981 until his death in 1989, Lotus's musical life flourished. He performed at major folk festivals around the US, including the Pinewoods Camp, the Augusta Heritage Festival, the Battleground Festival, and the 1984 National Folk Festival. He was twice awarded Indiana Arts Commission Awards for the recording of three cassettes, The Pride of Glencoe, The Very First Time, and Got Someone I'm Wild About (now all available as CDs). He was declared an Indiana State Treasure. He also reached Hoosiers through his performances in the Indiana State Parks and public schools. Wherever Lotus went, people of all ages wanted to learn his songs" (

As in all the 'Folk Bios', I end in a quote by Lotus himself:

"Poetry is a means of making a sentiment more vivid. And poetry together with music maybe is set apart a little more. But I never considered myself outstanding at all. If there is any value in the songs I've produced on my own, then I say it's a gift from God. And if it's not a gift it's of no real value anyway."
-Lotus DickeyFrom an interview with Dillon Bustin, Paoli, Indiana, March 4, 1984.

Website about Lotus Dickey's life and music, including a store:

"Water From Another Time" on the AWESOME Folk,133

Indiana Folk Music & Mountain Dulcimer Society: