JOHN & ALAN
LOMAX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Most of what is known today about many of the greatest early Delta Bluesman is due to the efforts of folklorists John, and his son, Alan Lomax, supported by Robert Gordon, Samuel Charters, Harry Oster and Lawrence Gellert, who worked for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. The Lomax's travelled to Memphis, and all over the Southern USA, field recording out of their car from the 1930's through to the 1960's. These men literally discovered the Blues, in Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and a horde of talented others. Robert Gordon, and Lawrence Gellert used wax cylinder acoustic machines to record the Blues as early as 1924, traversing the barrelhouses, lumber camps, plantations, and prisons to preserve this American art form.

Sadly, many current Bluesmen were turned away in favour of an older generation who were perceived to have attained greater historical merit. John Lomax recorded Leadbelly in prison in 1933, where there seemed to be a treasure trove of blues greats. His work was carried on by Alan Lomax who's importance to the present day blues archive cannot be over estimated. Often at great risk to himself, and frequently reviled by white hard line supremacists, he discovered, interviewed and recorded literally every major influential bluesman of the day and without his work, little or no record of many of these blues pioneers would exist. Alan used his Edison cylinder machine to record "the secular songs of the Negroes". He recorded Black church services in Memphis, and in 1947, he recorded Delta artists Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Bronzy, and Memphis Slim in Chicago. After a spell in England to escape the McCarthy purges, Alan Lomax returned to the rural American South in 1959 with hi-fi stereo equipment, "to offer singers of mountain, bayou, prison, and cotton patch the best of modern technology." He also produced the documentary 'The Land Where The Blues Began', a film about the origins of the blues. Alan Lomax died in 2002.

Recommended reading:- The Land Where the Blues Began (Pantheon Books) 1993 by Alan Lomax