Amoeblog

Fleeting and Forgotten Female Folkies

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 24, 2009 05:47pm | Post a Comment
Lately, whilst reading about unfamiliar folkies popping up on my Pandora folk station, I sometimes feel like I'm reading the same thing over and over when it comes to a handful of female artists. I doubt that the reasons were the same, but several new (to me) discoveries had similar careers involving under-recognized talent, followed by disappearance/retirment and then, several decades later, new interest. Among these chanteuses are:


Bridget St. John -- Bridget St. John learned guitar from John Martyn. St. John began touring the folk circuit and recording for the BBC and on John Peel's Dandelion label with members of Jethro Tull and King Crimson. In 1974, she recorded Jumble Queen and was voted the fifth most popular female singer in the Melody Maker readers' poll. In 1976, St. John moved to Greenwich Village and retired from music. She re-emerged in 1999 for a Nick Drake tribute concert and toured Japan in 2006.


Diane Hildebrand -- Hildebrand started out writing for Screen Gems alongside Boyce & Hart, Carole King & Gerry Goffin as well as other Brill Building alumni, including her frequent partner, Jack Keller. Together they wrote several songs for The Monkees as well as the theme to The Flying Nun. Whilst living in Beachwood Canyon, she signed a one record deal with Elektra, for whom she recorded her sole album, Early Morning Blues and Greens.

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Samantha Bumgarner -- fiddling ballad woman of mountains

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2009 06:49pm | Post a Comment
Aunt Samantha Bumgarner c. 1937

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.

Dillsboro, North Carolina c. 1904
 

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.

English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians

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.

Ruth Crawford Seeger - Modernist-cum-Folkie

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 8, 2009 07:43pm | Post a Comment
Female composers getting the short shrift is certainly nothing new, and is by no means limited to classical music. But as an admittedly casual fan of atonality, dissonance, modernism and serialism, I was surprised in February of this year to, for the first time, stumble across Middlewestern composer Ruth Crawford Seeger's unique, innovative musical voice. She immediately became a featured artist on The Lunatic Asylum and I became interested in her story.

Ruth Porter Crawford was born on July 3, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio, supposedly the "World Capital of Pottery." Her father was an itinerant minister. Her mother began her musical education with piano lessons when she was 11. Upon graduation from high school, she entered Foster's School of Musical Art in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1921, when it relocated to Miami, Crawford enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where she studied with Madame Valborg Collett, Polish-born Henriot Levy and Louise Robyn. By 24, with the completion of her earliest work, she already displayed a unique modernist voice.

Ruth Crawford c. 1924

In Chicago, she met Djane Lavoie Herz, who in turn introduced her to the music of sometime-serialist Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Through Lavoie Herz, she met and fell in with transpersonal astrologer/composer Dane Rudhyar, theorist/composer Henry Cowell and pianist Richard Bühlig. Cowell was an early supporter of her work and arranged for performances of her compositions in New York, where her folkish take on avant-garde drew comparisons to the work of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

Dumpster Diving Story

Posted by Whitmore, May 12, 2008 08:56pm | Post a Comment


As a child I spent many of an hour dumpster diving, trash picking and rummaging where I shouldn’t have been rummaging. In my neighborhood, Wednesday was the night-- trash night. I’d sneak off after dinner in search of treasure, check out all the neighbors' garbage cans, boxes of junk curbside, apartment building dumpsters, and I’d be back home an hour or so later, laden with exotic booty from the world over. My mom would usually yell at me to get my latest cache out of the house, “That crap might have bugs in it, for Christ sakes!” But it wasn’t all infested! In fact, I still have some of that ‘crap,' and some of that dumpster swag still decorates my parents' house.


Over the years I’ve lugged home great pieces of furniture, collectible books, pottery, artwork, glass wear, jewelry, you name it … and once I found something that altered and twisted my thinking forever. I found it right there on Franklin Avenue right down the way from the Shakespeare Bridge in the Los Feliz district in Los Angeles. Stuck to the bottom of an empty trash can was an LP from 1963 on Vanguard Records, Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo by Sandy Bull. Back then I was just an innocently corrupt thirteen year old Catholic school boy, but already on the long path I’m still unraveling today-- that of a musician. I had just started taking guitar lessons, and as could be expected, I was struggling with all the important fundamentals: getting the hang of bar chords, finger picking, playing those newbie-guitar standards like “House of The Rising Sun” and “Knocking on Heaven's Door,” and trying to convince my parents to let me grow my hair long. Anyway, I got home, I threw this Sandy Bull record on the turntable, turned it up and it blew my freakin’ pubescent mind.

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Richard Thompson

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 8, 2007 11:12pm | Post a Comment
Richard Thompson
Friday night, December 7th, 2007
Performing at the Montalvo Arts Center in the Carriage House

I know all of that is true not only because I looked it up on the net to verify my facts, but because I was there.

An intimate run of shows in this adorable town goes by the name Saratoga. Mind you, us Amoebas are in California, though I certainly would love to see Richard Thompson perform in an intimate venue in Saratoga, New York. I always loved that town. In Saratoga, California there are wineries and some really nice shops and no snow in December. (Unlike Saratoga, N.Y., though I haven't been to New York since this wacky global warming craze started, so for all I know it was colder in California last night.)

I grew up back East and I hate being cold about more than I hate anything except huge things like injustice, starving children and being stabbed. I do not mean to downplay how much I hate being cold, but luckily --although I have spent much of the last month freezing my damn ass off  --the intimate theater that Richard Thompson played in this week was only a chilly place. Not freezing, not really even officially cold.


Richard playing at Amoeba Hollywood

One December, I went to see Charles Brown perform at Kimball's East also here in California and it was freezing in that damn venue. I am well aware of the massive tangent I am on right now, and I don't give a damn. I'd had my face smashed open by a car dashboard when I was about 16, and that night at Charles Brown, it was so damn cold, my face ached so, and I watched the whole show holding the right side of my face because, frankly, it was sheer agony. Now Friday night, December 7th, 2007, in Saratoga California, I was not holding my face at all. I will admit to occasionally rubbing my legs and wearing a few layers, long johns and all. But it's been a cold December here in Northern California. This all popped into my head because I was at the Charles Brown show with the same person that said, "Hey, I have an extra ticket to see Richard Thompson, drive on down here."

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