Het was een puzzeltje met de mp3 van dit stukje van het interview… Maar… Het is opgelost… Bleek dat de titel van dit deeltje één alinea te ver in mijn basistekst uit 2004 is geplaatst. Tja; zo loop je aan tegen een foutje uit 2004. Ik weet nu (eindelijk) hoe ’t zat, en ’t is niet erg. Geluid en tekst gaan vanaf dit moment weer hand in hand (en ik ben weer gerust omdat ik weet waar het ‘foutje’ zat. Uiteraard is Bill Clifton nog steeds aan het woord over The Carter Family, hun repertoire en vooral over hoed dingen in die tijd eigenlijk gingen. Veel plezier met lezen en luisteren, of was het luisteren en lezen?
Recordings and Arrangements
Amongst themselves they called that ‘The Carter Scratch’, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s right, yeah. Yeah, and she, I mean, her style was so unique on everything but what Lesley Riddle taught her was totally unknown of in the white musical circles, nobody played that kind of guitar…
I can imagine that where most of the music is old-time stringband music and then all of a sudden this blues comes along. Exactly. And yet Maybelle was very much open to learning that style and wanted to learn that style, and was quick to learn. So she was able to adapt it to so many of the songs with great ease. And the songs they did collect together I guess some of the actually came from Lesley Riddle. I mean, I would say Lesley and his partner, who was singing around Kingsport at the time, Brownie McGhee, Brownie McGhee and Lesley provided a number of songs for The Carter Family. Now Brownie didn’t come over there but Lesley got the songs from Brownie McGhee and they would go over there with those songs too. So his style of collecting was varied. I mean he collected in whatever way he could. He would look at a house sitting up on a hill somewhere and he would say: ‘Now there’s a song up there’. And he would go up there and sometimes the song would be, like I say, in the piano stool, it would be a piece of sheet music. Other times it would be somebody who knew a lot of old-time songs and would sing them.
Lesley Riddle was a Black musician who helped shape the face of modern country music through his collaborations with the Carter Family. Today, many fans and critics hail the Carter Family as the First Family of Country Music. However, they wouldn’t have been the musical force they were without Lesley Riddle. Dr. Ted Olson (East Tennessee State University) gave a brief overview of Riddle’s life and what led him to work with the Carters. ‘Lesley Riddle was an African American who was born in Burnsville, North Carolina, close to the Tennessee border. Then, at some point in the late 20s, he moved to Kingsport. There, he had an accident while working at a cement plant. As I heard it, it was a debilitating accident so that he couldn’t work anymore in physical labor. So, being musically talented, he started to play music out on the street. He played with a group of African American musicians who were in Kingsport at the time’. While playing on the streets of Kingsport, Riddle worked with Stephen Tarter and Harry Gay, who also cut records in Bristol. Brownie McGhee, who would go on to become a respected Piedmont-style blues player rounded out the group. Kingsport, Tennessee is right on the Virginia line. More importantly, it was about a twenty-minute drive from Macy’s Spring, where the Carter Family lived. As a result, A.P. Carter heard Lesley Riddle playing with his group in Kingsport. The two met and hit it off. This would begin to cement Riddle’s place in history as one of many Black musicians who helped shape country music. ‘I like to put it that Lesley Riddle contributed to the Carter Family repertoire and provided some alternate finger styles on guitar to Maybelle Carter. He was an under-attributed but enormous influence on the Carter Family’, said Dr. Olson of Riddle’s contributions to the Carters. Some say that Lesley Riddle taught Mother Maybelle Carter the iconic guitar style known as the Carter Scratch or Carter Style Picking. However, Dr. Olson said that isn’t really the case because he only started working with them after the Bristol Sessions. ‘It’s likely that he taught Maybelle Carter many licks and certain fingerstyle techniques that she incorporated into her playing. I’m sure he gave her a lot of approval for style. He was a discerning ear and hearing her play, he would’ve encouraged her to keep at it and try new things’. More importantly, though, Lesley Riddle toured locally around Southwest Virginia with A.P. Carter. They’d go out on song collecting trips in which they would learn pieces from regional musicians. These musicians were both Black and white and sharing their songs with Carter and Riddle helped to shape the Carters’ repertoire as well as country music as a whole. ‘A.P. and Lesley got along very well and had complementary talents. A.P. was extremely good at memorizing lyrics and Riddle was excellent at memorizing melodies. So, they worked together to adapt songs from tradition. Alas, based on the segregation of the era, Carter was credited with the composition of those, what were essentially arrangements not full compositions and Lesley Riddle was left out of the attribution angle by the record companies’. In the case of the Carter Family and Leslie Riddle, Dr. Ted Olson said, ‘The record companies, as the ones publishing the materials, increased or extended the cultural segregation by not giving credit to one of the contributing sources of the music which was Lesley Riddle in the case of the Carter Family. That continued on and on’. Overall, he said, ‘The contributing forces to early country music also contributed to the myth that somehow this music was from a white cultural source as opposed to coming from different cultural groups with equal contributions’. Today, this myth is slowly dying. Researchers are digging deeper into America’s musical history and seeing more and more that American music wasn’t the invention of a handful of talented white people but a collaborative effort from a diverse group of artists who found common ground in the music they created.
And he would, you know, sense that before he even went up to a house like that? Yeah. He would sense that ahead of time and, as I say, I never saw him do that but that’s the way I understand it from him when we were talking about it. He would say, well, sometimes you know there’s a song. He’d just be able to look at a house, where it was and where it was situated and say: ‘Now there’s a song there’, you know, and know that people there would have music.
They recorded between 1927 and 1942 I think? ‘43 I think, was the last session, yeah.
They recorded some 200 songs. Did A.P. ever discuss feeling any pressure in coming up with new songs? Oh yeah! He always felt the pressure. He always needed to have new material, for every session and he wanted to do as many songs as possible. They got paid for each song, for each recording, each side. And so, the more they could do, the better. So if they would go into the studio and be able to do more than six or eight, if he had twelve or fifteen or whatever then that was better, in every way.
So when they came to the studio they would basically record every song they knew? If there was time available to them to do that, yes. They would try to do all that they had. And they would arrange, I mean, all of their arrangements were worked out ahead of time. They had the arrangements so tight that they knew that they didn’t run over three minutes, the old ‘78 records required less than three minutes. There are one or two that run over three minutes but they don’t run much over, about ten seconds maybe, where they may have played a little slower. But they always timed them out ahead of time and they knew exactly what they were going to do when they walked in. And if you ever hear the second cut, where they did a second cut, it’ll be exactly the same as the first cut was.
That’s quite a remarkable achievement. Especially for people who were newly professionals to this game. Exactly and nobody else to learn from. I mean, they were the ones who were setting the standards really.