Thursday, May 18, 2017

THROWBACK THURSDAY: In Praise of American Epic

Will Shade with The Memphis Jug Band
OK, my advice to you is to quit reading this blog post and go sit yourself in front of your TV -- or your iPad or whatever you use for a TV these days -- and start watching the PBS series American Epic

It's a 3-part series about American roots music in the early 20th Century, co-produced by Jack White and T-Bone Burnett and narrated by Robert Redford. There is lots of rare footage and photos, a soundtrack full of spooky old country, blues and folk classics and interviews with living musicians -- Charlie Musselwhite, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson etc. -- talking about how this music enriched their lives.

Episode 1 of the series is already available. "The Big Bang" focuses on two great acts from the 1920s, The Carter Family and The Memphis Jug Band, discovered by Ralph Peer, the Columbia Records A&R man who traveled the south seeking recording artists, black and white, to appeal to rural audiences.  (You can watch on your computer HERE.)

Below is a trailer for the series, followed by some songs that are featured in that first episode.

Here's Jimmie Rodgers, foreshadowing MTV by 50 years or so,

Here are Maybelle and Sara Carter reunited on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970. Johnny says it's their first time performing together in 27 years (though actually they'd recorded together in 1963 and did a bunch of shows together in the '60s.)

I love whoever decided to film this song by Whistler's Jug Band way back when.

In American Epic, the rapper Nas compares jug band music with gangsta rap. “These guys are talking about carrying guns, shooting something, protecting their honor, chasing after some woman who’s done them dirty. It didn’t start with hip-hop. It started a long time ago. It started with America.”

Here's The Memphis Jug Band singing about what Kinky Friedman calls "Peruvian Marching Powder."

And here's American Epic: The Soundtrack on Spotify. But listen to it after you watch the show!

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