Dreaming about Chords
The 2010 Special Roots Music Issue’s CD
available at no cost for use in college classrooms
(Track List below)
Getting into southern music—really getting into it—requires some digging. Etta Baker mines memories of her daddy to “take up the sounds” she remembers him picking on the banjo. The Hushpuppies sift a century of recorded vernacular music to unearth tunes from bygone days, like the Carolina Twins’ “Your Wagon Needs Greasing,” the tune itself a variation on the British ballad “The Wagoner’s Lad.” Collectors dig in crates and dusty boxes for lost, black-vinyl gems of soul and R&B that spin at 45 RPM. The lucky ones find treasures like The Constellations’ “I Got a Woman,” released on the Impel record label. Digging deeper reveals David Lee in Shelby, North Carolina, the man behind the music on the Impel, Washington Sound, and SCOP labels—a discography of soul, country, and gospel music of artists from the Carolinas that also includes Joe Brown and the Singing Mellerairs.
Digging into music so deeply connected to tradition really means tunneling down, getting down to the roots. In the South, these roots draw nourishment from local culture, anchoring specific sounds and styles to particular places. The Birmingham Heritage Band’s blue notes and shouts express overflowing pride for their hometown. Alabama Slim narrates the heart-wrenching loss of his home in New Orleans, backed by the muggy blues of his friend Little Freddie King. The high lonesome sound of Hamper McBee evokes the mountains of Tennessee, his ballad detailing the daily struggles of workers at the “Wauhatchie Yards” in the tradition of protest songs so vital to the labor movement. The joined congregations of Philadelphia and Hollow Springs Primitive Baptist Churches and the velvet voices of the Royal Jubilee Gospel Singers offer a warm embrace, affirming a sense of belonging in the earthly community of the church—and a more enduring home beyond.
Grand narratives of southern music can reduce history to a game of connect the dots, from musician to musician, and from place to place, in order to tell one linear story of the “blues,” “country,” or “rock ’n’ roll.” Underground, the roots reveal the tangled history of cross-cultural hybridization that makes southern music unique and so widely appreciated. Engaged in a constant process of reinvention, southern music remains vital by sounding familiar even when ignoring cultural boundaries imposed by religion or race. Jimmy Anderson, for one, garners enthusiastic audiences for his shuffling swamp blues in Austria. The tight vocal harmonies of Megafaun harken back to the best of the brother duets. The choir of voices that lifts Filthybird’s “Pick Me Up” to the heavens leans more closely to Sunday morning than Saturday night, and the Mississippi Nightingales’ tape-delayed evangelizing sounds as rock ’n’ roll as it does religious.
Roots also encourage growth. Idyll Swords, Roger McGuinn, and Michael Hurley draw from selected traditions to reconfigure them in ways completely transformative—but still distinctly southern. Lumbee’s overdriven southern rock shoots up like spring growth, with Willie Lowery’s massive guitar riffs growing straight from a taproot deep in North Carolina. The chorus leaves no question as to the source—“We are Lumbee.”
What would Preston Fulp say about all this talk of roots? Probably nothing. He dreamed his first chord. He dreamed the guitar. And like all these musicians, he played music with his heart. Dig in.
The Track List
1. “The Early Bird Always Gets the Worm” Michael Hurley 3:13
2. “Walking Jaybird” Etta Baker 2:40
3. “Birmingham Is My Home” Birmingham Heritage Band 7:32
4. “They used to use a pocket knife. . .” Bukka White 2:48
5. “The Mighty Flood” Alabama Slim and Little Freddie King 3:43
6. “Lord, I’m in Your care” Royal Jubilee Gospel Singers 3:24
7. “Pick Me Up” Filthybird 2:49
8. “I Got a Woman” The Constellations 1:28
9. “Your Wagon Needs Greasing” The Hushpuppies 3:43
10. “My God Is Real” Joe Brown and the Singing Mellerairs 2:39
11. “Just As I Am Without One Plea” Philadelphia and Hollow Springs Primitive Baptist Churches 3:43
12. “Untitled” Idyll Swords 4:02
13. “Don’t Let Him Ride” Mississippi Nightingales 3:19
14. “We Are Lumbee” Lumbee 4:54
(Recorded live at the Pink Pussycat Lounge)
15. “Dreaming about the guitar. . .” Preston Fulp 0:50
16. “Cindy” Preston Fulp 3:47
17. “Kaufman’s Ballad” Megafaun 3:56
18. “Wauhatchie Yards” Hamper McBee 3:05
19. “Going Crazy Over T.V.” Jimmy Anderson and the Mojo Blues Band 3:15
20. “In the Evenin’” Roger McGuinn 2:24
running time 67:16
Compiled by Aaron Smithers
Mastered by Aaron Smithers and John Loy at the Southern Folklife Collection
Special thanks to Steve Weiss, Head, UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection.