Lead Belly — Lost Radio Broadcasts: WNYC, 1948
(Note: The new Folkways set isn’t the only “new” music from Huddie Ledbetter. A recently-discovered radio broadcast is a worthwhile addition to the man’s recorded legacy — bk)
In 1948, on a Sunday evening in August, a new radio series premiered. Featuring beloved and renowned folk singer Huddie Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly), The Story of Folklore presented the then-fiftyish Lead Belly doing what he did best: singing songs accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, and introducing the songs with brief spoken interludes. As was the standard practice, the shows would be recorded, pressed onto 16” “aircheck” discs and then broadcast shortly thereafter. The source for this vinyl release is a set of 78rpm 12” discs cut from a playback of those aircheck discs. The resulting quality is quite clear for a recording of this vintage, and the modern-day producers (noted jazz author Cary Ginell and Michael Kieffer) are to be commended for their largely hands-off approach that seeks only to present the performance its best form.
Modern listeners who know “House of the Rising Sun” from its popular interpretation by The Animals may be surprised to hear Lead Belly’s upbeat, almost happy reading of the tune. On “Leavin’ Blues,” the guitarist shows his skill with the twelve-string; he often sounds as if he’s playing more than one instrument (he’s not; nothing like overdubbing existed in the 40s).
Side One presents the August 1 program, and August 15 episode is documented on Side Two. The song list is similar for both episodes: both include brief run-throughs of “Irene” as the opener and closer, plus distinctly different versions of “House of the Rising Sun” and the astounding guitar workout “Hollywood and Vine” (almost prototypical rock’n’roll, Lead Belly characterizes it as “a little boogie”). The man billed as “American’s greatest living folksinger” performs “Backwater Blues” and “Leavin’ Blues” on the first session, with a focus on love songs of a sort (“If It Wasn’t for Dicky” and “Careless Love”) on the second-documented show. The bits of banter between Ledbetter and the (unidentified) announcer are a bit stiff, but they may have served to guide listeners into the somewhat unfamiliar musical world of Lead Belly.
The disc captures the first and third episodes of The Story of Folklore, and the announcer makes mention of the program format for the fourth episode (spirituals), but only these two episodes have surfaced. Presumably the series didn’t continue for much more than four installments total.
The vinyl release of Lost Radio Broadcasts: WNYC, 1948 is pressed on beautiful translucent blue vinyl, housed in a sturdy full-color ten-inch sleeve, and includes a well-put-together liner note booklet that provides background on the recording, the songs, the performer, and the modern transfer of the recording. Happily, the entire project was done with the blessing and cooperation of the Lead Belly Estate.
Depending on one’s interest, one is either amazed and entertained or bored to tears with Bill Kopp’s encyclopedic knowledge of the popular music of the last fifty years. A rock/pop music historian, he has amassed a collection of way more than 6,000+ albums, nearly half of those on vinyl.
Bill has written for the now-defunct Skope (where he ran things as Editor-in-Chief for two years), Billboard, No Depression, Trouser Press, Ugly Things, WNC Magazine, Mountain Xpress, The Laurel of Asheville, Shindig! Magazine, 60sgaragebands.com, Stomp and Stammer and Jambase.org, among others.
He has written liner notes for CD reissues of albums by Brotherhood (a Paul Revere and the Raiders spinoff group), jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bobby Lance, and progressive rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
Bill has interviewed and written features on artists including Chris Squire (Yes), The Psychedelic Furs, Bill Wyman, Todd Rundgren, The Flaming Lips, Ray Manzarek (Doors), R. Stevie Moore, Harry Shearer, Larry Coryell, Nick Lowe, Van Duren, George Thorogood, Ozric Tentacles, Steve Hackett (Genesis), Tommy James, Graham Parker, Captain Sensible, John Wetton (UK, Asia, King Crimson), Felix Cavaliere (Rascals), Akron/Family, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Moody Blues, Gary Wright, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus), Bootsy Collins, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan (The Small Faces), Ann Wilson (Heart), Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Henry Rollins, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, Richard Barone, Jason Falkner, Rose Windows, Tony Levin, Mitch Ryder, Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MGs), Crowded House, Camper Van Beethoven, Project/Object, The Church, Bill Spooner (The Tubes), Jack Casady, Trey Gunn, Porcupine Tree, The Turtles, Howard Jones, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, The Fleshtones, KT Tunstall, Andy Partridge, Max Bloom (Yuck), Terry Adams (NRBQ), Carmine Appice, The Black Angels, Robyn Hitchcock, Roky Erickson, Gentle Giant, Richard Barone, Adrian Belew, The Polyphonic Spree, Shoes, Zoé, Thrice, Pat Mastelotto, Steve Wynn, Nik Turner, Fall Out Boy, Dungen, Richie Havens, Sean Lennon, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies, Bigelf, Pete Yorn, The Residents, Los Straitjackets, RPWL, Radio Birdman, Veruca Salt, Richard X Heyman, Tommy Keene, Black Mountain, Marshall Crenshaw, Keith Allison, Bob Moog, The Veronicas, The New York Dolls, Johnny Winter, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Roger Manning (Jellyfish), The Waterboys’ Mike Scott, Jeremy Spencer (Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac), John McLaughlin, The Fuzztones, George Thorogood, Randall Bramblett, Rose Windows, Opeth, Bobby Rush, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Doug “Cosmo” Clifford (CCR), Southern Culture on the Skids, The Orange Peels, and many others. He’s reported on the Bonnaroo, Moogfest, Hopscotch, YepRoc 15, Dig!, Ponderosa Stomp, Americana Music Association, Mountain Oasis and Echo Project festivals, and written about consumer products including the Microsoft Zune, Rock Band: The Game and many others.
He’s currently working on a couple of book proposals (music-related, of course). He lives in a nearly century-old house in Asheville, NC with his wife, two cats, a vintage motorcycle and way, way, way too many synthesizers.