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Newport Folk Festival: Best Of The Blues 1959-68
Various Artists (Newport Folk Festival)
The Newport Festival was a buzz with blasts from the past in the early-60s. In his book "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" Eric Von Schmidt recalled his memories of the festival: "I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing Spike Driver Blues. It was unreal, John Hurt was dead. Had to be. All the guys on that Harry Smith Anthology were dead. But there was no denying that the man singing so sweet and playing so beautifully was the John Hurt. He had a face - and what a face. He had a hat that he wore like a halo."
John Hurt was tracked down in Avalon, Mississippi-.-Bukka White in Aberdeen, Mississippi-.-Skip James was found in Mississippi's Tunica Hospital while Son House was residing in Rochester, New York. Dick Waterman recalled the scene when Skip James took to the stage in his book "Baby Let Me Follow You Down": "Skip sat down, and put his guitar on his leg. He set himself down, doing a little finger manipulation with his left hand, then he set his fingers by the sound hole. Sighed and hit the first note of I'd Rather Be the Devil Than Be That Woman's Man. He took that first note up in falsetto all the way, and the hairs on the neck went up, and all up and down my arms, the hairs just went right up. It's such an eerie note. It's almost a wail. It's a cry. There was an audible gasp from the audience."
Other bluesmen weren't so much rediscovered as simply exposed. Mance Lipscomb was a gifted songster and slide guitarist who had never recorded, but who'd also never stopped playing at local functions around Navasota, Texas. Lightin' Hopkins, another Texan had been recording for years when he arrived at Newport. And successful urban bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, faced with a diminishing market for blues in the black market, saw the festival as a way to attract a whole new audience.
Performers were paid just $50 to appear at Newport, but careers were made on this main stage. Dick Waterman who became a booking agent and business advisor to many of the rediscovered bluesmen recalled: "It's important to remember that the record companies were well represented at the festival. You only had about fifteen minutes to play, but if you performed really well in those few minutes, as you turned from the microphone and left the stage, you just might be greeted by John Hammond of Columbia, or Maynard Solomon of Vanguard, or Jac Holzman of Elektra. There were no lawyers or middlemen involved. The guy who made the decision at the record company was there to make a deal."
Newport provided a profoundly moving look at some of the artists who first taught the world the meaning of the blues. Neither the blues nor popular music would ever again be quite the same.