Dick Weissman’s 100 Books every Folk Fan should Own

March 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

Part of the series that also include 100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own, 100 Books Every Folk Music Fan Should Own covers a wider range of books touching on all aspects of Folk music. Author Dick Weissman took some time to give a little more info on the book:

Music Tomes: When you started your list, what did you lay out as the initial criteria?100folk

Dick Weissman: I did not start with a list of criteria. I started with the notion that there were a group of subjects that I wanted to cover, such as historical surveys, songbooks, etc. Within each category I attempted to choose the books that were most useful, coherent, or, sometimes, simply of historical importance. For example, the Lomaxes book about Leadbelly has numerous flaws, but, in my opinion, it has considerable historical significance.

MT: You use the term “folk” here as a broad term that covers also country and blues. How did you come to that decision?

DW: As far as I know, I originated the term “folk-based music,” which Kip Lornell has acknowledged in his survey book about American folk music. In the folksong revival, someone like Dave Van Ronk, performed blues, country-folk songs, and later songs by such singer-songwriters as Joni Mitchell. He also recorded a few of his own songs. These days all over the world people have access to any sort of music that they wish to hear, via the internet. It seems pointless to me to use the traditional definition of folk music as music learned through families or communities via oral transmission.

MT: Why include music instruction books in the mix?

DW: A major part of the folk music revival was people learning how to play musical instruments, often inspired by such musicians as Doc Watson or Mississippi John Hurt. Music stores sprang up that specialized in acoustic instruments, rather than selling band instruments. These stores sold instruction book, and featured informal jam sessions where aspiring musicians learned how to play folk styles. For me the answer to this question is similar to what I’ve written above about the nature of the folk music revival. Many folk music fans play musical instruments, or want to do so. I tried to list a few books to help them along the way.

MT: What are you currently working on?

DW: I write music every day. I generally record CD’s every couple of years. Recently I taught myself how to play the mandolin. It was something I had never done, and I’m not sure why, since I’ve been playing banjo and guitar
for many years.

As for books, I’m working on a memoir at the moment. It will concentrate on my life in music and the many musicians that I have interacted with, famous, or virtually unknown. I am also thinking about writing books about the connections between white and black music in America, and a book about banjos, their role in American life, how they are played, and the many different banjos and banjo styles.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

DW: Probably my favorite book that I read for the 100 Books, is Stephen Wade’s book The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. It is a fascinating study of a group of American folk musicians who recorded for the Library of Congress. Many of the musicians are little-known, and all are deceased. Wade went back to their communities, and interviewed their descendants, siblings, and people in the community. A CD attached to the book includes a selection by each of the artists discussed in the book. Another book that I really liked is Only A Miner: Studies In Recorded Coal-Mining Songs, an older book by Archie Green. Green was a unique figure in folksong scholarship, a working man who ended up as a folklorist, and a mentor to many of the next generation of folk song scholars, including Stephen wade. A third book that fascinated me is Bruce Conforth’s African-American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story. Gellert is a mostly forgotten and cantankerous figure who lived a mysterious life. He had no formal folklore background, but collected protest songs, folklore and traditional ballads in the south with no academic affiliation or financial support of any significance.

Eric Banister


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