A surprise visit by Jelly Roll, Leadbelly, Lightnin’ and a King

As a seeker of books and other antiquarian printed pieces, I am always on the prowl for forgotten gems. Sometimes it’s a beautiful signed Dulac book tucked away in a dusty antique store showcase or an extraordinary family photo album with typed narration of a journey along the East Coast during the Great Depression.

But this week, the chance to bring amazing voices back to life, was my favorite find.

Six record albums or groups of records, each amazing and hard to find, allowed me to experience music, some of which I’ve never heard before and it’s a good bet not many other people have had a chance to experience this collection.

First, here are the albums:

  1. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Country Blues – Tradition Records – TLP 1035 – Recorded and edited by Mack McCormick, copyright 1959. This is the original, with appropriate label, not the later repress.
  2. Leadbelly – Keep Your Hands Off Her – Verve Folkways (MGM Records) – FVS-9021 – 1965.
  3. King Oliver – Joker International Production – C89/6 – 1984 – Six record set of Joseph Joe “King” Oliver’s music from 1923-1931. Printed in Italy.
  4. Jelly Roll Morton and Red Hot Peppers and Trios – The Saga of Mister Jelly Lord – Joker International Production – C70/7 – 1981. Printed in Italy. 7 LPs.
  5. Blues – Josh White, Jack Dupree, Sonny Terry, Nora Lee King, Mary Lou Williams, Woody Guthrie – Asch Records – Album #550 – 1944 – Four 78 r.p.m. records.
  6. Negro Folksongs sung by Leadbell (Work Songs, Spirituals, Country Dances, Cowboy, Bad Man, Bad Woman) – Disc Company of America – #660 – 1943 – Three 78 r.p.m. records.

So there they are, each with their own type of musical personality yet all, despite some being printed by a knock-off king in Italy, are American music at its core. Yes, there are Island and African influences, French and even Gaelic spices tossed in but this little collection brings what mainly exists solely today through digital sources on the true analog sweetness of the spinning disc.

IMG_1617And yes, MGM did manipulate Leadbelly into the world of stereo on Keep Your Hands Off Her but the core is there, the energy of his life’s experiences come through despite the machinery. Each of these great records are remnants of what was and what amazingly is coming back to life, the pressed record.

The numbers of newly created albums are increasing despite the little jukeboxes living in everyone’s pocket or purse. There is something that is captured in those aptly named grooves that is a direct connection to the sonic vibrations that sprang from an old guitar or the voices of musicians that lived in the real world.

If you have any interest in purchasing any or all of these records, please drop me a line at popsbooks@gmail.com

Until then, Jelly Roll, Leadbelly and I will be sitting here, reflecting on the days that produced this country’s theme songs.


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