Check it Out — Music With a Long Shelf Life
Many college towns seem to have a bar called the Library. The theory is that students in search of more than just a study hall could tell their parents, “Oh, I spent the night at the library,” when in fact they were up to other, less scholarly pursuits.
The actual library was a sterile vacuum full of bookworms, John Grisham novels, and rows of reference materials. Being a degree-carrying member of the “bookworm” set myself, I’ve wandered through my share of libraries. A move last year to a less metropolitan area of the Carolinas meant a new one to explore, so one recent Saturday my wife and I wandered into our new county’s library. As she proceeded to do the usual reams of paperwork required to get a library card, I noticed something unusual, at least for the ultra-modern book depositories I was accustomed to. There, next to the magazine racks, was a row of record bins, full of what appeared to be actual vinyl record albums.
Forgetting about library cards, the computerized card catalog instructions, and even my wife momentarily, I made a beeline for the first section marked “Popular.” Flipping through the commonplace flea-market suspects such as Mantovani and Lawrence Welk, and the inevitable (for South Carolina, at least) copy or two of the Deliverance soundtrack, I wasn’t sure if this would warrant a second look next trip, unless I just had to hear Shaun Cassidy again and couldn’t find my old 45s. I shifted bins, however, and my luck changed. Emmylou Harris, Lynn Anderson, Bobbie Gentry, and more — now we were getting somewhere. There were some I’d definitely have to look up in my collector’s guide later at home: a Sun Records Charlie Rich collection, a couple of Elvis Presley albums.
It was quite obvious how long some of these albums had been sitting here: Something such as Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash’s Johnny Cash And His Woman from 1973 wouldn’t have been PC enough for the ’90s. And how about the Country Music Hits By Country Music Stars collection that included Grandpa Jones, Jim Reeves, Pee Wee King, Hank Locklin, and Slim “Indian Love Call” Whitman?
Johnny Bush’s Bush Country album brought a chuckle, with its prophetic image of Texas on the cover a long time before the President Bush era. And speaking of political connections, I was not aware until now that Senator Robert Byrd released an album of fiddle tunes in 1978 called Mountain Fiddler, backed by Doyle Lawson, James Bailey, and Spider Gilliam.
Also included in what was looking more and more like a treasure trove of undiscovered music were some oddball albums such as Carl Sandburg Sings His American Songbag, the noted poet doing his best folksinger version of tunes such as “The Maid Freed From The Gallows” and “Sucking Cider Through A Straw”. Even this, however, was outdone by the wonderfully titled Eric Kunz Sings German University Songs Vol. 2: Of Wooing, Wit, And Wanderlust. Makes one wonder what the subtitle to volume one had been.
Sprinkled throughout the other various LPs were the pieces of what appeared to be a set called New World Records Anthology Of American Music. There were albums full of antebellum and post-Civil War balladry, Tin Pan Alley collections, and more. The folk music volumes in this series included That’s My Rabbit, My Dog Done Ate It: Traditional Southern Instrumental Styles; Country Music In The Modern Era (which included Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, and even Elvis doing “Mystery Train”;) and Going Down The Valley: Vocal And Instrumental Styles In Folk Music From The South. This proved to be an old-time music primer, with “Banjo Picking Girl” by the Coon Creek Girls and “Molly Put The Kettle On” by Gil Tanner & His Skillet Lickers among the selections.
There was also another LP, More Goodies From The Hills, which contained an intriguing notation: “Recorded in the gym at the 45th Annual Old-Time Fiddlers Convention, Union Grove, N.C., Easter Weekend, 1969.” If this event is still going on, then it apparently just celebrated its 75th anniversary. Will the circle be unbroken, indeed.
The spell I was under that afternoon was broken, however, when my wife informed me that library rules would allow me to check out only three of the two dozen albums I’d lugged up the stairs to the front desk. Which means I’ll have to come back every week for the next six months to hear everything I just found in one hour. Maybe they’ll let me bring over my turntable and a pair of headphones instead.