From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- When Harry Smith Ruled The Whole Wide World- Folk World That Is
Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Memphis Jug Band performing in the Harry Smith 1920s night.
Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:
Back the 1960s folk revival minute my old friend, socialist propagandist and amateur folk revival archivist Peter Paul Markin, was a real piece of work. I will never forget the conversation on the subject of folk music, the early stuff, on one of the first nights after I had met him. (It was really a Pee-Pee monologue. By the way in those days he was known under the moniker of Be-Bop Benny so don’t let him know I am calling him Pee-Pee here.) I had just met him and the rest of the motley crew of Captain Crunch’s merry prankster yellow brick road bus at a park up on Russian Hill in San Francisco in the summer of love, 1967 version, after I had hitchhiked my way across the country from my Olde Saco, Maine hometown.
He, in a hail of bong fire (figure it out for yourselves what we were doing), started going on and on about this guy Harry Smith, kind of a screwy guy when all was said and done, who almost single-handedly created the better parts of the American Folk Songbook. I, just out of high school, just bumming around looking for some adventure, and mainly just getting away from squaresville Olde Saco, was just barely “on the bus” with Bob Dylan and his electric folk stuff so, at the time , and for a long time after this Pee-Pee’s raving was just so much air.
But one thing about Pee-Pee and his obsessions, he doesn’t give up easily. Every once in a while, usually after some bong fire hit, he would return to the subject in little snippets. Like did I realize that the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (I was crazy for Maria Muldaur) played a lot of stuff that the Memphis Jug Band played in the 1920s. Or that the real way to understand that old lonesome and distressing mountain music brought from the old country (the British Isles old country, just to keep things straight) and planted in Appalachia was to listen to Clarence Ashley or Buell Kazee render their versions of songs such as East Virginia. Or that guys like Uncle Dave Mason, and guys like that, worked the carny, vaudeville, back alley circuit honing their skills before live audiences. Or that non-electric juke joints, church Sunday, and plantation prisons were keys to understanding the way black music evolved into blues, jazz, hip-hop, rap and so on.
Basically old Pee-Pee spoon fed me in little doses (knowing my attention span for non- electric acid-etched rock was minimal in those days) the great expanse of the American folk songbook. As time went on that funny old guy with eclectic tastes, Harry Smith (and, additionally the Lomaxes, father and son, and the Seegers, father and sons, help fill it out), started to look no so eccentric. So when my time came to listen to Harry’s now famous Anthology of American Folk Music they had to practically pry me from the CD player before I wore it out playing the eighty-odd songs repeatedly. Ya, that old Pee-Pee was sure a real piece of work