Photographer: Terry Zwigoff.
It was a different world, indeed, a different century, when the recording industry first got off the ground in the early 1920s, and A&R pretty much meant find any street corner, church, back porch, or juke joint musician and record them, press it as a 78, put it out, and hope against hope that it stuck to the wall somewhere. The early labels had no idea what people wanted or would pay for, so anything went, which means a lot of oddities got recorded. In time the labels and the marketplace sorted things out into genres and star performers were showing up by the '30s, and by the '40s, well, the labels were telling folks what they wanted to hear rather than the other way around -- a situation still very much in play here in the 21st century. Ah, but not back then! This set features early 78s that fall outside of the old-time music tag -- or mostly these tracks do, since they aren't quite as weird as one would initially think, all falling into a broad "Americana" net. "Odd" might be a better term, because most of these tracks are indeed that. The opener, "Wagoner," is a case in point. Performed by the Bob Skiles Four Old Timers, it's best described as tubas meet fiddles. Willard Hodgin's "Don't Get One Woman on Your Mind" isn't too weird, although Hodgin's haphazard and kinetic banjo playing certainly is. The Tweedy Brothers' "Chicken Reel" is a standard Appalachian dance reel, only with piano standing in for banjo amongst the fiddles. Perhaps one of the most interesting tracks here is Ernest Rogers' "Mythological Blues." Rogers sounds like no less than Woody Guthrie singing the blues about Greek mythology, and it is as truly weird as it is surprisingly coherent. What gets lost in the smoke and haze of pop history is how diverse the recording industry was in the very beginning, how anybody and anything was game, and a collection like this just proves the point. ~ Steve Leggett