Tag Archives: Dylan

Lead Belly Part I…

24 Aug , 2011,
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Lead Belly–Early Influence on Me

Lead Belly.  Huddie William Ledbetter lived an eventful life, even if it wasn’t a particularly long one. He was born in 1888 and died in December 1949. Lead Belly was 61 when he died.


I don’t remember the first time I heard Lead Belly’s music. I knew Good Night, Irene, since I can remember.  My folks were into jazz, Dylan, Beatles, and Stones. They didn’t seem to have a lot of blues in their collection when I was growing up.  I was 15 when my music world exploded. In 1983, I was introduced to artists and bands that would seriously contribute to making me the person I am today. Gee, thanks guys. I owe you one.

One band was U2. I can’t thank those guys enough for the record War. Another was Oingo-Boingo. I was a trombone player in the high schooI band–you think I wouldn’t be all over “Who Do You Want to Be (Today)”? Another was Lead Belly. That was about the time I starting paying attention to the blues.

Lead Belly–Sometimes I’ll Forget About Him For a While

I go through phases musically. I’ll get on a Classic Rock jag for a while, then I’ll dig up some old New Wave records and cassettes and listen to them for a while. Once something catches my attention, I’ll usually go to youtube from there. I’ve been back on my Blues kick for a few days now.


Lead Belly–or “leadbelly”, if you like–was an iconic American folk and blues musician of the early 20th century. A few things he can be remembered for are his strong vocals, his uncanny skill on the twelve-string guitar, and of course, the songbook of Americana folk standards he left us.

Although Lead Belly usually played the twelve-string guitar, he could also play the Leadbelly accordianpiano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina, and accordion. Some of his recordings, like in one of his versions of “John Hardy”–an American folk ballad–he is on the accordion. He sings a capella on other recordings with merely the accompaniment of his clapping hands or stomping foot.

By 1903, Lead Belly was already a singer and guitarist of some renown. He performed in St. Paul’s Bottoms–a notorious Red-Light District in nearby Shreveport, LA. Lead Belly’s own style of music began to take shape as he was being influenced by so many artists and musicians on Shreveport’s Fannin Street, which was a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms.

Lead Belly–Louisiana State Penitentiary

lead belly prison stripesLedbetter’s hot temper often got him into trouble with the law. In 1915 he was convicted of carrying a pistol and sentenced to do time on the Harrison County chain gang.  He escaped, and found work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was imprisoned a second time, this time after killing one of his relatives in a fight over a woman.

In 1918 he was incarcerated in Sugar Land west of Houston, Texas, where heleadbelly3 “probably” learned the song Midnight Special. In 1925 he was pardoned and released, having served nearly seven years–virtually all of the minimum of his seven-to-35-year sentence–after writing a song appealing to Governor Pat Morris Neff for his freedom. According to legend, Ledbetter had swayed Neff by appealing to his strong religious beliefs. That, in combination with good behavior–including entertaining by playing for the guards and fellow prisoners–was Ledbetter’s ticket out of prison.

Lead Belly–Meeting John and Alan Lomax

…and In 1930, Ledbetter was back in prison, after a summary trial, this time in Louisiana, for attempted homicide — he had knifed a white man in self-defense inLead Belly the Complete Recordings a bar fight. It was there, three years later in 1933, that Lebbetter was “discovered” by folklorists John Lomax and Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm. Deeply impressed by his vibrant tenor voice and huge repertoire, they recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned to record with new and better equipment in July 1934, all in all recording hundreds of his songs.

Lead belly–Released from Prison

On August 1,1934, Ledbetter was released again having served almost all of his minimum sentence. This time after the Lomaxes had taken a petition to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at Ledbetter’s urgent request. The petition was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, “Goodnight Irene”. It is an interesting story, but a prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Ledbetter’s singing had anything to do with his release from Angola. State prison records confirm that he was eligible for early release due to good behavior anyway. For a time, however, both Ledbetter and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from Angola.

Lead Belly–How Did He Get That Nick-Name?

There are several somewhat conflicting stories about how Ledbetter got his famous nickname, though most believe that it was probably while he was in prison. Some say his fellow inmates dubbed him “Lead Belly” as a play on his last name and reference to his physical toughness; others say he earned the name after being shot in the stomach with shotgun buckshot. Another theory has it that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine.  Most agree that it was probably just a friendly corruption of his last name.

leadbelly mugshot

In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame…




Lead Belly.


Wall of Voodoo

7 Aug , 2011,
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Wall of Voodoo

Wall of Voodoo 2 band photoEven as a kid, I knew Wall of Voodoo. I remember in the late 1970s and very early ’80s, seeing Wall of Voodoo on SNL and hearing them on the hip radio stations in Southern California. Those guys were a little strange to me. I liked them. Mexican Radio was the first song I heard by Wall of Voodoo, and it’s the only song of theirs that I remember off of the top of my head. I had just started listening to KROQ–Modern Roq of the ’80s!–and my world, at least musically, was expanding at a furious rate. I was discovering New Wave and so much of what that realm encompassed.

Wall of Voodoo–one of my early New Wave experiences

The years 1979 and 1980 blended together to me, musically. By that time, disco and the Bee Gees were pretty much done, and I was just beginning to hear a different music. I was going on 12. Pop radio just wasn’t interesting to me. I was out-growing what I was being spoon-fed by some of the traditional, commercial radio stations, and I wanted to hear something different.

b-52s yellow album

The B-52s’ Rock Lobster was a song that turned my world upside-down the first fewtimes I heard it on the radio. So was Dance This Mess Around and Planet Claire. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about Rock Lobster and the B-52s soon. I remember when Devo’s Gates of Steel was released after their first two singles, Freedom of Choice and Whip it! As damned silly as I recognized New Wave was, there was something about it that I liked. There were some other good Devo yellow albumsongs and artists that got my attention in my early-adolescence. One artist–one band in particular–I have been thinking of for the past few days is Stan Ridgway and “his” Wall of Voodoo. Wall of Voodoo was one of the sillier bands to come out of that time, and that was okay with me. Music was changing for me. I still held my parents’ Beatles, Stones, and Dylan LP collections in the highest regard, and I felt that I had so much more to learn.

Wall of Voodoo was a concept by Stan Ridgway. Ridgway had started a film-score business in Hollywood. Acme Soundtracks was right across the street from the Masque, one of Hollywood’s early punk clubs. He had  been making tapes–with overdubbed, synthesized drums and keyboards. and vocals–in the studio with a friend one day. Ridgway was fooling around, layering sounds, feeling pretty good about himself, when he compared his multiple-drum tracks and Farifsa organ-rich recordings to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. The friend laughed and commented that they sounded more like a Wall of Voodoo. That was it. Wall of Voodoo. The original line-up for Wall of Voodoo was Stan Ridgway, Marc Moreland on guitar, Bruce Moreland on bass, Chas T. Gray on keyboard, and Joe Nanini on drums.

Stan Ridgway–Wall of Voodoo’s First EP

Wall of Voodoo released a self-titled EP in 1980 which featured a unique, synthesizer-driven New Wave version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, which didn’t entirely suck. The second half of “Ring of Fire” features a dissonant guitar and synthesizer solo covering the theme to the 1966 film, Our Man Flint, and was interesting for a young Johnny Cash fan to hear.

Wall of Voodoo–Dark Continent

Wall of Voodoo cover

In 1981, Wall of Voodoo released their first full-length album, Dark Continent. Bruce Moreland left the band–for the first time–soon after this, and Chas Gray performed on both bass and keyboard during this time. The band recorded their biggest-selling album, Call of the West in 1982. That same year, Wall of Voodoo opened for the Residents on part of the cult band’s first tour, “the Mole Show”, in Pasadena CA in early summer. The track “Mexican Radio” was their only Top 100 hit in the USA and the video for the song got some good exposure on the newly created MTV. Bill Noland was added as a keyboardist soon after the release of this album.

According to Stan Ridgway, the situation around Wall of Voodoo was becoming increasingly chaotic due to a lot of drug use and out-of-control behavior by the the band members. And, there was the sketchy behavior of the band’s managementand record label, who were jerking the band around over money.

Wall of Voodoo–Play the US Festival…then Disband

Wall of voodo 2Wall of Voodoo appeared at the largest show they had ever done–possibly the largest show in Southern California since Cal Jam II a few years before–the second US Festival–on May 28, 1983, immediately following the US Festival, Ridgway, Nanini, and Noland all left the band, and Stan Ridgway soon went on to a successful solo career, appearing as guest vocalist on a track on the Rumble Fish score and releasing his first solo album in 1986.

Ridgway’s Wall of Voodoo music could fairly be described as a cross between early synthesizer pop and the soundtacks to old,  Spaghetti-western films. Creating this distinctive yet strange sound were unusual percussive instrumentation–including many kitchen cooking utensils–some twangy guitar, and Ridgway’s unique vocal stylings.

Stan Ridgway–30 Years Later, What Does He Care?

Stan Ridgway probably has plenty to think about these days. He has a lot going on. Ridgway has had a pretty good career since his Wall of Voodoo days.  He probably doesn’t care that there is a guy out there who still thinks about and finds himselfband photo Wall of Voodoo4 singing what is possibly his favorite line ever– “I wish I was in Tiajuana, eating BBQed iguana…”. But, I gotta tell you, Wall of Voodoo was one of those bands who helped turn everything around for me as I made my way through puberty, saying goodbye to the ’70s and wondering what the 1980s would be about. Stan Ridgway and the Wall of Voodoo  helped bring me into New Wave.



Wall of Voodoo