Sleeping in the Pines

Outside Anderson, Texas ~ Don Haynes

Merle Haggard. Glenn Frey, of The Eagles. Paul Kantner, co-founder of Jefferson Airplane. Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Maurice White.  I knew them all through their music, and now all are gone. Only David Bowie, another musician already lost in 2016, bore no association for me. I knew his Ziggy Stardust persona, and knew the term “glam-rock,” but on the day of his death, I couldn’t have named one of his songs.

Oblivious though I may have been to Bowie’s career, his death reminded me of my similar response to Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide. At the time of Cobain’s death, I knew a musical movement called Grunge was emerging in the Pacific Northwest, represented by groups like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice in Chains, but I’d missed the ascendance of Nivana, and certainly didn’t know Cobain was their frontman. 

After his suicide, even the un-grungiest were forced to learn about Courtney Love, her marriage to Cobain, the birth of their daughter and legal struggles over her custody: not to mention Cobain’s drug addiction, rampant unhappiness and, according to some fans, impending musical sainthood.

I learned all this casually, as though hearing weather reports from New Delhi.  Even at the height of the hysteria over the rocker’s death, I still hadn’t heard his music, apart from the obligatory clips on the evening news. With other things to occupy my attention, and no teenagers to parent, I simply wasn’t interested in pursuing the work of a young man whose songs carried titles like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, or who’d been introduced to the woman he’d eventually marry at a Butthole Surfers concert.  

Despite public memorials held on the tenth and fifteenth anniversaries of his death, I gave Cobain little more thought until research into the life of Blues legend Robert Johnson brought him back to mind. 

Johnson was the first member of The 27s Club, a group of musicians noted for sharing one unfortunate experience: dying at the age of 27. The list of musicians includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ronald McKernan of The Grateful Dead, and Uriah Heep’s Gary Thain, as well as Kurt Cobain.

In their book  The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll, Erik Segalstad and Josh Hunter not only provide a terrific history of rock, they explore the inter-relationships among many of the “27s,” and the influences that link them together.

Bluesman Robert Johnson was a criticial influence for musicians like Cobain, not only musically but personally. According to Courtney Love (who may or may not be a trustworthy witness, depending on your point of view), Cobain once said he wanted to die as Robert Johnson did. According to his sister, quoted in the biography Heavier Than Heaven, he sometimes expressed a desire to join the 27 Club.

Whether that desire influenced the timing of his suicide is impossible to know.  What is certain is that Cobain had been spiraling downward for some time: his drug addictions obvious, and his suicidal tendencies suspected by those closest to him. When his body was discovered in his Lake Washington home on April 8, 1994, a nearby suicide note said, “I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing…for too many years now.”

I wouldn’t have known any of these things about Kurt Cobain had it not been for another roots musician: Huddie Ledbetter. 

I discovered Ledbetter — better known as Lead Belly — in college. A friend with too many guitars passed on a 12-string to me, along with a little advice: if I wanted to learn the 12-string, I needed to listen to Lead Belly.

Listen I did, learning to play In the Pines” exactly as generations of rockers have learned: by imitation. In the process, I came to appreciate not only the music, but also the life of an impulsive, reckless and notoriously violent individual. Singing his way through (and possibly out of) prison, taken under the wing of musicologist John Lomax, working with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Big Bill Broonzy, he became a revered staple on the folk music circuit until his death in New York, in 1949.

Huddie Ledbetter

Discovering that Cobain also admired Huddie Ledbetter was a bit of a surprise. The song I knew as “In The Pines” was sung by Cobain during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged appearance on December 14, 1993.  Nirvana titled the song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” — a change entirely acceptable, given that the traditional song dates from c.1870-1880, and is extant in a variety of forms.  Researching the song for a 1970 dissertation, Judith McCulloh found 160 different versions.   Sometimes it’s known as In the Pines,  and sometimes as Black Girl.  Some versions include references to railroading; others don’t.  Only the cold, moaning wind is constant.

Depending on the version, the song’s lyrics may be poignant, bitter, reflective or accusatory, but Cobain’s MTV performance of the song seemed anguished: particularly when seen against the horizon of his death.  New York Times music critic Eric Weisbard, writing about Cobain and the song in 1994, made clear his belief that Cobain’s was the definitive version, saying: “There is really no need for anyone to ever sing it again.” 

Fortunately for lovers of music and history, a critic can’t so easily wrest a beloved song from the people to whom it belongs, only to deliver it into the hands of his favorite interpreter.  “In the Pines” continues to be sung by people oblivious to the opinions of critics, but firmly embedded in musical traditions that probably will outlive the Times.

There’s no denying that Kurt Cobain’s story is both sad and unsatisfying. Unhappy in life, he seems ungrounded in death: his accomplishments, convictions, and musical legacy scattering like ashes to the wind.

Despite his own difficulties, including an unfortunate tendency to land himself in prison for attempted or actual homicide, the end of Lead Belly’s story is rather different. Stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Huddie Ledbetter died in New York City in 1949.  He was buried near the place of his birth, Mooringsport, Louisiana, in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery.

On my way to the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi one year, I decided to visit Mooringsport. Cautioned to carry explicit directions, I still spent an hour or so wending my way through unmarked back roads until I stopped to consult a utility worker who turned out not to be local.

Although he hadn’t heard of Blanchard-Latex Road — or Lead Belly, for that matter — he noticed we were nearly on top of some railroad tracks shown on my map. “Head up that way,” he said. “Take a right, then go on down the road a piece. If you don’t find the church, you’ll still be close to where you started, and you can start over again.”

Amused by similarities between learning to play a Lead Belly song and finding Lead Belly’s grave, I started over, and soon found the sign for Shiloh Baptist: built of the same brick as the tidy little church it announced, and easily visible from the highway. The expansive parking lot suggested an active congregation; a steady influx of pilgrims to Lead Belly’s grave; or both.

Parking behind the church, I reached down to scratch the ears of the welcoming committee: a scroungy, yellow and white cat who pushed against my ankles. Then, I walked through the neat, wrought-iron fence into Huddie Ledbetter’s world.

Moving along the path toward his grave, I was surrounded by Ledbetters: Edmon, Annie, Alice and John.  I didn’t see the graves of Wesley and Sallie, his parents, but surely they were there. The church itself, established in 1872, bears E.A. Ledbetter’s name, inscribed into the cornerstone.

Like so many who set out for adventure in life, Huddie Ledbetter learned Eliot’s truth: that home is where we start from, but that, as we journey on we find “the world become stranger, and the pattern more complicated.” In the end, he was one of the lucky ones. He was able to return home, and to lie surrounded by family and friends in restful simplicity.

His own grave, marked by a wrought-iron fence and a stone noting his accomplishments, is well-tended, dignified and discrete.  A second stone embedded into the ground proclaims him King of the 12 String Guitar. Decorated with an engraved guitar, it holds a scattering of guitar picks,  thrown over the fence by visitors as tokens of affection and respect.  I had no pick, but I had a voice. In the warm, comfortable silence, a squirrel stopped at the sound of it, and the little lamb melting away in front of his stone seemed to listen.


Peaceful, comfortable, and reassuring as so many graveyards are, it was a pleasant place to linger, until lengthening shadows reminded me of time’s passage. With a last look at the grave and a final ear-rub for the sociable cat, I turned to leave.

Halfway to the car, I turned again, looking down the narrow asphalt road to the grave of a man whose life had been filled with turmoil, struggle, and success. As a performer, Lead Belly sang of cold, lonesome pines: of the darkness of anguished isolation, and the shiver of fear felt by those forced by circumstance to flee familiar lives. 

But now, where the late afternoon sun warms his grave and the ageless, insistent wind shushes the clamor of life, Huddie Ledbetter is a man at rest: asleep in the sheltering pines.

As always, comments are welcome.
Unless otherwise noted, photos are mine.  

129 thoughts on “Sleeping in the Pines

  1. Hello Linda:

    Of all the musicians included in this post, I’m afraid I can only identify Jimi Hendrix. The rest are totally unknown. I usually follow American music pretty close, but these ones went totally unnoticed.

    The more I read, the more I say to myself how much there is to learn and how little time to do so.

    Thank you for giving us a new insight into American music. Nirvana I know, but it is not related to music. The term is more related to meditation, philosophy and high levels of consciousness.

    If you mentioned Perry Como, I would feel in familiar territory. :-)



    1. I often have the same experience, Omar. I hear someone talking about popular musicians and groups from the past twenty years, and I haven’t a clue about their music. Sometimes I go to YouTube to check it out. Sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I do, and wish I hadn’t. But what a treasure we have today in services like Pandora, that can make it easy to find and enjoy new music.

      We’re both of an age to have expeienced a wealth of musical genres, not to mention great changes in musical technology. It’s been an amazing journey. Like you, I remember all the great vocalists and orchestras of the late 40s and 50’s. Then, there was rock’n’roll, the coming of The Beatles, and the psychedelic era. Through it all, there’s been country, bluegrass, and folk. There’s too much to catalog, but it’s all been fun.

      As for that business of so much to learn and experience, and so little time? I know that feeling. Best to relax, I think, and do what we can.

      1. Pandora is not available in this part of the world. As an alternative, I enjoy streaming music from Spotify which is very similar. The quality of Stereo-Dolby sound is awesome.

        I just write the name of an artist and several albums are available for streaming immediately. Last night I enjoyed Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Diamond. It was like traveling back in time. Sigh…



  2. Linda, this sounds like something I would have done. No, something I have done, seeking out any number of remarkable people in their final resting places, sometimes getting a bit lost along the way. I love cemeteries — I find them fascinating history lessons and I started those lessons when I was a child with my mom, planting the family flowers. She would point out all the scions of our community — the man who invented the Oldsmobile, the founder of the largest department store. It wasn’t until a few years ago a friend and I went to discover the grave of Luther Baker, one of the leaders of the group that captured John Wilkes Booth. There he was, down the road from my great grandfather.

    I first heard of Lead Belly in the documentary series “The Blues.” And then again at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Robert Johnson, too). There was a wonderful exhibit where you could listen to the music that inspired various musicians so of course I listened to the Beatles. There was Johnson. I love that these classic bluesmen influenced a generation of rock and roll — what a legacy to add to their already impressive list of musical accomplishments. I didn’t know about Cobain, though. But then, apart from what you can’t run away from, I know little of him. Or (I guess I regret to say, David Bowie, whom I knew more as an artist than as a musician).

    And once again, I tip my hat to you — you and another blogger in Italy are the only two I know who can take a fascinating story and fill out all the history and take me down paths or introduce me to things of which I had no concept before!

    1. Those cemetery visits were woven into all our lives, Jeanie. They certainly were a sign of our times, and perhaps a mark of communities that took history more seriously. They could be great fun, too: especially as they provided an opportunity for re-telling the stories that everyone knew, but always liked hearing again.

      Your story about discovering the grave of Luther Baker is great. That’s part of the fun of cemeteries. You never know who you’ll run into. Sometimes, I find a marker that’s so funny or intriguing, I wish I could meet the person whose life it marks.

      If you ever get to Memphis, you would enjoy a stop at the new Blues Hall of Fame. It’s only been open for a year, but friends who have been say it’s well worth the visit. I remember that one of this year’s inductees was Clapton. And of course, once you’re in Memphis, you have Oxford, Clarksdale, and Highway 61 — the Blues Trail — just to the south.

      I’ve been trying to remember how in the world I first came to Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and others. I think it must have been through my dad’s interests, since he was quite the student of Dixieland and jazz, and some of his favorite musicians, like Bix Beiderbecke, acknowledged their debt to the bluesmen. However it happened, by high school I was deep into the music, and never have stopped loving it.

  3. Linda, so many great musicians have passed away too soon. Cobain was definitely one of them. His pain, which lead to his early demise, seemed instrumental to his genius. Thanks for the details about Lead Belly, whose work influenced Cobain and other grunge artists. Your photos and words are a touching tribute to Ledbetter, the man and his impact.

    1. The connection between pain, struggle, and artistic creation is one I haven’t settled in my mind. There’s no question that many artists do struggle — some in very creative ways — but it’s also true, as some have said, that it’s far easier to be productive when the struggles are fewer.

      In any event, the early deaths of people like Cobain do leave questions: could it have been prevented? and what turns might his career have taken if he’d had more years? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

      As for Lead Belly, one of my favorites of the songs he recorded with Alan Lomax is “Rock Island Line.” My home town was on that line, and my dad used to take me down to the station to watch the trains. Art meets life, so to speak.

      1. A good many creatives (artists, writers poets, musicians, etc.) have struggled with emotional pain. Their craft seemed to operate as a catharsis. But I agree that being and staying productive would appear to be easier when the struggles are fewer. Some like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash seemed to realize that, while others, such as Cobain, ultimately could not. This is not meant as a criticism of the latter; people are different and some folks have lots more to deal with.
        By the way, that’s very cool about the line in Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line.” I have not heard that song before but will check it out.Thanks again for your enlightening and well-written post.

  4. A fascinating story, Linda! What a wonderful resting place for the man and I hope that his friends and family are comforted because of it.

    1. Considering the way he made his way through life, bouncing in and out of prisons across the South (including Texas), it’s amazing that he was able to be as productive as he was. It was his good fortune to meet Alan Lomax, who not only recorded his music, but helped to bail him out a time or two.

      Of course, it didn’t hurt that, while other people were singing for their suppers, Lead Belly sang for Texas Governor Pat Neff, and received a pardon for his troubles. Neff was a reformer who wanted to stop wholesale pardons, and he only offered five during his tenure: one to Huddie Ledbetter. There are so many amazing tales associated with the man.

  5. Great post, Linda. I’ve always been fascinated by Leadbelly although my first introduction to the song “Black Girl” came from British rocker Long John Baldry in the early 70’s. I was never as big a fan of Cobain’s version as the NY times critic and generally find myself looking to either the Leadbelly or Baldry version when I think of the song.

    1. I’d never heard Baldry’s version, Gary. It’s great. Honestly, I think as music I prefer it to Lead Belly’s version. Of course, choices like that are a bit silly. Each version has someting to offer. It’s like comparing Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, saying Clapton’s version of “Crossroads” is “better.” There’s not a chance of that, although I’ll bet Johnson would love this.

      1. That’s the beauty of music– it remains subject to our own likes, needs and desires. I sometimes make the mistake of looking at the comments on YouTube and see the terrible snarkiness and bashing that takes place. Everything becomes a competition with no place for one’s own preferences. I think that’s why I twitch a bit when I hear a critic say that anything is the absolute best.

        I agree that, as music, the Leadbelly version is superior. But because I knew the Baldry version first I find myself holding a special place for it in my heart. Even with it’s early 70’s British Blues production.

        Great version of “Crossroads” from Clapton although I prefer his early version with Cream. Again, not because it’s better– just my personal preference.

        Have a great Sunday, Linda.

        1. The heart does have a role to play — who knows why a particular piece of music touches us, or not? I don’t know or particularly care what the critics think of Billy Bragg’s “Mermaid Avenue,” but there are times when I think, if I had only one song allowed to me for the rest of my life, “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” would do it. It may be a strange preference, but it’s mine.

          1. Yes, I have that same kind of feeling about that song, as well as a couple other songs from those albums. For instance, I often find myself singing or humming “Ingrid Bergman.”

  6. I heard of Cobain, Bowie and Hendrix but not of the others which doesn’t matter much because I am in awe of your journey through the US musical world to find the grave of Lead Belly. I like graves, especially old ones. Do you still play the twelve string guitar, Linda?

    1. No, the 12-string was exchanged for a 6-string, and then, eventually, guitar-playing generally was set aside for other interests. I do remain an enthusiastic listener, though: particularly of blues, bluegrass, Cajun, and string band music, I have been known to play the spoons from time to time, though.

      My feeling always has been that, if you’re going to come within a few hundred miles of something interesting, you might as well stop for a look. Of course, that can lead to a good bit of starting and stopping, but when you get right down to it, that’s the nature of life.

  7. I’ve never been deep into music but I do know who Lead Belly was. He was introduced to our senior hall by a music teacher/performer who was dedicated to teaching the roots of musical influences. Fascinating topic, well told today, Linda.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jean. The Blues are endlessly fascinating to me. I like the music, the history, and the people who bring both to life. When I first began paying serious attention, I was amazed by the variety of styles. Delta blues aren’t Mississippi hill country blues, aren’t Chicago Blues, and so on.

      My all-time favorite bluesman was T-Model Ford, aka “the old tail-dragger.” I was lucky enough to meet him and hear him play in Clarksdale at the Juke Joint festival. He’s gone now, but every time I see his photo, I smile.

  8. Bowie was an artist first of all. A musician second. I never liked his early Glam stuff, but I cherry picked what I liked and what had meaning to me. Watching him change his persona thru the years was fun, intriguing, theatre and poetry. That’s the man I enjoyed. The poet. He also made being “different” a lot easier. He was a brave artist and one who grew his craft, never stale. I will always miss him, miss the fun and excitement of seeing what he did next.

    Time, location, culture. There are those who move through it all, becoming a lasting part of it.

    This is a touching nod of respect for Lead Belly.

    1. One reason I remained unaware of Bowie is that I was living in Liberia at the time he was releasing Ziggy Stardust. I suppose it’s just one more example of geography being destiny. Even with some effort, it was hard to keep up with American culture, and most of the time, there were other things on my mind. By the time I returned to the States, other “other things” were on my mind, and I just missed him.

      When he died, I was a little taken aback by my obliviousness, but it was interesting to read the tributes, and get a sense of that changing persona you mention. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if it’s at all valid, but what I’ve read makes me think of Banksy. The description of Banksy as subversive and satirical seems as though it might have fit Bowie, too.

  9. Interesting post from a lady of vast knowledge and interests. You are the best! I know nothing about any of this but you sparked by interest and sent me online to see what else I could find. That’s a first mark of a great teacher; thank you much, Linda.

    1. I don’t know about vast knowledge, but I do have widespread interests, so it’s fun for me to vary the topics here. Not everyone will be equally interested in every post, but that’s fine by me. If I can draw someone in to read about something new, that’s even better.

      It sounds as though we share at least one characteristic: when our curiosity is piqued, we explore. I’ve learned some amazing things thanks to others’ posts, and I’m sure the same is true for you. Happy exploring!

    1. Thanks, Deb. Second reads always are appreciated. I did link to that Nirvana performance in the post, as well as to Leadbelly’s version of the song, so people could have a sense of the differences between them. I also remembered that Joan Baez recorded it, but I must say, as much as I like Baez, the Lead Belly and Baldry versions are far better.

      Did you happen to notice that Cobain refused to do an encore at that peformance? He felt anything he did would take away from the power of “Black Girl.”

      1. Yes, sorry for the duplication; I hadn’t read any of the comments as yet.
        Well, looking as he did – with dirty, stringy hair and enveloped in a big, comfy sweater – I’d almost say that his performance was an audio version of the note of that was yet to come… One you can never rewrite or edit. He was already on his way “to the pines” and, quite simply, finished.

        1. No need for apologies. I suddenly was afraid I’d not linked the music — my attention to detail sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. My mind goes in several directions at once, and forgets the one thing it was supposed to be doing.

          I think you’re on target with your observation that he already was feeling his way toward the end, and that the concert was an audio version of the note. I watched that performance again just now, and it is so painful. Twenty-seven is so young. I can’t help but wonder how much the notion of an exclusive “club” has influenced people like Cobain.

    1. Clare, I didn’t know until I found the Unplugged session and watched it that it had been played and replayed so often. For people who were fans, I can understand watching again and again. For one thing, it was quite a performance. Beyond that, I’m sure many people were looking for clues, hints — wondering if it all might have been prevented.

      Thanks so much for sharing your memory of Kurt’s death. I appreciate it very much.

      ~ Linda

  10. Cobain was a mental case for a long time. It is not surprising that he killed himself. Some folks call him a genius, but I beg to differ. He was a sign of the times in my humble opinion.

    Lead Belly and Lighting Hopkins and ilk- I have listened to their music. I love Dixieland and the blues and just about any really good guitar music.

    A very interesting post, Linda. I was intrigued by the yellow cat.

    1. Whatever his issues, drugs surely played a role. Beyond that, I don’t really know enough to comment. I dipped into some of the reports, and discovered that there’s still a lively bit of conspiracy talk: some think that his wife actually murdered him. Conspiracy theories always abound after the death of a celebrity, but I did find it remarkable that the police still are receiving requests to reopen the case, even after all these years.

      That cat was one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. I have a feeling it was more than a stray. It clearly was in good health, and certainly was friendly. It was a nice companion for my stroll.

  11. I hear the words of the chorus (in both Lead Belly and Kurt Cobain’s versions) running in a seamless loop, over and over again…
    My girl, my girl; don’t you lie to me! Where did you sleep last night?
    In the pines, in the pines; where the sun don’t shine. I shivered the whole night through.
    The initial speaker could be a husband speaking to their wife/boyfriend to girlfriend; or parent admonishing a daughter… While the respondent could be a headstrong teen, a runaway, an abused woman, a cheating spouse, or all of the above…

    1. And, just to show how such a universal theme can be adapted, Nathan Abshire turned the song into “Ma Négresse,” or “Pine Grove Blues.” Not only that, Alan Lomax, who recorded Lead Belly singing “Black Girl,” turned up in Cajun country to record Dewey Balfa and others singing their version of Abshire’s song.

      1. Oh c’est vrai; c’est bon ‘Cajun! Merci!
        I don’t speak much French and have no ear for Louisiane, but definitely caught enough for intent (mostly with thanks to LaBelle’s “Voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”; )

  12. “Dad, you have to go to the Juke Joint Festival!” demanded our son a few years ago. His girlfriend was teaching in a dirt poor school not far from Clarksdale. On a visit to see her, he made a point of going to the festival. I have yet to go. Sort of on my bucket list.

    Many of the names you mentioned in the blues references are familiar to me. The music has always been my favorite. I continue to teach myself to play electric guitar along with those legends. One of my first albums I got was Clapton’s Me and Mr. Johnson which had come out just before I got started learning. A teacher colleague loaned me his copy along with a guitar and amp. I was hooked.

    I often play my Pandora blues channels in hopes these old timers will show up to play with me. Lead Belly is a regular.

    1. The festival is wonderful, but I do think if I go back, I’ll avoid the crowds and pick another time. There are so many venues now, and so many good bluesmen playing, that you can hear as much music as you want any time of year.

      I would like to go to the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic one day. They have a terrific lineup this year, and it’s one place where you can still hear fife and drum. I still have my gr-gr-grandfather’s fife, so I’ve got some sentimental associations with the music.

      If you haven’t come across Otha Turner (Gravel Springs Fife and Drum), this video is a great introduction. He’s gone now, but the tradition carries on.

  13. By the early 1980s I’d largely tuned out popular music. I have to assume there are a few things I’d like in the decades since then, but the occasional songs I’ve caught on the radio or in a store haven’t made me sorry for dropping out of popular music. There’s gotta be a place in the world for musical curmudgeons.

    In any case, it’s fun to track things down, whether grave sites or the origins of quotations or the identity of seed heads.

    1. There’s a place in the world for every sort of curmudgeon, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, one of these days I intend to write a post about Charles Murray’s book, “A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead.” The fact that I find it hilarious probably is proof that I’m already living out a good bit of his advice.

      Part of my difficulty with modern popular music is that I don’t experience it as music. Rap and hip-hop are obvious examples, but even more mainstream performers and groups seem to me — well, unlistenable. My lack, perhaps. The good news is that we still have the freedom to choose what we listen to.

      Speaking of tracking things down, I went out today to stalk the Wild Whatever, and look what I found. I’ve never seen it, except in photos, but thanks to the photos, I spotted the plants.

      1. That’s a welcoming sight. Happy world of milkweeds, and may you find other species as well.

        Rap and hip-hop were on my mind too when I left my comment. I don’t understand how people have gone on for a quarter of a century putting different words to what strikes me as essentially the same monotonous chant. Whoever invented these genres must have cut music class on the day the topic was melody.

    1. Thank you, so muich. I certainly learned a lot I didn’t know while writing it — not only about Kurt Cobain, but about the “27s” generally. Everything is so hyped up today, I think it’s good to take a more measured look at some of these cultural cross-currents from time to time.

  14. Before marrying 25 yrs ago, I enjoyed and kept up with a variety of musicians and music … since then, I have lost touch. Now, instead of playing “catch up”, I go with what taps my toes!

    Thank you for sharing with us!
    Happy Sunday! :-)

    1. That’s a great way of putting it, Becca — what “taps our toes.” And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying “old” music of whatever sort. Sometimes I laugh when I walk down a dock and hear what people are playing on their boats. You’d be surprised how often I hear classic rock, or even earlier rock’n’roll. I don’t hear much disco, though. I think when that faded, it faded for good.

      Watch those storms this week. It seems you might have a chance at a little “weather” — us, too.

  15. I’m not familiar with all of these musicians and their music. I know nothing of Cobain’s music. I certainly have heard about him but only because of his death, and how could Courtney Love go unnoticed? I’m sure I would like Huddie Ledbetter’s music better. With the hard living that some rockers experience, it’s a wonder half of them survive their youth. I can’t believe that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are still above ground. They should donate their bodies to science.

    1. I’ll bet if you heard some of the music, Bella, you would recognize it — especially the Eagles. But I’m right there with you, as far as Cobain’s concerned. I hadn’t heard one lick of his music, or Nirvana’s, until writing this. Let’s just say it’s not something I’d listen to on purpose.

      As for Jagger and Richards, I’ve come to wonder if they’re not far more disciplined, health-conscious, and so on, than we realize. Perhaps some of their act is — well, just that. An act. I think I may have mentioned a favorite fantasy to you: that in years to come, we’ll all be sitting on the front porch of the old folks’ home, listening to the Stones and knowing every, single word to “19th Nervous Breakdown.” It could happen.

    1. Among my personal collection of aphorisms about writing, I’ve included, “Anything worth writing about is worth knowing at least something about.” There’s room in this world for the generalist, as long as it’s an informed generalist.

      Your mention of Eliot reminds me that, apart from a reference here and there, I’m not turning to his work as often as I used to. Clearly, tastes in writing change over time, just as musical tastes do. It’s interesting to realize changes have come, and to ponder them.

  16. My father was born 1916 May 13 and soon would have been age 100. His body was laid to rest in 1988. His mother has a 1969 grave, father a 1978 grave (was age 91). Then Mama died 2015 May 3. All these plus my maternal grandparents have been “laid to rest” but not the land where they lived and died – almost 100 years (my father was age 4). So I am working on that – may just play my 12-string (I am age 71 until my August birthday).

    1. My mother was born in 1918, my dad in 1912, and they were married on May 13. Of course, there’s plenty happening around the world on any given day, but it is interesting when these little coincidences pop up.

      Every time I think of my parents’ graves, I have to smile. They went, along with three other couples they played bridge with, and bought plots next to each other in the city cemetery. As they joked, once they all were laid to rest, they could pick up their card games. Mom was the last to join them, and I can just hear my dad saying, “Well, it’s about time you got here. Deal those cards.

    1. At least Merle lived a long, productive life, and left us a body of work to remember him by. As so many musicians I’ve enjoyed have departed, though, it is a reminder that I’m aging right along with them. Sometimes I forget that!

      I love church and family cemeteries. For one thing, they’re usually better-cared for, and I enjoy the quirky little things that are allowed. Lead Belly’s was particularly lovely, because of those pines.

  17. Peggy and I once spent a few days in Aberdeen, Washington while I was doing some genealogical research up and down the coast. My mother’s family had been pioneers in the area. Anyway, since we were there, we went looking for the bridge that Kurt claimed to have lived under for a while. Like your search for Lead Belly’s grave, we eventually found the bridge. It was like a shrine. And the graffiti was quite interesting. I’ve always meant to do a blog on the whole experience. Next time I come across the photos, I will. –Curt

    1. From the tone of some of the online articles I’ve read about Cobain, it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d use the word “shrine” to refer to that bridge. I’m not quite sure what it is that leads to the idolization of musicians (or movie stars or politicians, for that matter), but it certainly can lead to interesting behavior: viz., that graffiti.

      I missed the living-under-the-bridge detail about his life. It would make an interesting read, though I suspect you have material enough to carry you for some time. Safe travels!

    1. Those were remarkable years, filled with exuberance and sad events. I still remember buying the first Doors album, and Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced.” Sometimes, just for grins, I ask a “youngster” who claims to know the popular music of that time the name of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s greatest hit. I’ve still to find one who knows “Incense and Peppermints.”

  18. What a great story, Linda! I find it terribly sad that so many are a part of the 27-club, though. Wonder how that sort of thing got started, and why it became a “thing” some actually wanted to participate in?

    There’s a wealth of information in cemeteries, isn’t there? And you’re fortunate to have uncovered Lead Belly’s final resting spot. Bet that little lamb enjoyed the impromptu concert, too!

    Do you still play a 12-string? I’ve never tried that…best I can say is, I had a friend teach me a few chords on a 6-string acoustic, chords I feel sure I’d have trouble replicating today.

    1. This Rolling Stone article lists fifty musicians who’ve died at 27. Not all of them set out to “join the club.” At least two were murdered at age 27, and a couple died in accidents that weren’t drug-related.

      Robert Johnson was considered the first, but of course at the time, there wasn’t such a thing as a 27s “club.” It wasn’t until a few more musicians had died at that age that the myths began to form. Since Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar (an exchange that took place “down at the crossroads” — a very specific place that still is a place of pilgrimage) the temptation to expand on the legend probably was irresistable.

      I don’t play any more, although I will pick up a six-string from time to time. The 12-string’s long gone. Getting rid of it probably is the life decision I most regret — it was a Martin. Sigh.

      1. On 1967 honeymoon we purchased a hand made guitar on the Blue Ridge parkway. A year or two later it was stolen out of a locked closet at the church my spouse worked at in NYC. Someone who graduated (or would graduate) from medical school went to 47th Street and bought me a 6-string (used) Martin guitar with “Grover” tuners (1930’s?). Later, 1989-1993 when I was paying all my salary for college for our one offspring and we had “no” (spare) money to buy a gift, I gave the Martin to our offspring on one special gift-giving (and -receiving) time. It is at the house, now – walking distance from where we have lived beginning 1984. We retired 2011. My 12-string guitar is a Yamaha my spouse bought for my 1975 (NJ) birthday, out on US 22 near Sommerville traffic circle. I think that store is still operational. I have taken the 12-string on many month-long mission trips to Kenya. The hard case is really beaten by now.

  19. Black music — blues, jazz, dixieland, and all its other permutations — ends up in some interesting places — England, most notably, but all over the world. I recently watched PBS bios of Fats Domino, and B. B. King and they included tributes of subsequent musicians that were influenced by them. Currents of music flow and mingle and diverge and recombine.

    I think about talking versus singing, and how deeply ingrained music is in what we are. I wonder what role music played in our survival way back in the dawn of time. Every human society has music and singing. It almost categorizes us as a species.

    One thing that is going to make for some interesting music is the internet and how it makes everybody’s music available to everybody, world wide. We’ve already seen some of it in the music of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, Micky Hart and others.

    1. Your comment about everybody’s music being available to everyone, world-wide, reminded me of one of my favorite films: “Throw Down Your Heart,” documenting Béla Fleck’s travels through Africa. This video, in which he teams up with a finger piano player named Ruth, is just fabulous. I laughed at the very end. They shake hands in Uganda exactly as is done in Liberia, with a finger-snap thrown in for good measure.

      And then there are the Pine Leaf Boys. I danced to them at Whiskey River in Henderson, and to be quite frank, it didn’t look or sound much different than the scene in Tashkent.

      I read quite an interesting article about the intersection of new technologies and music the other day. Carrying studio techniques into live performance probably was inevitable. I’m not opposed at all, but there’s still something unique about acoustic performance.

  20. I think this is my favorite of your posts, and that’s saying a lot. I love all this music. I never grow tired of good music (and I define that term very broadly–significantly more broadly if it was created before about 1990).

    This week I’ll be traveling to Memphis–a rare journey off the farm. I visited once, many years ago, when our children were very young. I went to all the high holy places (but was disappointed to learn there evidently is no Commodore Hotel) and have carried my Sun Studios ticket in my billfold ever since (it’s been about 25 years). Maybe I’ll go see it again this week.

    The husband of a friend of ours–Glenn Hughes, husband of my sister’s college roommate– was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame this week with his band Deep Purple. I’ve never met him but his wife was a good friend for many years and is still one of my sister’s dearest friends. She joked this week that she remembers sharing a ratty apartment with her and giving her rides to work her shift at Pizza Hut. A far cry from hanging out with rock and rollers at the Hall of Fame.

    I also remember driving around Mississippi, searching for the famous crossroad among other things. I could go on for pages about the music you’ve referenced here–even (perhaps especially) David Bowie. But sadly I don’t know Lead Belly like you do and can only dream of playing a 12 string. But if I suddenly had the gift, the first songs I think I’d try to play would be Hotel California and Stairway to Heaven. :)

    Thanks for the great post.

    1. Just this morning, I listened to quite a discussion on the rock hall of fame: specifically, those who have been inducted who shouldn’t have been, and those who ought to be there, but aren’t. I’ll admit I find some inductees curious: Donovan and Neil Diamond come to mind. But what a great story about your connection to Hughes and Deep Purple. it must be amazing to watch that kind of transformation take place.

      It’s been my experience that music buffs are like sailors in at least one way: there’s nothing they like better than sitting and telling stories, or comparing notes — at least, when they aren’t playing. When you were roaming, did you get to Helena, home of the King Biscuit Blues Festival? I want to go back there, and to Oxford, where Fat Possum records is doing a great job of preserving and promoting blues of every sort.

      It saddens me that so many of the bluesmen I first heard on my travels in Mississippi are gone now. If you want to keep up on happenings in the blues world — particularly in Mississippi and the surrounding area — one of the best ways to do it is through Roger Stolle, the owner of CatHead in Clarksdale.

      If I could sit in somewhere, it would be Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale. Of course we’d be playing T-Model Ford’s “Red’s House Party.

      Safe and happy travels!

  21. We have a Leadbelly CD. We’re big blues fans. my daughter was a big fan of Kurt Cobain but his music didn’t do a lot for me. Actually I think I was just too damn busy during that time to notice things like music. but I’m surprised David Bowie is an unknown for you. and, yes, hasn’t the weather been gorgeous the last week or two. I wish it would rain though.

    1. It was the same story with me and Bowie. At the height of the Ziggy Stardust fervor, I was in Liberia, and once I got back to the States and was beginning graduate school, there was so much on my plate I just didn’t notice him. When I finally did some reading and listening after his death, I still wasn’t much impressed. Lucky for us, there’s enough music for everyone, and fans for most of the musicians.

      It looks like we’ll get our rain tonight and tomorrow: some, at least. The gurus I consult show you in line for an inch or so — and maybe more this weekend. I hope so.

  22. What a beautiful, beautiful post this is. You bring back for me so many fond memories of musical discoveries of my own earlier days: Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and all the rest–not to mention Ledbetter himself. Makes me want to run down to the basement and pull up all the records . . . though of course a crucial element is missing (a working record player).

    I think what I may love best, though there are many candidates, is this observation of yours: “Fortunately for lovers of music and history, a critic can’t so easily wrest a beloved song from the people to whom it belongs, only to deliver it into the hands of his favorite interpreter.” Amen to that, and thank you so much for bringing us along on your travels in the pines.

    1. It seems that, just like manual typewriters, turntables are back in vogue. I was surprised to see this sitting on a table at a friend’s beach house. It was closed, and I assumed it was only a vintage radio. Then, she opened it up, and showed me the stack of LPs in a lower cabinet. It seems that what goes around truly does come around: in at least a couple of senses, where turntables are concerned.

      You’ve certainly spent your share of time in the world of the critics, musical and otherwise, so it pleases me that you like my little observation. It amused me that even the writing of it made me quiver slightly: in a who-dares-criticize-the-critics kind of way. Still, too much writing from The Critics has become as garbled, jargonized, or self-important as the worst academic writing, and my tolerance is low, these days.

  23. I read this especially delicious post days ago and of course have been thinking about it on and off and on again ever since. I will keep the image of you and the cat singing to Huddie Ledbetter for a long time, yes indeed.

    My favorite music is good music, just like my favorite food is good food. I always like following rabbit trails to something I might have overlooked. I have to say, I was surprised to find myself watching a Kurt Cobain performance – but not too surprised. I’ve been surprised to find myself moving along with rap, techno, and hip-hop, too . . . but not too surprised. (My mother couldn’t understand my love for classical music. “It’s the same thing over and over again!” she would say, exasperated.)

    No point arguing about music or food. We love what we love. What a fine thing it is to find ourselves with an abundance of both.

    1. I almost didn’t include that tidbit about the gravesite song, and then amended it to make it nearly disappear. But you spotted it, just as someone accustomed to digging around in piles of historical detritus would.

      It’s interesting that you paired music and food. When I was growing up, a common phrase in our household applied to both: “Try it, you might like it.” Developing informed preferences was considered good; out-of-hand rejection based on unreasoning prejudice was not. There were times when that approach was tested — Brussels sprouts and the Three Stooges come to mind — but there’s no question it’s served me well over the decades. You, too, it seems.

      Your comment about loving what we love reminded me of Pascal, and his point that “the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” Buzzfeed may have claimed 800,000 viewers for its recent explode-a-watermelon-by-wrapping-it-with-rubber-bands video, but I’ll watch a heron lift from the water, and be happy.

  24. Beautifully written, and giving me – again – the occasion to learn.

    As I read of Cobain, I was reminded of a young friend of my eldest. When she first met him in high school, he listened to nothing but classical music. Not so very long ago, we were talking about working out in the gym, and he mentioned his favored music while working out. At the top of the list was heavy metal. I was taken aback, but he told me that many heavy rock musicians are classically trained, and he can find the connections. I can’t but then again I haven’t been trained in any fashion when it comes to music. But it seems that music, like politics, makes strange bed-fellows.

    1. I’m not a fan of heavy metal generally, but it does make sense to me that it would make for better workout music than classical. One of the best songs I’ve found for walking is Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” and a friend swears by Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Neither is metal, but there are times when a nice, repetitive beat is good.

      Perhaps a key to it all is that musical genres don’t have to be ranked hierarchically. I have a hard time recognizing rap as music, and yet there are certain productions (I’ll not say songs), like Eminem’s “Slim Shady,” that I’ll listen to. And even though I’m not especially enthusiastic about musicals, I still sing the songs of “Oklahoma” when I’m driving through that state.

      O course, our tastes change through time. That’s a good reminder that I need to revise my About page, and update my favorites. Songs that were favorites when I began this blog no longer quality. Funny how that happens.

    1. That’s a good addition. He produced Jeff Beck, whose performance of “Nessun Dorma” I linked just above, and a multitude of other artists I’ve enjoyed. Until I looked at the Wiki, I didn’t realize that he was so intimately involved with the Paul WInter Consort, and their recording of “Icarus.”

    1. Of course I remember that one. It seems that in 1956, the music was especially good, or I was expecially impressionable. Another that came to mind immediately was Jim Lowe’s “Green Door.”

      One of the most horrifying and amusing experiences of my junior high years involved a Sonny James song. In 7th grade chorus, we were required to sing a solo. Several of us refused, as adamant as 7th graders could be. Miss Hough, an entirely reasonable teacher, decided duets would be acceptable. So, Bob Lohr and I teamed up, and sang our version of this to meet the requirement. I’m sure it wasn’t what Miss Hough would have chosen, but she didn’t fuss at us.

  25. What an interesting poignant post, I enjoyed your journey and am glad you found the grave and a welcoming cat. It’s sad to think of so many talented musicians struck down in their prime, 27 is a rather strange age. I think Amy winehouse was another victim of the 27’s.
    I love cemeteries too, we have one in the village church, some of the graves are ancient and the inscriptions, especially re children, so sad. Cemeteries are also havens for wildlife and wild flowers. xxx

    1. I wish more of our cemeteries were havens for wildflowers. Some are, but the tendency toward neat-and-tidy has made the flowers less acceptable in many places. I enjoy cemeteries myself, and am intrigued by much of the iconography: lambs for children, clasped hands, and so on.

      You’re right that 27 is a strange age, but I suppose if a multitude of musicians had died at 33, or 46, those ages might seem equally strange. The coincidences are remarkable, particularly since the causes of death are so varied. I’ve heard some wacky “explanations” of the cause. People being people, there’s always an impulse to make sense of the nonsensical, even if the so-called explanations are quite removed from reality.

      I didn’t realize that Amy Winehouse had died, but you’re right that she was another member of “the 27s.”

  26. How strange that you were penning an article like this when I too was writing about hose lost to the world in 2016, including Merle Haggard whose obituary I read on the day my post was published A superbly written essay, Linda, interweaving so many musical names known to me. the sound track to my early teenage years was shaped by early Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger and others of a similar genre. I had an acoustic guitar and played a lot of their work.The guitar still sits in a corner, sadly unloved these days.

    1. A lot of us have relegated those guitars to the corners. It’s just the way of life. We have limits — particularly when it comes to time and energy — and when new interests come along, old ones naturally fade away.

      I did smile at the coincidence when I read your post. It was a bit of a shock when I realized Haggard was only 79 when he died. “That’s young!” I think — how our perspective changes as we age.

      The first live concert I went to was during my high school years. Peter, Paul, and Mary played the KRNT Theater in Des Moines, Iowa. I saw one of their last concerts, too, at the Kerrville Folk Festival, not long before Mary’s death. In fact, I wrote a post about her death. You can find it here. That was seven years ago. Time does pass, doesn’t it?

  27. Although I listened to Leadbelly along with a lot of other musicians of his era, I did not know the biographical story of his life, so thanks for your research…and story of your visit to his resting place. How nice that you sang to him. I think most often we learn a lot from folks biographies…not always admirable facts, but during previous times different behavior was tolerated to a degree that would be quite unacceptable these days. Heck, with the internet even innocent remarks are turned into acts of insensitivity and shame.

    I’ll listen to most music at least once. Heavy Metal is pushing the limit. I worked with a musician who was in a band that did Death Metal. A little intense and I won’t post a link. I don’t mind the instrumental part, but the vocals are not at all anything I can stay with for very long. I’ll just say they have a very demonic sound and I am sure the future does not seem very bright for the “singer’s” vocal cords.

    1. What’s intriguing to me is being able, after all these years, to pick up a guitar and (however awkwardly) play some of that era’s songs. What’s really amusing is that I remember the chords and picking pattern for one song, but I don’t know what the song is. I’ll have to find a guitar and play it, so I know what it is.

      Like you, I do try to listen, but sometimes once is enough. It took me some time to figure out that the strange behavior I saw in cars around me was called “head banging.” On the other hand, my taste can be pretty quirky in some ways. One of my favorites is the Rev. Peyton and his Big Damn Band. I ran into them at the Juke Joint Festival, and they always cure what ails me. Here’s the Rev doing some solo work on an old blues number, and here’s my favorite of their videos. Some day I’ll find someone who loves it as much as I do. It’s wonderful get-up-and-go music.

  28. So much to say here, but I read away my prep, and now my students are about to come in, so suffice it to say that I got lost in this post mostly because I DO know something of the musicians you mentioned, and I was fascinated by your connections and observations. I’m sending this on to my husband, who thankfully no longer smells like Teen Spirit, although he at one time did.

    Thanks for another great article, Linda!

    1. One thing is certain: my ability to laugh at the title of the most famous Nirvana song has increased exponentially since I read this little tidbit about it in the Wiki article:

      "Cobain came up with the song's title when his friend Kathleen Hanna, at the time the lead singer of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, wrote "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his wall.

      Since they had been discussing anarchism, punk rock, and similar topics, Cobain interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning. What Hanna actually meant, however, was that Cobain smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit, which his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore. Cobain later claimed he was unaware that it was a brand of deodorant until months after the single was released."

      Now, that's art imitating life, even if unintentionally.

      Since you do know something about these musicians — particularly Cobain — I'm especially pleased that you enjoyed the piece. Thanks for reading, Emily.

  29. I have never been a big fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain neither. But there is no doubt he has had a great influence on the music scene, particularly the Grunge scene. There are many bands from the Northwest I really enjoy, among others, Pearl Jam. So at least indirectly I have been influenced by Cobain. Fun to read about your research into another member of the 27s Club—and how you finally got to meet Lead Belly, if not alive so at least his last place to rest.

    1. I had a blog friend who was a great Pearl Jam fan, so I’ve heard at least a bit of their music, and do admire some of their guitar playing. It just occurred to me that it’s a fun coincidence you mentioned them, since one of their best-known hits was “Yellow Ledbetter.” Of course, it’s not related at all to Huddie Ledbetter, since it was written using the name of an old friend of Vedder from Chicago, named Tim Ledbetter.

      Still, it’s interesting. Unraveling the connections among these musicians and groups could be a full-time task.

  30. Well researched and historically accurate. I really enjoyed reading your article.It struck a few nerves with me. I was a classically trained french hornist in my first life. I loved jazz, blues, rock and even the grunge from my own children’s youth. There is a connection, they say, between gifted writers and musicians and mental illness like depression. At some point in their lives, they have to live with the reality they have created with their work. Sometimes it is very hard to do so.

    I will be reading more of your work. I enjoyed this very much.

    1. What an interesting thought: that artists have to live with the reality they create. It’s common enough for us to see the difficulties inherent in fame and recognition, but it’s intriguing to think that conflicts might be related to the form and content of the work itself.

      I suspect you know more about these subjects than I do, which makes your comment that the article was historically accurate even more satisfying. I’ve never accepted the common wisdom that we only should write what we know, but writing what I don’t know requires research and attentiveness. The reward, of course, is that I get to learn, too.

      I’m so pleased you stopped by, and thank you for your comment. Back in my archives, there’s another post you might enjoy: the tale of my encounter with violinist Charles Treger, after a concert in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s.

  31. I don’t know anything about Mr. Cobain nor Huddie Ledbetter, but after reading your blog about the information and your interest in this musician I have grown to admire Lead Belly. Interesting read, and I love the pictures!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Miss Horne, and thanks, too, for your comment. I’m glad you found the piece interesting. Even though I prefer Lead Belly’s music to Kurt Cobain’s, as individuals, they both compel attention.

      And I’m glad you liked the photos. I think the one in the cemetery is one of my favorites. In a way, my blog is a kind of scrapbook. If my memory ever begins to fade, I’ll have these posts to remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done!

      ~ Linda

      1. Well I look forward in reading more of your blogs! I love the scrapbook theme, especially when I’m handwriting my journal entries. Overtime, I go back and read through them to evaluate and see how far along I came, and enjoy a great read. As a writer being descriptive about what you have seen and been through is a must!

  32. Well, I for one do remember Kurt Cobain, and all the other grunge bands that you mentioned having grown up during the 1990’s. I remember watching their videos, and the like. But I’ve never heard of Lead Belly, but I like how you show, how one thing can lead to another. Which is how you came to know about Lead Belly

    It seems so many musicians are suffering too. A friend, who was also an artist, said that the suffering acted as a springboard from where to create from. I would have to agree with her, as my struggles including depression has contributed to my creativity. A common thread among, writers,painters and musicians – all of us artists who have suffered with either mental illness of some sort or a dysfunctional background.

    1. One thing surely does lead to another. There are days when I think everything in the world is connected — even things that would seem, at first glance, to be impossible to relate.

      Clearly, creativity can arise in the midst of struggles, and be a way of coping with struggles. On the other hand, it’s also true that struggles of any sort (emotional, economic, relational, and so on) can impede the creative flow by draining energy and making focus impossible. Even the demands of daily work can drain energy, which probably explains why so many artists and writers put in hours before they head off to their daily work.

      I suppose that’s one of the reason we so admire people who are able to create despite the obstacles in their lives. We all experience them, to one degree or another, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to cope.

    1. I know you love music, Nia. I’m glad you enjoyed this. Even though I don’t listen to many of these musicians by choice, I’m glad I know about them, and understand a little about what shaped their music.

  33. I always wished I would have been a bit older so I could have really got to experience music. Janis is my hero, that voice… I wish I could have heard it live. Love this!!

    1. I’ve lost track of him now, but I once knew a sailor who went to high school with Janis. He once described her as “remarkably self-possessed — and a little crazy.”

      You’re right about her voice. If you haven’t heard her performance of “Ball and Chain” at Monterey in 1967, I think you’ll like it.

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for mentioning Janis. She’s still one of my favorites, too.

      1. I’ve always imagined her to be a little crazy, and hoped we would be friends if I’d been able to have known her.

  34. How many Shiloh Baptist Churches do you think there are in the world? More than you can shake a stick at, no doubt. Nice the way you wove all the music together. The originals are often lost / overshadowed by the later versions. Nothing better than singing in a cemetery among the pines. Just right.

    1. A few years ago, a friend and I started recording the names of churches as we traveled across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Unfortunately, the notebook disappeared, but it would be a great project to take up again. There are some interesting names out there — and a good number of Shilohs.

      There are some great cover bands out there, and of course people like Clapton are great interpreters of old, original material, but you’re right that many original versions get buried. It’s fun to go back and dig out those originals from time to time, just to remember how fresh they once seemed.

      You know how people always are making lists, these days? It just occurred to me — how about a list of the top ten songs to sing in a cemetery? My first recommendation? “Long Black Veil.” Joan Baez introduced me to it, but I like this Cash/Kristofferson version.

      1. Always liked that version, too. Two good ideas: songs for cemeteries and names of churches ( that could get interesting exploring the trail/local history behind each church name, too) So many things to explore – so little time…and more rain on the way – must be not too far off as Molly balked going for a walk. Totally locked up and turned around to face home. Sometimes not to question…

  35. I’ve loved music all my life, but had never heard of Leadbelly before reading your piece. I suppose if I’d done a bit of research on BB King, whose blues music I like, I would have probably come across Ledbetter and his music.

    Thanks for the intro, and another history lesson woven into a great story.

    1. There are so many traditions, so many musicians, and so much music. It’s not surprising that the passage of time — or lack of a crack publicist — leaves us all in the position of missing some really good music. On the other hand, that also means we can make wonderful discoveries all the years of our life — and there’s nothing wrong with that!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and the introduction to Lead Belly. He was quite a character, and a huge influence on those who came after him.

    1. Thanks! I’ll be visiting you soon, but I just got a new computer, and still am in the process of getting things back the way I like them. It’s a little like coming home and finding a stranger has rearranged all the furniture. I keep saying, “Now, where is ‘that’?”

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Good music is one of the blessings of life, for sure.

      1. We had eight people from Njoro, Kenya – and I set up two new and one 2014 laptop with Windows 10. I like better – still takes some time and effort to become accustomed.

        1. Yes, it does — especially after using the same machine and the same programs for years, as I did. But, I’d falled so far behind the curve it was mandatory to make the change. My lovely new camera and my computer were refusing to speak to one another: not an acceptable situation.

  36. For ages (post public access to electricity) music was associated with radio or local culture. Growing up outside of Memphis, TN in the 1970’s, I was blessed by the phenomenon of FM radio, and mass distribution via vinyl recordings. DJ’s were often allowed to play things late at night outside of mainstream focus. Combine this with the thriving recording scene surrounding that region, and we had access to some of the most amazing music of that era. ZZ Top played a concert on New Years Eve one year, only because they were in town recording, not even on tour. I watched bands like .38 Special, Billy Squire, and Molly Hatchett in local bars, way before their emergence on the big stage. For me that “grunge” era was the Seminole moment that preserved the legacy I previously described. MTV and New Wave music was taking Rock & Roll off on a tangent away from its blues influences, that got it started…

    1. Late night, outside-of-the-mainstream radio was our guilty pleasure when I was in high school — especially when we were listening to Wolfman Jack on AM and spending hours going through 45s at the local record store. In those days, Lawrence Welk still was going strong, and our parents watched. To say we were a transitional generation is putting it mildly.

      I can only imagine how great it was to be living in your area, able to catch some live music. I’d never heard of ZZ Top until I moved to Texas in ’73. Now, I drive through La Grange every now and then, and grin as I do.

      When I think how many genres of music I’ve appreciated over the years, it really is amazing. It’s a long way from, say, 1956, to 2016, but good, new music still is emerging. I confess some of the trends leave me a little cold, but there still are places where the generations can meet — like at Red’s house party. Mississippi bluesmen like T-Model Ford still are the best.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the great comment. It’s always fun to find another music fan to chat with!

      1. I actually met Albert King at the grand opening of BB’s Place, then met Greg Allman standing outside as I left…music captivates the soul

        1. I didn’t know until very recently that Derek Trucks played with the Allman band. All of those lineups have produced some great music over the years. Lucky you, to have such encounters.

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