In 1908 John Lomax set out on horseback with an Edison phonograph and wax cylinders to record and preserve America’s folk music. He spent the next four decades doing some hard travelling and found over 5,000 songs in Arkansas mountain cabins, Mississippi prison farms, New Orleans saloons, Minnesota lumber camps and Texas cattle camps. He discovered ballads, blues, children’s songs, fiddle tunes, field hollers, lullabies, play-party songs, religious dramas, spirituals, and work songs and his recordings inspired generations of musicians from Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to Billy Bragg and Kurt Cobain.
Adventures of a Ballad Hunter is Lomax’s own memoir of an eventful life containing vibrant, often haunting, stories of the people he met and recorded, as well as the lyrics for dozens of songs. Lomax describes singers and musicians from Silver Jack and Big Bill Swanson to Lead Belly. He relates the stories behind some of the twentieth-century’s most important songs, ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘Goodnight Irene’ to ‘Rock Island Line’ and ‘In the Pines’. Discover his trip to Parchman Convict Farm where he first heard ‘The Midnight Special’ and the funeral home in South Carolina where he heard the spiritual classic ‘Honey in the Rock’.
Adventures of a Ballad Hunter is essential reading for all music fans—from folkies, alt-country to blues and roots music, as well as a perceptive portrait of America’s history.
Praise for Adventures of a Ballad Hunter
“Such an important book… as well as being a hugely enjoyable one; it’s an essential part of America’s history.” – Shirley Collins
“He has collected the living folksong, naked on the lips of the singer.” ‘New York Times’
“At long last, John Lomax’s account of his efforts to elevate folk songs to the realm of high literature is back in print… A true American odyssey.” – John Swzed
About the Author
John Lomax was born in 1867 and studied at Harvard University where he was encouraged to collect folk music. He became the foremost authority on America’s musical heritage, acted as honorary curator of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress and directed the Slave Narrative Project of the WPA. John Lomax died in 1948.
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