Sun 25 May 2008
Ever since I picked up the 7-CD George Mitchell Collection Vols. 1-45 (collects all 45 of the 7" records Fat Possum issued plus bonus material) I've been featuring the music often on the program and today we finally get around to devoting an entire show to these remarkable recordings. I was also fortunate to interview a very gracious George Mitchell who took some time to recall his field recording days. This show will kick off what will eventually be a series of shows devoted to field recording spotlighting the contributions of John and Alan Lomax, David Evans, Art Rosenbaum and others. I've written quite about Mitchell's recordings so what follows is some brief background plus some links to more in depth articles I've written.
From the early 1960's to the early 1980's Mitchell roamed all over the south recording blues in small rural communities where the music still thrived. Mitchell wasn’t the only one roaming the south in the 1960’s in search of blues; there was folklorists and researchers such as David Evans, Sam Charters, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Art Rosenbaum and others. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those, like Mitchell, who were seeking to record whoever they could find. These men, in turn, where following in the pioneering field work of John and Alan Lomax.
|Napoleaon Strickland, Como Mississippi, 1967
(Photo by George Mitchell)
Mitchell did record some of the famous artists of the past like Buddy Moss, Furry Lewis, Will Shade, Sleepy Johns Estes and was the first to record artists who would achieve later fame such as R.L. Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Othar Turner and Precious Bryant. While the blues revival was picking up steam with newly discovered artists like Son House, Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt hitting the circuit, Mitchell’s recordings were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960’s was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn’t use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell’s sincerity (being a southerner probably didn’t hurt as well).
Excerpts from George Mitchell interview: