This is a short piece from a larger work I call "From Leadbelly to Led Zepplin. The Impact of Folk Music on Rock". This particular section deals with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix.
Leadbelly is a very interesting place to start. Born in 1888, he was always dirt poor. Living along the border of Texas and Louisiana life was bound to be tough. Being a very big man, with a big ego, short temper, and skin as black as the night would not make that any easier.
Convicted of murdering a relative Leadbelly was given a 35 year sentence to the Texas State Pen. It was here he wrote one of his most famous songs "The Midnight Special". He petitioned the Governor of Texas and used this song to gain his release from prison in 2 years.
Sadly he would be returned to prison for attempted homicide. This time he was sent to Angola State Prison. It was here that John and Alan Lomax, who were working under a grant from the Library of Congress, met him. They were enchanted by the depth and range of his music. Every song told a story, and emote the feeling of being poor and black.
This is my interpretation of one of Leadbelly's famous songs.
The Lomax's petitioned the Governor and gained Leadbelly's release. The helped Leadbelly get a contract with a recording company. This is where Leadbelly met and worked with Woody Guthrie.
Leadbelly and Guthrie shared the same story telling ability. The only real difference was the point of view. Guthrie had followed the migrant workers from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl. His songs told their story. He also observed the great things that were happening in this country. This led to one of his most famous songs "This Land is Your Land".
Woody Guthrie suffered from a disease that slowly robbed him of his motor skills. By the Early 60's his speech was slurred. One of his fans had been camping out Guthrie's apartment in New York. Finally allowed to see Woody, Bob Dylan spent many hours studying his hero's every detail...right down to his singing style.
Like Guthrie, Bob Dylan wrote stories and turned them into songs. He also added his own special twist with new chord patterns and Rhythms. He also added a unique singing style. While Bob Dylan was studying Woody Guthrie, he himself was being watched.
Shortly after arriving in New York, a young black man from Seattle fell in love with Bob Dylan's ability to write songs. Jimi Hendrix was not happy with his singing style and was happy to see that Dylan was making what some would say is a handicap into a unique sound. Like Dylan with Guthrie, Jimi was soon a regular at Dylan's apartment. Diligently studying Dylan's style.
Jimi brought his own unique addition to the ever evolving Folk music. With unique chords, blues riffs, and of course special effects Hendrix told the stories of his world.
This next song is a tribute to Jimi. Sadly, my son presently has my effects pedals, which makes this a little less energetic. This may be a good thing as it will allow you to hear the Folk part of the song.
The connection between Folk and modern music has only gotten stronger. It can be heard in most Hip Hop, and Rap. As well as Rock. The need for a song to tell stories that we can connect with has had untold cultural impact.
From Leadbelly to Led Zepplin we have an entire new way to track our history.