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Old-time songster, Henry Thomas
May 11, 2010 1:21 AM   Subscribe

Born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, Henry Thomas was one of the oldest black musician who ever recorded for the phonograph companies of the 1920′s and his music represents a rare opportunity to hear what American black folk music must have sounded like in the last decade of the 19th century.

A word from yours truly, flapjax at midnite: Often when putting music posts together, I'll try to gather as many relevant links as possible, to do my small part towards making sure everyone gets their five bucks worth here at Mefi. I would've done so this time, but happily, Gadaya, of the excellent Old Weird America blog has done all my work for me! I urge you, then, to check out the various links included in his post on Henry Thomas, and most of all, of course, to listen to the wonderful tracks there. I think you'll find Henry Thomas's use of the quills especially delightful. His music harkens back to an archaic America which is nonetheless still very... familiar. It's a deep and beautiful part of our collective unconscious, I think.
posted by flapjax at midnite (21 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for pointing this out, flapjax. I love finding out about obscure bits of history like this.
posted by pjern at 1:42 AM on May 11, 2010


Spotify link for those who can and do. The quills are much cleaner-sounding than I was expecting.
posted by cromagnon at 2:16 AM on May 11, 2010


The quills are much cleaner-sounding than I was expecting.

Yeah, at times they're more flute-like in their lack of "breathiness".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:28 AM on May 11, 2010


Old Weird America guy playing Old Country Stomp.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:30 AM on May 11, 2010


I just had time to listen to "Fishing Blues" before heading for the salt mine. The quills have such a dreamy tone: Pan's pipes must have sounded like this!

I'll be humming the whole day (I hope).
posted by francesca too at 3:57 AM on May 11, 2010


Excellent, excellent. I've been digging into the Alan Lomax stuff at last in recent months. Good reading there, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:53 AM on May 11, 2010


Wow, excellent post, and I love the quills -- the style is sorta reminiscent of fife and drum. Two offshots from the same African flute branch?
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:07 AM on May 11, 2010


Two offshots from the same African flute branch?

I'd say so. And speaking of African flute, for any of you who didn't catch my FPP a couple of days ago...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:18 AM on May 11, 2010


Born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, Henry Thomas was one of the oldest black musicians

I had no idea. He looked nothing short of amazing in ET.
posted by flarbuse at 6:08 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


That recording is so clear!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:16 AM on May 11, 2010


wow. thank you.
posted by 256 at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2010


This is so, so great, and I'll be listening all day--thanks a TON, flapjax!
posted by LooseFilter at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2010


Man, this is truly great. Thank you, thank you. I feel like I know so much more about music just knowing about this one guy. Not to mention the fact that nobody really knows what happened to him after these recordings. This is the stuff I love.
posted by a.steele at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2010


The quills give the songs such a jaunty, whimsical air! Quite different from what I was expecting, which was, I admit, much more stereotypically sad and depressing fare.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2010


Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops has been incorporating quills into his solo playing. They're so much fun I don't think the standard usage instructions apply.
posted by scruss at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2010


Ah, Big Sandy, Texas. Right between Deepinahearta, Texas and Deepinahola, Texas.
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2010


Another old one was Daddy Stovepipe, who was born in 1867, recorded in the 1920s and was still performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago into the 1960s before he died in 1963.

More on topic: "The Birds and the Blues". Also interesting is that Big Boy Cleveland's Quill Blues was included in its entirety as part John Fahey's atmospheric and evocative sound collage The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee on the album The Yellow Princess. Which I must have listened to over twenty years before I heard Quill Blues by itself.
posted by y2karl at 10:16 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This blog has changed my life. Thanks for another great post, fam!
posted by sy at 2:17 PM on May 11, 2010


Thanks, been listening to those old sounds much of the day.
posted by PHINC at 2:33 PM on May 11, 2010


Incredible. I'm living in East Texas--wonder whether the quills material is available hereabouts in the creek bottom land. I fail at blowing coke bottles, though, so might be lost work.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:32 AM on May 13, 2010


Listening to Henry Thomas right now and loving it. Thanks so much, flapjax!
posted by Nothing... and like it at 1:03 PM on May 13, 2010


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