Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Blind" James Campbell & The Nashville Street Band - "Baby Please Don't Go" , "John Henry", & More

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides general information about Black (African American) string bands, and information about "Blind" James Campbell & The Nashville Street Band.

This post also showcases five YouTube examples of James Campbell and his string band.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to James Campbell and The Nashville Street Band. Thanks also to Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Record for publishing recordings of this music. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube examples.

This excerpted comment from!topic/
"What does "breakdown" mean?" motivated me to look up YouTube examples of African American string bands.

That led me to the information about and videos of Blind James Campbell and his Nashville (Tennessee) string band.

In I published this related post: "African Americans' Historical Contribution To Old Time Music"

Other examples of Black string band music will be showcased on this blog.

Here's that excerpt that I referred to:
Gconklin, 9/17/96
"In article <51lleo$> (Nancy K. Martin) writes:
“I am wondering if any of you country boys can explain to me why a breakdown is called a breakdown (or, for that matter, what a breakdown is)? It is one of those terms, like hoedown, that intrigues me."....
-end of quote-

Okay, I'll be the first country boy to venture out on your limb --actually, out on your twig. I don't recall ever hearing a definition of "breakdown" in my native Blue Ridge. My buddy John Cephas, country bluesman from Caroline County, Virginia, says it comes from house dances, that some dancing became so energetic that the puncheon floors of cabins were literally broken down by the dancers. John talked about this with three other Piedmont bluesmen (John Jackson, Archie Edwards, John Dee Holeman) when we were filming the documentary, "Blues House Party," in the early 80s and they all knew about it. (But I'm not sure the discussion is in the video; it may have been cut.) Their acoustic branch of the oldest blues draws upon the old black string bands (fiddle, banjo, rhythm groups) for repetoire, performance settings and many terms, so I suspect that you have here a Tidewater term that reveals some of the oldest roots of the American musical tree." Joe Wilson"
I added italics to highlight that portion of that excerpt.

Click for the pancocojams post that included this excerpt: Information About Two Very Old (African American Originated) Dance Forms: "The Breakdown" & "The Breakaway".

From The Lost Tradition of Black String Bands, BY ARCHIVE, FEBRUARY 28, 2002
..."The black string band tradition is all but extinct today. The last remnants of it could be heard in the music of Joe and Odell Thompson, in the lilting banjo styles of the late John Jackson, in the driving fiddle of Howard Armstrong, occasionally in the work of Taj Mahal. But diaries and letters from the 19th century, as well as dozens of fading old photos, show that as late as the turn of the 20th century, there were still hundreds of black fiddlers and banjo players plying their trade.

W.C. Handy, the blues composer, described how his own grandfather, Brewer, played the fiddle for dances, often singing words like, "Sal got a meatskin laid away/To grease her wooden leg every day." In slavery days, talented black musicians were sent to New Orleans, where they learned how to fiddle the quadrilles and reels favored at plantation dances. Later, these musicians began to develop their own styles, based on the white fiddle tunes but with a more forceful bowing style and a sense of dynamics.

A handful of these bands made it onto early commercial records in the 1920s and 1930s. The Mississippi Sheiks, formed around brothers Bo, Sam and Lonnie Chatmon, traveled throughout the South and recorded dozens of sides for the Okeh label -- including the standard "Sittin' On Top Of The World". Two wandering minstrels called Evans and McClain, from Knoxville, Tennessee, billed themselves as the Two Poor Boys and did some sparkling mandolin and guitar duets such as "Sourwood Mountain" and "Old Hen Cackle". An incredible family band from eastern Kentucky, the Booker Orchestra, was allowed to make only two sides by Gennett Recording Company, who noted in their files, "made for hillbilly market."

All told, there may have been as many as 50 sides captured on commercial disc during the time that the companies were recording hundreds of white fiddle bands and hundreds of blues singers.

Why weren't more examples of black hillbilly music recorded? The biggest reason was a sort of commercialized racism on the part of the big Northern record companies. As the big companies such as Columbia and Victor began to discover the market for Southern roots music in the 1920s, they decided only white people would buy "white" music and only black people would buy "black" music; thus the white music was pigeonholed as "hillbilly" or "old-time" and the black music was labeled "race" music.

The companies all created separate release series for each; Columbia, for instance, listed all its old-time records in its 15000 series and all its blues records in its 14000 series. One series was distributed mainly to stores in black neighborhoods, the other to white working-class neighborhoods. A black band playing fiddles and banjos, such as the Sheiks, didn't fit into either stereotype. Though some of the Sheiks' records were actually released in both series, most of the time the Northern A&R men ignored such bands. They assumed that black music was either blues or gospel, and that white music was hillbilly."...

Blind James Campbell (September 17, 1906 – January 22, 1981)[1] was an American blues singer and guitarist. He is mostly remembered for his 1962–63 recording for the Arhoolie label with his Nashville Street Band....

James Campbell was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 17, 1906. He later became known as Blind James Campbell after an accident at a fertilizer plant left him permanently blinded. In 1936 he formed a band and began playing folk, country, pop, jazz and blues music at parties, dances and for other local events. The Nashville Street Band consisted of fiddler Beauford Clay (born 1900) who was a great influence on Campbell's playing, second guitarist Bell Ray (born 1909), bass horn player Ralph Robinson (born 1885), and trumpeter George Bell....

Campbell and his band appeared to be quite content with the steady work they were receiving, and did not seem to have any desire to pursue a career in recording. However, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records became interested in the band after hearing a field recording of them made by a fellow blues fan, Donald Hill. Hill had recorded Campbell in the spring of 1959 and again in April 1961. Hill's recordings include Campbell singing country songs as well as blues. He also recorded Campbell and his string band on a street corner in downtown Nashville and recorded him with Beauford Clay. Both the original tapes and digital copies of Hill's recordings have been deposited at Library of Congress as a part of the Hill/Mangurian collection of field recordings made between 1958 and 1961.

After listening to Hill's tapes, Strachwitz set off to Nashville to find and record Campbell and his band. After two recording sessions with Campbell and his band in 1962 and 1963, the Arhoolie LP Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band (Arhoolie 1015) was released in 1963.

While these recordings never propelled Campbell into prominence, and the history of James Campbell and his band since the 1963 recordings is hazy, Strachwitz revisited these recordings and released them on CD in 1995, along with additional tracks from both recording sessions. Certainly, these recordings show evidence of a street band of considerable skill and quality, who were able to play American music from a variety of genres."...

Example #1: Blind James Campbell String Band "John Henry"

John Heneghan Uploaded on Oct 11, 2008
Here's a comment that was written in response to a question about this film clip:

drafe007, 2016
"its a documentary circa june 1963. a german film maker traveled the u.s. taking this footage"

Example #2: blind james campbell and his NashvilleStreet band

manfred willi Reichert, Published on Aug 3, 2011

Example #3: "Blind" James Campbell - Baby Please Don't Go

TheBWJohnson , Uploaded on Feb 18, 2012

James Campbell was born September 17, 1906 in Nashville, Tennessee. Losing eyesight after accident at fertilizer plant, where he worked, he received the name Blind James Campbell. Campbell created The Nashville Street Band (a.k.a. The Friendly Five) who were performing on the streets of Nashville long after the street-troubadour tradition had been outlawed in most of the South.

Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie records, discovered him and recorded in 1962 with a single microphone hung from the ceiling of Mr. Campbell's home but dissatisfied with quality returned back and recorded again in 1963. The selection is what is called Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band released in 1963
Here's a comment from that sound file's discussion thread:
rrevved, 2013
"When I was a kid in the late 40's early 50's he used to play (by himself) near the dime store on 5th ave. Nashville, and sold pencils..."

Example #4: Blind James Campbell & his Nashville Street Band Detroit Blues (1962)

randomandrare, Published on Mar 17, 2016

I do not own the copyright to this recording. This video is for historical and educational purposes only.

Example #5: Blind James Campbell - Jimmy's Blues

All Blues Published on May 22, 2016

From 1963 His Olny Recording by Chris Strachwitz

Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band (Arhoolie 1015)

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