Friday, September 19, 2014

Country Club 53: Goodnight, Irene--the country hits

"Goodnight, Irene" has become an American standard. It is usually associated with the Weavers who had a hit in 1950. It first reached the Billboard charts on June 30, 1950 and spent 25 weeks on the chart, reaching Number One.  But the Weaver version wasn't the only hit version.  Within weeks of the Weavers release, "Goodnight Irene" was covered by Frank Sinatra  and three other pop artists charted with their own covers later in the year.  It was a Number 5 hit for Sinatra, one of his few chart-toppers in the period, but reportedly he hated the song and rebuffed fan's calls to perform it.

It was also a country hit.  Red Foley and Ernest Tubb recorded this version that was a number one country hit in the summer of 1950.

Moon Mullican had a lesser hit the same year.

All these hits came a year after Goodnight Irene's composer Leadbelly died. He had recorded it for the Library of Congress in the 1930's, but said he learned the song from an uncle and had begun singing it around 1908. Some people say it is a Tin Pan Alley song from 1886, and not a folk song. Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of the The Life and Legend of Leadbelly report that Leadbelly's song was most likely an adaptation of n 1886 song by the early African American songwriter Gusie Lord Davis. (pp. 53-56).  There does seem to be an argument that Leadbelly modified the rhythm, melody, and lyrics of the song enough to be credited as composer. though

There doesn't seem to be any justification for Alan Lomax to have claimed co-writer credits and royalties. The song was already in Leadbelly's repertoire when the Lomaxes first met him.

Interestingly, Wolfe and Lornell write that the ARC company did not appreciate the diversity of Leadbelly's music when they recorded him.

...they had a simplistic perception of black folk music. They divided folk and folklike music into two camps:  Whites performed hillbilly and cowboy songs, while black  singers played blues and spirituals.  A black man like Hudie, whose complicated repertoire ranged across these arbitrary lines, seemed problematic to them. They finally did consent to record "Irene" but it was never released. (p. 158)

Wikipedia's entry on "Goodnight, Irene" notes that

the Weavers chose to omit some of Leadbelly's more controversial lyrics, leading Time magazine to label it a "dehydrated" and "prettied up" version of the original. Due to the recording's popularity, however, The Weavers' lyrics are the ones generally used today.
The next edition of Country Club will provide further evidence of just how popular "Goodnight, Irene" was.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Country Club 52: Bloodshot Eyes from Western Swing to Jump Blues

Hank Penny was a Western Swing musician from the late 1930s to the 1970s with an affinity for jazz (and comedy). He employed jazz-oriented sidemen like Jimmy Wyble, Benny Garcia, and Noel Boggs, as well as Merle Travis. He even recorded "Hillbilly Be-Bop" for King Records in 1949. In 1950, he wrote a hit "BloodShot Eyes," which became a souped-up jump blues hit for Wynonie Harris a year later. He had a long stretch in Las Vegas and worked for a while at a Wichita radio station.

Let's start with the Penny original.

And, here is Harris.

Both Penny and Harris were largely performing on the West Coast at the time, but they recorded for Cincinnati-based King Records, which specialized in "hillbilly" and "race" records and encouraged the sharing of songs between the two sides of the label.

There is a chapter on Penny in Rich Kienzle's 2003 book "Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing and Country Jazz."

And, this fascinating article "Hank Penny's Cowboy Swing" by Burgin Matthews and "Forgotten Artists: Hank Penny" by Paul W. Dennis are also recommended.

There are a number of CDs of Penny's career which would be worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gary Burton with Jerry Hahn (bootleg audio)

As promised in a recent post of a video of the Gary Burton Quartet with Larry Coryell, here is nice authorized  audio bootleg of the Gary Burton Quartet with Jerry Hahn on guitar in Hamburg 1968. Steve Swallow is on bass and  Roy Haynes and drums.  It was recorded at the "Funkhaus Hamburg" in Hamburg (Germany) on November 8, 1968. (See the set list at the end of this post.)

After Larry Coryell left the Burton Quartet, he tried to form a group with pianist Chick Corea, but the chemistry wasn't quite right.  He then heard Hahn who was based in San Francisco on the radio.

Hahn played on three albums with Burton:

Country Roads is the most outstanding of the three.

Jerry Hahn grew up in Nebraska, attended Wichita State University, and moved to San Francisco in 1962 where he played and recorded with John Handy from 1964 to 1966. After leaving Burton, Hahn formed the jazz-rock fusion group Jerry Hahn Brotherhood which featured keyboardist and vocalist Mike Finnegan.

Hahn has a website and there is a nice 2008 interview online which covers much of his career.

Here is the set list (clicking the time will take you to approximately the beginning of each tune on YouTube.)

1 Falling Grace (Swallow) (00:00)
2 General Mojo's Well-Laid Plan (Swallow) (3:45)
3 Green Mountains (Swallow) (8:26)
4 Walter L. (Burton) (11:29)
5 Sweet Rain (Gibbs) (15:44)
6 Singing Song (Burton) (18:53)
7 Good Citizen Swallow (Burton) (21:36)
8 African Flower (Ellington) (26:08)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Country Club 51 Tommy Duncan after Bob Wills

Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes informatively about Tommy Duncan on

As the lead singer for the classic lineup of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Tommy Duncan was the definitive Western swing vocalist. Crossing the smooth croon of Bing Crosby with the twang of Jimmie Rodgers and the bluesy inclinations of Emmett Miller, Duncan had a warm, distinctive, and welcoming voice that helped the Playboys cross over to a wider audience. Not only was he a wonderful, trendsetting vocalist, Duncan also wrote many of the Texas Playboys' biggest hits, including "Time Changes Everything," "Stay a Little Longer," "Take Me Back to Tulsa," "New Spanish Two Step," and "Bubbles in My Beer."'
Duncan split from Wills, or more accurately, was fired  in 1948.  "Gambling Polka Dot Blues" was his one big hit on his own. In the 1960s, Wills and Duncan reunited for a while and Duncan then continued an independent career.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From my archives: The New Cuba reviewed (1976)

Following up on my recent post of Theodore Draper's analysis of the broken, original promises of Fidel Castro, I thought it would be interesting to share a book review I wrote in 1976 of a book edited by Ronald Radosh that evidenced the disillusionment of some important New Leftists with Castro's Cuba. (I don't think the title was mine.)

Radosh has, of course, moved to the political right, but this collection was an important intellectual contribution at the time and, I think, the points I make in the review are still valid, albeit some aspects are historically limited. In retrospect, I think I should have discussed some of the other contributors so I have included the Kirkus Review at the bottom.

I've added a few links and notes which weren't in the original.

The New Cuba is out-of-print, but it should be available in college libraries and from used-book dealers.

"Stale Cigars, Bad Rum and Repression"
by Stuart Elliott
New America
October 1976
Yet another Communist paradise has disillusioned its erstwhile Western enthusiasts. Cuba, once the ideal to the New Left in America, Europe, and Latin America that the Soviet Union was to an earlier generation, has been criticized as a degenerating or flawed revolutionary state by such radical intellectuals as Rene Dumont, K.S. Karol, and David Caute.* The most recent echo of this disillusionment is a collection of essays edited by American New Left historian Ronald Radosh, The New Cuba: Paradoxes and Potentials.

Compared to the writings of Herbert Matthews, Frank Mankiewicz, and Senator George McGovern, The New Cuba is an expose. Matthews, for instance, criticizes the critics of the arrest and political confession of the Cuban poet Herbert[o] Padilla and denies that torture has ever been authorized in Cuba. Mankiewicz and his associate Kirby Jones conclude that "if one compares Cuba's lack of political freedom and social mobility to any other Latin American country, then to all but a handful of landed aristocrats it must seem a very desirable place indeed." George Me Govern has described Cuba as a nation "whose policies sometimes irritate us."

If Radosh and his colleagues are more critical than Matthews, Mankiewicz, and McGovern it is because they expected Cuba to create a "new man" and a "new society," not simply an egalitarian authoritarianism. Radosh, in particular, is critical of the failure of Castro to develop a socialist democracy, cultural and political repression in Cuba, and the price that Cuba has paid for the receipt of Soviet aid.

Although Radosh's analysis develops little new ground, his recapitulation of the work of Karol and Dumont may give wider circulation to their incisive views. Karol, in his important study Guerillas in Power, penetrated to the heart of the Cuban revolution when he accused the revolutionary elite, including the supposedly heterodox Che Guevera, of importing two myths from the Soviet Union: that the workers had no interest other "than the acceleration of production in accordance with the overall economic plan," and that the revolutionary leaders "know best how to interpret the thoughts and needs of the working class." Against the utopianism of the New Left, Dumont argued that the policy of moral incentives followed in the early years of the Cuban revolution! inevitably meant the militarization of work. After the failure of the ten-million ton sugar harvest in 1970, moral incentives have been replaced by material incentives. However, as Radosh points out, Dumont's expectation that the introduction of material incentives and market relations would mean a corollary, if 'partial, political liberalization has proved erroneous. Instead, the Cuban economy has been Sovietized.

Yet for all its comparative honesty, 'The New Cuba is ultimately disappointing. It provides no real insights into the potential development of Cuba. Rather than examining the contradictions in Cuba, we are presented with paradoxes. Both in his essays in this collection and in a recent review in Dissent# Radosh retains an optimistic outlook for the possibility of a more independent and democratic socialism in Cuba that finds little support in his analysis of Cuban society. Radosh even suggested in Dissent that the normalization of relations with the United States is the one factor that might lead away from the Stalinization of Cuba. However, in The New Cuba Radosh observed that rather than lead to political liberalization, detente with the United States might well result in increased ideological conformity.

Radosh and his associates have rejected the notion that to criticize the Cuban revolution is to serve the cause of reaction. But their opinions are biased and, ultimately, less than convincing, because they continue to see themselves as friends of the Cuban revolution and to define the present system as socialist. So while Radosh is willing to criticize Cuba's "socialism" as flawed, he refuses to describe it as a totalitarian state. 

The limited, and therefore apologetic, nature of Radosh's criticism is reflected in his criticism of political and cultural repression in Cuba. He condemns the imprisonment of Herbert Padilla and the suppression of the last quasi-independent journal in Cuba, but neglects to mention that there are 80,000 political prisoners in Cuba, held in barbarous conditions. Castro himself has admitted  to holding 20,000 political prisoners and details about conditions in the Cuban prison camps are readily available in the reports of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. In its Fifth Report on the Status Human Rights in Cuba, the Commission reported that in the last five years violations of human rights" are far from decreasing, and arbitrary and excessively strict procedures continue, particularly in the treatment of political prisoners, with complete disregard for "the dignity of human beings."

Shocking Allegations

The allegations which have been filed against Cuba are among the most shocking instances of torture ever recorded. Yet by refusing to respond to the allegations as required by the regulations of the Organization of American States, Cuba has not only confirmed the accuracy of the charges, but has demonstrated its total disrespect for human rights. A chain of prison and labor camps crosses Cuba, and one camp, in Havana province, holds a capacity of 20,000. One camp for women originally named "America Libre" is now called "Nuevo Arnanecer" (New Dawn). Reading Radosh one would never know that this is part of the "new Cuba."

Nor do Radosh and the other critical sympathizers take a hard enough look at Cuba's economic and social performance outside the prisons. The Castro government's own statistics, for instance, show infant mortality increasing through the 1960s. Average per capita consumption of rice in 1968 was half the level of 1956. By the late 1960s the Cuban economy was faltering and political discontent was growing. The Cuban economy is relatively healthy today, but that is because of increased, Soviet aid and booming world sugar prices, which are higher, relative to their 1968 level, than petroleum prices.

In return for stepped-up economic aid, Castro was forced to grant the Soviets more direct influence in Cuban affairs. The Soviet Union has insisted on the "institutionalization of the revolution" to protect its economic, political, and ideological investment in Cuba. The first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, held in December 1975, was symptomatic of the process of strengthening government and politics along Soviet lines and the widespread adoption of Soviet- style administrative and economic practices. Fidel's charismatic, personalist rule was limited by a party program that stressed the "leading role of the PCC.”

Another stage in the Sovietization of Cuba was the adoption of Cuba's first “socialist" constitution in February 1976. The constitution accords the PCC the status of "the leading force of the society and state" and bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1936 Soviet constitution.

The new "Organs of People Power" are an attempt to provide evidence of popular support . that is both more. stable and controllable than Castro's charisma. Matthews and Mankiewicz point to the experimental elections held in Mantanzas Province in 1974, soon to be duplicated throughout the island, as proof that the institutionalization of the revolution is leading to new forms of mass democracy, Although there were contested elections, the Commission to regulate the elections is headed by the veteran pro-Moscow Communist Blas Roca. The Castro regime and its Soviet masters have no intention of licensing the development of an opposition. The "new Cuba" resembles nothing so much as the old Soviet Union. When apologetic criticisms of the Castro regime are replaced by genuine solidarity with Cuban democrats, there may at last be a hope for a new Cuba.


* Rene Dumont, Cuba, Is It Socialist?
                           Cuba, Socialism and Development Grove Press, 1970
   K.S. Karol, Guerillas in Power
   David Caute, Cuba, Yes?

Both Dumont's Cuba, Is it Socialist? and Karol's book were listed among the Castro's five least favorite books by Atlantic magazine in 2005. Both remain essential works to understand Cuba.

Ronald Radosh "On the Cuban Revolution" (Review of Social Security in Latin America: Pressure Groups, Stratification and Inequality, by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, and Revolution in Cuba, by Herbert L. Matthews)Dissent, pp. 309-314 June 1976]

For comparison, here is the Kirkus Review

Eight essays by leftish Cuba-watchers, assembled by a history professor at Queensborough Community College, a libertarian anarchist and author of Prophets on the Right (p. 61). Radosh seems to be saying that Cuba has succumbed to Leninist authoritarianism but pop music is still played, so hope persists. Among the critics are Martin Duberman, identified by Radosh as a "homosexual author," who believes that Cuba has failed "in the area of psychosexual transformation." Rene Dumont, who was kicked out of his agricultural advisory post by the Cubans under suspicion of CIA activity, joins K. S. Karol, Jean-Paul Sartre, writer Jose Yglesias, and French economist Charles Bettelheim in attacking Castro as dictatorial. Latin American specialist James Petras and former National Security Advisor Maurice Halperin also fault Cuba for declining to decentralize and for jailing the poet Padilla in 1971. Radosh adds an indictment of Raul Castro for his attacks on "U.S. youth culture" and his demand for "ideological purity." The book does not aim at analysis of Cuban economic development or, except for the aspersions against Castro's ties to the USSR, place Cuba's development in the context of international politics. The book is far from a shrill blast--Frances FitzGerald, for example, presents an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand judgment. But it will provide low-keyed reinforcement of the suspicions of academics regarding "collectivism" and "centralization."


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Castro's Promises Betrayed: Theodore Draper's Classic Analysis

Since August 13 was the 88th birthday of Cuban dictator emeritus Fidel Castro, it is  appropriate to revisit the classic and brilliant 1962 analysis of Castro's original revolutionary promises by historian Theodore Draper in his book Castroism, Myth and Realities. Particularly since Cuba is undergoing a distorted, centralized discussion of Constitutional changes.  Democratic left forces are trying to intervene in the process and some are raising the issue of whether the 1940 Cuban Constitution should be the basis for  new changes.

by Theodore Draper

Was the Cuban revolution "betrayed"? The answer obviously depends on what revolution one has in mind--the revolution that Castro promised before taking power, or the one he has made since taking power.
[Leo] Huberman and [Paul] Sweezy have written: "Fidel had made his promises and was determined to carry them out, faithfully and to the letter." But neither they, nor [C. Wright] Mills, nor [John-Paul] Sartre ever says what these promises were. The oversight has been a necessary part of the mythology.#

I have made a brief inventory of the promises, political and economic, made by Castro from his "History Will Absolve Me" speech (at his Moncada trial in 1953) to the end of 1958.*

 These promises so soon became embarrassing that some of his literary champions began to rewrite history (after less than two years!) by avoiding all mention of them. **


Castro's 1953 speech predicted that the first revolutionary law would be restoration of the 1940 Constitution and made an allusion to a "government of popular election."

Castro's manifesto of July, 1957, his first political declaration from the Sierra Maestra, contained a "formal promise" of general elections at the end of one year and an "absolute guarantee" of freedom of information, press, and all individual and political rights guaranteed by the 1940 Constitution. Castro's letter of December 14, 1957, to the Cuban exiles upheld the "prime duty" of the post-Batista provisional government to hold general elections and the right of political parties, even during the provisional government, to put forward programs, organize, and participate in the elections. 

In an article in Coronet magazine of February, 1958, Castro wrote of fighting for a "genuine representative government," "truly honest" general elections within twelve months, "full and untrammelled" freedom of public information and all communication media, and reestablishment of all personal and political rights set forth in the 1940 Constitution. The greatest irony is that he defended himself against the accusation "of plotting to replace military dictatorship with revolutionary dictatorship." 

In his answers to his first biographer, Jules Dubois, in May, 1958, Castro pledged "full enforcement" of the 1940 Constitution and "a provisional government of entirely civilian character that will return the country to normality and hold general elections within a period of no more than one year." In the unity manifesto of July, 1958, Castro agreed "to guide our nation, after the fall of the tyrant, to normality by instituting a brief provisional government that will lead the country to full constitutional and democratic procedures." 


In the 1953 speech, Castro supported grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the rights of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. His land reform advocated maximum holdings for agricultural enterprises and the distribution of remaining land to farming families; it also provided for encouragement of "agricultural cooperatives for the common use of costly equipment, cold storage, and a uniform professional direction in cultivation and breeding." In addition, the speech expressed the intention of nationalizing the electric and telephone companies.

The manifesto of July, 1957, defined the agrarian reform as distribution of barren lands, with prior indemnification, and conversion of sharecroppers and squatters into proprietors of the lands worked on. 

The Coronet article favored a land reform to give peasants clear title to the land, with "just compensation of expropriated owners." It declared that Castro had no plans for expropriating or nationalizing foreign invest was based on the principle that those who cultivate the land should own it. This law, signed by Fidel Castro and the then Judge Advocate General, Dr. Humberto Sori Marin, made no mention of cooperatives" or "state farms." 

Its entire intent was to implement the hitherto neglected agrarian-reform provison in the Constitution of 1940.* 

Such were the promises that Fidel had made.  The near unanimity with which Castro's victory was accepted in January,1959, was the result not merely of his heroic struggle and glamorous beard but of the political consensus he appeared to embody. This consensus had resulted from the democratic disappointments in1944-52 and the Batista despotism of 1952-58. There was broad agreement that Cuba could never go back to the corrupt brand of democracy of the past, and the Cuban middle class was ready for deep-going social and political reforms to make impossible another Prio Socarras and another Batista. Castro promised to restore Cuban democracy and make it work, not a "direct" or "people's" democracy but the one associated with the 1940 Constitution, which was so radical that much of it, especially the provision for agrarian reform, was never implemented. 

It is, moreover, unthinkable that Castro could have won power if he had given the Cuban people the slightest forewarning of what he has presented them with--a press and all other means of communication wholly government controlled, ridicule of elections, wholesale confiscation and socialization, "cooperatives" that are (as Huberman and Sweezy admitted) virtually "state farms," or a dictatorship of any kind, including that of the proletariat. It was precisely the kind of promises Castro made that enabled him to win the support of the overwhelming majority of the Cuban middle and other classes; a "peasant revolution" would hardly have been expressed in quite the same way.

The least that can be said, therefore, is that Castro promised one kind of revolution and made another. The revolution Castro promised was unquestionably betrayed. 


•Its full text, which became extremely rare after Castro took power, may be found in Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero,La Revolucion Cubana (Mexico: Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Politicas y Sociales, 1959), pp. 143-56. 

**Castro's pre-1959 promises are dealt with by Huberman and Sweezy in a peculiar way. They cite twelve and a half pages of the 1953 speech but omit the five-point program on which Castro said the revolution was based. This program began: "The first revolutionary law would have restored sovereignty to the people and proclaimed the Constitution of 1940 as the true supreme law of the state, until such time as the people should decide to modify it or to change it." The others provided for grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the right of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. 

Although the speech makes other important points, this is the only itemized program in it, and it is hard to see how its omission can be justified. The unity pact· of July, 1958, is handled in the same way. It contained three points: a common strategy, postwar "normality," and "a minimum governmental program." I have quoted the second point in full in the text. Huberman and Sweezy cite a paragraph in this unity pact that asked the U.S. to cease all military and other types or aid to Batista, but ignore the three-point program, which might have put Castro's promises in a somewhat different light.Mills simply ignores the whole collection of Castro's prepower pledges.

#The three books Draper discusses are

  • Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezey, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1960 
  • John-Paul Sartre, Sartre on Cuba
  • C. Wright Mills, Listen, Yankee : The revolution in Cuba

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Islamic antisemitism "as if it were there from the start"

An intense debate has raged in recent years over the nature of Islamic antisemitism. Leaving aside the vulgar apologias that deny its very existence, the debate is rather more nuanced than it first appears. It is not whether present day Islam is deeply infected with antisemitism but whether it is inherent in Islam.  Historian Marc R. Cohen is one of the leading proponents of the view that antisemitism was less severe in the Muslim than in the Christian world in the Middle Ages and that Islam is not theological or inherently antisemitic.

In a 2009 paper, Cohen made an astute observation. "Christian antisemitism has since become absorbed into the fabric of Islam as if it were there from the start, when it was never there from the start at all."

In a little larger context
The idea that modern Arab antisemitism comes from a medieval, irrational hatred of the Jews, similar to the antisemitism of Christianity, with its medieval origins, cannot be sustained. Understood as a religiously-based complex of irrational, mythical, and stereotypical beliefs about the diabolical, malevolent, and all-powerful Jew, infused in its modern, secular form with racism and belief in a Jewish conspiracy against mankind-- antisemitism is not an indigenous or inherent phenomenon in Islam. It was first encountered by Muslims at the time of the Ottoman expansion into Europe, which resulted in the absorption of large numbers of Greek Orthodox Christians. This Christian antisemitism became more firmly implanted in the Muslim Middle East in the nineteenth century as part of the discourse of nationalism. Seeking greater acceptance in a fledgling pan-Arab nation constituted by a majority of Muslims, Christians in the Arab world, aided, among other things, by European Christian missionaries, began to use western-style antisemitism to focus Arab/Muslim enmity away from themselves and onto a new and, to them, familiar enemy.
This Christian antisemitism has since become absorbed into the fabric of Islam as if it were there from the start, when it was never there from the start at all. The widely read Arabic translations of the late-nineteenth century Russian-Christian forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," seems to many Muslims almost an Islamic text, echoing old themes in the Qur'ān and elsewhere of Jewish treachery toward Muhammad and his biblical prophetic predecessors. The "Protocols" seem all the more credible in the light of the political, economic and military success of Israel. Sadly, the pluralism and largely non-violent attitude towards the Jews that existed in early and classical Islam seems to have lost its public face. Equally sad, age-old Jewish empathy with Islamic society among Jews from Muslim lands, and memory of decent relations with Muslim neighbors in Muslim lands in relatively recent times, have similarly recede,

Mark R. Cohen Princeton University

Personally, I don't find Cohen formulation of a radical distinction between Christian and Islamic antisemitism to be entirely convincing.  And, in this passage he paints entirely too benign a picture of the Islamic treatment of Jews.  Elsewhere Cohen comments
The interfaith utopia was to a certain extent a myth; it ignored, or left unmentioned, the legal inferiority of the Jews (and all non-Muslim “People of the Book”) and periodic outbursts of violence.
If antisemitism has been absorbed into Islam "as  if it were there from the start," that is an elementary fact of global politics that must be appreciated.