Friday, February 27, 2009

#25: Last Waltz At The El Strato - Cowboys and the Canadian East Coast

Playlist for Sunday, March 1, 2009
Hosted by Greg Denton with guest Lea Tran


1. Wake Up Jacob - Prince Albert Hunt & His Texas Ramblers

2. Cool Water - The Sons Of The Pioneers
3. Happy Cowboy - The Sons Of The Pioneers
4. Chant Of The Wanderer - The Sons Of The Pioneers

The Sons Of The Pioneers were one of the foremost of the Western/Cowboy singing groups with the famous Hollywood cowboy, Roy Rogers (aka Leonard Slye), as one of the founding members. But also founding and fronting the group as well as being its chief songwriter was Bob Nolan, who penned huge classics of the Cowboy genre like Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and Cool Water. Bob Nolan was born Robert Clarence Nobles on April 1, 1908 in Hatfield Point, New Brunswick. During World War 1, his father served in the United States Army. He changed his name to Nolan and settled in Arizona after the war. Bob Nolan moved there with him when he was 14 years old, studied at the University of Arizona, and then left to ride the rails to Los Angeles to start a singing career when he was 17. After a number of groups and attempts to establish a career foothold, The Sons Of The Pioneers (intially called The Pioneer Trio) formed in 1933 and signed to Decca Records in 1934. Bob Nolan died in Los Angeles in 1980 from a heart attack.

5. Pete Knight, The King Of The Cowboys - Wilf Carter
6. There's A Love Knot In My Lariat - Wilf Carter
7. I've Hung Up My Chaps And Saddle - Wilf Carter

The acknowledged "father" of country music, Jimmie Rodgers (also known as the Blue Yodeler, or The Yodeling Brakeman) launched his career after auditioning for Ralph Peer's famous Bristol, Tennessee field recordings for Victor in 1929. He was hugely influential and there were many subsequent imitators. But Wilf Carter, born in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia (Dec 18, 1904) had a background as a yodelling singer that actually predates the start of Jimmie Rodgers' career. One of nine children in a poor family, Wilf was working the fields away from home at an early age. It was while working in Canning, Nova Scotia at the age of 12 that he witnessed a travelling Swiss performer named 'The Yodeling Fool' and began to teach himself to yodel. He left home at the age of 15 after a dispute with his father (a strict baptist minister) and eventually wound up in Alberta working the harvests, learning to break horses, and making some extra money singing at dances. He did his first radio audition in 1925, and his first full radio job was with CFCN in Calgary in 1930. This led to work with the CBC and to a songwriting contract with a publishing house in Toronto. By 1934 he was recording for RCA records in Montreal and then started broadcasting for CBS in New York in 1935 (he was dubbed as Montana Slim for American audiences, but continued to release his records as Wilf Carter in Canada). He died in 1996, at the age of 92, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

8. My Nova Scotia Home - Hank Snow
9. I'm Moving On - Hank Snow
10. The Golden Rocket - Hank Snow

Born Clarence Eugene Snow in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia on May 9, 1914, Hank ran away from an abusive family situation to work as a cabin boy and labourer for the Merchant Marines at the very young age of 12, bought himself a guitar from the Eaton's catalog when he was 14, and played his first show in a church basement in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia at the age of 16. He studied the music of Jimmie Rodgers from records given to him by his mother and went to Halifax in 1933 where he managed to do some radio work. He auditioned for RCA in Montreal in 1936 and stayed with the label for 45 years. He worked for the CBC for a time and moved to the United States in the late 1940s, eventually making it to the Grand Ol' Opry in 1950, the year that his song "I'm Movin' On" became a #1 hit on the billboard charts and stayed there for 21 weeks, establishing a record for the longest stand in the #1 spot that is yet to be broken. Over his career he charted more than seventy songs, 6 in the #1 spot, and several more in the top 10. He was an early promoter of Elvis Presley, was responsible for getting Elvis onto the Grand Ol' Opry, introduced Elvis to Colonel Tom Parker, and formed a booking agency with Parker to promote Elvis' career. Parker, however, managed to shut Hank out of the deal and took over Elvis' management on his own. Hank received several lifetime achievement awards, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978, The Country Music Hall of Fame, The Canadian Music Hall of Fame, & The Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame in 1979, and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. He published an autobiography in 1994 (The Hank Snow Story), and recovered from a respiratory illness to perform at the Grand Ol' Opry in 1996. He died on December 20, 1999 in Madison, Tennessee at the age of 85.

11. The Maritime Waltz - Stompin' Tom Connors
12. My Home Cradled Out In The Waves - Stompin' Tom Connors
13. Blue Nose - Stompin' Tom Connors

Known for the heavy board-shredding boot-stomp that provides rhythmic accompaniment to his guitar playing, Charles Thomas (Stompin' Tom) Connors was born in Saint John, New Brunswick on Feb 9, 1936. His teenaged mother had little means to raise him and ended up in a low-security women's penitentiary before Tom was taken by the Children's Aid Society, and then adopted into the Aylward family who raised him in Skinner's Pond, Prince Edward Island. He left home at the age of 15 and spent the next 13 years travelling back and forth across the country, hitchhiking and sometimes sleeping in jail cells, working a variety of jobs, writing songs and performing wherever he could. Eventually he landed a year long gig performing at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmons, Ontario which led to radio attention on the local station CKGB. Passionate about his country and it's people, he wrote songs that celebrated Canadian places, history, and lore seeking to rectify what he considered to be an absence in the country's culture. Fiercely independant, he funded his own recordings & pressings (on various small labels: Rebel, Dominion, & his own Boot Records) and sold his records off the stage and from the back of his truck. Many of his records have since been re-released through Capitol/EMI. He has been awarded several Juno awards (which he returned in protest that the Juno's are awarded too often to performers who base their careers in the United States), a number of honorary degrees from various universitys, he's an officer of the Order Of Canada, and he ranks 13 on the Greatest Canadian list. He's published a two volume bestseller autobiography: Before the Fame (1997) and The Connors Tone (2000). CBC television requested a special music program from Stompin' Tom for years, but when he finally produced one in 2005, funded by over $200,000 of his own money, documenting a live concert at Hamilton Place, the CBC declined to air it and instead offered a guest spot singing a song on someone else's show. Connors told the CBC to "shove it". Occasionally he auctions off his worn-through Stompin' Boards for charity, one recently selling for $14, 000. The Maritime Waltz, which leads off our set here, has the distinction of being what Tom claims is the fastest song he's ever written - he penned the complete song in 12 minutes!

14. Big O' Me - Al Tuck
15. In My Dream - Al Tuck & No Action
16. Last Waltz At The El Strato

When I bought my first banjo in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1991, I took lessons from Paul Mandell out of the Halifax Folklore Centre. Paul, at the time, was playing banjo in a band called Bluegrass Lawnmower fronted by a young newcomer writing some pretty remarkable songs. Cut and pasted from his myspace, here's his bio:
Al Tuck is a Canadian singer/songwriter/sometimes-bandleader long associated with the fertile Halifax, Nova Scotia music scene. No Action is the name of his band. No Action membership appears to be ever-changing. Al has been described as "one of North America's least known exceptional songwriters." He grew up on pastoral Prince Edward Island, the smallest of Canada's ten provinces and moved to Halifax, where he began in earnest his musical pursuits, eventually forming the band Bluegrass Lawnmower, which played local venues of an 'alternative' nature. Depending on how you might look at it, the style of music was either well behind, or just ahead of its time. His career officially began in 1994 with the release of two albums, Arhoolie and Brave Last Days, on murderecords, a label formed by Halifax pop group Sloan. These releases earned critical praise and led to sporadic touring across the Canadian region, but not to any great commercial success or long-lasting professional momentum, and his next disc, New High Road of Song, did not materialize until the year 2000. It was released on the Brobdingnagian label and was followed by a tour of the United Kingdom with labelmates the Guthries. A live recording, Live at the Rebecca Cohn, printed in very limited edition independently in 2002, captured Al solo at Halifax's 1000 soft-seat auditorium, opening for the singer/songwriter Haden, in the midst of a journeyman phase which saw Al performing regularly, but largely only in his hometown and occasionally in other parts of eastern Canada. Not until 2005 was his ever-expanding following treated to a new album, entitled My Blues Away, also released in an independent fashion, available only at shows, at indie record stores and online through Al's hard-to-find records barely represent his full accomplishment as a songwriter. Much of his best material has not been released, or even recorded. His influence now extends over multiple generations of musicians, and it is among these peers and proteges that his reputation remains strongest. Many of them regard him as Canada's best, but the wider listening public remains unaware. Played mostly on the bar-room circuit, live shows have ranged from the shambolic to the hypnotic, often depending on the relative preparedness of the night's band. Whether they hit or miss, repeat customers will verify: no two shows are ever the same. Some acts Al has shared bills with: David Grey, Vic Chesnutt, Howe Gelb, Calexico, Garth Hudson, Tom Russell, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Haden, Buck 65, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, Julie Doiron, Sarah Harmer, Feist, Old Man Luedecke, Ruth Minnikin, and Catherine MacLellan.

17. Jolly Waffle Man - Bill Keith

After Earl Scruggs, probably the most influential and innovative banjo player to come out of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass boys, is Bill Keith. Keith was born in Boston on December 20, 1939. As a child his parent's started him with piano lessons but he soon moved on to tenor banjo and didn't take up the 5 string banjo until 1957 after exposure to Pete Seeger's playing. From there he developed a keen interest in bluegrass music and the fast pace and cascading notes of Earl Sruggs' 3-finger banjo picking style, the style that defines bluegrass banjo. Keith wrote out note for note transcriptions of Earl Scruggs' music in tablature form and when Earl Scruggs eventually saw these, he enlisted Keith to assist him in the banjo instruction book Scruggs was writing. In 1963, Keith was in Nashville working with Scruggs on his book when they visited the Grand Ol' Opry on a Saturday. Backstage, Bill Monroe happened to hear Keith picking his version of the fiddle tune Devil's Dream, note for note, which required stepping beyond the conventions of Scruggs's style arpeggios that could only ever hint at, but not fully play, the intricate and complex melodies of fiddle music. Keith had developed a method of playing that involved full scales picked across the strings instead of along them that allowed him to incorporate these complex melodies into his banjo rolls along with a host of other innovative melodic and chromatic scale licks that had people who heard him believing that he had reinvented the banjo. Bill Monroe hired Keith that night, and soon after it was hard to find a banjo player who wasn't trying to pick fiddle tunes using what has come to be known as "Keith Style" picking.

So, what's this got to do with the Canadian East Coast? Here's an excerpt from the Biography in the Bill Keith banjo instruction book: ~In 1960 Bill took a giant step toward developing his own style. He had been picking regularly with June Hall, a fiddler of Nova Scotian descent who was living in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. At first, Bill would back up her fiddle tunes with straight-ahead Scruggs rolls. But as time went on it occured to him that nothing was stopping him from playing those tunes note-for-note on the banjo. 'Devil's Dream' became his first target. "Initially I started off trying to play harmony to her lead. But when I went home I started to play the lead." And that was it. With 'Devil's Dream' under his belt, Bill decided to tackle 'Sailor's Hornpipe.' That, too, was easily rendered melodically and soon the applications of this style began to mushroom. Bill started working out scales and melodic licks based on those scales so that he could apply his new approach to vocal tunes as well as instrumentals...~

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