shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

music reviews

Georgia Stringbands Vol. I (Document)


The complete recordings of the (mighty) Cofer Brothers...now, THAT’s a name to conjure with...or, rather, it should be. Their “rugged aesthetic” - as Tony Russell so aptly puts it, makes for a distinctly uneasy fit w/the bluegrass fans who make up most of the (tiny) current audience for 20s stringband music - with the consequence that their music is hardly known by the very people who would probably best appreciate it today. Cause, at their best, the Cofers - w/the addition of the powerhouse guitar of Ben Evans in the (aptly named) Georgia Crackers - pounded out a driving/droning backwoods rock’n’roll that sounded archaic even in the 20s...

The dissolute sons of a Baptist minister, the Cofers grew up in primarily black Hancock County, and their music strongly reflects this, despite their distance from what is usually called the white blues of the era - too often marked by slavish copying of black guitar styles. Instead, the Georgia Crackers specialized in hobo/bum songs - many with black sources - which they delivered w/a singleminded drive & simplicity that is almost unparalleled. The only outfit I can justly compare them to that you might’ve heard would be Hoyt Ming & his Pep Steppers, whose marvellous “Indian War Whoop” graced the Harry Smith “Anthology of American Folk Music”...not to mention the repertoire of the Holy Modal Rounders at their most deranged.

The Georgia Crackers first session - to my mind - is one of the very finest in 20s music. From “Riley the Furniture Man to “Diamond Joe” they came pounded through every song w/a raucous energy that went missing in white rural music til the advent of rockabilly. And, when I called ‘em a rock’n’roll band, I wasn’t joking. Unlike virtually every other white guitarist of the period, Ben Evans eschewed picking the guitar in favour of beating the shit out of it...as did Leon, the banjo-playing Cofer. Meanwhile, like Hoyt Ming, Paul Cofer droned and moaned much more than he went for virtuoso effects...and their ragged but right singing was as serely raucous & uninhibited as it was white - they may have drunk deep at the well of local black musics, but they never descended to the kind of unwittingly parodic mimicry which so disgraces most white “blues”.

To be sure...peers do exist. The great medical menagerist himself, Harmonica Frank Floyd, is clearly from the same tradition - bum songs & all - and Frank Hutchison & Doc Boggs offer a similarly original take on blues...and, if’n you note a commonality re booze consumption here, then you’re not mistaken! But, when it comes to white rock’n’roll string band action - black string bands’re a whole other story - seeped in the black tradition, they would remain alone until Sam Phillips extracted rockabilly from Elvis, Scotty & Bill.

Rest of the cd is interesting, but hardly essential - but that simply highlights the audacity of the Georgia Crackers. This one you need...




John Henry Calvinist