Old recordings, where everyone involved is long dead, don’t just appeal to the ears—they’re springboards for the imagination. Here’s one made in Memphis nearly 90 years ago.
Close your eyes.
Open your imagination.
They’re just about ready to record.
What’s the room look like?
What’s the last thing said before they start?
Tommy Johnson (1896-1956), “Cool Drink of Water Blues” (1928)
Robert Frank (1924-), Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina, 1955/56
white folks got soul, too
J.J. Cale (1938-2013)
“Call Me the Breeze” (J.J. Cale), live, Tulsa, 2004
“After Midnight” (J.J. Cale), live (with Eric Clapton), Dallas, 2004
“What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul”
Marty Stuart (vocals, mandolin) & Del McCoury (vocals, guitar)
Live (TV show), 2009
Bill Monroe (vocals, mandolin) & Doc Watson (vocals, guitar)
Live (TV interview)
Helen Levitt (1913-2009), New York, 1940
Bobby McFerrin, “Joshua,” live (studio performances), 2013
WNYC-FM, New York
WFUV-FM, New York
Novelist Philip Roth on death, getting older, etc.:
‘You think, That’s the end of it when your parents die. After that, you’re done. Nobody’s supposed to die anymore, right?’
—Claudia Roth Pierpont, “The Book of Laughter: Philip Roth and His Friends,” New Yorker, 10/7/13
‘Seventy-five; how sudden.’
‘Time runs out at a terrifying speed. It seems that it was just 1943.’
—Patricia Cohen, “Philip Roth, Provacateur, Is Celebrated at 75,” New York Times, 4/12/08
White folks are cool, too.
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, live, Washington, D.C., 2013
“Trials, Troubles, Tribulations” (E.C. Ball)
Live, Nashville (Grimey’s New & Preloved Music), 2009
Wayne Henderson, Martha Spencer & Jackson Cunningham
Live, Maryland (Rockville), 2010
E.C. Ball & Lacey Richardson
Recording (Alan Lomax), 1959-60
listening room: (some of) what’s playing
• Face A Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album (Tompkins Square)
• Merle Haggard, If I Could Only Fly (Anti- Records)
• The Canton Spirituals, The Live Experience 1999 (Verity Records)
• Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Guests, Moa Anbessa (Terp Records)
• Derek Bailey, Bill Laswell, Tony Williams, Arcana (DIW Records)
• Peter Brotzmann Octet, Machine Gun (FMP)
• Peter Brotzmann Sextet & Quartet, Nipples (Atavistic Records/Unheard Music Series)
• Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1967 (Columbia)
• Cecil Taylor European Orchestra, Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) (FMP)
• Alfred Cortot, piano, The Master Pianist (EMI, Icon Series)
• Nathan Milstein, violin, J.S. Bach: Sonatas & Partitas (Deutsche Grammaphon)
• Arnold Schoenberg, Das Klavierwerk, Peter Serkin, piano (Arcana)
• WKCR-FM (broadcasting from Columbia University)
—Bird Flight (Phil Schaap, jazz [Charlie Parker])
—Eastern Standard Time (Carter Van Pelt, Jamaican music)
—Mudd Up! (DJ/Rupture, “new bass and beats”)
—Sinner’s Crossroads (Kevin Nutt, gospel)
—Cherry Blossom Clinic (Terre T, rock, etc.)
—Fool’s Paradise (Rex; “Vintage rockabilly, R & B, blues, vocal groups, garage, instrumentals, hillbilly, soul and surf”)
—Downtown Soulville (Mr. Fine Wine, soul, etc.)
• WHPK-FM (broadcasting from University of Chicago)
—The Blues Excursion (Arkansas Red)
Levon Helm, drummer, singer, songwriter, actor, etc.
May 26, 1940-April 19, 2012
Live, 2/12, Woodstock, NY (Levon’s home)
“When I Go Away,” recording (Electric Dirt, 2009)
Levon Helm will always hold a special place in my heart. He was as great of an actor as a musician. For me watching him play the role of my daddy in Coal Miner’s Daughter is a memory I will always treasure.
When I heard The Band’s Music from Big Pink, their music changed my life. And Levon was a big part of that band. Nigel Olson, my drummer, will tell you that every drummer that heard him was influenced by him. He was the greatest drummer and a wonderful singer and just a part of my life that was magical. They once flew down to see me in Philadelphia and I couldn’t believe it. They were one of the greatest bands of all time. They really changed the face of music when their records came out. I had no idea he was sick so I’m very dismayed and shocked that he died so quickly. But now my son [Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John] has his name.
He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I’m going to miss him, as I’m sure a whole lot of others will too.