Director: Bernard MacMahon
This is a wonderful and groundbreaking project. Three documentary films, the first two an hour long, the third lasting an hour and a half, about the earliest recordings of American blues and country musicians in 1926-1927 – the time when radio came of age, so the relatively wealthy middle classes immediately stopped buying records (sound familiar?) The record companies sent recording engineers out to the “poor” areas, purely to record the music people were playing and listening to – so they could sell them records. There was no cultural preservation agenda (unlike say Alan Lomax in later years), and thus we get to see and hear how the Carter Family, Charlie Patton, the Memphis Jug Band, Mississippi John Hurt plus a bunch of other obscure singers/musicians were first recorded. The recording people put ads in the newspapers asking for musicians to record – they traveled miles to do so.
The producers have done an excellent, meticulously researched job here. They found photos and film of the early recording equipment, never seen before. It was all direct to disk, powered by huge portable generators that lasted 3 1/2 minutes before the gigantic weight that was lowered to power them reached the bottom of its cycle. Hence the 3 minute pop song.
AND – they built one of these things and there’s a fourth film with a bunch of present-day people recording some of the songs in the same way – direct to disk (warning – contains, inevitably, Jack White).
The producers have tracked down descendants of the original artists, some of whom are still playing their ancestors’ music. There’s also Hopi Indians, Mexicans and Cajun music.
This whole caboodle is apparently being released in December on PBS in the US and presumably round the same time in the UK – I just saw it at the Sydney Film Festival. There’ll be a 100 song CD and a glossy book etc.
Look out for it, it’s truly essential.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Well researched music documentaries.