|Jimpson and Group||Murderer’s Home||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|22 and Group||It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Foots||Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Josephine Parker||I Got A Man In New Orleans||Jailhouse Blues|
|Lucille Walker||Shake 'em on Down||Jailhouse Blues|
|Beatrice Tisdall||Workhouse Blues||Jailhouse Blues|
|Wade Walton||Parchman Farm||Shake 'Em On Down|
|Joe Savage||Joe’s Prison Camp Holler||Living Country Blues USA Vol. 9|
|The Confiners||Harmonica Boogie||The Devil's Music|
|Bama||Stackalee||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Tangle Eye||Tangle Eye’s Blue||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Floyd Batts||Lucky Song||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Big Charlie Butler||It's Better To Born Lucky||Mississippi: Saints & Sinners|
|Dobie Red & Group||Rosie||Mississippi: Saints & Sinners|
|Bukka White||Parchman Farm Blues||The Complete Bukka White|
|Bukka White||When Can I Change My Clothes||The Complete Bukka White|
|Bama||I’m Going Home||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Clarence Alexander||Disability Boogie Woogie||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|John Dudley||Cool Drink of Water Blues||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Eva White||No Mo' Freedom||Jailhouse Blues|
|Mattie May Thomas||No Mo' Freedom||American Primitive Vol. II|
|Mattie May Thomas||Dangerous Blues||American Primitive Vol. II|
|Charlie Patton||Spoonful||The Best of Charlie Patton|
|Ed Lewis||Levee Camp Holler / Interview||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Bama||Levee Camp Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Clarence Alexander||Prison Blues||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Beatrice Perry||I Got a Man on the Wheeler (Levee Camp Blues)||Jailhouse Blues|
|Hattie Goff||Oh Mr. Dooley, Don't 'Rest Me||Jailhouse Blues|
|Group Of Women Prisoners||If There's Anybody Here Wants to Buy Some Cabbage||Jailhouse Blues|
|Bridges Lee Cole||Hollers||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Bama||I Don't Want You Baby||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Grover Wells and Group||Rosie||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Son House||County Farm Blues||The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of|
|Franks Evans||Red River Blues||Mississippi: The Blues Lineage|
|Bukka White||Sic 'Em Dogs On||Mississippi Blues and Gospel: Field Recordings 1934-1942|
|John Dudley||Clarksdale Mill Blues||Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi|
|Henry Ratcliff||Look for Me In Louisiana||Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959|
|Ed Lewis & Prisoners||I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down||I'll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down|
|Mary James||Go 'Way Devil Leave Me Alone||Jailhouse Blues|
|Five Woman||Penitentiary Blues (Rickentiest Superintendent)||Jailhouse Blues|
|Leroy Miller||Berta, Berta||Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi|
|Floyd Miller||Dangerous Blues||I'll Meet You On That Other Shore|
Today's show is inspired by by the recent release on Dust-To-Digital, Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959. The set collects sides recorded by Alan Lomax in the 40's and 50's at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Much recording was done at Parchman beginning in the 1930's and the prison has inspired many songs. Today we feature some of those songs and recordings spanning 1930 through 1962.
For decades the prison operated essentially as a for-profit cotton plantation and harsh working and living conditions made Parchman Farm notorious. Folklorists Alan Lomax, his father John A. Lomax, Herbert Halpert, and William Ferris all made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's first visited Parchman in 1933 and returned numerous times to record blues, work songs, spirituals, and personal interviews with inmates. Herbert Halpert made some remarkable recordings by female inmates recorded in the prison’s sewing room in 1939. Other notable recordings include a 1939 session with bluesman Bukka White while he was serving time. Alan Lomax went back to Parchman to record in 1947, 1948 and 1959. In the late 60's William Ferris made recordings at Parchman.
In 1958 Alan Lomax wrote: “A few strands of wire were all that separated the prison from adjoining plantations. Only the sight of an occasional armed guard or a barred window in one of the frame dormitories made one realize that this was a prison. The land produced the same crop; there was the same work for blacks to do on both sides of the fence. And there was no Delta black who was not aware of how easy it was for him to find himself on the wrong side of those few strands of barbed wire. … These songs are a vivid reminder of a system of social control and forced labor that has endured in the South for centuries, and I do not believe that the pattern of Southern life can be fundamentally reshaped until what lies behind these roaring, ironic choruses is understood.” A report in the New York Post in 1957 confirms Lomax's impression: "The state penitentiary system at Parchman is simply a cotton plantation using convicts as labor. The warden is not a penologist, but an experienced plantation manager. His annual report to the legislature is not of salvaged lives; it is a profit and loss statement, with the accent on profit." Reform finally came in 1972 when federal judge William C. Keady found that Parchman Farm violated the Constitution and was an affront to "modern standards of decency."
|Read Liner Notes|
Regarding the recordings that make up the bulk of today's show, Bruce Jackson writes: "Black prisoners in all the Southern agricultural prisons in the years of these recordings participated in two distinct musical traditions: free world (the blues, hollers, spirituals and other songs they sang outside and, when the situation permitted, sang inside as well) and the work-songs, which were specific to the prison situation, and the recordings in this album represent that complete range of material, which is one of the reasons this set is so important: it doesn’t just show this or that tradition within Parchman, but the range of musical traditions performed by black prisoners. I know of no other album that does that."
In 1947-48 Alan Lomax made these remarkable recordings at Parchman Farm, armed with state-of-the-art technology, a cassette machine. These sides were originally issued as the LP Negro Prison Songs and reissued on CD as Prison Songs Vol. 1: Murderous Home by Rounder with a companion volume following later. The bulk of this material appears on the Dust-To-Digital collection and there are also some unreleased recordings. Lomax gathered the prisons best lead signers for these recordings, all simply known by their nicknames: men like Bama, 22, Alex, Bull, Dobie Red, and Tangle Eye. Returning to the United States in 1958 (after 10 years abroad), Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South which resulted in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early 1960's. He traveled from the Appalachians to the Georgia Sea Islands, from the Ozarks to the Mississippi Delta, recording blues, ballads, breakdowns, hymns, shouts, chanteys, and work songs. Among those recordings were more material recorded at Parchman Farm.
Both Alan and his father began recording in prisons as early as 1933. Through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lomax was able to set out in June 1933 on the first recording expedition under the Library of Congress' auspices, with Alan Lomax (then eighteen years old) in tow. In July 1933 they acquired a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder and proceeded to tour Texas prison farms recording work songs, reels, ballads, and blues from prisoners. During the next year and a half, father and son continued to make disc recordings of musicians throughout the South, touring Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where they found Leadbelly and made recordings at Parchman. The Lomax's recorded at Parchman throughout the 30's. One of the most famous bluesman they recorded was Bukka White. In 1937 White recorded a minor hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down,” in Chicago, but that year he was also sentenced for a shooting incident to Parchman, where John Lomax recorded him performing two numbers in 1939. After his release White recorded twelve songs at a Chicago session in 1940. Among the songs he recorded were two songs about his time in prison: "Parchman Farm Blues" and "When Can I Change My Clothes?."
I've always been fascinated by the females who recorded at Parchman and whom I first heard on the album Jailhouse Blues on the Rosetta label. These recordings were made in May and June 1939 by Herbert Halpert in the sewing of the Woman's Camp in Parchman. Camp 13 was the woman's camp where white and black women occupied separate wards. The women's primary work was making clothes for the prisoners, mattresses and bedding. The woman also did canning and helped out in the fields. The Parchamn women were asked to sing a song, any song they chose. There were no restrictions about length or subject, but most of the songs were short and some merely fragments. The best of those singers is the remarkable Mattie May Thomas. Thomas was a senior member at Parchman for she had served twice before. She recorded four sides. One of the songs she sings, "Dangerous Blues", was also recorded by Parchman prisoner Floyd Batts and Joe Savage. John Lomax recorded some woman at Parchman in 1936.
There were a number of blues singers like Bukka White who did time at Parchman including Son House and Joe Savage, both featured today. After allegedly killing a man in self-defense, House spent time in prison in 1928 and 1929. According to Dan Beaumont in Preaching The Blues at "some point in possibly in 1927, but more likely in 1928 …at a boisterous 'frolic,' House shot and killed a man. …At the trial House claimed self-defense, but that defense failed and he was convicted and sentenced to time at the state prison, Parchman Farm." In 1930 House recorded "County Farm Blues" and recorded it again for Alan Lomax in 1942 for the Library of Congress.
|Parchman Farm, September 1959|
Joe Savage appears in the 1978 Alan Lomax documentary The Land Where the Blues Began. Savage spent several years in the Parchman State Penitentiary, and speaks on film about the brutality he faced while serving time. He was recorded in 1980 by Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann and issued as part of the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. From those recordings we play the powerful "Joe’s Prison Camp Holler."
Other Parchman related songs featured today included sides by Wade Walton and the Confiners. Clarksdale barber/musician Walton recorded the talking blues "Parchman Farm" on his long-out-of-print album, Shake 'Em on Down. On it he talks about bringing two white folk-song collectors (Dave Mangurian and Donald Hill) from California to the prison in 1958. In 1961, the Electro Record Company of Hattiesburg, MS released a single, the instrumental "Harmonica Boogie b/w Toss Bounce" by the Confiners a group of Parchman prisoners who were let out for public appearances.