Monday, March 01, 2004

Hapless Monday, corporate kiddies. Back to the painful grind of listening to two cubicles down bitch about how _Seabiscuit_ SO deserved best picture and did you hear that Haiti is fucked?

Work is the internet chatroom that you can't put on mute.

Don't say I never done nuthin' for ya: Papa's got the answer. Break out those big manly Bose headphones and get ready for a jail-break, prime a prison riot, go a little stir crazy.

Today's entries are hardboiled blues, straight from the big house.

Prison music is functional in the truest sense of the word; it keeps the beat of menial labor, kills time and distracts from emotionalphysicalmental distress.

These songs were never intended for performance but to make the day pass easier. They are real American folk songs.


William H. Johnson's Chain Gang, 1942

Unknown Convicts - "Oh Lawdy Me, Oh Lawdy My"

Recorded in the 1930's in Georgia, under the supervision of ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax.

The harmony is electric; picks hitting the ground keep the beat. Haunting.

Prison Music Postcards
A Live 365 Prison Station
Purchase the album directly from the publisher


Unknown Convicts - "Po' Lazarus"

1930's, Georgia, Lomax; same as above. This is not to be confused with the track of the same name on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack. (That's a nice song as well, but the authenticity of this eerie duet has an appeal all its own, no?)

Really a vicious song if you listen to it; the convicts are discussing what they would do to their jailors if they had opportunity.

"That walker called me a nappy headed devil; that ain't my name... You better mind how you treat a poor prisoner... He liable to meet you coming through some dark alley and throw you down, lawd lawd and throw you down."

No doubt some of these songs also functioned as a means to express resentment and communicate messages amongst the prisoners without their captors knowledge. In that way, these recordings sound uncomfortably close to a re-imagining of the music of slavery.

Learn more about Alan Lomax, the musicologist responsible for these recordings.
More prison recordings from Lomax; this one is from the same album as above
Take a peek at the Lomax "Deep River of Sound" Collection: Each one is full of all sorts of buried treasure. Rounder deserves some accolades for making these available.


Roosevelt Charles, Arthur Davis and Big Louisiana - "All Teamed Up In Angola's Mule Lot"

This and the following tracks come from Angola Prison, during the late 1950's, recorded by Dr. Harry Oster.

Remarkable voices and fascinating improvised repartee.

"Fresh fish? Fresh fish? You's an OLD fish; the scales on you done got dry; man, I don't know what youtalkinbout'."

Subscribe to 'The Angolite', "the official Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoner publication". I've seen some excerpts and, though challenging, is fascinating reading.
Purchase the CD direct from Arhoolie
A Modern Classic
The Ophir Prison Marching Kazoo Band and Temperance Society: Not sure if they're on the level or not, but it's awful offbeat. Don't miss the music clips.


Unknown Convicts - "Angola Bound"

Jesus, what an emotionally charged dirge THIS thing is.

The birdsong in the background provides stark contrast to the soft thuds of metal on earth.

"I gotta eat my breakfast by the light of the moon."


Archival Angola Pics
Purchase the CD direct from Arhoolie
Prison Music Today


Odea Mathews - "The Moon Is Rising"

I detect some elements of "That's All Right" in here.

Mathews' accompaniment on this track is provided by the spin of her sewing machine. Such a delicate throaty voice; an rnb star who never was.

Antique Sewing Machines
Purchase the CD direct from Arhoolie
Boy just ain't got a soul: "O'Reilly No Fan of Prison Music".

(Hey, if you care, scroll down for my MOGAMBYHUGE "Oscar Blog 2004" special.
Because I'm special.
The doctor said so.)