DeFord Bailey, American musician
December 30, 2010 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Within that small and very specific sub-genre of musical Americana identifiable as the train imitation, there is one amazing performance, from 1926, that set the standard: Pan-American Blues. The man who recorded it did a fine and fanciful job of evoking the sounds of a fox chase as well, and his rhythmically compelling solo rendition of John Henry stands as testament to the potential for musical greatness achievable by one man and a humble harmonica. He was an African-American who was a founding member of the Grand Ole Opry, a musical institution that we rarely (as in, never) today associate with black people, and his touching and tragic story, documented here, is one that will be of interest to those concerned with the racial, economic and socio-cultural history of American popular music. He stands at one of its more unexpected intersections: his name is DeFord Bailey.

Live performance of Pan-American Blues

Introductory snippet from DeFord Bailey: a Legend Lost

A little more from DeFord Bailey: a Legend Lost, and note this text, from the closing of that video clip: "DeFord Bailey is the only founding star of the Grand Ole Opry who has not been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame". Quite possibly as a direct result of that documentary, Bailey was inducted in 2005

DeFord Bailey discography

DeFord Bailey at Find A Grave
posted by flapjax at midnite (15 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent post, as always!
posted by OmieWise at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2010

Entire libraries could be (have been) filled with what I don't know about music, blues, and harmonicas in particular, but that John Henry track in particular knocked my socks off.

Stories like this always make me wonder what aspects of contemporary culture will one day be considered overlooked classics. I guess I'm probably overlooking them right now.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:22 AM on December 30, 2010

Fantastic, I first heard DeFord Bailey on this record many many years ago. I hadn't ever seen him play, he's just so calm... when I try that I'm gasping like a drowning man....
posted by itsjustanalias at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2010

I can always tell a flapjax post from the first sentence or so. They're the ones about music that make me sit up and say "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this."
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:37 AM on December 30, 2010

See also: Loose Caboose.

Not imitation, but god damn that train sound is impressive on a big sound system.
posted by empath at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2010

When I was starting out in a country band, a lot of our repertoire was based on the train beat and the 1-5 bassline. On occasion the rhythm section would get off from each other by a beat, thrusting us into the dreaded "anti-song", from which there was no escape.
posted by snofoam at 8:07 AM on December 30, 2010

Very interesting stuff. If you enjoyed the Fox Chase piece, check out Tommy Martin playing a very traditional Irish set piece call The Fox Chase on the uilleann pipes. As in the Bailey piece, this one uses the sound of the uilleann pipes to evoke a fox hunt.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:38 AM on December 30, 2010

This is very interesting. Nice post.
posted by nola at 9:26 AM on December 30, 2010

Woooo, I had been planning to do a mixtape of train songs for quite some time. This is great stuff. Thanks for your excellent posts, flapjax!
posted by The Toad at 10:17 AM on December 30, 2010

The Scots have a song like this, too: The Flying Scotsman.
posted by LN at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2010

And while we're on train songs, be sure and check out Jimmie Rodgers "Waiting on a Train". Rodgers was the first music star in the US and his yodel and falsetto are just wonderful. He also worked as a brakeman on the railroad before being discovered.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2010

Rodgers was the first music star in the US

I love Jimmie Rodgers, and I'm thankful every day for the Bristol Sessions, but its a stretch to say he was the first music star in the US. You'd have to qualify that mightily to even call him the first country music star. Regardless, his train songs are great.
posted by OmieWise at 12:21 PM on December 30, 2010

Two versions of Panama Limited (Bukka White):

Tom Rush

Leo Kottke
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2010

Here's another great train track (teehee) with some social commentary. Direct from the somewhat controversial Josh White.
posted by Jibuzaemon at 4:13 PM on December 30, 2010

Direct from the somewhat controversial Josh White.

Those interested in learning more (and hearing more) from Josh White are referred to my FPP on him from 2007.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:36 PM on December 30, 2010

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