She'll Grow Back: Stagger Lee Saturdays: Bama

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stagger Lee Saturdays: Bama

Alan Lomax is legendary in the field of American music -- he and his father John were largely responsible for preserving a whole musical tradition: chain gang songs and work songs written and passed along by African-Americans for decades. This is what folk music is about: people hear a song from someone, then make it their own and pass it on to others, who change it some more. If you look at the wide variety of lyrics and tunes we've heard about Stag, you'll notice that (until Lloyd Price's 1959 recording, at least) each version is different in some way from all the others.

This is a bare-bones, a capella version of Stag, with a lot of lyrics we've never heard before (Stag tells Billy that if he loves his kids so much he'll have to catch up with them in heaven) and quotes from "Alberta" and "Junker's Blues." (Like Stag, "Junker's Blues" -- aka "Junco Partner" -- has also been covered by Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair, Dr. John and The Clash -- I smell a Multiple Mondays post of this in the indeterminate near future.) This recording was performed live by a prisoner, in 1947 in the infamous Parchman Penitentiary. You can hear the atmosophere of the jailhouse, with a wicked echo and other people shouting in the background. This is so rough and so raw I can't help but wonder about Bama -- he was gone from Parchman the next year when Lomax returned to record more songs, but he tells us in an interview on this same disc that he's been in and out of prison for the past 18 years.

This whole disc is so chilling and affecting that I cannot recommend highly enough that you use that buy link this week. The used CDs start at two bucks, or Amazon will sell you the whole download for only $5. I'll be posting at least one more track from this sometime soon, but go ahead and buy it now.


CD said...

More DL issues, my friend?

Mark H. Besotted said...

Grrr... no wonder I stopped hemorrhaging bandwidth last night.

Apparently ALL their servers are down. I just clicked on the support tab, and even that one's down.

I'd hope this is fixed within 24 hours. In the meantime, check your mailbox.