There is so much we might say about the importance of Alan Lomax, born one hundred years ago today. Working with and then succeeding his father, he extended the range of ‘field recordings’ across the globe, preserving on record at least, music that was in danger of disappearing.
I first encountered the Lomaxes’ work in the mid-1960s. Many of us had heard the late 1940s and 1950s recordings that Muddy Waters made in Chicago for Aristocrat and Chess but suddenly came news of early recordings done by father and son for the USA’s Library of Congress. They were not commercial recordings but in the 1960s they were released on LP and they were astonishing because they provided a direct link from Muddy’s commercial stuff back to the Mississippi Delta blues of Robert Johnson, Son House and others. But more than that were the remarkable ensemble performances of real old-time country blues – not all of which featured Muddy on vocals. (I have a special fondness for “Pearlie Mae”.)
If you start with this stuff and move through his classic period to the late recordings with rockin’ Johnny Winter it’s not too fanciful to suggest that Muddy’s entire recorded output covers as broad a range of blues styles as any other single artist.
And it’s thanks to Alan and John Lomax that we have this stuff – here it is (including his original of “I Be’s Troubled”/”I Can’t Be Satisfied” as recorded by the Rolling Stones on their second album). Happy Anniversary.