Sunday, November 12, 2017
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Growing up in the northeast I wasn't exposed to country music though, as a fan of The Byrds, I'd heard their take on the genre in 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The first time I remember really listening to old-time country was with the release of a triple album in 1972 - Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The album cover was unusual - it pictured some old fogey (actually Union Admiral David Dixon Porter); the long list of names was hard to read and made it hard to tell whose record this was, and the prominent display of Confederate flags makes it questionable whether it would be released in this form today.
The album was recorded in August 1971 as a project of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a California-based group of country-rockers who'd had a minor hit in 1967 with Buy For Me The Rain and more success with the 1969 release of a cover of Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr Bojangles. Their idea was to bring the band together with some of the icons of traditional country music to, as the album cover states, "form a new Circle". It took some persuading to get the participants together, but the result was memorable - 38 songs, all recorded on the first or second takes, and snippets of in-studio conversation. On all the tune, the Dirt Band provides the core instrumentation..
The featured country artists:
Mother Maybelle Carter (1909-78) of the famous Carter Family act and mother of June Carter, the second wife of Johnny Cash. Known for her guitar and girlish voice.
The popularizer of the three finger banjo picking style, Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), with his breakthrough country hit of 1949, Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Many of us non-country listeners first heard him on The Ballad of Jed Clampett.
My personal favorite, Doc Watson (1923-2012) whom THC has posted on before, with his marvelous guitar picking and resonant and comforting singing and speaking voice.
The famous country fiddler, Roy Acuff (1903-92).
Merle Travis (1917-83), singer, songwriter, and inventor of travis style picking guitar.
The King of Bluegrass, the guitar and mandolin playing Jimmy Martin (1927-2005).
The album also introduced master fiddler Vassar Clements (1928-2005) to a wider audience.
And now, let's listen to some music.
A Merle Travis composition, Dark As A Dungeon, featuring Merle on vocals.
A Jimmie Driftwood song, Tennessee Stud, with Doc Watson on vocals and guitar with Clements on fiddle.
The Hank Williams standard, I Saw The Light. Roy Acuff vocals, Earl Scruggs banjo, Watson guitar, and Clements on fiddle.
Maybelle Carter singing Wildwood Flower, written by her brother-in-law AP Carter. Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Maybelle on autoharp.
Earl's Breakdown with, no surprise, Earl Scruggs on banjo and Clements on fiddle.
Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Maybelle Carter vocals on first verse, Jimmy Martin on second, Roy Acuff on third. Watson & Travis on guitar, Scruggs on banjo, and Clements on fiddle. The original version of the song by composers Ada R Habershon and Charles H Gabrieldates to 1907. The version below was rewritten in the 1930s by AP Carter with new lyrics and a modified chorus.