Leadbelly

Huddie William Ledbetter was born on 29 January 1885 in Louisiana and learnt the accordion and guitar as a child. By around 1905-6, he had become an itinerant musician, hoboing around Texas and Louisiana and learning a vast number of songs. He picked these up from every imaginable source, including jail – which is where he also acquired the name ‘Leadbelly’, on account of his physical toughness – and added them to his own compositions.

A rough and violent character, by 1917 he was on the run after busting out of prison, where he was serving time for assault. In 1918 or 1919, he shot a man and was sentenced to thirty years’ hard labour. He worked on a chain gang and it was probably here that he learned one of his best-known songs, ‘Midnight Special’. Released in 1925, he remained free for five years before being arrested for attempted homicide and sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is where folklorists John Lomax and his son Alan found him in 1933. They were amazed by his intense vocal style and commanding physical presence, and recorded more than 100 songs with him in the course of a few days. When Leadbelly was pardoned, Lomax took him to New York and re-recorded many of his songs.

During the 1940s he became part of a circle of musicians that included Woody Guthrie, Josh White and Brownie McGhee, adding topical songs to his repertoire such as ‘The Bourgeois Blues’. He died in 1949, at the age of 64, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and six months later, the Weavers took his ‘Irene Goodnight’ to Number 1 in the charts.

With his unrivalled repertoire of blues, ballads and minstrel tunes, Leadbelly defined the black American folk tradition and his songs informed the early 1960s folk revival. Many of the artists featured on the bonus disc, including Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, played with him, whilst others were merely influenced by the intensity of his style. And it is his influence that has continued to reverberate down several generations.

Track Information - CD1

01 The Bourgeois Blues (1938)
(Huddie Ledbetter, arr John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc

02 Midnight Special (1934)
(trad/Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

03 Irenegoodnight(1933)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax) pub Ludlow Music Inc 

04 Frankie And Albert (Part One) (1933)
(trad, arr Huddie Ledbetter/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

05 Frankie And Albert (Part Two) (1933)
(trad, arr Huddie Ledbetter/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

06 Blind Lemon (My Friend Blind Lemon) (1934)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

07 Pick A Bale Of Cotton (1935)
(Huddie Ledbetter, arr John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

08 Fannin’ Street (1941)
(trad, arr Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

09 Gallispole (1941)
(Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc

10 Rock Island Line (1948)
(trad, arr Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

11 How Long Blues (1942)
(Leroy Carr, arr Huddie Ledbetter) Copyright Control 

12 Easy Rider/C.C. Rider (1935)
(Ma Rainey, arr Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

13 Backwater Blues (1944)
(Bessie Smith, arr Huddie Ledbetter) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

14 It’s Tight Like That (1948)
(Dorsey/Whittaker) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

15 Death Letter Blues (Part One) (1934)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

16 Death Letter Blues (Part Two) (1934)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

17 In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down (1944)
(Leroy Carr) Copyright Control 

18 Matchbox Blues (1935)
(Lemon Jefferson) public domain 

19 Packin’ Trunk Blues (1935)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

20 Good Morning Blues (1940)
(Huddie Ledbetter, arr John Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

21 Alberta (1934)
(trad, arr Huddie Ledbetter/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc 

22 Leaving Blues (1948)
(Huddie Ledbetter/John Lomax/Alan Lomax) pub Folkways Music Publishers Inc