While he is recognized as a seminal blues artist, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter (a.k.a. Walter Boyd) was also one of the greatest repositories of American folk music. Proficient on several instruments, he is generally associated with the 12-string guitar. Leadbelly grew up a farmer and a songster, playing reels and traditional songs at country suppers. Blind Lemon Jefferson taught the youngster a lot about the blues and bottleneck guitar technique.
He was imprisoned three times. After his parole, Leadbelly helped folklorist Alan Lomax search for blues and folk singers to record, and accompanied him on a lecture tour. While in New York on the tour he performed over national radio and soon became quite popular within Manhattan society.
When folk music became popular later in the decade, the demand for Leadbelly recordings and appearances soared. Unfortunately, during a 1949 tour of France, Leadbelly was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-Lou Gehrig's disease. He died before the year was out, but not after leaving an important body of American blues and folk music.
Ledbelly's beginning portion of the CD was originally recorded January 24 and March 25, 1935 in New York City.
A pathetic figure to strangers who listened to him sing for coins on the streets of Atlanta, William Samuel "Blind Willie" McTell was a blues giant-a stirring guitarist, a composer of stunningly moving songs and an interpreter of the first rank. Like John Lee Hooker, he blithely moved from label to label, scattering gems everywhere he recorded.
He was Blind Sammie for Columbia, Georgia Bill on Okeh, Barrelhouse Sammy for Atlantic and Pig 'n Whistle Red on Regal. Whatever McTell's aliases, the snapping of his 12-string guitar and his sly voice were unmistakable.
No song was out of his range. His repertoire included his own classic songs, obscure folk performances, sprightly rags and dignified gospel laments. On "Masters of the Country Blues," he shows how capable he was at launching off on a rollicking version of "Dying Crapshooters Blues" one moment, then stepping back with a haunting reading of the folk ballad "Delia."
His death of a brain hemorrhage in 1959 was so ignored that blues researchers were still trying to find him a decade later. Their obsession was understandable. "Nobody," Bob Dylan sings in his barren tribute to the blind street performer, "sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell."
McTell's Library of Congress Sessions were originally recorded November 5, 1940.
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