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Back to the Roots...



The basis of this site (founded in the middle 1990s) was an extensive collection of song lyrics and background information on the era of American Folk Music, including blues and religious songs - since I was asked by my fans often for more information about my repertoire. Later I added some lyrics of jazz ballads and other popular song, sometimes with suggestions for chord accompaniment, actually my entire repertoire from performances on stage, jam sessions, and meetings around camp fires as well. At that time there were no commercial lyrics pages in the internet, no Google, no Wikipedia, no Youtube ... So the idea for this collection was born - and it grew over the years to nearly 1,000 pages lyrics, then listened to by ear and handwritten, aaddionally a little glossary about slang terms. It is probably no exaggeration to say at that time it was kind of pioneer work in the starting blocks of the Internet.


In my enthusiasm for the music and singers of that era I also began to publish some short "SPECIALS" to some of the legendary musicians, with the intention to offer newcomers a boarding to this era before electrification of music. By my affection for the ukulele, since late 1990s, the original collection fell a bit into the underground, but is still online under the heading "A Big Bag of Songs" - as a part of this ukulele site. Guess also this ukuele pages belonged in the early days (around 2002) to the first of its kind. Now there is Google, Wikipedia, Youtube today... That can find and offer far more important and comprehensive information. However, the short "SPECIALS" are still online and from now combined on this single page - perhaps this is for newcomers still a helpful introduction to that era of American popular music.

 

 




Back in the 1990s, some songs of the early blues artists influenced me pretty much, and still are "my big seven". Without records of these musicians we wouldn't know today how blues in the beginnings was and where it comes from - from the country, from the cotton fields, from "downhome". These men just had their guitar and voice. And that's all you need, said one of them: Blind Rev. Gary Davis.

Mississippi John Hurt (1893-1966)
- with his 3-finger picking technique and his soft sounding voice he influenced many folk & blues artists, among them such as Bob Dylan. His repertoire included deep religious songs, and deals with very secular topics as well, for example Richland Woman Blues, Candy Man Blues, Keep On Knocking.

  Mississippi John Hurt

Blind Willie Johnson (1902-1949)
- slided with a pocket-knife on his open-D tuned guitar strings, doubling his voice, finishing a verse, or playing sparking solo parts, for example in Dark Was The Night (you've been listening to it while loadig the homepage), "the most transcendent piece in all American music" as Ry Cooder said.  Beside Robert Johnson, he is most influential to later guitar heros such as Eric Clapton. His deep spiritual and gospel repertory won't give you any hint to his tragical life. His rough voice as in Nobody's Fault But Mine can give you a feeling about where from this man might have taken his expressive art of singing.


  Blind Willie Johnson

Tampa Red (1904-1981)
- another pioneer  of the so-called bottleneck (slide) technique. He accompanied many famous blues artists of the twenties and thirties such as Ma Rainey and Georgia Tom (Dorsey), but he was very popular himself with his Hocum Band and his stock of macabre songs and topics  using the double-meaning terms of the redlight and bootleg sourroundings, for example such as  Duck Yas Yas, Can't Get That Stuff  No More, or If You Want Me To Love You.

  Tampa Red

Blind Willie McTell (1901-1959)
- another master of the 12-string guitar, and one of the great but not so well-known blues singers. Bob Dylan wrote a kind of tribute-hymn, singing "nobody sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell". Here you are listening to Searchin' These Deserts For The Blues

  Blind Willie McTell

Rev. Gary Davis (1896-1972)
 - guess he is the most famous ragtime guitarist at all, a blind man, taught his great guitar picking technique to many blues artists. Moreover, he preached in the streets of  New York City. One of  his masterpieces is "12 Sticks".

  Rev. Gary Davis

Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
- probably one of the most legendary blues artist of the late 1920s. Famous for his magnificant bottleneck technic on guitar, and singing as well. Since he died very young, at age 27, there is also some mystification, some came up from his song Me And The Devil My favourite song is his very slow blues Come On In My Kitchen



  Robert Johnson
First time I ever heard about Robert Johnson was in 1994 while listening to "New York" Nick Katzman at Speiche's Blues Pub in Berlin, Germany. As he introduced his songs he mentioned Robert Johnson again and again. The most legendary story about Johnson is that he sold his soul to the Devil in turn for the talents he wanted for playing guitar and singing. There are, in deed, some songs dealing with the Devil. One of them is titled "Hellhound on my Trail", another "Me and the Devil". However, there are songs away from any ambiguity, for instance "Come On In My Kitchen". An exotic cover version of "Come On In My Kitchen" was recorded by Taj Mahal. Below you find a few lyrics by Robert Johnson.

Come On In My Kitchen ~ Me and The Devil ~ Sweet Home Chicago ~ When You Got A Good Friend


40 Classic Performances (Retro 1997)

Charlie Patton (1891-1934)
In modern terms he is called "The Voice of Delta"! He belongs to the great blues artists recorded by Paramount during the late 1920's and early 1930's. A new compilation of his songs (Catfish Records 2001) contains 58 titles in chronicle order on 3 CDs. Despite this documentation of his work there are not so many facts about his life. The booklet notes starts with the sentence:  "A degree of mystery is always an attractive ingredient in the life of a blues singer and sometimes lends credence to the often misapplied description the legendary."

Charlie Patton


Not even any certainty regarding his date of birth (May 1st 1891 is sometimes noted or the year 1887 as well), and it is also not clear where his exact place of birth is (perhaps Edwards or Bolton, Mississippi). Charlie himself didn't know his precise age.

As many musicians of the early thirties, Patton recorded for different labels under different pseudonyms. On Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways), for instance, you can find his version of the traditional Boll Weevil Blues under the artist's name The Masked Marvel. Although his records are digitally remastered, the words Patton sings are often hard to understand. Moreover, there are many names and slang terms from the old times. As far as I know them I explain them with footnotes on the lyric pages.

Banty Rooster Blues ~ High Sheriff Blues ~ Mississippi Bo Weavil BluesMoon's Goin' Down ~  Poor Me ~ Revenue Man Blues ~  Stone Pony Blues ~ 34 Blues ~ Tom Rushen Blues  ~

Pony Blues (Orbis Publishing Ttd. 1996) Charley Patton - The Definitive (Catfish Records 2001)

 

When I started guitar as an autodidact to sing some of the evergreens from the 60s, I came soon on some of the musical predecessors who influenced Bob Dylan, for example. It would be the first place to mention Woody Guthrie, Woody, which I devoted a separate tribute - in the form of cover versions on two CDs with international participation. That way you meet the songs of Leadbelly as well, and many others. Here is a very small selection.



 

Lead Belly (1889-1949)
- so-called master of the 12-string guitar, impressed with his rhythmical and powerful guitar playing and singing as well. Since he spent some years in jail, he picked up a lot of the prisoner's blues such as Old Hannah or the well-known Midnight Special. When he became the driver of folk  musicologist John Lomax, he started recording the old field hollers such as Pick A bale Uh Cotton once sung by slaves in the cotton fields. Within his huge repertory there's a great stock of traditional children play and lullaby songs of the old days.

Lead Belly



 

 
   
The Carter Family
  • Alvin Pleasant Carter
    born in 1891 in Mace Springs, Virginia, the group's leader

  • Sarah Dougherty
    born in 1898 in Flat Woods, Virginia, Carter's wife

  • Maybelle Addington
    born in Copper Creek, Virginia, Carter's sister-in-law

A.P. Carter was not only a singer and sometime fiddler, he collected the traditional songs of his area (Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky), songs of the 18th and 19th century, a cultural culmination based on church music and Scots-Irish folk music. However, there are influences from early Blues, Ragtime, Gospel.

The pure and authentic style of the songs recorded by The Carter Family has become the roots for many other folk singers and bands.

Buddies in the Saddle ~ Mountains of Tennesseee ~ My Dixie Darling ~  Single Girl~ Wabash Cannon Ball ~ Wildwood Flower ~

cd2 Tip The Best of The Carter Family (Performance 38126 - 49 tracks on 2 CDs)