Mudcat Café message #1532138 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #83121   Message #1532138
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
31-Jul-05 - 01:50 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Bascomb Lamar Lunsford
Subject: RE: Folklore: Bascomb Lamar Lunsford
Mr. Lunsford was a hard man to get along with. He was hospitable enough to invite us into his house, let us sit down and break out the banjos. But he would not sing any of his more unusual songs. Just those already available on record, like "Swannanoa Tunnel" and "Mole In the Ground." He did not much like northerners, who tended to be rude about his many prejudices, and he was very protective of his commercial rights, as he had been ripped off before.

He was a complex man. Racist yes, but, hey face it, life often presents us with indigestible mixtures. Lunsford was also one of the finest early collectors of folk songs. His dedication to preserving them was astounding and without him we would lack many of them. His 300-some recordings for the Library of Congress contain some appallingly beautiful, unusual gems. He's the only one that saved songs like "Death of Queen Jane," "Italy," "Mr. Garfield," "Sundown"...the list is endless.

He was THE pioneer folk festival man. And he was fiercely protective of "his" rural musicians. He fought to keep them from being laughed at, called hillbillies, pried into and sneered over by outsiders who did not understand them. One of the most poignant things I've ever seen was on a Lunsford TV tribute special many years ago when the camera showed a poverty-stricken elder singer in what he considered pitiful circumstances. He got in front of the camera, blocked it and turned his back to it rather than have that person shown up as what some people might call a cracker.

W'e're all a mixed bag. We all have our prejudices. Yes he is frequently called Bastard Lamar Lunsford because he was proud, bigoted, an angry man sometimes. But he did all of us traditional music people a favor that can never be repaid. He is the sage of Asheville. Many intelligent, far more liberal people than he revere him, and remember, along with his foibles and his misdeeds, his dedication to the real traditional roots.

Pete Seeger has been called folksong's Johnny Appleseed, but Lunsford was the model. As a young man he wore himself out on foot and muleback, selling fruit trees throughout the Smokies, meeting singers in back hollers, staying the night (difficult personality and all) and swapping songs. In his odd voice and hitchy banjo style (the origin of the Seeger strum, by the way, which has now gone all over the world) we hear the echoes of the vast range of back-country singers he met. It's quite something to be that kind of conduit.

I remember him with some tension, but always with respect. Bob