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Leadbelly was a master of many musical styles from ballads to gospel, from borrowed memories to fresh songs drawn from his ever intriguing life. To amazed white audiences he seemed a mythic figure, a lone carrier of all-but-lost messages from black worlds of field and prison farm.

Such was his diversity that he is much at home spinning a narrative yarn and delivering it in an earnest spoken manner of which he is a past master, as he is letting rip in full voice which bring memories of the very earliest blues.

He was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, and learned accordion, piano and harmonica before he picked up a guitar, At 15, having fathered two children and been arrested and fined for a shooting incident, he was singing in the red-light district of Shreveport, Louisiana. A few years later he was living in Dallas, where he met and learned a few songs from Blind Lemon Jefferson and acquired his first 12-string guitar.

Much of the middle years of Leadbelly's life was variously spent in prison or on the run. More than once he curried favour with the state governor with an obsequious lyric. His life changed for ever in 1933, whilst in prison in Angola, Louisiana. There he met the folklorist John A Lomax, who was travelling through the South making recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Lomax saw in Leadbelly not only a deep source of material but also an immensely talented interpreter of other peoples songs. Leadbelly subsequently wen ton to become Lomax's collecting assistant when he was released in 1934.

Leadbelly made numerous recordings for the Archive and began to perform widely. However his increasing fame and exposure to New York's liberal and progressive circles failed to keep him out of trouble and he again served time on an assault charge. This constant brushing with the wrong side of the law added to his reputation as a dangerous man, and this to some listeners added a certain interest to his music. "Without his violent past  the white audiences never would have noticed him", Lomax's son Alan remarked.

During the Forties Leadbelly was part of a circle of musicians and left-wing folksong enthusiasts (some of them also musicians) including Alan Lomax, Josh White, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Woody Guthrie and other members of the Almanac Singers. He recorded lavishly for at least half a dozen labels, toured with the musical-political group People's Songs Inc., and even spent some time in Hollywood, hoping to get into films. But by 1947 he was back with his wife Martha in New York, where he spent his remaining years before dying of motor neurone disease. He made just one trip outside the United States, to the 1949 Paris Jazz Fair.

His canon of songs have come to outgrow even his large and eventful life. His songs have gone on to be covered by amongst others Lonnie Donegan and many after becoming skiffle staples have now become part of the fabric of folk music culture. Material such as 'Rock Island Line', 'Midnight Special' and 'Cotton Fields' will be familiar to most people let alone folk club aficionados.

Selected Discography
King of the Twelve_String Guitar - (Columbia)  - (1935) - Includes versions of 'Roberta' and 'Death Letter Blues' (1935) - Includes versions of 'Roberta' and 'Death Letter Blues'
Midnight Special, The Titanic - (Rounder)  - Volumes 1 and 4 of a 6 CD set devoted to the Library of Congress recordings. Some of his strongets work. Volumes 1 and 4 of a 6 CD set devoted to the Library of Congress recordings. Some of his strongest work.
The Very Best of Leadbelly - (Music Club)  - A well chosen sampler of the Library of Congress recordings and later recordings. Includes 'Midnight Special', 'Rock Island Line' A well chosen sampler of the Library of Congress recordings and later recordings. Includes 'Midnight Special', 'Rock Island Line'
Goodnight Irene - (Tradition)  - (1939) - includes appearances by Sonny Terry and Josh White. (1939) - includes appearances by Sonny Terry and Josh White.
In The Shadow Of The Gallows Pole - (Tradition)  - Blues,reels amd worksongs and rare examples of Leadbelly playing piano and accordion. Blues, reels and work songs and rare examples of Leadbelly playing piano and accordion.
Leadbelly's Last Sessions - (Smithsonian/Folkways)  - 4 CD set featuring a continuous flow of songs and stories. 4 CD set featuring a continuous flow of songs and stories.

Leadbelly_Wheredidyousleep.jpg (6636 bytes) Leadbelly - Where Did You Sleep Last Night - CD - $14.99

Originally released in 1996.

Track Listing:

1. Irene
2. Pick a Bale of Cotton
3. Good Morning Blues
4. Grey Goose
5. In The Pines
6. Take This Hammer
7. On A Monday
8. Cotton Fields
9. Bring A Little Water, Sylvie
10. Moanin'
11. Laura
12. Duncan and Brady
13. Rock Island Line
14. Big Fat Woman
15. New Orleans (The Rising Sun Blues)
16. Chicken Crowing For Midnight
17. You Can't Lose Me, Cholly
18. Sally Walker
19. Ha Ha This A-Way
20. Yellow Gal
21. Green Corn
22. Let It Shine on Me [#]
23. Meeting at the Building
24. In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)
25. Pigmeat
26. Blind Lemon
27. Bottle up and Go
28. Sukey Jump (Win'jammer)
29. Old Riley
30. 4, 5, and 9
31. No Good Rider
32. Shorty George
33. Duncan and Brady [Version 2]
34. Leavin' Blues

Leadbelly_AbsolutelyTheBest.jpg (5963 bytes) Leadbelly - Absolutely The Best - CD - $11.97

This album was originally released in 2000

Track Listing:

1. In New Orleans (House Of The Rising Sun)
2. The Bourgeois Blues
3. Goodnight Irene
4. Looky Looky Yonder/Black Betty/Yellow Women's Door Bells
5. Borrow Love and Go
6. De Kalb Blues
7. John Hardy
8. How Long
9. Roberta
10. Pretty Flower in Your Backyard
11. The Gallis Pole
12. Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
13. Midnight Special
14. John Hardy [Version 2]
15. When I Was a Cowboy

Leadbelly_BourgeoisBlues.jpg (7210 bytes) Leadbelly - Bourgeois Blues: Leadbelly Legacy Vol 2 - CD - $13.99

This album was originally released in 1997

Track Listing:

1. Fannin Street
2. Bourgeois Blues
3. Easy Rider
4. Alabama Bound - Leadbelly
5. Don't You Love Your Daddy No More
6. Gallis Pole
7. Leavin' Blues
8. Midnight Special
9. T.B. Blues
10. Linin' Track
11. Julie Ann Johnson
12. John Henry
13. Jim Crow Blues
14. Jim Crow #2
15. Good Morning Blues #2
16. Abraham Lincoln
17. Army Life
18. Hitler Song
19. Careless Love
20. Haul Away Joe
21. How Do You Know?/Don't Mind the Weather
22. Skip to My Lou
23. Redbird
24. Out on the Western Plains
25. Cowboy Song
26. You Can't Mistreat Me
27. Diggin' My Potatoes
28. John Hardy

Leadbelly_Bridging.jpg (8341 bytes) Bridging Leadbelly

Track Listing:

  1. Boll Weevil
  2. I'm Goin' Mother (Mama)
  3. Go Down Old Hannah
  4. Prison Holler
  5. Take a Whiff on Me
  6. Irene (Good Night, Irene) [1]
  7. Jailhouse Blues
  8. Old Riley (In Dem Long Hot Summer Days)
  9. Ox Driver's Song (Whoa, Buck, Buck!) [1]
  10. Driver's Song (Whoa, Buck, Buck!) [2]
  11. Julie Ann Johnson
  12. Governor O.K. Allen (Angola Blues)
  13. Frankie and Albert
  14. St. Louis Blues
  15. We're in the Same Boat, Brother
  16. Salt Lake City (New York City)
  17. Irene (Good Night, Irene) [2]

Leadbelly_GoodMorning.jpg (5719 bytes) Good Morning Blues