This video is the result of a European film-makers 1963 field trip to America to shoot a series of documentaries on American roots music for West German TV. Dietrich Wawzyn got kinsman Chris Strachwitz (fonder of Arhoolie Records) to go along as soundman--which accounts for the presence of label artists Mance Lipscomb, Lightning Hopkins, Black Ace and Lowell Fulson. It's shot in stark black and white and captures most players in neighborhood surroundings. There's no narrator, just shots of faces, neighborhoods and streets in between the songs--a nice 60's southern ambiance emerges.
The piece opens with Lipscomb playing "Going Down Slow" on the front porch of his Texas cabin, after a couple verses the scene shifts a few miles to a garage where Lightning Hopkins is shooting dice with a group. Cut to him sitting on a chair in an alley playing an acoustic "Lonesome Road"--interspersed with gamblers playing dominoes. Hopkins is also seen doing 2 verses of a minor key boogie in a corner bar--this same footage is also on the Vestapol Video LIGHTNING HOPKINS< RARE PERFORMANCES. One problem with this release is that there are few complete performances--after a verses or two the scene cuts away to shots of spectators or street views--good documentary sense for capturing overall ambiance, but frustrating for music fans.
Hop Wilson, a steel-guitar playing bluesman only gets a single verse, however lap guitarist from the late 30's Black Ace fares better in his own living room. Pianist Alex Moore is shot in a corner bar, whistling loudly over a boogie riff. In a Nashville alley the Blind James Campbell band gets a couple of numbers; "Going To Chicago" and "John Henry". The fiddle-tuba instrumentation makes for a jug-band feel. Another string band, Mainers Mountaineers plays on a North Carolina farm, doing "Run Mountain".
Then its back to the streets for Rev. Louis Overstreet and a New Orleans funeral procession with the Eureka Brass Band. At the then newly opened Preservation Hall clarinetist George Lewis fronts a band, and does a couple before pianist Sweet Emma Barret does a loping vocal number. Jump to San Francisco and an all too brief look at Lowell Fulson in an area club doing "Yo Gonna Miss Me."
The 47 minute video ends with several minutes in King Louis Narcisse' Mt. Zion Church in Oakland. A pope-like figure--he enters the building from his limo, after a carpet is rolled out to meet him. When he later leaves, people kneel to kiss his hand. He has a gospel-rousing voice, and does 4 numbers while the camera shows the congregation marching, dancing and generally in the throes of heavenly passion. A good job of capturing the feel of a revival service.
All in all, an interesting travelogue through the American sixties, with a good feel for places. Too bad there's not more music on camera.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.