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roscoe holcomb interview

"71John Cohen interview with Roscoe Halcomb in liner notes to, Roscoe Holcomb: The High Lonesome Sound LP, 2. "I would like to talk to you about other things as well and . These opinions are available as Adobe Acrobat PDF documents. See also: and William R. Ferris, Michael K. Honey, and Pete Seeger, "Pete Seeger, San Francisco, 1989," Southern Cultures, vol. Fears of a hillbilly invasion combined with the discovery of Appalachia as an aberrant "pocket of poverty" to produce a mix of anxiety and wonder towards southern highlanders. ———. Their destination was the home of an old fiddler whom Cohen wanted to photograph and record. Cohen said in the late 1990s that these rural traditions and cultural expressions "never felt like 'folk art' or 'Americana,'" but at the time they signified to him a regional vitality and authenticity, attracting the "value hunter" Susan Montgomery identified in her 1960 article. "He was so much of the mountains and their culture," wrote Mike Michaels, a participant in the folk revival from Chicago who knew and visited Halcomb in the 1960s, "but the artist within him that had created such unique music ultimately set him apart from his family and neighbors." The former politician "Banjo" Bill Cornett, the housewife Martha Hall, the miner Lee Sexton, the farmer Granville Bowlin, the horse trainer Willie Chapman, the disc jockey George Davis – none of them possessed Halcomb's combination of intense, emotional singing with the hard-worn physical expression of poverty. But what gave his music its unique power and emotional force, its credibility, was his ability to express the psychological toll of poor mountain living not through direct and explicit lyrics about economic depressions, mining conditions, strikes, and poverty but through a quavering high-pitched voice that channeled the pathos and emotion of old traditional ballads and blues and revitalized them with his own feelings of anguish. United States, June Appal Recordings. Agee, Joel. John Pankake and Paul Nelson, who attended Halcomb's first public concert at the University of Chicago in 1961, mythologized him because of his difference from them in terms of geography, class, and culture. The Baptist church had not been alone in denying Cohen free reign. Mary Jane Halcomb played a couple of songs including, "Charles Guiteau," about assassin of President James A. Garfield. "The concerns for the people who are in the film are very important. "At one point while driving around," Michaels remembers, "I felt compelled to ask Roscoe some rather 'folkloristic' type questions about his background. “Not So Black and White”The Sun, April 2019 interview of Dorothy Roberts by Mark Leviton “White Lies”The Sun, December 2018 interview of Ijeoma Oluo by Mark Leviton. 6, no. Bob Dylan, who was a fan of Holcomb, described his work as possessing "a certain untamed sense of control." For Cohen, documentary expression and the "seeking out of ideas, feelings, situations etc. As "isolated cultures became harder to define and locate in industrialized America, the notions of musical purity and primitivism took on enhanced value . No Depression 41 (September-October 2002): 101 - 107. Sexton, Lee. On Top of Old Smoky 3. . He sensed friendliness at times from the locals but wondered about how much of it was façade. When you listen to someone like Roscoe Holcomb play and talk about his life it makes you realize that he is a part of a vanishing America. He had a backwoods 'purity' sustained by isolation, and if I hadn't found him and recorded him, he would never have looked outside his home community for listeners. . Letter in John Cohen's posession, copy provided for author. 8, No. Listen to Diamond Joe from The New Lost City Ramblers's New Lost City Ramblers - Volume 5 for free, and see the artwork, lyrics and similar artists. Cohen's purpose was not to expose the poverty and exploitation of Kentucky mountain people, but to acknowledge and celebrate their music and culture. Cohen went to Kentucky in part because of its mining culture, which he believed produced the closest thing he would ever get to a setting reminiscent of the 1930s. "Wasn't That a Time! Although Cohen had never used a motion picture camera and had little knowledge of the history of documentary film, expressed his response to the music and culture of Appalachian Kentucky and captured the tension between the realist and romantic motives intrinsic to documentary work during this time: "I wanted to make a visual statement encompassing both documentary and subjective ideas, to find a way to integrate feeling with seeing. "90Cohen, "A Visitor's Recollections," 117. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1520_90').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1520_90', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'bottom center', relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); The reward for Roscoe Halcomb was adoration from critics and music enthusiasts, and from the audiences in auditoriums and festival grounds respectfully listening to the music of a poor, working man from Daisy, Kentucky. The creation of Roscoe Halcomb's image provides a perfect example of what historian Benjamin Filene refers to as the "cult of authenticity" surrounding roots musicians during the twentieth century; see Benjamin Filene, According to W.K. This meant paltry compensation for the singers, which Cohen regretted. Whoa Mule. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1520_35').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1520_35', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'bottom center', relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); In 1959 Cohen did not have a reference source like Harry Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands, which came out in 1963. "the most moving, profound, and disturbing of any country singer in America." New Lost City Ramblers. Cohen's portrayal of Halcomb as a solitary, romantic, creative artist mirrored in many ways his own existence and resonated with participants in the revival. Cunningham compared it to To Hear Your Banjo Play (1947), produced by Irving Lerner and Willard Van Dyke with dialogue by Alan Lomax. Ritchie was a distant cousin of Roscoe Halcomb who lived just below Viper in Daisy. Work. 18, No. Crisp had recorded for the Library of Congress during the 1940s and '50s. 1 (January/February 1983), 41. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1520_98').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1520_98', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'bottom center', relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); Cohen listed the characteristics he and others found in Halcomb during the 1960s: profound emotional depth, separation from popular culture, grounded in tradition, and personal pain as a precondition for powerful music. Go to the hill and cut a big oak tree or chestnut, and dry the boards out and nail them on the roof. United States, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2004. ———. Married Life Blues 9. These dramatic manifestations of want and governmental neglect are usually tucked away in narrow valleys, the 'hollows,' off the main road. He does not appear in any of Cohen's small photographs contained in the booklet, but a photograph of him graces the record's cover, the same photograph that the New York Times printed with its review of Mountain Music of Kentucky. Fan card from the New Lost City Ramblers 1960 concert tour featuring their own NRA eagle. "56Shelton, "Art of Folk Song in Festival Form." The End of an Old Song, Film, directed by John Cohen. "Her tales are unaffected, often poetic recollections of a community that was slow moving but often quickened by the vitality of human contact," Shelton wrote. Roscoe Holcomb The High Lonesome Sound, released 20 January 1998 1. It makes me sad sometimes when I get all caught up in someone I’m researching who is dead and gone. The Lost Recordings. Faith and Meaning in the Southern Uplands. it made me seem weird, you know, strange. He considered the "depressions" that drew him to Appalachia, "mining people vs. farming people, religious music vs. dance music." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. At the time of this interview, ... Smith’s piano style, which I’ve never heard anyone else tackle before and offers his reflections on his friend Roscoe Holcomb. He had established himself as a local hero by singing "The Old-Age Pension Blues" on the floor of the Kentucky legislature. See Ronald L. Lewis, "Beyond Isolation and Homogeneity: Diversity and the History of Appalachia," in Dwight B. Billings, et al, eds.. (1963). Her forebears lived in isolated areas where customs were tenacious and songs were passed on from one generation to the next." "And in the South in recent years," he said, "there's been a very confusing — to me confusing — resentment that I was down there before some of them were born. A wiry and weathered man, aged forty-seven, Roscoe Halcomb walked toward the house.3Halcomb's name appears as "Roscoe Holcomb" on the Folkways records he recorded for John Cohen. Wachtell, as Cohen remembered, "conveyed such joy with his music . He became a muse for Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and other young middle- and upper-class Americans who looked South for their musical roots and artistic inspiration.8According to W.K. "I couldn't tell whether I was hearing something ancient, like a Gregorian Chant, or something very contemporary and avant-garde." The notion that there are many values, and that they are incompatible; the whole notion of plurality, of inexhaustibility, of the imperfection of all human answers and arrangements; the notion that no single answer which claims to be perfect and true, whether in art or in life, can in principle be perfect or true – all this we owe to the romantics" (140,146). No one was interested in him, and he wasn't interested in coming out. For consumers who equated apparent isolation and poverty with powerful music, the photograph of Halcomb standing with his banjo in front of a deteriorating wooden shack near his house only heightened the authenticity. Holding an original 1964 recording of Roscoe Holcomb’s The High Lonesome Sound feels like holding an artifact, un-earthed treasure, excitingly undiscovered and unspeakably rare. For more on the construction of the image of the Appalachian folk during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries see Henry Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the America Consciousness, 1870–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978); David Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); Allen W. Batteau, The Invention of Appalachia (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990); Jane S. Becker, Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940(University of North Carolina Press, 1998). In the Pines 13. Old-Time Music. ." He appeared at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and performed for the Friends of Old Time Music in New York. “Hook and Line” resembles versions by Kentuckians Buell Kazee and Roscoe Holcomb. to photograph" depended on a "very subjective sequence of following whims and hunches — which are not logical immediately." Later, Cohen got to know Jean Ritchie when the New Lost City Ramblers shared bills at clubs in the Village, at Izzy Young's folklore center, Carnegie Hall, and other venues. She noted that young middle-class folk revivalists were "desperately hungry for a small, safe taste of an unslick underground world." Fox Chase 14. He wanted Cohen's cooperation and to call into question the ethics or motives behind Cohen's work would upset their amicable relationship. "I'm glad the money we sent you came in handy," Cohen wrote to Halcomb after the record sold some copies, "I only wish I could've sent more." Yet, because of the humanity and artistry of his work, Cohen also created a romantic narrative that portrayed the poverty Halcomb faced not as a product of an exploitative economy but as an aesthetic quality authenticating his music and validating its emotional force. "I'm not sure if guilt is the word," Cohen recalled, "as much as the fact that he agreed that we were making a film and that he hadn't come through. Consequently, documentary expression in the South has, at times, resembled an ethnographic salvage project that tries to give coherence and meaning to a way of life constantly on the brink of extinction. Ritchie drew upon family and community connections to provide Cohen with a list of names and contacts in Perry County.34Cohen interview; Jean Ritchie, e-mail correspondence with the author, October 19, 2006. Boat's Up the River 12. When I can't do nothing it worries me and you don't feel like playing anymore. During their stay in eastern Kentucky during the late summer of 1962, a young man from Chicago named Mike Michaels, who knew Cohen from the folk scene, visited Cohen and Agee in Daisy. So, some info, courtesy of Wikipedia: "Roscoe Holcomb, (born Roscoe Halcomb, September 5, 1912 – died February 1, 1981) was an American singer, banjo player, and guitarist from Daisy, Kentucky. 25, No. Cohen, a musician, photographer, and member of the group The New Lost City Ramblers, met Halcomb in Eastern Kentucky in 1959, when the area was in the grip of an economic depression. "So then you realize," Cohen recollected, “that it was much more than meets the eye, or anything you looked at had a lot about it . Then viewers enter the private order and simplicity of home and bedroom. Halcomb's wife, Ethel, objected to Cohen's depiction of her husband and her home. Madison County Project: Documenting the Sound, DV Mini. Backroads to Cold Mountain. "40Cohen, "Field Trip — Kentucky," 13. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1520_40').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1520_40', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'bottom center', relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); Cohen's awareness mixed with his own preconceptions to produce an image of eastern Kentucky that was humane, yet still mythic. Interview: Alice Gerrard, bluegrass pioneer. Other Appalachian historians have in recent years produced probing histories that undermine ideas of the region's social and economic isolation from the rest of America. L.A.'s Ash Grove club, where the Ramblers played, retained a copy of the film, and Cohen later learned from Paul Rothschild, an A&R man for Elektra Records, that Jim Morrison of The Doors viewed it there on many occasions while a film student at UCLA. Nevertheless, he acknowledged, "this is a tough part of the world. United States: Shanachie, 2005. . Without attempting to slight any other Appalachian or old-time artist, many critics have decided the solo recordings of Roscoe Holcomb produced in the '60s by John Cohen represent some kind of pinnacle for this genre. Moses I would like to have about 20 records 'the hi an lonesome sound' if you'd care to send them to me I hope this isn't asking you too much, Moses. His final song was an Old Regular Baptist hymn. John Cohen, interview by the author, Putnam Valley, New York, September 1-2, 2006. Cohen, Paley, and other enthusiasts started hosting and promoting "hootenannies" in 1952 and 1953. On a whim, Cohen took the first dirt road that led off the main highway to see what or who might turn up. Cohen's descriptions of Halcomb at times evoked similar myths about the Appalachian folk created by writers like Will Wallace Harney and William Goodell Frost in the late nineteenth century, song collectors like Cecil Sharp in the 1910s, and by members of the Popular Front in the 1930s like Charles and Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie who championed and mythologized another Kentucky balladeer and mining strike organizer named Aunt Molly Jackson. "I don't feel like singing anymore," he told Cohen after recording "Across the Rocky Mountain." "Why do the people around here object to the photograph of your shed on the record cover?" By themselves, listening to Halcomb's music and seeing Cohen's photographs of Kentucky musicians and the mining and agricultural worlds of Perry County could not communicate "the feeling of having these things happen at the same time." It bridged any cultural differences between us . 41, No. Apparently whenever the New Lost City Ramblers would go to Berkeley, CA through out the 1960’s, they would have a big jam at a house on Colby Street. And that's something country people know in their bones." What made him unique necessarily made him isolated. FA 2368, 1965). He knew he wanted to avoid the "obvious," what he had seen in photographs and what he knew people like the editors at Life expected to see: hillbillies amid squalor. Mary Beth Pudup, Dwight B. Billings, and Altina Waller (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 3. Agee wondered about Cohen's fascination for rough, mountain living. Unlike earlier collectors, Cohen also saw fieldwork as a personal quest for meaning, not a folkloric, literary, or academic safari. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1520_8').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1520_8', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'bottom center', relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); Halcomb emerged as a solitary and creative genius, a characterization that echoed the modernist cultural context Cohen imbibed while living in New York among the Beats and abstract expressionist artists. Good stuff Matt. Lance Ledbetter, Jesse P. Karlsberg, et al. UMW officials in Washington gave him the name of the regional director in Pikeville, the first place Cohen stopped when he got to Kentucky. Based upon several extended interviews with John Cohen as well as other historical materials, the article examines Cohen's friendship with Halcomb and his relationship to Halcomb's personal life and musical career, with special attention to the production and reception of The High Lonesome Sound. The new record, The Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward, a split-release with a Virginia fiddler, "was made .″>

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