Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crystal blues pursuasion

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump in the river and drown

It has been a week, and you must be wondering: When are they going to get the lead out?

So we will -- and what better day than the birthday of Huddie William Ledbetter, the legendary bluesman better known as Leadbelly.

The origins of some of our greatest American blues got channeled through the crisp and righteous guitar playing of Leadbelly. Many of the songs were brought to our virgin ears by bands like the Animals ("House of the Rising Sun"), Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Midnight Special" and "Cotton Fields") and even Johnny Cash "(Rock Island Line.") But Leadbetter had 'em first.

Born on this day in 1885 (although that date is a matter of dispute), Leadbelly twice during his troubled life earned paroles or pardons helped by his pursuasive musical talent.  He died in 1949 a poor and largely underappreciated artist, but not before helping bring down the Third Reich with his memorable recording "Hitler Blues" in 1942. Sieg Heil!

In 1950 three different recordings of "Goodnight Irene" --which Leadbelly first recorded in 1932 -- reached No. 1 on the music charts. No doubt it would have brought him some well-deserved attention, but he wasn't around to see The Weavers, Frank Sinatra and the country duo of Ernest Tubb and Red Foley take Irene to the top.  He had died a year earlier.

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