Tag Archives: Josh White

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: SONGS FOR POLITICAL ACTION- FOLK MUSIC, TOPICAL SONGS AND THE AMERICAN LEFT

Long since out of reach for those that would most benefit from hearing it this 10 CD collection of near 300 rare political songs from between 1926-1953 is as perfect a package as could possibly be. Released on the German-based Bear Family label it features songs from folk singers Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Woody Guthrie and many others, and also bluesmen  like Josh White and Brownie McGhee.

This description from the Bear Family Records catalogue places the collection in a concise context:

“Maybe it didn’t bring about the social and economic equality that it strove for, but the American Left of the 1930’s and 1940’s did leave one lasting legacy: the urban folk song revival. The discs offer a comprehensive overview of this enduring music, from the labor choruses and New York’s socially conscious theatrical scene of the 1930’s, to the Almanac Singers postwar idealism of People’s Songs and ends with the disturbing anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era.”

This set is incredible. As simple as that. A treasure trove that contains historical recordings that could otherwise have been lost to posterity. If anyone has ever said a truer thing than “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” then I’d like to hear it! While the Left failed to achieve any real lasting change in the States the one place they did have significant presence was in music. A band like the Almanac Singers’ politically charged influence still resonates through today’s singer-songwriters. The idealism and hope on these recordings came to an abrupt end with the anti-Left McCarthy era that silenced many of these talented, dedicated performers. Containing Folk music, of course, but their are also cowboy songs, country songs, blues and country-blues and if nothing else they destroy the stereotype of the dry and humourless political song.

(to find the download click on the Disc number highlighted in RED)

Disc One: The Leftist Roots Of The Folk Revival

Primarily given over to the oldest union songs and farm-related protest songs. The sound quality on most of the material in this set is astonishingly good

DISC 1

Disc Two: Theatre And Cabaret Performers: 1936-1941

DISC 2

Disc Three: The Almanac Singers: March 1941 – July 1941

Disc Four: Fighting The Fascists: 1942-1944

Disc Three is given over to the Almanac Singers; this body of work was recorded when the official Communist Party line (to which they adhered) was non-aggression against Nazi Germany. The music on Disc Four was surprisingly complex, given the spartan conditions under which a lot of it was done.

DISC 3 AND 4

Disc Five: World War II And The Folk Revival

Disc Six: The People’s Songs Era: 1945-1949

Disc 5 features artists like Earl Robinson, Sir Lancelot, Vern Partlow, Tom Glazer and Woody Guthrie while Disc 6 is dedicated to artists like Josh White, Lee Hays, Lord Invader, Malivna Reynolds and others.

DISC 5 AND 6

Disc Seven: Pete Seeger: 1946-1948

Disc Eight: Charter Records: 1946-1949

Disc seven is mostly made up of Seeger’s masterpieces Roll The Union On and Songs For Political Action. This collection is made up of many things from the personal archives of Pete Seeger, old recordings and photos not found anywhere else. Eight compiles songs from the famed folk and blues record label Charter Records.

DISC 7 AND 8

Disc Nine: Campaign Songs: 1944-1949

Disc Ten: An Era Closes: 1949-1953

Disc nine represents the last significant cohesive body of topical political songs to come from the American left while by the time of disc ten the Left couldn’t do more than snipe at the reactionaries setting the agenda and the passive moderates who stood by.

DISC 9 AND 10

The full package is not just the ten CD’s it is accompanied by a 200-page + hardcover book featuring historical and musical essays, photographs, session information and lyrics – one of the finest documents of the relationship between music and politics of the period that has ever been published.

Listen to little known, or remembered, songs like ‘I’m Going To Organize, Baby Mine’, ‘Commonwealth Of Toil’, ‘Write Me Out My Union Card’, ‘Bad Housing Blues’, ‘Swingin’ On A Scab’, ‘Talking Un-American Blues’, ‘Unemployment Compensation Blues’ through to more famous songs like ‘Which Side Are You On?’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and what you are actually listening to is pure unadulterated American history. These days when the American Left is obsessed with identity politics that divides people rather than bring them together and is separated from the wider working class its hard to imagine a time when working people fought and died for simple things like a living wage, voting rights, the right to organize, and the dignity of the average American. The modern Left’s hatred for all things American is a far cry from the patriotism and passion and love for America found on these discs. It is fitting that the last song on the collection is Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’.  This passion for America, and a stubborn refusal to accept nothing less than America’s promise of a fundamental fairness, rests right on the surface of lyrics like:

“Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.”

For more like this…

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: KICKIN’ HITLER’S BUTT: Vintage Anti-Fascist Songs 1940-1944

FREE DOWNLOAD

Yeah the title says it all! Eighteen anti-fascist anthems from WW2 (don’t tell the Americans the War actually started in 1939) including songs from seasoned bluesmen Leadbelly, Josh White and Son House alongside Spike Jones’ madcap ‘Der Fuhrer’s Face’ and the acappella Golden Gate Quartet’s sublime ‘Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE KIDDING MR. HITLER?

Now this is an American release so that means the theme tune from Dad’s Army is sadly missing but that is still no reason to not to indulge yourself with a free download of this collection of anti-fascist songs written, performed and released between 1940 and 1944. Its often thought that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour started the American involvement in the war but America had already made massive loans to the British war machine and having placed a oil embargo on Japan steps were being made to join the war before they were pre-emptied by the attack on Pearl Harbour. The US army for instance had grown massively from 267,767 in 1940 to 1,460,998 by mid-1941, an increase of 446%. Pearl Harbor was an American naval base in Hawaii, that was the scene of a devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Just before 8 a.m. hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack and another 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.
Knowledge coming out of Europe was slow but many in America, and not just on the left, realised the danger of Hitler’s rise to power and sought to agitate against it. It’s a little known fact that Germans made up the largest ethnic base in the States at around 17% which just happened to be the exact percentage of the American population who did not express support for Britain. Only 1% wished for a German victory suggesting that even this was inspired as much by pride in Germany as any dislike of Great Britain. The artists featured here contain such renowned figures as Woody Guthrie and The Almanac Singers folk singers from the from the protest movement all the way to bluesmen like the legendary Lead Belly and jazzmen like Spike Jones & His City Slickers. The album contains eighteen songs from fifteen diverse artists who in the main have disappeared from the air-waves but deserve to be known and studied and celebrated. Of course God is assumed to be solely on the Allies side, something I’m sure all in war believe.

Kickin’ Hitler’s Butt begins with a track from The Almanac Singers, a New York City-based group, active between 1940 and 1943 and formed by Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. They performed songs that were anti-war, anti-racist and pro-union. The Almanac Singers felt strongly , just like London Celtic Punks do, that music could help achieve these goals. Music is one of the great uniters and one of the areas of life where people of all races and religion mixed. A cappella gospel  group The Golden Gate Quartet’s contribution to the album, ‘Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ wasn’t out of pace with it’s praise of Joseph Stalin with American public feeling at the time. Written in 1943 by Willie Johnson even Roosevelt had this to say
“The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin”
and it’s true that many of the most significant battles in the War were won by American and Russian forces co-operation. The Southern Sons Quartet’s ‘Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition’ is another gospel a capella song written in response to Pearl Harbour by Frank Loesser in 1942. The song tells of a Sunday morning in December 1941, and the chaplain is asked to say a prayer for say a prayer for sailors aboard a U.S. navy ship under attack by the enemy firing from all directions. The chaplain puts down his Bible, mans one of the ship’s gun turrets and begins firing back, saying “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”
“Praise the Lord and swing into position
Can’t afford to be a politician
Praise the Lord, we’re all between perdition
And the deep blue sea”
The Southern Sons remain the most successful African-American gospel quartet music groups. Next up is Jazz Gillum and ‘War Time Blues’. William McKinley ‘Jazz’ Gillum was an blues harmonica player whose recordings nearly all come from the 1940’s. Jazz was shot dead On March 29, 1966, during a street argument in Chicago.

The Florida Kid performs the simple but effective ‘Hitler Blues’ on piano while next up we have two collaborations between some real legendary figures. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee give us ‘Move Into Germany’ and Lead Belly and Josh White perform ‘Hitler Song’. Famous in their own rights they all became involved civil rights protests and recorded Piedmont blues, country blues, gospel music and social protest songs. Following is another absolute legend in Woody Guthrie. Woody has featured on these pages many times and it is no exaggeration to say he remains the most significant figures in American folk music inspiring several generations, both politically and musically, since his death from Huntington’s Disease in 1967. He performed with the slogan “This machine kills fascists” on his guitar and he is one of the few artists here who is still largely celebrated. Josh White performs solo next with the amazing ‘Fuehrer’. The song tells of a German soldier, on the Russian front, starving and freezing to death dreaming he could go back home to Berlin. A sad song and beautifully played but not devoid of humour too. 
“Tell me, my Führer, what can I do?
My hands are freezing and my nose is blue
I’m dying of cold but then you never can tell
‘Cause when the Russians come, they make it hotter than hell
I got a touch of pneumonia, I got a terrible cough
If I sneeze once more, it’s bound to carry me off
When the Russians come, they always take us by storm
And there’s nothing like running if you want to get warm”
Josh White grew up in the south during the 1920’s and 1930’s and his experience led him to spend his life agitating for a more fair and equal system. This led to him being caught up in the ‘Red Scare’ panic from 1947 through to the mid-1960s which saw him black-listed as a communist. His ban from the airwaves was broken in 1963 when JFK asked him to perform on national television. Josh passed away in 1967 in New York.

Classic bluesman Buster ‘Buzz’ Ezell gives up ‘Roosevelt And Hitler’ Parts 1 and 2 featuring the memorable lyric
“He’s treating us so mean with his dreadful submarines.”
Delta bluesman Eddie James ‘Son’ House, Jr., noted for his highly emotional style of singing and slide guitar playing, plays ‘American Defense’. Starting off as a preacher before turning to the blues his recording career was short, punctuated by time in jail before he was re-discovered in the 1960’s and performed at folk festivals and toured during the American folk music revival. He recorded several more albums before passing in 1988. Next is ‘Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer’ by The Four Vagabonds, an African-American vocal quartet. The song tells of an American plane on its way home on one engine.

“What a show, what a fight
Yes, we really hit our target for tonight!
How we sing as we limp thru the air
Look below, there’s our field over there

With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord
We’re Comin’ In On A Wing And A Pray’r”

We move from such serious subject matter to the slapstick jazz of Spike Jones And His City Slickers with ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ where Spike tells us to blow raspberries in Adolf’s face. Spike was a bandleader famous in the 1940’s and 50’s for satirical arrangements of popular songs of the era. The jazz-swing of
Sam Browne And The Six Swingers follows with ‘Berlin Or Bust’.
“So it’s Berlin or bust!
Oh, we didn’t want to do it but we must”
Sam Browne was an English dance band singer who became one of the most popular British dance band vocalists of the pre-war era. US band leader Paul Baron And His Orchestra serve up the rousing ‘Up & At ‘Em, Yanks’ before Lead Belly returns with the only song here I had heard before the amazing Mr. Hitler. Now Lead Belly had one hell of a life (its well worth reading our biography of him here, you’ll not believe it!). Huddie William Ledbetter spent multiple spells in jail including a sentence for murder he was released early for. Passing away in 1949 he survived long enough to see Hitler in his grave. The album ends with the Rev. James A. Gates and ‘Hitler And Hell’. A preacher and Gospel music singer born in 1884, he was the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Atlanta from 1914 until his death. During this time he recorded over 200 tracks. Performed in the style of a dynamic old-school sermon.

So faced with the worse evil of their times these artists chose to take sides. With these songs they actively encouraged and inspired the bravest of the brave to liberate humanity from one of the most vile and dangerous phenomena – fascism. Many of the artists here also fought during the War putting their words into action. Even with Hitler’s death and the defeat of the Nazi’s the war with fascism has not ended. The war continues on every continent and among every race. If we are finally to bury this evil ideology then we must win the hearts and minds of the people and with that in mind I’ll leave you with a quote from the great Irish patriot James Connolly.

“No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and the hopes, the loves and the hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.”

To download Kickin’ Hitler’s Butt click

HERE  OR HERE

for more like this…(only in researching the article to accompany Kickin’ Hilter’s Butt did I come across this amazing concert from Josh White. Do your soul a favour and take thirty minutes of your life and spend it in the company of this wonderful and remarkable human being)

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