Big Bill Broonzy Redux

As my colleague mentioned in her previous post about the wonders of the NAXOS music library, country blues legend Big Bill Broonzy (whose music can be heard in streaming form via the aforementioned resource) did indeed grace Ames with his larger-than-life presence for a time.

Broonzy was part of Studs Terkel’s “I Come For To Sing” traveling revue, which performed in the late 1940s in the Iowa State Armory. After the show, Broonzy met ISU English professors Leonard and Lillian Feinberg at a reception hosted by the couple. Shortly thereafter, Broonzy was told by his doctor that he needed to get out of the city (Chicago), or face a significantly lower life expectancy. He wrote to Professor (Leonard) Feinberg asking for work on an ISU farm. Feinberg was able to get him a job, instead, as a janitor in Friley Hall in 1950 (Jorgen Rasmussen, Ames Historical Society Newsletter, Summer, 2003). Rumor has it that ISU undergraduates taught Broonzy to read and write in exchange for some guitar tutelage. Only a year had passed, however, before Broonzy realized it would be much more lucrative to tour Europe, which he did with some frequency, and in the meantime, moved back to Chicago in 1951.*

In addition to the Broonzy material available in NAXOS, the library owns the following recordings and books of interest:

Recordings:

  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (Document Records, 1991-1995). This is a 12-CD set that spans the dates November 1927 –  1947.  Each one of these discs has its own call number and they’re all sequential: The call number for disc one is DISC 001 986, and at the other end of the range, the call number for disc twelve is DISC 001 997.
  • Broonzy, Big Bill. The Bill Broonzy Story (Verve, 1960, reissued in 1999). This is a 3-CD set that includes biographical notes by Bill Randle and program notes reprinted from the original 5-LP box set liner notes. Recorded in Chicago, July 12 and 13, 1957 (DISC 001 776).
  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Trouble in Mind (Smithsonian Folkways, 2000; originally released in 1957 on the Smithsonian label as “Big” Bill Broonzy Sings Country Blues.) Recorded in 1956-1957 in Chicago and New York City. Pete Seeger plays banjo on one track! (DISC 003 053)

Additionally, Broonzy is featured on a number of compilation recordings owned by the ISU Library, such as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? American Song During the Great Depression (DISC 004 177), and Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways (DISC 007 055).

The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy

Books:

  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Big Bill Blues: William Broonzy’s Story as Told to Yannick Bruynoghe. (The 1964 Oak Press edition is available in the Parks Library General Collection at the call number ML420 B78 A3 1964, and the 1992 Da Capo edition is held in the Parks Library Special Collections Department at the call number ML420 B78 A3 1992. Note that items held by Special Collections can only be viewed in the Special Collections area (403 Parks Library) during their open hours, Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm.)
  • Riesman, Bob. I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy. (U of Chicago Press, 2011.) Call number: ML420 B78 R54 2011. This is a very recent acquisition, and includes an “appreciation” written by Pete Townshend.
  • House, Roger. Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. (Louisiana State UP, 2010.) Coming soon.

Please check out some of the above materials (pun intended) if you like what you hear on NAXOS, or just want to learn more about a national treasure with an almost-forgotten Iowa State University connection.

*Thanks to the staff of the Iowa State University Library Archives for their help in procuring some of the information included in this post.

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Music to my ears: Streaming music from the Library

Did you know that the Library subscribes to Naxos Music Library? NML is a huge digital collection of streaming music files of classic recordings. Many years ago, I worked in a record store and became familiar with Naxos as a classical music label. While I love classical music, I was surprised this morning to do some digging in NML and find a number of other genres of interest.  Here are a few highlights:

Blues – Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Etta James, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and others wailing through classics such as “Smokestack Lightnin,” “Preaching the blues,” “Spoonful,” “Got my Mojo Working,” “Dust My Broom,” and more.

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  Side Note: Did you know Blues legend Big Bill Broonzy lived & worked in Ames, Iowa in the late 1940s? According to an article in the Ames Tribune, Big Bill found “…a job as a janitor at Friley Hall, and during that time, he lived in one of the Quonset huts at Pammel Court. Broonzy wrote “The Moppin’ Blues” in honor of his employment in Ames.”

(See: Black History Month: Big Bill Broonzy: ‘The Moppin’ Blues,'” by Laura Millsaps, Ames Tribune, Dec. 17, 2010)

On NML, you can hear Big Bill sing “I Feel So Good,” which features a rollicking piano, harmonica, and snappy drum work, with lots of friends screaming in the background.  Just the track for a Friday morning at work pick me up!

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Those of you who are fans like me of country blues, will of course want to give a listen to the sheer genius  of Robert Johnson.  Or if you’re not sure what “country blues” means, give a listen to this gifted and legendary musician – his strong vocals, inventive guitar work, surprising syncopation, songwriting, and lyrics are all unparalleled.  NML includes several of his classics, including “Preaching the Blues,” “Little Queen of Spades,” “Dust My Broom,” “Come On in My Kitchen,” “They’re Red Hot,” “Terraplane Blues,” and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.”

Finding:  Naxos Music Library allows you to select the songs you want to hear, select sound quality, share information via Twitter and Facebook (though I’m not sure if our Naxos settings support that), and even provides links for you to buy or download the files you want.  NML has a Keyword Search box at the top of its page, but I’ll recommend you use the Menu Bar instead and browse Genres, Artists, and so on.  When I use the Keyword Search box for specific artists, my results are often off the mark.

  Sometimes the Keyword Search box seems to work well, though.  I searched American Indian there, and found a number of recordings including the wonderfully relaxing Spirit Wind: Native American Flute, by the Native Flute Ensemble.  Listening to it now as I write!

You can also search by browsing through the Menu Bar links.  One fruitful place to look through is the Genre link, where you’ll see that NML includes Classical Music; Contemporary Jazz & Jazz; Folk Legends; Blues; “Nostalgia” (looks like a lot of Johnny Cash listed there, along with Duke Ellington, “timeless Country songs,” brass bands, and lots of interesting miscellanea); World, and more.

The World genre alone has 184 fabulous pages of listings, including pages and pages of African music of all kinds – traditional, contemporary, choirs, and more –  including a 3-volume series called African Rhythms and Instruments, with each volume including specific regions).  Find something of interest, click the songs you want to listen to, and that’s it!  There’s so much here, ranging from traditional songs from Afghanistan to Japanese music for the koto, the shamisen, and shakuhachi to Lebanese bellydance to  Yiddish and Klezmer recordings, and basically music from ALL OVER the world – far too much for me to page through, particularly as my computer seems to have gone on strike at the moment.  The standard entries seem to list the country or tradition first, as in “KURDISTAN Dursa Acar: Traditional and Contemporary Music of Kurdistan.”  So, you should be able to search a country or tradition of interest by using the Keyword Search box, and zip to the items of interest that way.

 Naxos Music Library has something for everyone!

I’m a neophyte fan of Iranian / Persian classical music, and was so happy to find a recording called In a Persian Garden: The Santur – just the thing to listen to at work, when I’m busy writing and doing other computer-related work.

Tracks included on NML are “Dashti,” “Shur,” “Abu-Ata,” “Afshari,” and “Homayun.”  As with many of NML’s recordings there’s a link to a pdf booklet the provides helpful liner notes and information.  A santur is a hammered dulcimer – give a listen to hear the amazingly beautiful, silvery cascades of sound that the musician, Nasser Rastegar-Nejad, magically produces.  Niceto have these Booklet notes for noobs like me to learn more about this beautiful music!

Chinese music – Before I sign off, I also want to tell you a bit about the Chinese music section (listed as a Genre of its own) within Naxos Music Library.  It’s fantastic!   A wide range of music is represented, including the wonderfully relaxing Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto; Ding Shande’s somber & triumphant Long March Symphony; chamber music, and primarily slick orchestral arrangements of Chinese “oldies” and Chinese pop.  You can of course find lots of traditional Chinese music by looking through the Genres > World category.  There you’ll find wonderful records such as Ancient Art Music of China, Plucked Stringed Instrument Classics, and more.

So – how do you find or refer campus colleagues & students to Naxos Music Library?  It’s listed by name in the eLibrary’s Article Indexes and Databases list.   You’ll be amazed by the breadth of music included there for your listening pleasure.  Enjoy!!