Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Download: SID HEMPHILL "Come on Boys, Let's Go to the Ball"

That's the amazing Sid Hemphill on panpipes and Lucius Smith on drums there. The song is from Alan Lomax's Sounds of the South collection, which is when Lomax headed throughout the South with radically state of the art stereo field recording equipment in 1959 with money from Atlantic Records. I think that's when he also discovered the brilliant Mississippi Fred McDowell--yessss, the interwebnet proves me right for a change--and it's also when some of the best recordings of fife and drum were made. This recording was a reunion; the versatile Hemphill, who also played string band music, played on the first recordings ever made of fife and drum (by Lomax but with his pops, I think) back in '42 for the Library of Congress. I'm not sure they were ever released until years later, though.

Wait, we all know about fife and drum don't we? It was, clearly, a very African-derived music. It had been outlawed by plantations everywhere but in and around the valley area of Como, Mississippi, far northern Mississippi near to where it borders west Tennessee (yes, Memphis). The stuff was outlawed because slaves would communicate with each other using the drums, and more than once they communicated about things such as running free from the plantation, so it was highly strange/ anachronistic that the stuff survived at all. It's harvest music, celebration music, and is rarely played without the band members being blind-ass, stumbling drunk. This might be part of why the tunes are not that complex. Neither of these things is meant as a diss of course; lots of festival music the world over shares those qualities. I just love the tranced-out and sing-songy fucked-up groove this stuff has going on. Finding any recordings of this music used to be way difficult; thankfully, the late Otha Turner was documented, largely late in his life, in the '90s (and his 80s). If you ever see a record with Napoleon Strickland on it , buy the thing immediately. Your best first immersion into this amazing music is probably the Rounder release Afro-American Folk Music from Tate and Panola Counties, Miss.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I share your enthusiasm for this music (like, *all* the way), I've been to five fife-and-drum picnics --- three at the Turners place, one in Sardis MS, and one at some unknown place way back in the MS country --- and I have never seen the musicians to be "blind-ass, stumbling drunk." I'll grant you that my experience is limited, but that comment just doesn't jibe with what my (admittedly sometimes stumbling drunk) eyes have seen.

Also great are the Georgia f+d cats heard on "Traveling Through the Jungle." They + Napolian Strickland can be heard on the "Sorrow Come Pass Me Around" comp --- find it and ye shall be rewarded.

8:29 AM  
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