Introducing, the Barney Kessel Collection

Image of Barney Kessel (Wikimedia Commons)

One year ago, LaBudde Special Collections (LSC) and the Marr Sound Archives (MSA) made a valuable and historic addition to our collections through the remarkable generosity of Phyllis Kessel, widow of legendary guitar player Barney Kessel. Mrs. Kessel donated her late husband’s collection of nearly 400 audio/video items and hundreds of print documents. It turns out that one of hardest-working musicians to ever pick up a guitar was also a meticulous archivist. As a result, the Barney Kessel collection is a goldmine for music historians and fans alike. Through the efforts of LSC Graduate Student Assistant Anthony LaBat, MSA Public History Intern Taylor Bye, and the rest of the LaBudde and Marr team, we have finished processing the collection. This is the first of a series of posts taking a look at the breathtaking scope of Kessel’s career and offering a tiny taste of what the collection holds.

According to an official biography, “Barney Kessel was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on October 17, 1923. He started playing guitar at the age of 12 and within a couple of years was playing in a local jazz orchestra. While he was still a teenager, Kessel met guitar legend Charlie Christian by chance in an Oklahoma City nightclub. Impressed by the youngster’s talent, Christian offered to pass his name on to renowned bandleader Benny Goodman. Christian’s guitar playing was a great influence on Kessel’s playing, which was essentially a further refinement of the older guitarist’s style. Kessel worked hard on his technique to create his own exciting, “straight-ahead” bebop jazz guitar, with no blues licks. Although he soon became well known locally as a talented guitarist, Kessel realized that there wasn’t a career for a jazz musician in Muskogee, and he moved to Los Angeles in 1942. Life wasn’t easy there and, at first, he had to make a living out of washing dishes at a restaurant, but he managed to get a break with the Chico Marx (of Marx Brothers fame) Orchestra in 1943, and this led to radio and studio work. A year later he appeared as the only white musician in an award-winning documentary film, Jammin’ The Blues. Word of Kessel’s abilities soon spread and during the remainder of the decade he also played with the bands of Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet, and eventually Benny Goodman himself.”

By the 1960s, Kessel’s reputation was growing. In 1965, he made his first live record at P.J.’s Nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, just a few blocks over from the Sunset Strip. 1965 was right as the Sunset Strip was entering its heyday as an epicenter of American Rock & Roll.

Album Cover for On Fire (courtesy of Discogs)

Despite the burgeoning rock scene, clubs like PJ’s still catered to jazz audiences. PJ’s later became the Starwood Rock Club, before closing for good in 1981. Below are excerpts from a test pressing of his 1965 live show, which he released as the album “On Fire” on his own label (Emerald Records.)             

Another singular item in the collection is what we believe to be an unreleased recording made for Reprise Records (part of Warner Brothers) in either the early or mid-1960s. The recording features Kessel playing alongside tenor sax whiz Zoot Sims. With Kessel and Sims were Monk Montgomery, Johnny Gray, and John Piscatelli on bass, 2nd guitar, and drums, respectively. According to a 1992 letter, Warner Brothers never released the album, though Kessel wanted them to release it as a CD. For copyright reasons, we can’t upload any of the material from that session. However, it is just one example of the unique items in the Kessel collection that researchers can use to uncover new stories about the history of American music.

Sources:

Barney Kessel Collection, MS295, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-04-27/entertainment/ca-675_1_sunset-strip

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starwood_(nightclub)

http://martinostimemachine.blogspot.com/2016/12/pjs-night-club-las-first-discotheque.html

Content sharing in the ’30s

It’s probably 16 inches wide, and you hold it carefully by the edges. It could be made of glass or aluminum, coated with black cellulose nitrate. If you’re lucky the coating hasn’t started flaking off yet. Alternatively it might be made of vinyl, like an LP, but bigger. It plays at 33 1/3 RPM, holds 15 minutes of recorded sound, and was a key tool in the development of syndicated radio programming in the United States. We’re talking about transcription discs.

lacquer_metal

Picture 1 of 4

A cellulose nitrate over aluminum transcription disc. Note where the coating has flaked off. When that happens, that part of the recording is lost.

In the 1920s, radio stations needed a way to replicate and share programming consistently. They weren’t allowed to play commercially released records on-air because musician’s unions believed that hurt record sales. So radio content had to come from somewhere else. Live broadcast was inconsistent, time consuming, and expensive. Not every radio station could afford to have its own in-house musical groups, but all stations wanted to attract more listeners. At this time the first radio networks were beginning to form. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was created in 1926, and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was formed in 1927. As these networks made more programming and acquired more satellite stations, they needed a way to distribute programming. Larger radio stations were creating programming of their own that they wanted to share with the networks. In short, there was a huge market for pre-recorded radio programming, but distribution of content was still a major hurdle. Transcription discs were the solution.

By the 1930s, transcription disc recorders had become ubiquitous at larger radio stations. Program producers were able to pre-record a program, make copies, and distribute it to other radio stations for future broadcast. This meant that stations in networks could all get the same programs. Individual stations could also add out-of-network programming to their repertoire by purchasing them from distributors. A station could also record its own unique local program using transcription discs, and then re-use it later. As a result, small stations could avoid the expense of live programs. Bigger stations and networks could get their shows to a wider audience. This meant listeners in Boston, Kansas City, and San Francisco could hear the same program at the same time. The ability share programming is a big reason why radio contributed to the growth of popular culture across America. To paraphrase Marr Sound Archives director Chuck Haddix, “radio was like the internet” because it brought people closer through information sharing. Everybody got to hear the same radio programs and news broadcasts, giving people similar cultural and political knowledge. We take this for granted today. Imagine for a moment a conversation with someone from two or three states away. They hadn’t heard Adele’s latest song or weren’t able to listen to that Ted Talk that enthralled you. Of course the opposite would be true as well. Its 75 degrees here in Kansas City. What snow storm in Ohio? That political protest in Washington that they went to? You had no idea until weeks later. Certainly newspapers allowed content-sharing, but radio was a huge leap forward, and it’s largely thanks to the humble transcription disc. One of the big 1930s radio stations that made a lot of transcription discs was KMBC here in Kansas City. Many of these discs are now held in the Marr Sound Archives.

KMBC joined CBS in 1928 as the 16th affiliated station. In 1930 station moved to the eleventh floor of the Pickwick Hotel. Under the direction of Arthur B. Church, KMBC became a model for other stations. Church and KMBC produced a wide variety of syndicated shows which were recorded on transcription discs and then distributed. One of these programs was the Texas Rangers. Another example from the KMBC collection that highlights the importance of transcription discs is a recording of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” The recording can be heard below. It was made by CBS at the White House on May 2, 1943. It was then presumably broadcast by all CBS network stations, including KMBC. FDR could not have reached the entire country without transcription disc technology.

Sources

Museum of Broadcast Communications. Encyclopedia of Radio. Edited by Christopher Sterling. Vol. 3. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.

 

Beyond Respect: Aretha Franklin records in the Marr Sound Archives

Aretha Franklin at the Kauffman center in May, 2012. (courtesy of Media Mikes)

We all know Aretha Franklin. She is (for now) the most successful American female solo artist in history. She’s the Queen of Soul who recorded the song that became an anthem for women everywhere. In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked her as the #1 singer of all time, saying “when it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” On February 9, 2017, Rolling Stone also announced that Franklin is retiring from public performing following the release of her next album. With that in mind, we at the Marr Sound Archive want to give you a taste of some of her work that is in our collection. Some of this you may know, some not. We’ll start with the song everyone knows (or should know), and work backwards to her earliest record.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the recording and release of “Respect,” recorded at Atlantic Records Studio in New York City on February 14, 1967. The song was the lead track on the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (released March 10, 1967, Atlantic 8139) and was later released as a single (April 29, 1967, Atlantic 45-2403). We have both the albums and the historic single. “Respect” was produced by Jerry Wexler. Wexler worked with Franklin from 1966-1975. He also has connections to the Kansas-Missouri area. In the 1930s, Wexler attended Kansas State University. Outside of school he received his introduction to Jazz and Blues music by visiting bars and music clubs along Twelfth Street in Kansas City.

Prior to working with Wexler at Atlantic Records, Aretha was with Columbia Records. Her first secular album was Aretha: with the Ray Bryant Combo, (Columbia CL1612) released by Columbia in 1961. In addition to vocals, she played piano on four tracks: “Won’t be Long” “Who Needs You?,” “Are You Sure” and “Maybe I’m a Fool”. At 18 she was still a somewhat raw talent. Below are short clips transcribed from our copy of the album. Listen closely to “Maybe I’m a Fool” and you can hear her voice break just a little.

Ray Bryant and Aretha were both signed to Columbia Records by producer John Hammond in 1959. Like Wexler, Hammond had some connections to Kansas City, having signed Count Basie to Columbia in 1936. 1959 was a big year for Hammond. That year he signed Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

Aretha at about 14 years old when she was first recorded by Joe Von Battle. (courtesy www.bless-this-soul.com)

Aretha Franklin got her start singing at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was minister there from 1946 until 1979. C.L Franklin became a central figure in the black community. According to Mark Bego, the Franklin home “played host to a virtual who’s who of popular black music.” Young Aretha was part of the church choir. Her father recognized her talent, and at 14 he began taking her to other churches to perform with gospel groups. As Reverend Franklin’s own legend grew, he organized a “traveling revival show.” As a teenager, Aretha spent several summers traveling with the road show’s choir. At the same time, Joe Von Battles was recording LPs of Reverend Franklin’s sermons. Battles was a Detroit record shop owner, and founder of JVB Records (later changed to Battle Records). In 1956, Battles recorded 14-year old Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church. The Marr Sound Archives does not have any copies of Battle’s original album. In fact, original JVB/Battle pressings are quite probably the rarest of all Aretha records. Fortunately, the songs Battle recorded have been re-issued a number of times by Chess, Checker, Geffen, and other record labels. In our collection is a 1982 issue by Checker Records (Checker LP CH8500), for which music critic Peter Guralnick wrote the album notes. Of Franklin’s performance, Guralnick wrote “everything that Aretha would one day become, the same soulful struts that she would put into “I Never Loved a Man, “Respect,” even funky old “Dr. Feelgood,” are all here in the plain, unvarnished, but far-from-simple truth of hymns.” We are not professional music critics, but having listened to this album we think it is pretty extraordinary. The lead track on that album can be heard below.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary life and career. She was a true prodigy, a gifted singer surrounded my other successful black musicians. She was seemingly destined for stardom from an early age. However her personal life was marked by a series of devastating emotional experiences. In his biography, Bego concludes that both of these factors shaped her music. Hopefully hearing her sing at various stages in her life gives readers a greater appreciation for the treasure she truly is.

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Sources:

Aretha Gospel. Recorded September 10, 1991. Geffen, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed February 20, 2017.

Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin : The Queen of Soul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

Marr Sound Archives contains well over 100 entries for Aretha Franklin in our Library Catalog. Among these are many of her classic LPs and singles, including the ones mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll come listen to some of them soon!

Correction: Previously this post had a full version of the 1956 album. Since only UMKC network users could stream it, we’ve replaced it with a youtube link. The whole album can be heard at the Marr Sound Archives.

Tales from the Archives: Disc(h)ord on the Ranch

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the fourth in a series of Tales from the Archives.

Disc(h)ord on the Ranch

The KMBC Texas Rangers

The KMBC Texas Rangers “Gentlemen in the White Hats.” Credit: Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

It seemed like everyone on the project team had discovered some new interest when working with the collection. One student became so engrossed in the developing drama on the show Vic and Sade, she hoarded all the discs to herself. For me, it was the Western swing group, The KMBC Texas Rangers. The unedited cuts of this musical octet perfectly demonstrate the unique chemistry the group had. It was hard not to be captivated by them, with names like: Clarence “Idaho” Hartman (bass fiddle), Gomer “Tenderfoot” Cool (fiddle), Joe “Monty” Strand (accordion), Herbie “Arizona” Kratoska (guitar and banjo), Fran “Irish” Mahaney (tenor), Rod “Dave” May (tenor), Robert “Captain Bob” Crawford (baritone), and Edward “Tucson” or “Tookie” Cronenbold (bass).

Garbed in Western wear, topped with classic white hats, their versatile musical repertoire included hymns, cowboy songs, novelty, and western swing. When I guest lectured for the Conservatory (UMKC), I ended with the Texas Rangers’ rendition of “Hand me down my walking cane” which inevitably got stuck in everyone’s head. It’s entertaining and hopefully served as a distraction from the terrible guest lecture they just sat through.

Tex Owens

Image above: Tex Owens, the original Texas Ranger? Image courtesy of Orlene “Kit” Johnson and Irene “Kay” Dierks.

As we soon discovered, the Texas Rangers weren’t without their own drama. In their early radio programs, they were often fronted by special guest, Tex Owens. Owens, who played guitar and sang with the group on occasion, was never officially a member, but somehow left his mark in history as “The Original Texas Ranger.” There seemed to be a great deal of tension between Tex and the boys which reached its climax when Texas Governor, James V. Allred, commissioned the musical group The Texas Rangers, along with Tex Owens, as honorary members of the state’s famed law enforcement group. The honor bestowed upon the Rangers prompted them to compose an interoffice memo expressing their disappointment that Tex would be honored alongside them considering he had not been a member. The memo also included some disagreements between the group and Tex. You can read more about this controversy, see the original memo, and learn of the outcome from a blog post written by one of the project students: Tex Owens: A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Tales from the Archives: Happy Hollow is a Real Place

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the third in a series of Tales from the Archives.

Happy Hollow is a Real Place

Happy Hollow cast

Happy Hollow cast and others, including Brookings Montgomery, outside entrance to Pickwick Hotel at the start of troupe’s European and African tour. Credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Rural programming was pretty common in the 1930s and ‘40s, and KMBC had its own in the town of Happy Hollow which gave listeners a peek into the daily lives of Aunt Lucindy, Uncle Ezra, Harry Checkervest, George Washington White (their own blackface character), and other town folk, along with musical interludes by the Humdinger Quartet.The program’s creator, Ted Malone, would have a long and successful career in radio broadcasting, mostly known for his storytelling and poetry reading, and as we later discovered by going through his fan mail,  he was very popular with the housewives…in an uncomfortable way.

Listeners engrossed in the goings-on of Happy Hollow could find out more by subscribing to the newsletter Happy Hollow Bugle. We came upon the newsletter when I sent my most enthusiastic student upstairs to Special Collections to see if he could find out more about the program, specifically, what radio actors were cast in the various roles. My instructions were simple: Look over the finding aid and pull whatever seems like it might contain some information about the show. I figured this wouldn’t take long since there didn’t appear to be much in the Church-KMBC Collection finding aid. About ten minutes in, I received a phone call from my very excited student telling me that one of the Special Collections staff pulled a newsletter called Happy Hollow Bugle from the Ted Malone Collection, and that there was all kinds of helpful information in it. Relieved that he had found something useful, I instructed him to gather up the relevant data for identifying the characters in the show.

Over an hour passed by, and just as I was beginning to wonder what was going on, he walked in. I saw him from a distance, all wide-eyed, headed straight toward me clutching a pencil and papers in his left hand, and I thought, “This is it. He’s going to tell me how he hit the jackpot of details on this show, and I might even be able to establish some names in the authority file.” He had spent an hour and a half in the archives, after all. But instead, he approached and exclaimed, “Happy Hollow is a real place!” As I was laughing (hard), he proceeded to tell me about the legal troubles that Uncle Ezra had found himself in, how some of the townsfolk had traveled to Africa, and other documented occurrences that had convinced him of its realness.

Tried and tried as I might to crush his new-found beliefs so suddenly (e.g., “So there’s just a guy in town who likes to walk around in blackface?”), he remained convinced and I remained amused. The good news: we were able to identify some of the actors. In fairness to my student, the cast of Happy Hollow and other KMBC stars did tour Europe and Africa. Kudos to KMBC for blending fiction and reality in their marketing so effortlessly. They had at least one person convinced 80 years later!

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Tales from the Archives: The Stampers Under the Stairs

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the second in a series of Tales from the Archives.

The Stampers Under the Stairs (Not Surprisingly, Full of Spiders)

Disc stampers in crates

Stampers in original crates. Spiders, too. Credit: Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Shortly after I had hired the project students, I received that news that we all dread hearing. It goes something like, “Oh, by the way, we found a bunch more stuff that belongs to that collection you’re cataloging for that grant.” Ours was more like: “Oh, by the way, we found a bunch of metal stampers at the bottom of a stairwell. I think there’s about 1,000 of them, and they all belong to the KMBC collection.” Actually, it was exactly like that (and there were 1,400 of them). But since I’m always up for a challenge, I came up with a workflow, drew up some guidelines, and unleashed one of my deadliest students. She was a quick-witted graduate Public History major armed with a vast knowledge of home health remedies, construction cleanup experience, and a nice Southern accent with a “no bull” attitude who drank her French press coffee black. She was perfect for the job.

I often walked into the dusty space she was working in to check on her. I felt bad for subjecting her to all the dust and forcing her to handle the heavy stampers, but she didn’t complain much about it. She had accepted the job and planned on doing it right. As it turns out though, some complaint was warranted. About two weeks in, I received a call from the head of the sound archive informing me that they had sent the student back upstairs and she was forbidden to re-enter the space until it had been bug bombed. I was confused. What had happened? Apparently, when asked how things were going, the student casually mentioned the brown recluses crawling out of the crates. That generated an appropriate response of alarm and concern for the safety and health of the student and the archives staff. Her response: “I was just killin’ ‘em with two by fours. I had planned to keep killin’ ‘em.” Like I said. Deadly.

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Midwest Archives Conference: “Don’t Knock The Rock”

midwest-archives-300x134The Spring 2014 Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) was held at Westin Crown Center in Kansas City April 24th through the 26th. Several hundred archivists and MAC members crowded the hotel’s numerous conference rooms to witness presentations and debates on various archival standards ranging from use of metadata and social media to providing access to students, researchers, and educational institutions. Among the topics most relevant to sound archives was one of the final conference sessions entitled “Don’t Knock The Rock: Making Popular Music Collections a Part of Your Archives.”

Before introducing the panel of speakers, session moderator Scott Schwartz, Director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, proceeded to lay out the complications of archiving unique rock and roll collections and acquiring such objects from local music scenes and collectors.

NEOPMA

The Northeast Ohio Popular Music Archives is stationed at the Library and Archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. NEOPMA actively develops its collections relating to local and regional popular music acts such as The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, and Devo (pictured above). They also hold notable collections relating to radio personality Alan Freed and labels such as Sire Records.

“It is true that many types of primary sources documenting such music scenes are ephemeral and frequently hidden,” Schwartz said. “Add to this conundrum, the fact that communities sustaining these music scenes can appear to be insular to outsiders because the musicians, the producers, the venue operators, and fans sometimes hoard their personal music artifacts and, at times, are reluctant to share them for a variety of reasons.”

Following these opening statements, five archivists from four different institutions reiterated this sentiment, identified roadblocks, and how they overcame them. Specific topics included identification of record vendors in local music scenes, the Dayton (OH) Funk Archives, the Northeast Ohio Popular Music Archives (NEOPMA), and the Louisville Underground Music Archive (LUMA).

The underlying message for this session was strong advocacy for and partnership with the local music communities that the archives will serve. Archives specializing in local rock music scenes must reach out to local record vendors, radio stations, collectors, and musicians in order to successfully document the historical narrative as assembled by the music community at large. This includes training potential donors to document their collections, with the intention of eventually gifting ephemera to local archives, as well as keeping up with the active musicians and venues to document music scenes currently in progress.

LUMA

The Louisville Underground Music Archive (LUMA) documents the history and culture of the Louisville rock music scene from the 1970s to the present, with a focus on the 1980s and 1990s which brags such noteworthy acts as Will Oldham, Slint, and Rachel’s.

At the Marr Sound Archives, we encounter similar complications in our pursuit of rock and roll records and ephemera. When compact discs took the place of vinyl records as the medium by which music was bought and sold in the 1980s and 90s, the vinyl market dwindled into niche genres, markets, and labels and are, therefore, much harder to come by via our donations only collection policy.

Add to that, the fact that niche genres are still very much in the collector’s market and one would be hard-pressed to obtain a first pressing of an original Touch and Go Label Necros 7” without suffering the salivating, jealous sneers of collectors who would happily pay a pretty penny to adopt such a rare piece of history into their own stacks. If these items are not sitting in a record store bin at collectors’ prices, they are sitting on the shelves of the collectors themselves. This is not an outrageous fact, just a true one.

Many private collectors are already doing their part to document the 1980s and 1990s punk scenes in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. Documentarian Brad Norman has been compiling fliers, live concert footage, and oral histories to preserve the legacy of Lawrence, KS punk and hardcore venue The Outhouse (1985-1997) for a feature-length documentary. Filmmaker Patrick Sumner has also compiled an impressive number of photos, fliers, and other ephemera from the Kansas, Missouri region with his Bent Edge KC Punk website.

In addition to that, Missouri Valley Special Collections and the State Historical Society of Missouri contain various fanzine and print collections covering subcultures and underground music scenes. While there is no single repository containing these priceless artifacts, resources are strewn throughout the Midwest and are available to researchers.

The Marr Sound Archives and LaBudde Special Collections have acquired an abundance of Kansas City musical history, although the last three decades of rock and roll music remains relatively scarce as archival materials. This does not mean we do not hold a vast supply of audio and paper items from the last 25 to 35 years of local and international rock and roll acts. Marr and LaBudde serve as repositories for the following collections containing rock and roll records, ephemera, and, oftentimes, personal items of the donors:

Black History Month: Zora Neale Hurston on American School of the Air

hurston

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The American School of the Air was an educational radio program aired on CBS during the 1930s and 40s. The long-running show tackled American history, science, music and literature under the heading of daily subjects such as “Frontiers of Democracy,” “Science Frontiers,” “This Living World,” and “Gateways to Music” and broadcasts were often used as a supplement to classroom education across the nation.

On December 8, 1938 the umbrella title was “American Literature of the Twentieth Century” and the guest was author, anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. In this very rare episode of American School of the Air, Hurston tells African-American folk tales from her collection entitled Mules and Men. These may be the only audio recordings in existence of her reading these particular works.

Among the folktales heard here are “Why There Are Negroes and Other Races,” “How God Made Butterflies,” a series of animal tales as well as tales of exaggeration as heard below:

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Zora-Neale-Hurston-tells-an-exaggera.mp3|titles=Zora Neale Hurston tells a tale of exaggeration.]

Perhaps best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was active during the Harlem Renaissance alongside such contemporaries as Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. She received widespread criticism for her heavy use of dialect in her writing. Critics felt she was perpetuating a longstanding tradition of racially charged stereotypes of African-American men, women, and children in literature and popular culture.  She was also praised, however, for her use of idiomatic speech and her dedication to preserving and handing down the grand tradition of African-American folklore and oral history.

Hurston’s work as an anthropologist led her to back to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, where she recorded oral histories and gathered ethnographic research on music and folklore dating back to the days of American slavery. She gives a brief history and explanation of “negro folktales” and their contribution to American culture at the begnning of the episode.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Zora-Neale-Hurston-explains-folk-tal.mp3|titles=Zora Neale Hurston provides a brief explanation of negro folk tales and their origins.]

The Marr Sound Archives holds approximately 162 episodes of The American School of the Air within the J. David Goldin collection, all of which are all searchable in the library catalog and RadioGoldindex and are available upon request.

Staff Picks: Buzzcocks – Love Bites

lovebitesWhat a rare treat it is to stumble across out-of-print punk rock and new wave LPs within the deep shelving of the Marr Sound Archives. Aside from an impressive library of releases from Sire Records and a short stack of SST recordings, the genre’s presence in our holdings is few and far between.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at work one morning to find a newly cataloged import copy of Buzzcock’s Love Bites which had, apparently, been stuffed away with thousands of other items from our massive backlog of uncataloged LPs. This particular copy is an import distributed by Jem Records under a special licensing agreement which allowed the label to sell the album in the USA. It’s like my very own private valentine from the universe!

Buzzcocks generated copious amounts of recorded material in 1978, including their first two studio albums, a handful of hit singles, and two sessions with illustrious BBC disc jockey John Peel. Love Bites, was released in September on the United Artists label to tremendous success in the UK. The album’s initial single “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” won NME Single of the Year and earned the band a lip-syncing gig on Top of the Pops:

If love bites then so does this record, as does frontman Pete Shelley who comes out baring his teeth. Sharp hooks and sugary melodies make this album a masterpiece of pop genius, capable of rotting your molars right out of your head upon first listen. Shelley’s lyrics range from melancholy, to downright bitter and the universal appeal of the album’s subject matter has allowed this album to stand up to the test of time as a “feel bad to feel good” classic.

Deep cuts of note: “Operator’s Manual”, “Nostalgia”, and “Nothing Left.”

Been Through Some Stuff: Cedell Davis and the Table Knife Blues

Cedell Davis with Table Knife

Image from Fat Possum Records

True innovation cannot be forced, and is often the result of circumstances or a mere accident. Penicillin was the result a petrie dish left out over the weekend. As a musician who has let the strings of an instrument or two detune over the course of a long time, I’ve stumbled into rare inspiration out of laziness (firstly, to avoid my instrument for several weeks; secondly, to fail to take 3 whole minutes to tune it when I pick it up again). But others innovate ways to triumph over difficulty. Blues guitarist, Cedell Davis, is one such man. Though not prominently featured in the film, his appearance in the 2005 documentary, You See Me Laughin, made an enormous impression on me. Amidst a veritable cavalcade of characters–including R.L. Burnside and his many offspring and admitted murderer T Model Ford–Cedell Davis appears in a small room playing a guitar with a table knife for a slide, clutched firmly in a two fingers of a hand gnarled by a childhood bout with polio, inelegantly moving up and down the fretboard.

His picking hand is not as dexterous as other bluesmen; he strums, but not simply. His left hand works the strings, playing the everliving crap out of each chord and note, and his voice howls with great power. Blues are a high-stakes emotional genre–even, perhaps especially, for an old man who was playing guitar before polio mangled his hands at the age of 10–and it’s plenty evident in Davis’ style.

But before the Fat Possum film crew came to Arkansas and Mississippi Hill Country and had Iggy Pop and other gush about these dilapidated bluesmen, Louis Guida received a grant to document many previously unrecorded Arkansas blues musicians. Many had appeared on King Biscuit Time, a 15 minute per weekday of country hill blues music from 1941 to the present. Until the 1960s it was a live-format radio show where artists would perform in studio, then it switched over to a recorded blues format, and later swelled to an hour-long program.

In 1976 over the course of eight months, Guida recorded over 50 musicians. 17 sessions and 9 hours of recordings later the result was Keep it To Yourself:  Arkansas Blues released by Rooster Blues records.

Keep it to Yourself Album Cover

The Marr Sound Archive holds Volume 1:  Solo Performances, which is a small collection of very powerful blues music. Cedell Davis’ four songs for the album are in good company with Reola Jackson, who’s song for the record was recorded in the Cummins Prison for Women where she was an inmate at the time. Davis plays 2 original songs, “Lonely Nights” and “Big G Boogie” with the hokum song, “Let me play with Your Poodle” and “How Much More.”

It seems easy enough, probably anyone could sit down and play a guitar with a table knife slide, or mess around with the tuning pegs, but seeing Davis and listening to him truly emphasizes the point that blues cannot be learned or practiced, you have to come by it naturally.