Mudcat Café message #1953339 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #98573   Message #1953339
Posted By: curmudgeon
31-Jan-07 - 06:55 AM
Thread Name: Alan Lomax Birthday
Subject: Alan Lomax Birthday
From The Writers Almanac:

It's the birthday of one of the most important folklorists in American history, Alan Lomax, (books by this author) born in Austin, Texas (1915). (Some sources give his birthday as January 15.) His father, John Lomax, was one of the first people ever to travel around the American South to write down the lyrics of folk songs sung by ordinary people in saloons and on back porches. It was John Lomax who discovered a folksong that became known as "Home on the Range." By the time Alan Lomax was born, his father had taken a banking job to support the family. But he lost that job during the Great Depression, and in 1933, he applied for a grant to start collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress. Alan was 18 years old and the time, and he went along as an assistant.

They got in their beat-up old Ford with a tent and a 500-pound recording machine and went off to scour the prisons, plantations, and lumber camps, looking for songs. One of the stops they made on that first trip was Angola prison, and it was there that they first recorded a barrel-chested man with a beautiful deep voice, who went by the name of Leadbelly and introduced them to songs like "Goodnight Irene" and "Rock Island Line."

Alan's father would go on to become the first curator of the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress, but it was Alan would do most of the collecting. He traveled all over, recording everything from church singers to voodoo ceremonies. Unlike other musicologists, Lomax always tried to get the best recording equipment available. And even though he was recording on the fly in the field, he was careful about microphone placement and did everything he could to capture a high-quality sound.

He was one of the first people to record Woody Guthrie and helped get him a recording contract. In 1941, he went on a quest to try to find the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, only to find that Johnson was already dead. But along the way, he made the first recording of a bluesman who called himself Muddy Waters. Waters later said that it was hearing the recording that Lomax had made that persuaded him to pursue a career in music.

Lomax also wrote numerous books about folk music and, in 1993, published a memoir of his early life called The Land Where the Blues Began.