The Importance Of Being Leadbelly

.. n Bellevue Hospital in New York.

Although he was very popular he had played in Europe earlier that year for the only time Ledbetter died broke. One of his colleagues in the folk scene, Pete Seeger, had formed The Weavers the year before. The Weavers earned fame from Leadbellys own Goodnight Irene six months after Leadbelly passed on, making more money than Leadbelly would ever have seen.

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Ledbetter and Seeger knew each other from their political connec-tions, and often played together at rallies for assorted causes. Seeger always had a lot of respect for Led-better, and was quoted as wishing Leadbelly could have lived only a little longer to see success at last. Seeger, having made a fortune in 1950, tried his hand at a television career, and was found by Senator Joe McCarthy to be a communist. As a result, he was blacklisted until 1966 from any public display, and he never gained much success hence.While he was alive, he was in an odd position where black people were more involved in newer sounds, and Ledbetter never had much impact on them. As a consequence, Leadbelly was technically con-sidered a bluesman with no influence on the blues, but he changed the face of folk music, which is as unique as it gets in music. But his music reached quite a strange range.

Among his two most bizarre cov-ers of his songs was Lonnie Donegans 1956 cover of Rock Island Line. It was bizarre because Lonnie Donnegan played skiffle, which is a British version of what the hillbillies of America would play.The other bizarre hit cover of a Leadbelly song about a whip was Black Betty, as done in 1977 by Ram Jam. These guys were something of a hybrid of bubble gum pop like the Monkees and heavy metal like Led Zeppelin.

Black Betty was a bit of a radio hit, the closest this band ever came to notoriety. In 1970, Leadbelly was paid homage to again for one of his angriest compositions when Credence Clearwater Revival covered The Midnight Special on their album, Willie and the Poor Boys. This song was written while Ledbetter was in the Texas pen in the early 1920s. The Midnight Special was a train that rode the tracks on the other side of the prisons wall.If its lights shined upon you, you were on the open side of the wall, the free side. In spite of his reluctance to ever talk about the time he spent in jails and prisons, he wrote several songs while inside, and this one may have been the best of them. Also on Willie and the Poor Boys is CCRs cover of Leadbellys Cotton Fields, which wasnt nearly as popular, but was critically applauded. Ironically, John Fogerty would break with his band bitterly in a label dispute and would refuse to play his [Fogertys] songs because it would mean paying royalties to a label he was dis-gusted by both Cotton Fields and The Midnight Special were included in his list of not-to-play songs.

In the 1990s, two very different guitar legends covered Leadbelly in the same manner: on MTVs Un-plugged program.In 1992, Eric Clapton, arguably one of the greatest guitar players of all time, covered Alberta on his 1992 set. This song was done quite a bit in his concerts of the early eighties, but when laid down for the Unplugged session, he really nailed it perfectly, according to many critics. Two years later, in 1994, Nirvana played a session for Unplugged in New York, a city that Leadbelly rose to promi-nence in. The set-closer of this final recorded show was Where Did You Sleep Last Night, a moving song about a man whos asking his wife where she was the night before. Kurt Cobain, the frontman for the band, made a joke prior to starting the song about how he was recently propositioned Leadbellys guitar for $200,000 and how his labels president/owner, David Geffin, wouldnt buy it for him.The irony was that Leadbelly himself could never make that much money for one of his guitars.

Cobain and a cellist per-formed most of the song, and it sounded much less hokey than Leadbellys original. The large difference is in how Leadbelly managed to sound convincing in his hidden threat that if the woman were out with an-other man he would certainly kill him. Cobain didnt sound threatening, rather he sounded sad, almost dis-appointed. Any album put out by Beck or the great Van Morrison has a little bit of Leadbelly in it.

Pearl Jams bigger fans tend to say that their tribute song to him, Yellow Ledbetter is some of their best work. The young blues musician Kenny Wayne Shepherds first album, Ledbetter Heights, has the sound of Huddie Ledbetter throughout its length. Led Zeppelins blues songs all drew upon the patented Ledbetter folk-blues sound. Leadbellys brand of twelve-string playing may not influence many more artists on its own merit, but judging from the list of names he has influenced, it is evident that his influence will live through another generation indirectly. Every band that borrows a sound from Beck, Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin, or Credence Clearwater Revival will be likely to have a little bit of Leadbellys sound if only just a hint of it.

I would say that Leadbelly should be listed alongside the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan as the most influential musicians in Rock and Roll. Bibliography Encyclopedia of Black America. 1981, McGraw-Hill.

Page 502 Cantwell, Robert, When We Were Good, the Fold Revival. 1996, Harvard. Pages 7, 8, 73-75, 81, 179, 180, 275 Erliwine, Bogdanov, Woodstra, and Koda, All Music Guide To the Blues.1996, Miller Freeman Books.

Pages 128, 159-161, 301, 305, 307 Kingman, Daniel, American Music: A Panorama, 2nd Edition 1990, Schirmer Books. Pages 88-89, 101, 206 Lomax, Alan The Land Where Blues Began. 1993, Pantheon Mentions throughout Lovell, John Jr., Black Song, the Forge & the Flame. 1972, MacMillan.

Pages 469, 506 Palmer, Tony, All You Need Is Love: the Story of Popular Music. 1976, Gossman. Pages 183, 196, 207, 296 Paraire, Philippe, Fifty Years of Rock Music. 1992, W&R Chambers. Pages 12, 14, 30, 37, 74 Southern, Eileen, The Music if Black Americans, 2nd Edition. 1983, W.W.

Norton & Co. Pages 495-496 Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music. 1983, St.

Martins Press. Pages 388-391 Also: -This paper could not have been completed without the following: ? Leadbelly, Goodnight Irene.1996, Tradition. It had the details of In New Orleans, in its liner notes, and a wailing version of Leroy Carrs blues staple, How Long Blues.

? The study guides from this class offered a lot of direction as to which artists to look to, including Lonnie Donnagan and a little bit on The House of the Rising Sun. ? My small collection of albums (A little more than 250 albums), including Nirvanas Unplugged In New York, Claptons Unplugged, Pearl Jams Jeremy single, some Leadbelly, and a lot of Hen-drix. I looked and looked, but didnt find much Leadbelly in Hendrix, but I will say that they both seemed to be more profoundly effective on white people than black in their day.

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