Lost In Music#4: BILL ‘N’ HENRY’S DISAPPEARANCE BLUES

BILL ‘N’ HENRY’S DISAPPEARANCE BLUES

You don’t have to paddle too far back through the mists of time to find a musical mystery. Not the

‘was he murdered or just drowned stoned’ of Brian Jones demise, or the Elvis lives industry (yep,

somewhere down Amazonia way, worshipped by a tribe of quiffed natives in the remotest reaches

of the rainforest). Not even how Bathtub Shitter headman Masato Henmarer Morimoto manages

such a ridiculous vocal range, from extended death-rattle through to a high, nuts-caught-in-a-vice,

squeal.

No, the mysteries I’m chewing over, difficult to comprehend now that more information than you

want or need is just a couple of clicks away, is of musicians who just disappeared – not back in the

powdered pomp of the age of Amadeus, but just two or three generations back on America’s dusty

rural backroads.

It’s time to embrace backwoods visions – axe thuds and chainsaw whine, chew tobacco, old-time

religion and moonshine, fiddles and banjos coaxed to life by callused hands, life reflected in the

moves of a bloodhound’s sorry eyes.

Such rustic reveries might appear to have no connection to noted vegan and supporter of liberal

causes Richard Melville Hall, aka Moby, but appearances can deceive. Listen to his most popular

album, ‘Play’, and, amongst the samples, many collected by noted folklorist Alan Lomax, you’ll

find one at the heart of the upbeat, almost jolly, cut ‘Run On‘. It’s from ‘Run On For A Long Time

by Bill Landford and the Landfordaires. Being inquisitive, you might want to know more about

Mr Landford and his Landfordaires – who were they and what else did they record?

You’ll find out ‘Run On For A Long Time’ is a traditional folk song originally called ‘God’s Gonna

Cut You Down‘; a warning to those midnight ramblers, gamblers, back-biters, and long-tongued

liars that they can’t escape the Lord’s judgement. That it’s been recorded by various artists from

Odetta to Elvis, before he faked death and left Graceland for Amazonia and his quiffed tribesmen.

That it was recorded on December 15th 1949. And that it was recorded in 1947. And 1943. Hmm,

if only because more people mention the 1949 date, this seems the most likely. But just who

was Bill Landford?

The only certain thing is uncertainty. Was he the tenor William Langford, originally of gospel

group The Golden Gate Quartet, and later of The Southern Sons? Possible, but no proof exists

and William Langford is no longer around to ask. While the late-50’s folk revival saw old musicians

such as coal-miner Dock Boggs, who’d recorded a dozen tracks in the 20’s, tracked down in the

Southern Appalachian Mountains, noone was hunting for Bill Landford. Or his Landfordaires. They

remain the source of many a question-mark.

The same form of punctuation is attached to Henry Thomas. Born in 1874 and known as ‘Ragtime

Texas‘, Thomas was a travelling minstrel and one-man band. He played the guitar and, instead of

the more common fiddle or banjo, a reed instrument called quills, akin to pan pipes, which are to

the fore on his best-known composition ‘Bull Doze Blues‘, later covered by Canned Heat.

‘Bull Doze Blues‘ was one of twenty-three tracks, dance numbers, rags and blues, he cut in

Chicago between 1927 and 1929. After which – was it fame and fortune for the fifty-four or fifty-

five year old?

Sadly not, as far as we know. Thomas, guitar slung over his shoulder, quills in a bindle, hit the road

or rails and – disappeared. His date of death is a question-mark, with reports that he was seen

playing for nickels and dimes on Texas street corners as late as the 1950’s. Maybe that was when a

beat-up truck rattled to a stop, a voice calling ‘hop on in the back, old-timer – my name’s Bill and

these here fellas are the Landfordaires.’

Foot on the accelerator, laughter bursts, and into the mists they drive.

The Shiny Beast

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~ by theshinybeast on April 9, 2012.

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