Hambone Willie: The West Tennessee Connection to the American Song

Here we have an interesting point in American music history:


Hambone Willie Newbern and his version of Roll and Tumble Blues

I have been doing some reading on West TN Blues and have known this but am just know realizing how seminal many artists from West TN were on the blues at large. Exhibit number one: Roll and Tumble Blues. Though not the first to record this tune (Gus Cannon Jug Stompers whose Noah Lewis was from Henning, TN) his arrangement was used by Robert Johnson for his “Possession Over Judgement Day” and Muddy Waters’ version by a similar title. So here is where I am right now. Are the Delta Blues really just West TN Blues morphed into something else due to the artist’s own take on the originals?

Obviously there were songs floating about all over America’s South, specifically along the areas on the East and West of the Mississippi River. What I find particularly interesting is the attention paid to the more “noted” performers (Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, etc.) and the assumption that they were the seminal influence on the music’s coming of age. When in reality they were an early link in the chain with other links preceding them, if not simply in a historical context. Of course the tunes played by Hambone Willie Newbern and Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers had to have come from somewhere also. Yet is it possible that West Tennesse can lay as much a claim to being grandfather’s of “the Blues” as anyone else?


More about Hambone Willie Newbern Below.

Little is known about blues songster Hambone Willie Newbern; a mere half-dozen sides comprise the sum of his recorded legacy, but among those six is the first-ever rendition of the immortal Delta classic “Roll and Tumble Blues.” Reportedly born in 1899, he first began to make a name for himself in the Brownsville, TN area, where he played country dances and fish fries in the company of Yank Rachell; later, on the Mississippi medicine show circuit, he mentored Sleepy John Estes (from whom most of the known information about Newbern originated). While in Atlanta in 1929, Newbern cut his lone session; in addition to “Roll and Tumble,” which became an oft-covered standard, he recorded songs like “She Could Toodle-Oo” and “Hambone Willie’s Dreamy-Eyed Woman’s Blues,” which suggest an old-fashioned rag influence. By all reports an extremely ill-tempered man, Newbern’s behavior eventually led him to prison, where a brutal beating is said to have brought his life to an end around 1947. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/hambone-willie-newbern#ixzz25ywWe8dQ



Mr. Oyola responds on my bit on Auto-Tune

I guess you are shooting some BB’s into the boxcars when you critique another writer’s blog but to get the author of a particular blog to respond well that says something and I commend Mr. Oyola for responding:

“Hey! Thanks for the link. Just to clarify, “Sounding Out!” is not *my* blog, but just a blog on which I am a regular contributor – there are a diverse number of both regular contributors and guest bloggers who write on a variety of subjects relating to sound to I encourage you to come back and see what other people have to say.

I think its great you took the time to respond to my post at length, but I think where your response falters is in its assumptions about my experience with music both as a listener and practitioner. I guess I could try to counter your characterization of my musical knowledge, but there doesn’t seem to be much point – it would be my word against yours, and maybe what I have experienced and heard and done would not measure up to your standards. And yet it is exactly those standards, or rather how the supposedly commonly held standards of musicality and authenticity are constructed that interests me when I write about topics like autotune or “soul” (you should check out my post from November of last year on the latter subject). The problem with the idea of authenticity is that it seeks to cut itself free from the historically contingent social contexts in which particular notions of how to measure or identify authenticity are based. The multiplicitous and often contradictory ways that authenticity is defined speaks to its positional nature – in other words, “authentic” depends a great deal upon where you are standing and from which direction you are looking and the information at your disposal. For example, at one time Alan Lomax traveled around with Leadbelly, displaying him as an example of “authentic negro music” – Now I like Leadbelly just fine, but at the time the musical establishment wanted to define the authenticity of black music based on its notions of primitivism, ignoring the fact that Black Americans were making a great deal of complex music at the same time that this was happening. And yet to this day, people still think of Leadbelly in the way the narrative of his experience was recorded by Lomax.

Anyway, this has already gone on longer than I wanted, but you get the idea. . . Thanks for listening.”

And thank you Mr. Oyola.
And I am glad you chose to use Alan Lomax as an example or rather you meant to say his father John Lomax. John Lomax is more to credit for the “displaying” of Huddie Ledbetter, though the 18 year old Alan did play a part in the original recordings. It was the intervention of John Lomax that set the stage for Leadbelly to rise, eventually, into an independent performer and noted contributor to the American Song. The myth that Lomax “traveled around” with him for a long period of time is one many fall into and to understand that time period of American music is a deceptive task at best. But Leadbelly was one of many artists heralded as “authentic.” You have to remember that “race records” were a separate genre altogether. You also have to consider the artists that predate Leadbelly (Tommy Johnson, Sleepy Johns Estes, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.) These are only three out of many who were very active before Leadbelly. And if you have ever listened to the intricacies of Tommy Johnson’s guitar work you know that others were well aware of the depth of African American music or they would not have taken the time to record them, sound recording being an arduous task in John Lomax’s time, and even more so in the years before when these other artists were recorded.
One man’s authenticity perhaps may be another man’s “pat hand.” But citing Leadybelly, or any artists from that time period only proves my point against the overuse of Auto-Tune. Their performances were being captured by equipment that was archaic by our standards today and yet the music, the artist’s authenticity, stands the test of time. If this was not the case we would be listening to the other thousands of artists recorded in the same time period. Art, or rather great art, is sticky.
I become confused by assertions like yours about Auto-Tune when genuine music is made light of and authenticity questioned. I do not argue that it does not have its place. But an effect only goes so far.

William Shakespeare wrote a bunch of words, I think we can agree on this. Others wrote many other words in the same time frame, Christopher Marlowe for example. Why do his stand the test of time? Because of their authentic, intrinsic beauty. We still listen to Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and many, many others because they “authentically” contributed to the American Song before we knew what even a digital signal was or what binary code could actually do. These were humans reflecting the human spirit within us or at least doing a great job faking it with the aid of very limited technology. In the end, as always, it was the art that shown through and still does so.

Thank you for taking the time for an open exchange of ideas. This is how we get somewhere. By all means!