Mudcat Café message #57647 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8912   Message #57647
Posted By: skw@worldmusic.de
08-Feb-99 - 11:41 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Goodnight Irene
Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
I'll always be happy to have known Hamish, and I'll always be happy to have seen Alex Campbell live once in my life - although I must admit I wasn't really up to appreciating either when it first happened. I'd heard Alex's name somewhere, and I was stridently anti-alcoholic, which Hamish was not .... That was before I grew up, of course.

Still, here's something else - from Joe Klein's book on Woody Guthrie:

[1980:] [The] Lomaxes discovered, at the Angola State Prison Farm in Louisiana, Huddie Ledbetter, who was called Leadbelly by the other inmates. His ability on the twelve-string guitar, his range, creativity, and sheer magnetism left the Lomaxes breathless. The years earlier, while serving a thirty-year sentence for murder in Texas, Leadbelly had sung and jived his way to a pardon by Governor Pat Neff. Now, serving ten years for assault with intent to murder, he made the same trick work again: John Lomax took his musical plea for clemency, on record, to Governor O. K. Allen, who set him free several months later. Hiring on a Lomax's chauffeur and traveling companion - Alan's former role - Leadbelly was brought to New York, where he charmed college audiences and caused a brief stir in the press. He left the elder Lomax after a year, chafing under his white paternalism, wanting to control his own money, and tired of having to wear his convict clothes each time he performed, "for exhibition purposes", as John Lomax put it. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 144)
[The Weavers'] first record was "Tzena Tzena Tzena" with a version of Leadbelly's lovely "Irene" on the flip side; on both sides, the label read: "by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers". "Tzena" did nicely enough as a novelty song, but the real surprise was "Irene", which became a huge success, the most popular song of 1950. [...] Not only were traditional folk songs changed [in order to copyright them], but also those composed by known authors. Leadbelly's "Irene" was shortened and bowdlerized - even the name was changed to "Goodnight Irene" - to fit the public taste. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 356f)