Mississippi Pathways into the Alan Lomax Collections
A recommended listening list by Scott Barretta
Selection of material recorded by Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress and a team led by John Work III of Fisk University in Coahoma County in 1941-1942.
At the International Conference on the Blues in 2017, Delta State University and the Association for Cultural Equity, which operates the Alan Lomax Archive, announced a partnership to promote and “repatriate” to this area nearly 600 recordings. These include blues, spirituals, gospel, work songs, children’s game songs, oral histories and performances by string bands and fife-and-drum bands. Selections from the collection are available for listening at lomaxdeltastate.com.
- Muddy Waters – I Be’s Troubled – This song, performed with guitar accompaniment, appeared on Waters’ first issued recording, a 78-rpm record on the Library of Congress’ own label. Waters later recorded the song for the Aristocrat label with electric guitar as “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”
- Eddie “Son” House – Pony Blues – House, born in Clarksdale in 1902, is one of the pioneering bluesmen of the Delta, and was a mentor to both Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, who were just a couple years apart. Pony Blues is associated with House’s peer Charley Patton, and was later recorded by Howlin’ Wolf.
- Sid Hemphill – The Devil’s Dream – Hemphill was a multi-instrumentalist who Alan Lomax would record again in 1959. Here he plays the ten-note quills – a panpipe made of reeds – together with a bass drummer and snare drummer.
- Sid Hemphill – Jesse James – Here Hemphill is leading a group of percussionists while playing a homemade fife. The fife and drum tradition, which has both African and European military roots, continues today in North Mississippi.
- Queen Esther Ivory – Little Sally Water – This play song is performed by a group of girls at a high school, and 13-year-old Esther explains to an interviewer the nature of the game that the song accompanied.
- Charles Berry – Levee Camp Blues – Here Berry sings a “field holler” or unaccompanied song which, as the title suggests, was one he sang while working on the construction of a levee in the Delta. “Mr. Charley” is a generic name given by workers to a bossman.
- David “Honeyboy” Edwards – The Army Blues – Edwards was born in Shaw, Mississippi in 1915, and continued performing until shortly before his death in 2011. “Army Blues” is one of multiple songs about WWII in the collection, and features the line “Uncle Sam ain’t no woman, but he sure can take your man.”
- Houston Bacon – Sinking Rails and Joining Iron – Railway worker Bacon sings a song associated with straightening railway tracks.
- George Johnson – Recollections of Jefferson Davis’ Slaves Band and Dances – Concerns the 14-piece brass band that Jeff Davis organized originally for his slaves, of which the speaker was a member till 1884.
- Church of God in Christ Congregation, Clarksdale – Jesus is My Friend – The congregation sings the song with the backing of a trombone and guitar.
- Friendly Five Harmony Singers – Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down – This song is associated with the Pentecostal Holiness preacher Brother Claude Ely, but this is the first recording. It was also recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
- Sister Johnson – Worship Service (testimonials) – A spirited testimonial recorded at the Church of God in Christ on the Mohead plantation in Lula.