A Fond Farewell to Willard’s Wormhole and Lonesome Lefty’s Scratchy Attic
Between the rapid rise and fall of the popular MP3 file sharing site Napster in 1999 and the launch of Spotify in 2007, a new music distribution platform emerged that was in equal measure criminal, historical, and fanatical. With a cavalier attitude toward intellectual property rights and the often unspoken encouragement from an industry that was blind to the changes that this technology would soon bring, the music blogosphere exploded. Divided into two camps, there were websites that were usually based in countries that stood outside the wall of the international justice system and specialized in hosting new music and popular catalog titles, and the more homegrown pages that often focused on 78 rpm or vinyl rips from out-of-print titles accompanied with long essays about the origin, credits, recording details, release history, and artwork.
It was the latter that attracted and fascinated me, less for the ability to download free music and more for the opportunity of receiving an education of the importance for preservation and archiving. As someone who spent his career working in both independent and major label distribution, I witnessed the loss and destruction of master tapes, the ignorance of both the importance and value of content, and the reckless abandonment of quality for the sake of squeezing a profit that still continues today. From the mishandled transition of analog tapes to digital carriers to the endless regurgitation of “new and improved” collections, it’s no surprise that a confused customer base grew weary.
I keep a folder in my internet bookmarks labeled “music blogs,” and although barely any are still active, sometimes digital dust is hard to sweep under the rug. For example, Lonesome Lefty’s Scratchy Attic hasn’t made any new posts since 2016, but this link will take you the still-hosted site. In some ways it’s like sifting through an archaeological site of old-time music, and you can tell that someone spent a great deal of time researching and resurrecting it. This particular site focused on the old Starday and King Records catalogs, leaning most heavily toward their country titles. It featured original artwork, liner notes, reviews, and pictures of the actual labels. Most of these titles will never ever see the light of day again, and if you hit the “download now” links you’ll be taken to a dead page or, worse, an anti-virus ad.
The closing down of Willard’s Wormholes was a complete and total erasure of one of the most extensive music websites ever created. With a ten-year run that ended last year, another site — BB Chronicles — published its obituary:
The great music-oriented blog Willard’s Wormholes is no more. And for those wondering just what may have happened to it, let me reassure you that it was not closed or shut down by any outside forces. No, ‘Willard’ just decided on his own that 10 years was long enough, and that he wanted to move on. And not wanting to attract undue attention or hoopla to the closure, he just quickly and quietly closed down the site.
As all who frequented the site know, Willard’s Wormholes was most certainly one of the very best ever, if not THE best ever music blog of its type. Not only did it provide downloads of a wide variety of music types, popular and obscure, from classic blues and jazz to mainstream pop and rock to eclectic under-appreciated artists to obscure soundtracks, demos, and experimental sounds and sessions, but Willard always provided insightful commentary, information, and opinions on the music and artists.
In addition, the musical community that developed around the Wormholes was the best on the internet, providing useful, helpful, and worthwhile comments and background, and the thorough and abundant reader links that developed provided an additional treasure trove of musical goodies for all to enjoy.
In my nine-year tenure of writing here at No Depression, I’ve kept away from covering or exposing this musical underbelly primarily because of the murky legalities, but also because it appeals to such a narrow audience. Wrath of The Grapevine, which shut down in 2013, addresses the former, and it’s similar to notes you’ll see on most of the blogs:
The music on this site is mostly old, hard-to-find, or under-noticed music. Many of the musicians are dead. As for the living musicians, I put their music here because I want to spread and publicize it, not because I want to rip them off. Musicians, like artists, are a hard-working and under-compensated lot, and I highly recommend that if you like the music you find here, you seek out their other recordings. Of course, if any musician finds their music here and wants it removed, contact me and I’ll happily oblige.
Somebody out there probably wants to learn more about Hylo Brown and the Timberliners, Willie Clancy or Bashful Brother Oswald … and there are still a handful of sites out there still actively trying to keep this anarchist-archival aesthetic alive. But to Willard, Lonesome Lefty, Lost in Tyme, Sed De Musica, Time Will Tell You, The Secret Vault, Record Fiend, Jukebox City and the rest of y’all, this is a fond farewell.
You can follow me here at No Depression to get notified when I’ve added something new. Many of my past columns, articles and essays can be accessed at therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate and post daily on my Facebook page The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed .