Leadbelly Vol 7 – Radio Broadcasts, Library of Congress Recordings and “Live” Concert Performances (1947-1949)
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In 1947 Leadbelly’s musical activities had settled into a routine of club appearances, radio broadcasts and informal jam sessions among his associates in the urban folk circle. During the previous twelve years this group of people had made connections for Leadbelly that ranged from New York Cafe Society to the film industry in Hollywood and although he made a strong impression on everyone he met, the wider music industry perceived Leadbelly as too volatile for mass marketing and consumption. By May 1949 a highly anticipated tour of France was cut short when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Leadbelly returned to the States to fulfil a handful of concerts. During these concerts he was showing obvious signs of this disease and within less than six months he was gone.
Within months of his death, the Weavers’ version of ‘Irene’ became one of the bestselling records of 1950. The following year Atlantic released a version of ‘Irene’ by Leadbelly but it barely dented the charts. This was now in the era of cold war, anti-communist witch hunts led by Joseph McCarthy in which the American folk scene came under scrutiny. It would take the rock ‘n’ roll revolution of the mid-fifties and the folk revival of the sixties before the general public became accustomed to this raw vernacular style of performance.
With the exception of the 4 Library of Congress titles, the rest of the recordings on this CD are either live concert performances or radio broadcasts (which were occasionally before an audience). The songs presented here are a good cross section of Leadbelly’s repertory, from his oldest Green Corn up through the folk standards John Henry and the cocaine peddler’s Take A Whiff On Me, to songs like Whoa Black Buck and a cover version of the hillbilly hit Birmingham Jail. The religious songs Old Ship Of Zion and I Will Be Glad When I Get Home sung with his wife Martha are among some of the last recordings Leadbelly made.