Jayme Stone graciously managed to spare a few moments for FOTR during his busy tour to answer some questions about his Lomax Project, an album which encapsulates the folk process in action!
As a banjo-player well versed in the history of the instrument it seems reasonable that you would be familiar with Alan Lomax’s work in a general sense, yet the tunes selected for Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project demonstrate a deep knowledge of and engagement with the breadth of Lomax’s work. How did you get started utilizing Lomax’s recordings as material for shows (and ultimately a recording)?
I started listening to field recordings 22 years ago when I took up the banjo. Lomax’s recordings have been a touchstone for a long while but it was reading John’s Swzed’s riveting biography, “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World,” that really instigated the project. I started listening voraciously and the book brought the stories behind the songs to life.
For Africa to Appalachia you made your own field recordings (like Lomax did) do you feel a responsibility to contribute to the collecting aspect of Lomax’s legacy?
I made recordings when I travelled to Mali in 2008. I was interested in instruments that predated the banjo, like the n’goni, and there were few commercial recordings available. I wanted to document the people I was meeting and capture the sound of these instruments in their natural environment. I’ve never released them—they were purely for my own learning process.
In the late 1990s Wilco and Billy Bragg set unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics with the Mermaid Avenue albums, and more recently The New Basement Tapes have set some of Bob Dylan’s. Your Lomax Project on the other hand takes whole songs and reimagines them; do you feel that there is a similarity between the three projects?
Conceptually, I suppose there’s some similarity. That said, those other projects were about crafting new songs around old lyrics. We didn’t do much of that. We kept original melodies (for the most part) and focused on creating new arrangements and reimagining how these songs could be heard. I’ve heard a couple tracks from Mermaid Avenue but not the Basement Tapes so neither were an influence.
How have audiences responded to the recording and tour? Have you found that people are going back to the “original” recordings of Lomax and becoming more familiar with the cultural history that he archived?
People are moved by the songs and stories behind them. The chemistry of the musicians I’ve brought together is always powerful. It feels like a community gathering and that energy is contagious. Some people certainly go back to original recordings and we encourage that. I wrote 6000 words of liner notes for the album and share all the details so folks can trace the provenance of the songs.
One of the tunes, track ten “Now Your Man Done Gone” isn’t actually based on a Lomax recording, but a recording made by Harold Courlander — do you see the Lomax Project as a way of engaging your audience with the vast recorded repertoire held at archives such at the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) and the Library of Congress (LOC)?
Yes and in fact, my forthcoming album, Jayme Stone’s Folklife, branches out to the larger Archive of Folk Culture at the LOC and the Smithsonian Folkways collection. It’s been great to focus on the Lomax archive exclusively, but there are many other fantastic collections and folklorists doing similar work and it’s time to branch out.
In a 2015 interview with Brianna Goldberg of the Toronto Star you noted that “It’s like each style of American music is a different recipe of European- and African-American influence.” Following this analogy are there any specialty (music) dishes in the Lomax recordings that you have discovered a particular taste for?
I adore the Caribbean recordings and always come back around to the vast repertoire of shouts and spirituals from the Georgia Sea Islands.
Accompanying the Lomax Project are extensive liner notes. Do you think the providence of a tune is important for the audience? The performer?
Having a connection to a song’s history helps me foster a deeper connection to the music. It’s also balances out the fact that we often take the songs in a decidedly more modern direction. I feel better branching out when I know the roots. Plus, I’m simply fascinated by the rich history of this music!
In his preface to Folk Song U.S.A.†, Alan Lomax said:
“If these songs had composers at first, they have largely been forgotten, and rightly so, since folk composers are adapters of old material rather than creators of original set pieces. The folk ballad-maker prefers to change an old song slightly to fit a new situation, making use of a tried tune and a well-loved plot formula and thus assuring himself of the favor of his audience. Every singer may then make his own emendations, to be accepted and passed on or rejected and forgotten by his audiences. So the mass of a people participate in folk song’s growth, forever reweaving old materials to create new versions, much as an old lady creates a new quilt out of an old by adding, year by year, new scraps and patches.” (viii)
Do you feel that the Lomax Project is partaking in the tradition that Lomax describes here?
Absolutely! This is the folk process in action.
So in a sense you’re making a new musical quilt?
I believe so.
Do you plan on continuing the Lomax Project with more recordings?
Jayme Stone’s Folklife will be out in March on Borealis Records.
Is there anything else we didn’t ask that you’d like to say?
†Folk Song U.S.A. is an 111 song collection published in 1947, collected and adapted by John A. Lomax & Alan Lomax including musical arrangements by Charles & Ruth Seeger.
Some of the source recordings (available online) for & about tunes included on the Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project album:
[from Lomax’s commercial album Raise a Ruckus]
|2||Before This Time Another Year|
|4||Goodbye Old Paint|
|5||Sheep Sheep Dont’cha Know the Road|
|6||I Want to Hear Somebody Pray|
|8||Hog Went Through the Fence Yoke and All|
|9||What is the Soul of Man|
|10||Now Your Man Done Gone
[from Folkways album Negro Folk Music of Alabama]
|11||The Devil’s Nine Questions|
|12||Bury Boula For Me|
|13||Julie and Joe|
|14||Susan Anna Gal|
|15||Maids When You’re Young|
|18||Whoa, Back Buck
[recorded several times, JS recommends the Golden Gate Quartet version]
|19||Lambs on the Green Hills|
Many of these tracks have introductory segments and feature multiple takes, these are just a few of examples. Take some time to explore the Lomax tapes that inspired Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project!
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project is coming to St. Albert’s Arden Theatre November 12, 2016. For more information on tickets and The Arden Theatre’s Professional Musical Series, please visit their website.