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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring The Arts District

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 22, 2009 09:22pm | Post a Comment

This edition of the neighborhood blog is about The Arts District... or The Artist District... or is it The Artist-In-Residence District... or perhaps The Artists' District? This, and other issues, will be sorted out by blog's end to everyone's satisfaction.

 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Arts District

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            William Wolfskill                                                                      La Grande Station
 

The area along the western bank of Los Angeles River currently designated The Arts District in Los Angeles has gone through many changes in identity and name over the years. It passed from the hands of the Tongva to the Spaniards to the Mexicans and, most recently, to the Yankees. One of the latter, a Kentuckian named William Wolfskill, planted the land (or had it planted) with citrus trees to sell to scurvy-prone miners who swarmed the area following the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Central City East in 1909

TRAIN HUB

By the 1870s, trains began arriving in the area both to transport the citrus to far off locales and to bring in migrant workers to work in the groves. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad opened the Moorish-style La Grande Station in 1893. Thirteen years later, a new depot opened at 3rd and Santa Fe.

BIRTH OF SKID ROW

Following the arrival of trains and the immigrant laborers they brought, the area began to rapidly industrialize. Much of the work in Los Angeles, based as it was on agriculture, was seasonal. To cater to the workers between jobs, many bars and flophouses sprang up between downtown proper and the growing industrial district which gradually became known alternately as Skid Row and the Nickel -- because it’s centered on 5th St.

 
Nate Starkman & Son   


                                                                                  Industrial Street after sunset

RISE OF INDUSTRY - THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT

Between San Pedro and the Los Angeles River, Central City East was soon covered with large factories and warehouses. By 1950, Los Angeles was an industrial powerhouse where more cars were assembled than in any American city besides Detroit. The city’s tire production was only exceeded by that of Akron. Los Angeles also outranked all American cities in garment production except for New York City.

One famous warehouses was owned by George Shima, the first Japanese-American millionaire. Shima was born ???? in Kurume in 1864 and lived in Berkeley (when he bought a house the newspaper headline read "Yellow Peril in College Town." His base of operation was out of a warehouse on 1275 E. 6th Street. After beginning his career as a domestic servant and later becoming a migrant worker, he nonetheless managed to amass a fortune of about $18 million (about $200 million adjusted for inflation) due to his Shima Fancy potatoes commanding 85% of the potato market.


As the population of the city swelled, much of the industry and especially the residential population center moved away from the city center, leaving behind many massive empty buildings.

Looking west near Wholesale and Mill

VIETNAM WAR ERA

In the late ‘60s, many returning emotionally-disturbed and drug-addicted Viet Nam vets joined the older, by then permanent population of alcoholic ex-hobos, tramps and bums. Many missions had long serviced the indigent area and the mostly abandoned industrial area became a hotbed for those both dropping out of society and those expelled from it. Not all of the industrial core was abandoned and as different areas took on different characteristics are still organized around smaller districts, including The Wholesale District (an area where most of the produce, seafood and flowers pass into the city), Skid Row (an area where most of the county’s 10,000 or so homeless pass through), The Fashion District (formerly known as The Garment District), The Toy District and -- on the eastern edge -- The Arts District.

Economy Supply (with large chess pieces on the roof)   

Looking east down 5th St from Alameda


BORDERS OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

Not all of the district's borders have been accepted by all parties. Since it became a highly desirable area, developers have continually attempted to stretch its borders so that they can convert and sell more properties. The western border has always been accepted as Alameda. The eastern border has always been accepted as the L.A. River. Though the northern border is defined in city documents as 1st Street, both Temple and the 101 have also been described as the border and even appear as such in some unofficial maps. Confusingly, the only "Arts District" signs in the area are located at Hewitt & Traction and at 3rd & Santa Fe, intersections within anyone's definition but not marking a border. In 2000, the Central City North Community Plan officially set “Artists-in-Residence District’s” southern boundary at 6th street. Then, in 2007, the southern boundary was officially extended several blocks further to Violet St.

It is bordered by the Civic Center to the north, Boyle Heights to to east, the Wholesale District to the south, the Downtown Industrial District to the southwest, and Little Tokyo to the northwest.



***

BIRTH OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

The area began to take shape as the Arts District around 1976 when artists began to come to the area to inhabit the by-then often vacant buildings, attracted in part by the ample space and average rent of thirty cents-per-square-foot. Since the empty warehouses weren’t zoned for residences, there were occasional raids by the fire department and it was all a bit lawless.

AL'S BAR

In 1979, the storied Al’s Bar opened on the ground floor of The American Hotel when Marc Kreisel bought the property from the titular Al. Over the years, the club hosted many underground and then-obscure acts like The Fall, Gun Club, The Jesus Lizard, The Residents, The Misfits, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Red Kross, Sonic Youth and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even acts that would never likely play there were attracted by its "cred" and so poppier acts like Bad Religion, Coolio and Pennywise all filmed videos there.


 A massive Iron Mountain warehouse   




Mesquit under 6th St Bridge


1981 - AIR ORDINANCE

In 1981, the Artists-In-Residence (AIR) ordinance was passed, allowing artists to live in their work spaces as long as the residences conformed to building and safety standards. After the neighborhood began to build up a bit of Bohemian cache, some enterprising individuals began buying the buildings and the rents began to climb, at first fairly slowly. The area came to be known by a variety of names, including The Lofts District and more often The Arts District.


GORKY'S CAFE 
 

Gorky's (image source: Vespa Vamanos)

Gorky's Cafe opened at 536 E. 8th Street in 1981 by a former librarian, Judith Markoff, and originally catered to local homeless and artists. Fred Powers bought the cafe in 1985, and added a microbrewery, nightly live music, neon and security guards -- promising "Foodski, Funski, Brewski" athe venue, renamed Gorky's Cafeteria & Russian Brewery. It got trendier and Powers opened a second location in Hollywood. The Hollywood location soon closed and a patron, Candace Choi, took over the Arts District location in 1992 before permanently closing the doors in 1993. The building has since been absorbed by the growing Flower District and is home to a flower shop with googly-eye dogs made out of poms and crosses made of flowers. 




In 1982, multimedia artist Stephen Seemayer finished his rough cut of an 8mm film titled Young Turks. Its setting was the area around and including the Arts District between 1977 and 1981, when few of the wealthy loft dwellers would've likely even risked a drive through the area. The stars include artists Bob & Bob, Coleen Sterritt, Richard Newton, Woods Davy, and Al's Bar owner, Marc Kreisel.


BLOOM'S GENERAL STORE


Bloom's General Store  




                                                                               Acme Modern Supplies

As is normally the case in industrial areas, there was a distinct lack of greenery aside from vegetation springing up in hard to access nooks and crannies until some of the locals began planting trees. As the area grew, the distinct lack of nearby services for residents became an issue until Joel Bloom opened Bloom’s General Store. Bloom, along with other community activists, lobbied the city to make The Arts District official. Recognizing the by-then thriving scene, the city began actively encouraging people to move to the district and many of the warehouses were re-zoned and converted into Artist in Residence dwellings. They also installed signs declaring it The Artist District. Even today there are official signs referring to it thusly, or in other cases as, “The Artists' District” but it has long been known primarily as The Arts District, which is what the signs now say. For a while, there was one of the old signs mounted on the exterior of Bloom's store.


Looking east on Conway 



Newly restored building on 6th St.


BEDLAM ART SALON
 
 
Jim Fittipaldi started a speakeasy/art space and magazine of the same name located in the warehouse that is now Molino Street Lofts around 1994. It briefly moved  to Los Feliz in 2000 for a bit before returning to the Arts District, making its home on E. 6th Street (in the Potato King's old warehouse). It closed in 2006.

In a predictable narrative, after the artists begin reversing the long decline of an area with their efforts, gentrification followed. Aiding the speed of the shift were clauses in AIR that exempted the building owners from rent control, so massive developers began to price out and evict long-time residents, converting the buildings in the process into appealing, if less affordable, condos. As the old timers were forced out and the buildings transformed, not surprisingly the character of the Arts District once again began to transform. The American Hotel was sold to Magnum Properties and in 2001, Al’s Bar closed its doors. In 2007, Joel Bloom passed away and his famed store closed its doors after struggling for two years in 2009. Though the intersection of 3rd and Bloom is named Joel Bloom Square, for better or worse (or both), the Arts District has quite a different character than it used to in its heyday as an arts colony.


 Between Barker Block and Molino     

 Former train depot, now SCI-Arc

As with Historic Filipinotown, the Arts District's name now applies largely to an historic population, as most artists can't afford to live in the expensive neighborhood. No longer is the area populated primarily by practicing, struggling artists, but rather by wealthy loft owners attracted by the concept of "artist" as a lifestyle rather than an actual creative pursuit. Although slumming will always hold an attraction for those from a privileged background and realtors bounce around words like “gritty,” “funky,” and “hip” like a hacky-sack in a college dormitory courtyard, in reality the big lofts, including Barker Block, Molino, Toy Factory, Biscuit Company, 2121 and the proposed AMP, are squeaky clean, posh and only affordable to established, celebrity artists or dabbling trustafarians.

The lofts are at least tastefully done (although it would be nice if part of the conversion process had included installing green roofs or walls!) and residents of the neighborhoods busily crowd their ground floor businesses whilst expertly leaving the non-loft areas surprisingly desolate and empty except for the homeless.

There are now a handful of restaurants, stores and bars in the area. I've been known to knock back a few (OK, more than a few) at
Royal Clayton's English Pub in the Toy Factory Lofts. Across the street are The Biscuit Lofts, where Sandra Oh's character lives in Grey's Anatomy. I believe that show takes place somewhere in the northwest which is why, when filming down there, they routinely wet the street.


  The Biscuit Lofts



Looking south at Mateo and 6th
 
To be fair, there is still art being produced in the neighborhood, although much of it has a controlled, prescribed and commodified vibe. Perhaps no space embodies the well-mannered, inorganic and sanctioned "edginess" more than the Barker Block's private, enclosed (and therefore off limits to non-residents) “Artists' Alley.” Most of the rest of the public art in the neighborhood is run-of-the-mill graffiti of the sort favored by the backpack-and-hoodies crowd whose notions of gritty street culture more likely come from Urban Outfitters than firsthand urban experience.

There’s also fair amount of theater in the neighborhood (which I haven't checked out) and several art galleries where you’ll hear terms like “outsider art” and “new ideas” bandied, even though most of what’s being discussed (and most modern art in general) seems to me ironically to be highly uniform, generic and excessively rule-bound. Ironically, much of the online discourse from new residents of the neighborhood revolves around complaining about the twin nuisances of the homeless population, on the one hand, and industrial activity on the other. Sure, Andres Serrano, Chris Ofli and Survival Research Labs type stuff is apparently fine-and-dandy as long as they’re on display in galleries -- but not when the same "media" are on the sidewalks where you walk your tiny dogs on your way to an upscale coffee shop. While I agree that homelessness and pollution are enormous problems in Los Angeles, if you hate water you probably shouldn't move to the coast and then complain that the ocean won't dry up.


In 2000, The Southern California Institute of Architecture moved to the former train depot on Santa Fe. In 2006, Gideon Kotzer opened the last Crazy Gideon’s in the Arts District. His son Daniel runs Café Studio nearby, on Palmetto. The elder Kotzer is trying to get out of the electronics game and now trying to get the approval to convert his property into a truly hideous series of ugly corrugated box residences lined stupidly by palm trees. Given the high standards on display throughout the neighborhood, I doubt the final version will look much like the Crazy One's warped vision.



Currently the Arts District is one of the most unique and physically attractive urban sections of Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, it’s been featured in several films. La Grande Station used to contain a Harvey House, was the subject of (and featured in) The Harvey Girls. In The Limey, Terence Stamp’s character utters his most memorable line before menacingly crossing Willow St. after shooting some pests in a factory there. I'm sure there've been other filmss, (I think Repo  Man), videos and TV shows filmed in part or in whole down there. If you know of any, let me know.


*****


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Happy 75th Birthday John D Loudermilk!

Posted by Whitmore, March 31, 2009 09:57pm | Post a Comment

Today is the 75th birthday of a legendary songwriter most people have never heard of, but as the story so often goes, you may not know the name but you know the song. The songs of John D. Loudermilk have been recorded by hundreds and hundreds artists over the last fifty plus years. From Rockabilly greats like Arnie Derksen, Marvin Rainwater, Jimmy Newman, and Billy Lee Riley to Country Music Hall of Famers like Webb Pierce, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Brenda Lee and Hank Williams Jr. to soul, jazz and funk artists like Nina Simone, Ramsey Lewis, Brother Jack McDuff, William Bell, Solomon Burke and even James Brown. In the rock world Loudermilk’s songs have been recorded by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Jefferson Airplane to Jimi Hendrix and The Jayhawks.
 
John D. Loudermilk was born in Durham, North Carolina March 31, 1934. He wasn’t the only family member with some musical chops; his cousins are Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, better known to country music fans as the Louvin Brothers.  
 
In the mid 1950’s Loudermilk got his start recording some of his own material on the Colonial Record label based in North Carolina under the stage name Johnny Dee. After signing with Columbia Records, he began using his own name and had a Top 20 hit in the UK with "Language of Love" in 1962. Though he continually recorded many solo albums and singles into the 1980’s, his lasting mark on music history is that of a solid first class tunesmith. Loudermilk not only could write some serious songs for serious people but he had an unusually successful career on the novelty side of things.
 
Starting in late 1956, Loudermilk’s songwriting career took off with "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" -- a top 10 country hit in 1956 for "George Hamilton and the Country Gentlemen." (Later to be covered by, of all people, John Fahey!) Later that same year Eddie Cochran recorded Loudermilk’s "Sittin' in the Balcony," becoming Cochran’s first top 20 single, which has since become something of a rockabilly standard. In 1959 Loudermilk scored his first huge international hit with the song “Waterloo” as recorded by Stonewall Jackson, which hit the top of the US Country charts but also saw chart action around the world.
 
But no doubt, Loudermilk's signature song is “Tobacco Road.” He likes to say it’s partly autobiographical, but I suspect that’s just good old fashion bullshit. Tobacco Road is a section in East Durham near to where Loudermilk grew up. There, bails of tobacco are rolled down the way to the warehouse, hence the name. According to almost everything I’ve ever read about it, Tobacco Road did have something of a bad ass reputation, and was known as quite the unsavory neighborhood and a part of town where after dark even the police department avoided entering. This song was a huge hit during the first British invasion, sung by the Nashville Teens in the summer of 1964. What works so perfectly in their version is the harsh, desperate spin they put to the lyrics and melody. It still sounds raw today. “Tobacco Road” has since been covered dozens of times from a wide variety of artists like Richard 'Groove' Holmes, the Blues Magoos, Jimi Hendrix and even David Lee Roth recorded a Spanish version, “La Calle Del Tabaco,” in 1986. Actually, any garage band worth its beans has rocked this classic tale of woe … I believe it's required playing.
 
Another top 40 pop-rock classic, "Indian Reservation," was originally written by John Loudermilk in 1959 and recorded by Marvin Rainwater, as "Pale Faced Indian." Later on Loudermilk reshaped some of the lyrics and released it in the mid 1960s as "The Lament of The Cherokee Reservation Indian." In 1969 Don Fardon shortened the title to "Indian Reservation" and scored a mammoth worldwide hit everywhere except here in the states, which was very fortunate for The Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay. Two years later their version mimicked Fardon’s interpretation almost note for note and scored a huge hit in the US. According to lore, Loudermilk was once asked by Casey Kasem of American Top 40 Radio about the back story of “Indian Reservation.” Loudermilk concocted a tall tale about being rescued by Cherokee Indians after crashing his car in a blinding blizzard only to be held captive by his rescuers. He was finally released once he promised he would write a song telling of their plight. The story appeared several times on the show; Kasem is quoted as saying, "one of the most incredible stories we've ever told on AT40." I bet!
 
One of my favorite John D. Loudermilk songs is “Torture.” Originally a top 20 hit for Kris Jensen in 1962, there is a slightly obscure 1980 version released as a single by the French cult artist Hermine Demoriane. I love her version! She sounds a bit like Nico, but pulls out a bit more drama in the delivery. I know very little about Hermine except she was supposed to be married to the English poet Hugo Williams and performed in the film Jubilee (1977). And though I don’t believe much of anything I read on the internet -- actually very little, and that includes my own blog -- Hermione supposedly studied and practiced tightrope walking and wrote a book about it called Tightrope Walker.
 
In 1969 Loudermilk temporarily tripped out, got hip and underground, and released the soon to be classic, neo-psych album The Open Mind of John D Loudermilk. Finally in recent years it has been re-released on CD. I recommend it, though it is ever so slightly peculiar, but in just … I don’t know … that peculiar, peculiar way.
 
John D. Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976.
 
Here is a small list of some of his other classic songs:
 
Angela Jones” -- Johnny Ferguson version peaked at #27 in Billboard's but the version to hear is by Milk and their bubble gum version from 1969
 
Break My Mind” -- covered by both Linda Rondstadt and Gram Parsons
 
Ebony Eyes” -- the Everly Brothers' perfect version was a huge tear-drop rock hit in 1961, reaching #8
 
Google Eye” -- kind of a ridiculous novelty song, though it was a big hit in France, sung in French by the neo Ye-Ye group Les Lionceaux
 
Norman” – Sue Thompson’s biggest hit peaked at #3
 
Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” -- another big hit for Sue Thompson, this one reached #5 on the Billboard charts. This song was also a hit in France, this time for Sylvie Vartan in the French version: "Quand le film est triste." During her career, the Ye-Ye singer Vartan recorded several Loudermilk songs.
 
Talk Back Trembling Lips” -- A #1 hit by country singer Ernest Ashworth. This song has probably been covered a least a hundred times, and almost always by Country music artists.
 
Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” -- an absolutely great and beautiful song, probably the most recorded tune of John Loudermilk. There may be as many as 200 versions floating around; the most successful version was by The Casinos in 1967.
 
This Little Bird” -- was once recorded by Marianne Faithfull in the mid sixties. Her version reached # 5 in the UK, but only #32 in the US. Later it was recorded by Nancy Sinatra and by Jewel.
 
Thou Shalt Not Steal” -- from 1964, a classic track, became one of Dick & Dee Dee’s biggest sellers
 
Turn Me On” -- Nina Simone did a great early version of this song, so incredibly laid back. Just a few years back, Norah Jones re-did it in a similar manner
 
Anyway, Happy 75th Birthday John D. Loudermilk!




Samantha Bumgarner -- fiddling ballad woman of mountains

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2009 06:49pm | Post a Comment

Aunt Samantha Bumgarner (née Biddix) was a fiddle and banjo player from North Carolina who, in 1924, became the first woman to record hillbilly music. In doing so, she opened the doors for all the great female hillbilly and country musicians who followed. Imagine for a second a world without Brenda Lee, Iris Dement, Jean Shepard, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Sue Thompson and Tammy Wynette, to name a few. Not a pretty place.

 

Samantha Biddix was born in Dillsboro, North Carolina on Halloween, 1878, the same year Black Bart held up his last stagecoach and, more relevantly, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. Her parents were Has Biddix, himself a fiddler, and Sara MaLynda Brown Biddix. Though Biddix showed an early interest in music, her father wouldn’t allow her to touch the fiddle, an instrument occasionally referred to by hillbillies as a “devil’s box.” Nonetheless, when he wasn’t around, she played it and displayed a natural talent. The banjo, then viewed as a slightly more acceptable instrument for women, was not forbidden and Biddix’s first, constructed from gourd and cat hide, was presented to her at fifteen. Later, having demonstrated her skills for her father, he bought her a ten cent model and allowed her to perform with him in the area. Ultimately, he consented to her entering a banjo competition in Canton and she won. Gaining confidence, she began entering and winning competitions routinely.


When she married Carse Bumgarner in 1902, he gave her her first fiddle but she remained most acclaimed for her banjo playing. A few years later she acquired the nickname "Aunt Samantha." Although through the lens of modern ignorance, a hillbilly woman gaining fame with the banjo may seem completely out of the ordinary, it was actually fairly common for women to play the instrument, especially amongst hillbillies. In 1916, when Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles began field recording in the upper south, nearly three quarters of the hundreds of tunes they compiled as English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians were performed by women. In addition, many famous male hillbillies learned to play from the women in their lives. Ralph Stanley was taught to play by his mother, Lucy Smith Stanley. Cynthia "Cousin Emmy" May Carver taught "Grandpa" Louis Jones. Clarence "Tom" Ashley learned to play from his aunts, Ary and Daisy. Morgan Sexton was schooled by his sister, Hettie. Earl Scruggs was beaten to the banjo by his older sisters, Eula Mae and Ruby.


By the early 20th century, whilst still not completely respectable, several female musicians gained a measure of popularity playing banjo, including Elizabeth "Babe" Reid, Gertrude Evans, Virginia “Aunt Jennie” Myrtle Wilson, Stella Wagoner Kimble, Pearl Wagoner, Ada Lee Stump Boarman and Julia Reece Green. By the 1920s, a veritable banjo craze swept the nation and the most popular brand was the Whyte Ladie. In some respects, Bumgarner was merely part of a tradition involving hundreds of women before her, but as an especially talented musician who usually bested her mostly male competitors, her fame spread in the recording age in a way her predecessors never could. In 1924, she was contacted by Columbia, hoping to capture her talents on shellac.


In April 1924, accompanied by guitarist Eva Smathers Davis of nearby Sylva, Bumgarner traveled to New York City where, on the 23, she and Davis recorded ten songs both together and solo. According to County Music Magazine, that record was also the first release by female musicians in the hillbilly genre. They were also the first recordings of a five-string banjo. Although today the Cashville country scene has little use for anything but this week’s disposable pap, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum there does feature the 78s of her initial recordings, which were:

Big-eyed Rabbit (Samantha Bumgarner & Eva Davis)
Cindy in the Meadows (Samantha Bumgarner & Eva Davis)
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss (Samantha Bumgarner)
The Gamblin' Man (Samantha Bumgarner)
Georgia Blues (Samantha Bumgarner)
I Am My Mother's Darlin' Child (Samantha Bumgarner & Eva Davis)
John Hardy (Eva Davis)
Shout Lou (Samantha Bumgarner)
Wild Bill Jones (Eva Davis)
Worried Blues (Samantha Bumgarner)
 

 
Aunt Samantha seemed reluctant to pursue her music professionally, although others encouraged her to. Instead, she contented herself with teaching younger musicians, including Harry Cagle, who later formed Harry Cagle and the Country Cousins. When famed quack "Dr." John Brinkley, the so-called "Goat Gland King" (he used goat glands to treat impotency) asked her to allow him to take her to Del Rio, Texas to play on radio station, XERA, she only consented on the condition that Cagle accompany her.


In 1928, she was invited by local banjo-playing lawyer Bascom Lamar Lunsford to play at his first Asheville Mountain Song and Dance Festival. She did, and continued doing so every year until 1959, even though suffering from rheumatism and arthritic hands in later years. In 1936, at one such performance, Pete Seeger was in the audience and word of mouth about her spread amongst the folk revivalist scene. Soon she was playing Chicago, Kansas City, New York, St. Louis and DC, where she performed for the enjoyment of Franklin Roosevelt. She ultimately recorded again as well, for a company in Liverpool.


Bumgarner and her husband moved to Lovefield at some point. They never had any children and he died in 1941. Just one year after retiring from public performance, Samantha Bumgarner died of arteriosclerotic heart disease at age 82 on Christmas Eve, 1960. She’s buried in Dillsboro's Franklin Cemetery.


Although Bumgarner herself seemed content to record rarely and stay in the hills, by the ‘30s, several Kentuckyian women, including Cynthia "Cousin Emmy" May Carver, Lily May Ledford and Laverne "Molly O’Day" Williamson – perhaps encouraged by the possibilities offered to Bumgarner – all used banjo-playing to take them away from the hardscrabble lives in the tobacco fields, hills and hollers of Bluegrass Country to professional careers as musicians, the first of many women to follow a path made possible through a by all accounts humble Aunt Samantha.
 

Country from other countries

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 23, 2008 06:57pm | Post a Comment
Country Music

In the American South, traditions from Celtic music, folk, blues, gospel and mountain music melded together into what was originally known as Hillbilly music. Hillbilly produced some incredibly popular artists like Jimmie Rodgers, who sold over a million records in the '20s, back when there were probably like 2 million people in the country.

In 1949, Billboard started referring to it as Country, since many Hillbillies began to feel like they were performing some kind of minstrelsy for urban, northern audiences who'd stick some straw baies on the stage to make these noble savages feel at home.

Anyway, it wasn't just popular at home. There are seemingly more fans of country outside of the U.S. than in it. Before long, other countries were producing their own Country, influenced by the original but occasionally tailored to their own traditions.

Canadian Country



It shouldn't really come as a surprise that Canada, our kid sibling to the north, would have their fair share of Country musicians. in fact, outside of the U.S., Canada is the Countryest country. Originally it developed out of their heavily Celtic Maritime Provinces. Most Country, however, mirrors the U.S.'s and many Canadian Country artists have infiltrated Nashville unsuspected and undetected, capable of producing Pop Country as bland as our indigenous experts. Most Canadian Country musicians sing about Tennessee this and Kentucky that, happy to not reflect their own backgrounds. Those that do have a more distinctly Canadian tone often have an elevated Folk aspect to their music.

Canadian Country artists include Shania Twain, Adam Gregory, Hank Snow, Paul Brandy, Wilf Carter, Tommy Hunter, Stompin' Tom Connors, Corb Lund, George Canyon, Don Messer, Anne Murray, Lucille Starr, Marg Osburne, Ian Tyson, Mercey Brothers, Maurice Boyler, Gordie Tapp, Carroll Baker, Bob Nolan, Stu Davis, Gene MacLellan, Myrna Lorrie, Ray Griff, Ronnie Prophet, Colleen Peterson, The Good Brothers, Terry Carisse and Prairie Oyster.


Wilf Carter (audio only)
 
Ian & Sylvia Tyson


Hank Snow


Tommy Hunter



Stompin' Tom Connors

Australian Country




I reckon it's natural that Australia (aka Bizarro America) produces a lot of country too. I mean, they make Westerns about their own wild west and their larikins and our rednecks seem to evince convergent evolution like few other species. As Australian Country-ish songwriter Simon Bonney noted:

"There are similarities between America and Australia. We ask a lot of the same questions and share a desire to hold on to some sort of cultural identity from whatever place we originally came. And Australia is all rural; it's like the classic idea of the Midwest. There are thousands of acres of wheat and barley  and incredible quantities of sheep."

Country music has been popular in Australia for a while, with roots in the bush ballads of the 19th century. As opposed to Canadian Country, a lot of Australian Country focuses on Australian subject matter and is sometimes known as "Bush Music" or "Bush Band Music." New South Wales hosts both the Grabine Music Muster Festival and the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Australian Country Musicians include Tex Morton, Slim Dusty, Simon Bonney, Keith Urban, Lee Karnaghan, Adam Brand, The Bush Wackers, Olivia Newton John, Tania Kernaghan, Beccy ColeTroy Cassar Daley, Kasey Chambers, Sherrie Austin, Smoky Dawson, Catherine Britt, Amber Lawrence, Shea Fisher, Talia Whitman, "Captain Goodtimes" Steve Forde, 8 Ball Aitken, Johnny Ashcroft, James Blundell, Tracy Coster, Wayne Horsburgh, Jedd Hughes, Gina Jeffries, Gay Kayler, Anne Kirkpatrick, Red Lindsay, Jimmy Little, Chad Morgan, Jamie O'Neill, Mary Schneider, Sara Storer, John Williamson, The Donovans, Women in Docs, Karma County, Redgum, Deep Creek and the Prairie Oysters.


Tex Morton (audio only)

 
Slim Dusty
 

Smoky Dawson
 

Johnny Ashcroft



Simon Bonney

Argentine Country



Maybe the least likely country to play host to a big Country Music scene is Argentina. But then again, what's more stereotypical of Argentina then gauchos riding the range? Every year Argentina hosts the San Pedro Country Music Festival. Country bands from around South and North America are featured in the line-up.

Argentine Country artists include Alejandro Gratzer, Coco Diaz, Botas Tejanas, Yulie Ruth, 7 Pistones, Tennessee Country, Radio Texas, Richard Lake and Palmas plus, no doubt, a lot more.


a commercial for the San Pedro Country Music Festival
 

Tennessee Country


Richard Lake
 

A brief spot about the San Pedro Music Festival featuring a few bands

Don Helms 1927 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, August 14, 2008 08:47am | Post a Comment


Don Helms
, steel guitarist and the last surviving member of Hank Williams' band, the Drifting Cowboys, died Monday in Nashville of a heart attack. He was 81. Helms played with Williams on and off for about decade, from 1943 until 1953 when Hank Williams died from just living too fast at the age of 29 on New Year's Day, in Canton, Ohio. Helms is featured on over a hundred Hank Williams recordings -- actually 104 to be exact. His steel guitar sound added a heart breaking mournfulness to many of Williams' ballads, songs like “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Cold, Cold Heart,” but Helms could also add a touch of playfulness on up-tempo tracks such as “Jambalaya” and "Hey, Good Lookin'."

Donald Hugh Helms was born Feb. 28, 1927, in New Brockton, Ala. He got his first steel guitar when he was 15, and by 18 he was playing with Williams in juke joints around the south. After serving in the army during World War II, Helms re-joined the Drifting Cowboys when Williams became a star on the Grand Ole Opry in 1949.

After Williams' death, Helms stayed in demand as a session player and went onto play on dozens of classic recordings such as Patsy Cline's “Walkin' After Midnight,” Lefty Frizzell's “Long Black Veil,” Ernest Tubb's “Letters Have No Arms,” and Stonewall Jackson's "Waterloo." Helms recorded with most every great Country-Western star of the day, including Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Webb Pierce, Ferlin Husky, Chet Atkins, Cal Smith, the Wilburn Brothers, and Jim Reeves. According to legend, Helms wrote Brenda Lee's first number one hit “Fool Number One” in exchange for getting Loretta Lynn a recording contract with Decca Records.

In recent years, Helms continued to provide his signature steel guitar sound on sessions with artists Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi, Martina McBride, Taylor Swift, and Kid Rock. During his lifetime Helms continued to play with all the Williams': Hank Jr., Hank Williams III, and even recorded with Jett Williams, the daughter of Hank Sr. who was born a few days after Williams’ death.

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