Mudcat Café message #3603495 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #153775   Message #3603495
Posted By: Will Fly
21-Feb-14 - 08:22 AM
Thread Name: English vs. American folk culture
Subject: RE: English vs. American folk culture
I'm not sure that the traditional music scene (I prefer that to "folk") in America, through the years, can be compared to ours. For a start, the musical environments were and are very different, and I think there's a subtle difference between the grassroots music of America and the US Folk Revival and its subsequent history.

I'm going to start at an odd place: Western Swing as personified by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys - a band that soared to great heights from the early 1940s onwards. As well as broadcasting, the band toured all over the south and west, playing in dance halls and community halls - a wonderful mixture of country music, fiddle tunes, comic songs, big band jazz, etc., played on brass, electric guitars, pedal steel guitars, fiddles, drums, bass etc. Hugely eclectic in style and content. Just listen to their recording of "Take Me Back To Tulsa": starts with a corny old country riff on two fiddles, goes to a vocal chorus, switches to a hot honky-tonk piano solo, repeats a vocal chorus, goes into a hot fiddle jazz solo, then more singing followed by two electric guitar half-solos on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar - and finishes on the vocals and fiddle duet. They literally mixed up all sorts of styles - often in one tune.

I've analysed this in some detail because it demonstrates how much more homogeneous American country/folk/traditional appeared to be than music over here. Music was embedded in the community and the barriers between one type of music and another were blurred. It was just what you played in your home, in a local bar, at a party on the back porch, for a dance. The Everly Brothers, for example, were not a lone phenomenon but one set of musicians in a long line that started with people like the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers, the Delmore Brothers in one strand, and with a host of others in other strands. Listen to the Harry Smith Collection to see what was there. The Holy Modal Rounders could take stuff from that collection and whoop it up in a whacky but affectionate way. No hangups about it being one thing or another.

The Folk Revival, which was influenced partly by the Harry Smith Collection, was to my mind a much more self-conscious "folk" movement, with social and political motives, as exemplified by the Weavers, Pete Segger, Guthrie, and so on.

So, when you speak of the "folk culture" of the US and try to compare it with our own, you might be trying to compare apples and oranges... :-) Just my take on the question.