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Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?

GUEST,ucscirene 16 Mar 10 - 05:16 PM
katlaughing 16 Mar 10 - 07:20 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 16 Mar 10 - 07:23 PM
Darowyn 17 Mar 10 - 04:51 AM
brezhnev 17 Mar 10 - 09:35 AM
Desert Dancer 17 Mar 10 - 12:09 PM
Fred McCormick 17 Mar 10 - 01:00 PM
GUEST,Allan.s 17 Mar 10 - 02:36 PM
GUEST,M Allen 26 Sep 11 - 11:47 PM
Martha Burns 27 Sep 11 - 08:55 PM
GUEST 28 Sep 11 - 12:22 AM
GUEST,leeneia 28 Sep 11 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,DrWord 28 Sep 11 - 06:04 PM
GUEST 30 Sep 11 - 01:31 PM
GUEST,m Allen 01 Oct 11 - 02:50 PM
Lighter 01 Oct 11 - 03:00 PM
GUEST,M Allen 08 Oct 11 - 08:47 PM
Lighter 09 Oct 11 - 07:51 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,ucscirene
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 05:16 PM

Hello All!
I'm working on a paper about music and meaning in people's lives, and am using a lot of Alan Lomax's writings as support for my arguement. I am trying to find the written source in which he first defines and explains the term "High Lonesome Complaint." I've looked in Folk Song Style and Culture, Cantometrics, and the book on his Selected Writings. Everyone cites Lomax as the originator of this term, but no one seems to know when or where he first said it! If you know, you would be of great help. Thank you!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: katlaughing
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 07:20 PM

I see references that make me think it may have been in an essay he wrote for Esquire magazine in 1959.

And/or, there is a search snippet which indicates he may have used it to describe "Aunt Molly" but that info is at JSTOR which requires a subscription and I don't know if what I found in a google search is accurate or not, fwiw.:-) This is what came up for that site, in a google search: The term 'high, lonesome sound' was not 'originally coined to describe the singing of Roscoe ... I recall Alan Lomax using it to describe the singing of Aunt Molly

Maybe that will help?

Welcome to the Mudcat!

kat


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 07:23 PM

It seems to be in The Land Where The Blues Began (1993/4): Here's a page in Google Books: The Land Where The Blues Began - P233.

It's also quoted in a review of the book in this article on Mustrad: Cantometrics - Song And Social Culture.

Whether this is the first appearance I don't know, but it doesn't come up anywhere else in searches.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Darowyn
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 04:51 AM

I have always heard the phrase in connection with Bluegrass, particularly the distinctive singing style of Bill Monroe.
Wikipedia even includes the phrase, thus:-
"Bill Monroe characterized the genre: "Scotch bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound."
I don't know the date of that description, but it would be worth checking.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: brezhnev
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 09:35 AM

don't know when the exact phrase was first used, but Lomax used his field trip to Italy in 1954-55 to roadtest the theories about different regional singing styles that he came up with during his visit to Spain in 1952-3 (where one of things that struck him was the difference between the "long, high-pitched wails of despair" he found in the south and the open-throated, lower-pitched stuff he found in the north).

My guess is that it was after he returned to the States from London in 1958 that he formally set down his ideas of your typical Eurasian song (high-pitched, tight-throated and tragic) and brought the 'high lonesome sound' of colonial america under its umbrella.

But it's only a guess.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:09 PM

The item that Kat found (corrected link) is a review by folklorist D.K. Wilgus of the book "Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky" by Charles K. Wolfe (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983). The review appears in Popular Music, Vol. 5, Continuity and Change (1985), pp. 270-273.

In listing a few inaccuracies in the book at the end of the review, he says, "The term 'high, lonesome sound' was not 'originally coined to describe the singing of Roscoe Holcomb in the early 1960s' (p. 155). I recall Alan Lomax using it to describe the singing of Aunt Molly Jacson at least as early as 1941."

I believe I've also seen it claimed that John Cohen coined the term in reference to Roscoe Holcomb, but apparently not.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 01:00 PM

Be careful. What Lomax refers to in Folk Song Style and Culture is what he calls the high lonesome complaint. This refers to a type of song which has a narrow meandering melismatic melody, often sung in a rhythmically free fashion, with massive amounts of decoration. Black field hollers from the American south are one example which Lomax quotes, as are some of the songs found among the Wolofs of Senegal and the Gambia, and further examples can be found in North Africa, southern Europe, the middle east and Asia. Lomax argues that the high lonesome complaint is a product of heavily regulated despotic societies which severely restrict individual freedom.

The high lonesome SOUND, although it's been applied to blues singers, esp Skip James, and to singers like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, is for me interminably linked with the harsh, high pitched and sparsely decorated singing of performers like Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, and just maybe, Hobart Smith.

BTW., my Mustrad article on cantometrics didn't review Lomax's book, The Land Where the Blues Began. That review was written by Ray Templeton, my article being merely an attempt to sort out one or two details which Ray seemed confused over.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,Allan.s
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 02:36 PM

Check out VCS
That High Lonesome Sound
"Films of American rural life and music by John Cohen' Shanachie 1404

also High Lonesome The story of Bluegrass Music Shanachie 604


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,M Allen
Date: 26 Sep 11 - 11:47 PM

The phrase was used by Alan Lomax in an essay in Esquire published in 1959.

(Google Books)

I believe it was also used by him ten years earlier in the record "Listen to our story", a narrated history of American folk song, in which he says that the Southern High Lonesome and the New England narrative ballad traditions met up and hybridized in the West, specifically the Ozarks (Arkansas and Missouri) to produce a new American music.

John Cohen used the phrase for a film and album about Roscoe Holcolm and the phrase is incorrectly attributed to him in many books and articles. However, it is possible that neither he nor Lomax made it up, but that it had been in use common in Kentucky. It is said to be exemplified by Bill Monroe, whom John Lomax anthologized in "Smoky Mountain Ballads (1941). Whether or no he invented it, Alan Lomax certainly has priority over Cohen in popularizing the phraseihowever.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Martha Burns
Date: 27 Sep 11 - 08:55 PM

Really good thread. I had always thought that John Cohen made up the phrase to describe Roscoe Holcomb. You learn something every day.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 11 - 12:22 AM

There was a song, "High Lonesome" by The Country Gentlemen issued in 1957. In his "History of Bluegrass" Neil Rosenberg claims that this song was the source from which John Cohen took the title of his 1962 film about Holcolm. (One would like to hear what John Cohen himself has to say about it.)

In 1966 Bill Monroe, himself a tenor, issued an LP entitled "High Lonesome Sound." Monroe also memorably described blue-grass music as characterized by a "high lonesome" sound, though so far I can't find the source or year of this much repeated quote:

"It's Scotch bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound. It's plain music that tells a good story. It's played from my heart to your heart"


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 Sep 11 - 09:42 AM

High Lonesome is also a mountain in Texas. I wonder how long it's had that name, because that may have been the first coining of that phrase.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,DrWord
Date: 28 Sep 11 - 06:04 PM

oo.ooooooops!
only wanted to say great thread. mudcat!!!!

cheers
dennis


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Sep 11 - 01:31 PM

Here Lomax, writing in 1961, uses only "lonesome" but he means the same thing:

"...There developed in the territory that became Missouri and Arkansas a new folk culture that was an amalgam of the Northern topical song tradition, the British ballad romance, and the lonesome banjo-picking strain of the Southern mountains. So it is that one finds side by side in the repertoire of Ozark singers ballads common to Maine and to the Smoky Mountains. Another outstanding trait of this area is the large number of new songs, new verses, and folk song creators it has produced. The freedom of the West was here. Perhaps more important, however, was the marriage of the topical ballad of the North and the solid and exfoliated folk song tradition of the South. This is the land that inspired paeans to rebels, adventurers of both genders - "Jesse James", "Quantrell", "Sweet Betsy from Pike", "Joe Bowers", "The Arkansas Traveller", "Frankie and Albert", "Brady" - and fed the exuberance of ragtime, which was emerging to accompany the rowdy life of burgeoning towns. Significantly, and in keeping with its distinctive musical trajectory, it is the land that gave birth to two of America's modern balladeers - Woody Guthrie from Okemah, Oklahoma, and Jimmy Driftwood from Timbo, Arkansas. These two contemporary folk poets share a basic singing style and a freedom to innovate that is remarkable in my experience." -- Alan Lomax, original notes to LP Southern Frontier, 1961 (edited by Anna Lomax Chairetakis 1998), Southern Journey, Vol. 7. Reissued by Rounder c. 1998. (I don't have access to the original LP).

Incidentally, the Ozark region had the first Folklore Society, preceding that of Texas. It was founded in 1908 by folklorist Harry Belden, who demonstrated conclusively to folklorists that the Child canon was not closed, but that new ballads were being made. Another celebrated Ozark folklorist was Vance Randolph, uncle of Lee Hays of the Weavers.

The modern civil rights movement got its start in Arkansas with the Christian Socialism of Claude C. Williams http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_C._Williams Williams, a Presbyterian minister (originally from Tennesse), adapted hymns to make protest songs. Arkansas natives Lee Hays, and Zilphia Horton were among Williams's earliest disciples. Hays was a founding member of the Almanac Singers and later The Weavers. Interesting too, Gordon Jenkins, the Decca producer and band and choral leader who discovered the Weavers and produced their first hits over the initial objections of other Decca executives, was also a native of Arkansas.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,m Allen
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 02:50 PM

As I thought, "high lonesome" is a southern folk expression. Here it is in a blues song by Lucious Curtis, recorded by Alan Lomax in 1940:

http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=5109.0;wap2

Alan Lomax had an ear for poetic and evocative folk expressions and liked to highlight them in his writing and conversation. For example "my heart struck sorrow" -- a blues lyric that he he used as the title for a section of Land Where the Blues Began. He was actually sometimes taken to task for writing purple prose because of this habit! But he did it advisedly. He was a rebel who never would accept the castrated modern stripped- down adjectiveless writing style recommended by Strunk and White that has become journalistic orthodoxy.

Lomax was using "high lonesome" as a category of Cantometrics in a conversation recorded in 1965 with a Mexican scholar Americo Paredes. It is summarized and can be heard on the Culutral Equity website: http://research.culturalequity.org/get-dil-details.do?sessionId=33

Personally, it is my impression that the Appalachian manifestation of the ornamented "high lonesome" was retained there by the Old Regular Baptists in their lined-out hymns, and had been common in Scotland (perhaps also in 1600 England and Ireland). Ralph Stanley is an exemplar.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 03:00 PM

Lomax may have coined "high, lonesome sound," but in the Midwest, a "high lonesome" meant a drunken spree as far back as the 1860s or '70s.

He may have picked up the phrase, if not the musical meaning, while interviewing.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: GUEST,M Allen
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 08:47 PM

High lonesome is listed in J. Frank Dobie's compilations of Texas folk idioms as meaning a drunken spree. John A. Lomax was President of the Texas Folklore Society during the 1940s and J. Frank Dobie was a friend and protoge his. If Dobie wrote about it, chances are good both Lomaxes knew about its meaning as a noun.

I have just been looking at The Folks Songs of North America and I see where Alan Lomax refers to the Appalachian singing style as high, "almost effeminate" -- he also identifies the predominant emotion of American folk music as a whole as "loneliness". So it seems almost inevitable that he would join the two words.

In the Appalachian chapter of FS of NA Lomax links the Western European love lyric to the songs of the French troubadours, who in turn got it from the Arabs (this is the standard interpretation, see "Love in the Western World" by Denis de Rougemont), and he seems to feel that the constricted, ornamented Appalachian style is rooted in solo Eastern performance practice. He quotes amusingly from Davy Crockett's 1834 memoirs of falling ln love as a young man in Eastern Tennessee.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Lomax- 1st use of 'High Lonesome'?
From: Lighter
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:51 AM

The Dobie-Lomax connection looks certain to me.


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