Country Blues in Black and White
Over one billion hours of content are viewed each day on YouTube according to Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis company. They’ve also calculated that over four hundred hours of new content are uploaded to the site each minute of every day. And while those numbers don’t really surprise me, it’s hard for me to believe that the site only launched 13 years ago since it’s become such an integral part of my life. Whether it’s for news, entertainment, research, music, or simply sheer boredom, it’s a rabbit hole that leads me from one video to another and a timesuck that makes me wonder how I could have possibly lived without it.
This past April a music video titled “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee became the most-watched video at over five billion views. Justin Bieber is the only musician who has had five videos seen over a billion times each. Others who’ve surpassed that billion-view mark more than once include Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Shakira, and Bruno Mars, to name but a few. Bob Dylan doesn’t make the top 100 list, nor do The Beatles, Stones, Elvis, Garth, Prince, Tom Petty, Neil Young, or obviously anything in the Americana or roots music genres. But popularity isn’t what makes YouTube so special; it’s all about infinite variety.
A few nights ago I came across a music documentary produced by BBC Four, a British television channel whose primary role is to reflect a range of UK and international arts, music, and culture. Folk America was first televised in March 2012 and it comes in three episodes: Birth of a Nation, This Land is Your Land, and Blowin’ In The Wind. I’d seen it a few years ago but decided to watch it again since they offer footage that is rarely seen. If you search for it you’ll find that it has been uploaded in a number of different configurations, from the complete program to a series of ten-minute clips.
I’ve always been enchanted by country blues, the acoustic variety that was made by rural African-Americans in the South during the 1920s and ’30s. After being recorded by folklorists like the late John Lomax and labels such as Paramount and Okeh, most of the musicians faded away from the public until the folk and blues revival in the early ’60s brought them back to the attention of a younger white audience. Appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest television show, and other venues were caught on film, and although they don’t quite have the popularity of Mr. Bieber or Ms. Swift, they share the same space on YouTube and wait patiently to be discovered.
Falling down that crazy rabbit hole again, these live performances are a few of my favorites that aren’t meant to be definitive but rather reflective of the times. If you’re interested in learning more about the music, there are a few resources I can suggest. Check out the Smithsonian Folkways site, Ranker’s Top 40 songs, and this site dedicated to contemporary acoustic blues that also offers some interesting historical essays and references.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed.