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Monday, July 23, 2007

Episode 37 - Chasing The Rising Sun

Left: E. J. Bellocq 1873-1949 Untitled [Prostitute, Storyville, New Orleans] c1911-13

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I: That girl from Kaintuck

"Georgia, hurry up! He's at Cadle's!"

"Okay, mama," Georgia Turner answers, wiping her hands on a dish cloth. The sixteen-year-old's birthday is today, September 15, 1937. She and her mother walk out of the log house onto the dirt street of Noetown, a poor shanty neighborhood of Middlesboro, Kentucky.

They're going to go sing at Tillman Cadle's house. A man has come down from Washington, D.C. to hear the old music. Mary Gill Turner is known in the neighborhood for her religious songs. The blond-haired Georgia, who always seems to be singing, likes ballads and the blues best.

They pass a muddy Studebaker as they approach the Cadle home. Automobiles are still a rare enough sight in Noetown that Georgia pauses for a moment to look inside. She's never ridden in a car.

The two join the crowd, centered around a young man, not that much older than Georgia. But he's treated with deference, as much for being the master of the bulky piece of machinery he's working over as anything else.

Alan Lomax's Presto disc recorder had been supplied by The Library of Congress for his first solo field recording expedition. The Presto was billed as a portable model, but at 350 lbs, was "portable" only in a copywriter's imagination, handle or not. Lomax traveled with the machine in the back of his Studebaker. In order to record in places where there was no electricity, like Noetown, Lomax used the Studebaker's battery, which he attached to a transformer, which in turn was attached to an amplifier. Lomax was finishing the last connection from amplifier to Presto when Georgia and her mother walked in.

Mary Gill sang a few songs into Lomax's machine, and then it was Georgia's turn. Lomax lifted another of the massive, black, glass platters onto the machine and beckoned Georgia over. She began with an old standard, Married Life Blues. Then she leaned into Lomax's microphone and began another song, first tentatively, then more strongly, as the sadness of the story seemed to take over her voice.

There is a house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun.
It's been the ruin of many a poor girl
and me, oh God for one.

II: On to New York and Over the Pond

Georgia Turner's The House of the Rising Sun, which she called Rising Sun Blues, wasn't the first recording of the song; that's probably Clarence Ashley's of 19 and 33, nor the most famous - we'll talk about that one a little later on. But it's the one that inspired most of the later folk renditions of Rising Sun, as well as the Animal's ground-breaking folk-rock version that reportedly caused Bob Dylan to jump out of his car in excitement when he first heard it on the radio.

No one knows where Turner first heard the song. Her home in Noetown didn't have electricity, let alone a radio or phonograph, so it's unlikely that she had heard one of the recorded versions. Ted Anthony, in his recent brilliant book tracking the song, Chasing the Rising Sun, speculates that Georgia may have heard the song direct from Clarence Ashley's lips as he performed it on the medicine show circuit. There's some evidence to back that theory. The song was obviously known in the area and being passed from singer to singer. Three weeks after meeting Georgia Turner, Lomax would be fifty miles north of Noetown and recording a man named Bert Martin, who sang a slightly different version of Rising Sun. Lomax would use Martin's extra lyrics to fill out Georgia Turner's version and credit her with the song in his collection, Our Singing Country, which was published in 1941.

By the late `50s, the song was already a folk standard, having been added to the portfolios of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Josh White, and Pete Seeger, among many others. In 1957 the music, guitar chords, and lyrics were published in Sing Out!, a folk music `zine with an influence far beyond its raw production values. Sing Out! was one of the primary sources for the booming folkie revival of the late `50s and early `60s. If you couldn't lay your hands on an original of the magazine, you'd likely have a mimeograph copy of the song sheets to learn the music for your next coffee house gig or hootenanny.

With changed chords and a descending bass line, Rising Sun became one of Greenwich Village folk icon Dave Van Ronk's signature pieces during the early `60s, impressing the young Bob Dylan so much that he recorded his own take on the Van Ronk version for his first album, Bob Dylan. Unfortunately Dylan waited until after the fact before asking Van Ronk's permission, and Van Ronk had had plans to record the song himself. And even more unfortunately, Rising Sun became so closely associated with Dylan in the folk community that Van Ronk had to stop singing the song or listen to snide remarks that it was a pretty good cover but much too close to Dylan's version.

"Now that was very, very annoying," Van Ronk noted, with just a trace of irony. But Van Ronk would see Dylan himself forced to stop playing the song after the Animals' 1964 mega-hit became the definitive version - an electric rendition based on Dylan's cover of Van Ronk... or was that Georgia Turner... or Clarence Ashley?

III: Another Shot Fired in the British Invasion

About two years after the Animals' release of Rising Sun, I was in my freshman year at a boarding school. One of my dorm mates had taken up the electric guitar, and the first piece of music he learned was the famous seven-note, A-minor chord arpeggio that begins House of the Rising Sun. For a good part of that year, our adult dorm master was treated nightly to an unlikely chorus of seven 14-year-olds soulfully lamenting their misfortune in visiting that house in New Orleans.

There are various stories about where the idea came from - sources claim the Animals decided to record Rising Sun after hearing either Dylan's, or Josh White's, or Nina Simone's versions - but the band knew it needed a memorable signature song for a spring 1964 tour where they would be on the same bill as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. They wanted something that would separate them from the pack and make the audience remember them. Something different, because, as Eric Burdon puts it, "You can't outrock Chuck Berry."

Someone in the band - maybe Eric Burdon, maybe Alan Price, depending on whose story you want to believe - suggested Rising Sun and someone - maybe Alan Price again, if you believe him, maybe the band as a whole - developed the unforgettable electric arrangement.

The Animals joined the Berry-Lewis tour and, in their first night on-stage, closed the first half of the show with their first public performance of The House of the Rising Sun. It was one of those moments that performers dream about but seldom really experience. As the final notes of the song ebbed away and the sole spotlight on Burdon faded into darkness, the audience was silent. Then the applause started, and didn't stop.

The Animals recorded the song on May 18, 1964, under the supervision of an unenthusiastic Columbia label producer, who felt that a four-and-a-half minute single was about a minute-and-a-half too long to have any chance to make it to the charts. He was - of course - dead wrong. House of the Rising Sun would become a trans-Atlantic chart-buster, topping both the U.K. pop singles chart in July of 1964 and the U.S. pop singles chart in September, when it became the first British Invasion #1 hit that wasn't a Beatles tune.

Unfortunately, Rising Sun would generate ill feelings among the Animals that would eventually break up the group and rankle the ex-members to this day. Again, someone - the record is unclear but most fingers point to the group's then-manager - told the band that they couldn't all be credited on the 45 single and suggested they just use organist Alan Price's name alone and sort out the royalty percentages later. It didn't occur to the financially naive musicians until after the fact that they could have used "Trad. Arr: The Animals," but the single was released as "Trad. Arr: Alan Price."

Alan Price's official web site notes, "...Price’s hypnotic arrangement of the band's epic version of The House of the Rising Sun was released in June 1964 and went on to become a worldwide smash..." Eric Burdon acknowledges that Price played a major role in the arrangement's development, but claims that ultimately it was a group effort. Less than a year after Rising Sun hit the charts, Alan Price had left The Animals. Some members of the group suspected he left because he had enough money coming in from Rising Sun to strike out on his own.

The other band members never saw a penny from the publishing royalties. But Rising Sun was never a song to reward its various interpreters very well... at least not with money. Clarence Ashley was probably paid $25 and transportation for his recorded version. Alan Lomax spent a great deal time and effort tracking down Georgia Turner in the early `60s so he could offer her royalties from her 1937 recording. But all in all she probably received less than $1,000.

It's a hard-luck song.

Further Reading/Listening: This article was inspired by Ted Anthony's 2007 book Chasing the Rising Sun, Anthony's journey into the heart of that song, as well as into the heart of America itself. I highly recommend it. I should note that, while based on Anthony's report, my description of the meeting between Alan Lomax and Georgia Turner is a pure product of my imagination, and any errors are mine alone.

Georgia Turner's version of House of the Rising Sun (Rising Sun Blues) can be found on Alan Lomax's Popular Songbook The CD also contains Stagolee, Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby (later popularized in O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and the original Sloop John B. Popular Songbook is a very good starting point for anyone wanting to explore more of the place I spend much of my time, at least in my imagination, the Old Weird America.


You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at The background music for the opening segment was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, performed by Bill Furner.

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

South of the Snooty Fox - Produced by Eddie Gorodetsky

via antimusic

(PR) South of the Snooty Fox is the title of the forthcoming album from Sterling Harrison, a veteran soul singer whose approach is the very definition of the term "old school." The album will be released August 21 by HackTone Records, distributed through Rhino/ADA.

South of the Snooty Fox describes an actual geographical location in the inner city as well as serving for a metaphor for the plight of a gifted artist whose professional life was, for the most part, spent out of the spotlight of the mainstream music business. Accordingly, The L.A. Weekly headlined a piece on Harrison "The Best Soul Singer You Never Heard Of."

The album was co-produced by Steve Berlin, long-standing member of Los Lobos and, previously, part of The Blasters line-up. It was co-produced and conceived by Eddie Gorodetsky, the TV writer ("Dharma & Greg," "Two and a Half Men") known for his many forays into music including his role as producer of Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" heard on XM Radio.

Wanda Jackson - I Gotta Know

Another one from the Queen of Rockabilly. The gentleman playing the double-neck Mosrite guitar is Joe Maphis, who backed Rick Nelson and Rose Maddox as well as Jackson and had his own hit with Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"15, 16, 17... that's Jailbait"

Mr. Andre Williams live. When my partner in crime first heard this on the Jail episode, she immediately took the name. Her sister later decided her name was really Joyride... and thus the Dreamtime announcers were born

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Episode 36 - Stagger Lee Shot Billy

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Liner note for Frank Hutchinson's Stackalee from The Anthology of American Folk Music, edited by
Harry Smith

It's 1895, Christmas night. You're wandering confused down a street you've never seen before, but somehow you know the day, the year.

The city. You're in St. Louis.

How? Are you dreaming? Maybe you are, because you keep on sighting images and scenes that make no sense, that shouldn't be in this world. You see a man by an open grave pulling the rings from a dead woman's fingers. A heavyset speaker on a podium is declaiming his views on tariff laws when an assassin dashes up and shoots him in the belly.

There's a track parallel to the street, and a freight train suddenly appears, moving much too fast, the half-seen engineer pulling down the whistle cord in a long, piercing scream. It disappears back into the night. A few seconds later the street is shrouded in fog, and you glimpse what looks like the prow of an enormous ship passing by, even though there isn't any body of water that could float it within a thousand miles. The fog conceals the ship again before you can see any more than the last few letters of its name -"ANTIC."

You step out of the street, out of the madness, into the welcome lights of a bar, although it has the ominous name of The Bucket of Blood. But by this time you don't care, you just want a drink, company, voices, music.

There's a piano with a player banging out fast ragtime. The room is crowded, loud, filled with smoke. You push your way to the bar, order a beer, and turn as you hear voices raised, chairs pushed away, the crowd scattering to open a space for two men. One is holding a Stetson hat away from another, larger man.

"Give me back my damn hat!" he shouts.

"You son of a bitch, I'm going to make you kill me," the smaller one replies, reaching into his jacket. And the tall man dips into his coat too, bringing out a pistol, and shoots four times.

"I told you to give me my hat," Lee Shelton says to the lifeless body as he reaches down to retrieve his Stetson.

[Stackalee - Frank Hutchinson]


Billy DeLyon told Stagolee, "Please don't take my life
I got two little babes and a darling, loving wife"
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee
"What'd I care about your two little babes and darling, loving wife?
You done stole my Stetson hat, I'm bound to take your life."
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee - Stagolee by Mississippi John Hurt

Greil Marcus calls it the Old, Weird America. Ted Anthony calls it the Village. I think of it as an interzone, a place where reality and legend collide, a place where a pretty young woman named Polly, the 25th President of the United States, and train engineer John Luther Jones all live out their days and meet their deaths, and the Old 97 and the Unsinkable Ship are the usual mode of transportation.

It's a place where a briar and a rose grow together in a graveyard, and eventually entwine into a lover's knot. It's where a boy and girl - neither much more than children - throw a bundle from a bridge each day. The boy returns later in the night and will follow it into the dark waters.

The interzone. It's where all the songs start.


According to the records Lee Shelton, both known as "Stag" and "Stack" Lee, walked into the Bill Curtis Saloon, located in the epicenter of what was then St. Louis's thriving vice district. The saloon was a few blocks away from a notorious bordello called The Bucket of Blood.

Lee Shelton was a pimp, and reportedly something of a loner, either of which may have earned him the "Stag" nickname. But there's some evidence that he called himself "Stack" after the riverboat Stack Lee, part of the Lee Line of riverboats, known as Cecil Brown relates in Stagolee Shot Billy, "...for speed, sumptuous cabins, elaborate cuisine - and prostitution."

At the bar, Shelton asked "Who's treating?" Someone pointed to Billy Lyons. Shelton sat at his table, where, according to several witnesses, they drank companionably until the talk turned to politics. They started throwing blows at each other's hats, Shelton eventually breaking the brim of Lyon's derby.

In turn, Lyons grabbed Shelton's Stetson, saying he wouldn't return it until he was paid for his damaged hat.

Shelton pulled a .44 Smith & Wesson revolver, shot Lyons, took the Stetson from his hand, and walked out of the bar back to his boarding house. He was arrested the next morning.

[Stagolee - Mississippi John Hurt]

There are hundreds of different versions of the song, variously called Stagger Lee, Stagolee, Stackerlee, Stack O'Lee, Stack-a-Lee and several other spellings, sung by musicians as far apart in style as W.C. Handy (Stack O'Lee) and The Clash (Wrong `Em Boyo).

Here's a cowboy swing version from 19 and 51, this one with the title of Stack-O-Lee, sung by Mr. Sixteen Tons himself, Tennessee Ernie Ford.

[Stack-O-Lee - Tennessee Ernie Ford]

Tennessee Ernie started off his career as a disc jockey in California in the `40s, and ended up with several chart hits under his belt, including I'll Never Be Free, a duet with Kay Starr, and his signature tune...

[Sixteen Tons excerpt]

Other artists who have recorded Stagger Lee under various titles include Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, Duke Ellington, Woody Guthrie, Bill Haley & His Comets, Ike and Tina Turner, Fats Domino, Doc Watson, Dr. John, The Isley Brothers, and Huey Lewis And The News. One of the more notable alternate universe versions of the story was written by Robert Hunter for the Grateful Dead, where Billy's wife, Delia, hunts down down Stagger Lee and has her revenge.

[Stagger Lee - Lloyd Price]

In 19 and 59, Stagger Lee became a number one hit for Lloyd Price, selling million of copies and topping both the pop and R&B charts for a full month. At one point the single sold over 200,000 copies in one day.

Lloyd Price recorded his first Stagger Lee on September 11th, 19 and 58 as the B side of what he thought would be a hit single, You Need Love. But You Need Love flopped, while deejays thought Stagger Lee was a gas, especially with its novelty of having white backup singers behind a black lead.

Stagger Lee was on the charts by December 8th 19 and 58, and was heading nowhere but up. But Price had gone back into the studio four days earlier to record another version. Why? The story gets a little fuzzy at this point, but like Stagger Lee's nemesis, Billy, there's always one name associated with Lloyd Price's alternate version of Stagger Lee - Dick Clark.

[American Bandstand theme]

Most stories have it that Clark felt lyrics like the bullet went through Billy and it broke the bartender's glass inappropriate for American Bandstand's teen audience, and that he was the one who requested - or commanded - that Price castrate ol' Stagger Lee if he wanted to appear on the show. But at least one report has it that Price had already sung the original version at least twice earlier on both Bandstand and The Dick Clark Show with no objection from Clark.

It may have been that as the song's popularity and airplay increased, Price and/or his label, and/or Dick Clark (and/or the ABC network) may have become nervous about the complaints - many organized by the then very powerful "League of Decency"- that were pouring into radio stations about Stagger Lee's content, and someone may have decided that Price's next Bandstand appearance was the perfect time to roll out a more kid-friendly version.

What we do know is that Price rewrote and recorded the alternate version on December 4th, 1958, possibly with tongue firmly in cheek. In the new song Stagger Lee and Billy just exchange harsh words rather than gun play, Stagger retires with hurt feelings, and the two later make up. The song also includes the memorable closing lines...

Stagger Lee and Billy never fuss or fight no more
Because he got back his girlfriend and Stagger Lee was no more sore

[Stagger Lee (Bandstand Version) - Lloyd Price]

The reworked track, officially titled Stagger Lee (Bandstand Version), was reportedly intended for use only on the show, as Price gamely lip-synched the changed lyrics without breaking up. However, while never officially released, the revised single did somehow make its way out to radio stations, lending credence to the theory that it had always been intended as an alternative version for airplay. "So, you say you're getting complaints about Stagger Lee? Play this version instead. Hell the kids don't listen to the words anyway... just as long as its got a good beat, and you can dance to it."

[A Word from Our Sponsor]

There are many strange versions of Stagger Lee, but one of the strangest may be one from 19 and 28, recorded by Cliff Edwards, better known then as "Ukulele Ike," and best remembered now as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio. Whether you realized it or not, you've almost certainly heard Edwards at least once, singing When You Wish Upon a Star.

Here's Ukulele Ike with Stack O'Lee.

[Stack O'Lee - Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards)]

A forgotten son of Hannibal Missouri; the man who introduced the song Singing in the Rain on screen in 19 and 29; featured in more than 100 movies; star of his own radio show and frequent guest on The Mickey Mouse Club, Cliff Edwards would die alone and penniless in California in 1971. His unclaimed body was first donated to the UCLA hospital, but - in a semi-happy ending - was later purchased and buried by the Walt Disney Company.

[When You Wish Upon a Star (excerpt) - Cliff Edwards]

The Stagger Lee story is also popular in the black community as a "toast." Not the type the white community is familiar with hearing at weddings - but a ribald, recited story in verse, precursor to rap, and usually performed solely for family and friends at stag parties. The speaker takes on the role of Stagger Lee, boasting about his badness and exploits with women, and always ending with Billy Lyons dead on the floor, victim of the speaker's still-smoking .44. Samuel L. Jackson performs a cross between song and toast in the movie Black Snake Moan, in a version of Staggolee based on R.L. Burnside's original.

[Stack-O-Lee - Samuel L. Jackson]

Recommended Reading:

Stagolee Shot Billy by Cecil Brown; the definitive book on the song and the real people behind the song. Highly recommended to all who love music history.

Stagger Lee written by Derek McCulloch and drawn by Shepherd Hendrix. Largely based on Brown's non-fiction book, McCulloch and Hendrix blend fact and fiction to tell one and more possible stories about Lee Shelton. Also highly recommended, especially for those that still feel graphic novels are just "comic books." Also worth checking out are Derek's blog largehearted boy and the graphic novel's "official" blog, Stagger Lee.

Top image: "John Canoe (with guitar) and friends," July 1935, by Alan Lomax. Public domain via the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Lomax Collection.

[Background - Stack O Lee Aloha - Bob Brozman]

You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.
Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals, and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at com. The background music for the opening segment was eve, performed by Josh Roydhouse.

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn't It Rain

Way back from TTRH #1, "Weather." Gospel's first national star, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Tharpe also makes a an appearance in the "Friends and Neighbors" episode, with Our Host mentioning her attracting 25,000 paying customers to her wedding to her manager Russell Morrison, followed by a performance at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. in 19 and 51.