Saturday, December 5, 2009

Those damn beatniks...

Wizz Jones, one of the first British Beatniks, and noted folk-blues musician, performs two of his songs and talks about his life in this documentary from 1960, which provides an illuminating glimpse of the media's view of alternative lifestyles at that time. The interviews are conducted by veteran reporter Alan Whicker, looking very much like a Monty Python parody of himself. Wizz's two songs in this clip are interesting. Both were versions of older songs, but rewritten by Wizz to mock the Burgermeisters of Newquay. The first was based on "Down on Penny's Farm" by the Bently Boys, a white country duo who recorded it in 1929. The track was reissued on Harry Smith's groundbreaking "Anthology of American Folk Music" LP set put out by Folkways Records in 1952. This was one of the most influential releases in the history of folk music, and spread like wildfire through the folk communities on both sides of the Atlantic. So it's no surprise that Wizz Jones knew of the original recording in 1960 and used it as the basis for a protest song of his own. The other song Wizz sings is based on Elizabeth Cotten's "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie", which appeared on another Folkways LP release "Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar" in 1958. Elizabeth Cotten used the same kind of alternating bass finger-picking style, complicated by the fact that she played a standard six-string guitar left-handed, i.e. upside-down!
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