Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) 1889 - 1949
Born in rural Louisiana, at age 16 he was heading across the Deep South picking up blues, spirituals, reels, cowboy songs, folk ballads and prison hollers. He was eking out a bare existence playing guitar when he could and working as a cotton picker when he had to. While picking cotton Leadbelly would have heard the blacks singing the old slave songs.
A hard drinking man with a hot temper and enormous strength, Leadbelly said, "When I play, the women come around to listen and their men get angry." Since not everyone agreed with his opinion Huddie frequently found himself obliged to convince them. His convincing frequently landed him in jail.
In 1916 Huddie was in jail in Texas on assault charges when he escaped. He spent the next two years under the alias of Walter Boyd. But then after he killed a man in a fight he was convicted of murder – thirty years of hard labor in Texas' Shaw State Prison Farm. After seven years he was released after begging pardon from the governor with a song:
“Please, Governor Neff, Be good 'n' kind
Have mercy on my great long time...
I don't see to save my soul
If I don't get a pardon, try me on a parole...
If I had you, Governor Neff, like you got me
I'd wake up in the mornin' and I'd set you free”
Pat Neff was convinced by the song and by Huddie's assurances that he'd seen the error of his ways. Huddie left Huntsville a free man. But in 1930 he was arrested, tried, and convicted of attempted homicide. It was in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in July 1933 that Huddie met folklorist John Lomax and his son Alan who were touring the south for the Library of Congress collecting unwritten ballads and folk songs using newly available recording technology. The Lomaxes had discovered that Southern prisons were among the best places to collect work songs, ballads, and spirituals but Leadbelly, as he now called himself, was a particular find. Over the next few days the Lomaxes recorded hundreds of songs. When they returned in the summer of 1934 for more recordings Leadbelly told them of his pardon in Texas. As Alan Lomax tells it, "We agreed to make a record of his petition on the other side of one of his favorite ballads, 'Goodnight Irene'. I took the record to Governor Allen on July 1. On August 1, Leadbelly got his pardon. On September 1, I was sitting in a hotel in Texas when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and there was Leadbelly with his guitar, his knife, and a sugar bag packed with all his earthly belongings. He said, "Boss, you got me out of jail and now I've come to be your man"
In 1935 Lomax took Leadbelly North where he became a sensation. And Leadbelly remained Leadbelly. After hearing Cab Calloway sing in Harlem he announced that he could "beat that man singin' every time". His inclination toward violent resolution of conflicts, though mellowed, lead to threatening Lomax with a knife which effectively ended their friendship.
During the last 15 years of his life, he found an appreciative new audience in the leftist folk community, befriending the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Much like Guthrie, he performed for political rallies and labor unions in his later years. His keening, high-pitched vocals and powerful, percussive guitar playing commanded attention, he became known as "the King of the Twelve-String Guitar." Lead Belly recorded for a variety of labels, including Folkways, and performed tirelessly, though still subsisting in relative poverty, until his death in 1949 of Lou Gehrig's disease.
Ironically, the Weavers sold 2 million copies of their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene" shortly after his death. "It's one more case of black music being made famous by white people," Pete Seeger, one of the Weavers, said in 1988, the year of Lead Belly's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "It's a pure tragedy he didn't live another six months, because all his dreams as a performer would have come true."
He is renowned for his songs - the best known of which include "Rock Island Line," "Goodnight, Irene," "The Midnight Special" and "Cotton Fields" - as well as his prowess on the 12-string guitar, second, as a city-dwelling folksinger, performer and recording artist in the urban North. It was, however, not until shortly after Lead Belly's death that a broader public came to know his songs and the mythic outline of his life.
EDITORS NOTE: Exerpts from http://leadbelly.lanl.gov/leadbelly.html. We had a free concert in our small theatre – OLD SLAVE SONGS. I received calls saying I had to take down the posters – incorrect. After explaining again and again the history, I realized that I was not getting any place. Frustrated, I wrote this article as a hand out trying to explain why the title was correct. How the music developed. There's CDs of his recordings available for sale. Put them on your must have list! Back to topics
Old Slave Songs
Slaves attempted to preserve the culture that they had brought with them from Africa. A Southern woman recalled: "During my childhood my observations were centered upon a few very old Negroes who came directly from Africa, and upon many others whose parents were African born, and I early came to the conclusion, based upon Negro authority, that the greater part of the music, their methods, their scale, their type of thought, their dancing, their patting of feet, their clapping of hands, their grimaces and pantomime, and their gross superstitions came straight from Africa."
Cato Salve Rebellion Excerpt (from Dance in Film) by Amie Ferrante
“When Africans were brought here, at first they were allowed to keep their drums and use them. After the Cato salve rebellion when slaves “called” to other slaves to join them along the Atlantic coast, drums were confiscated as the slave owners were afraid that the slaves would use the technique of “talking” drums again to organize another revolt. Once the drums were taken away, they turned to stamping out the ancient tribal rhythms in the dirt, so as not to lose this important part of their culture and retain what little original identity they had left.
As the same time, the United States was also importing indentured servants from Ireland and Scotland. These indentured servants brought with them the “hard” shoe dancing from their native lands. Now, it isn’t quite clear how the two forms of dance met and blended, specifically, but, it is clear that at some point they did, and the result was tap dance. When tap dance first emerged is questionable. Some thing it emerged as late as the 1890s, others as early as the 1830’s. Unfortunately, there is no filmed documentation of it’s emergence, and as it wasn’t necessarily an upper class dance form.”
Slaves would often sing while at work. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass recorded how slaves "would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness." The songs told of the slave's loves, work and floggings and served as rhythmic accompaniment to labor.
The Lomaxes and other collectors of their time and even much later found some of the most powerful vernacular music of the American South in the region’s oppressive and violent prison system. The songs they found there, John and Alan Lomax wrote, “or songs like them were formerly sung all over the South. With the coming of the machines, however, the work gangs were broken up. The songs then followed group labor into its last retreat, the road gang and the penitentiary’” Bruce Jackson, who recorded in Southern prisons in the 1970s, comments: “Southern agricultural penitentiaries were in many respects replicas of nineteenth-century plantations, where groups of slaves did arduous work by hand, supervised by white men with guns and constant threat of awful physical punishment. It is hardly surprising that the music of plantation culture – the work songs – went to the prisons as well.” These tie-tamping and wood-cutting chants, field hollers, and the occasional blues, recorded by Alan Lomax on Magnacord paper tapes at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm state prison in 1947 and on February 9, 1948, became the basis for the Negro Prison Songs.
The Negros “hollered” out their blues in songs such as:
No More, My Lawd
It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad
Levee Camp Holler
What Makes a Work Song Leader?
How I Got in the Penitentiary
My Baby Got to Go
Midnight Special Back to topics
Where did she come form – Dallas, Texas. Started singing on picnic tables at six. Now we can’t get her off. Her mom sang melodies to put her to sleep. Later that inspired original songs. Katie was inspired by the folk music that her mother would play in front of the fire. Miss Katie has been writing original compositions since she was 13, recording since 16 and playing out in bands such as Death Rattle Orchestra, and The Receivers (her rock’n’roll bands) around the Milwaukee and Chicago area.
Miss Katie will be wearing a turquoise dress cut all down to there. Make sure that you’ve got your nitroglycine ready when the show starts – bluesy sonic musings and an explosion of sultry soul. Hear some of Leadbelly’s music come to life. Hupp brings on board a deep abiding love for Southern spirituals of the 19th & 20th century, blues and jazz of the 30s & 40s inspiring an hour concert of redemption and despair. “Come praise the Lord and bask in the bondage. Bless, your hearts” Hupp. July, 2006 Concert. 1 Show 2 pm Back to topics
Noise Fest by Peter Woods
Noise, the subversive anti-music genre, has been growing for the past few years. Finding its roots in the Neo-Futurist movement of the early 1900s and growing into its modern form during the mid 70's, the genre focuses on an aleotoric sensibility and a general disregard for the most basic artistic precedents to create audio works of art. Noise utilizes broken instruments, tampered electronics, and any other object which can create sound to build these otherworldly soundscapes. Ranging from the most soothing ambiance to ear splitting feedback and distortion, noise takes on many forms. The genre can be broken down even further, including such sub-genres as harsh noise, militant wall, power electronics, drone, musique concrete, glitch and dark ambient, all of which embrace the basic tenants of noise but provide a different spin on the original formula.
The Milwaukee Noise Fest celebrates this art form by inviting "noisicians" from around the city, state, and country to perform, giving the performers a welcoming stage with like minded enthusiasts as an audience. The main goal of the fest is to build a local scene, focusing on spreading the word about the ever growing subculture while allowing upcoming talents to cut their chops for a live audience. Everyone from the most experienced out of town acts to first timers are welcome on the stage, as long as its noisy.
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The Ron Smolen Orchestra
For years Ron Smolen has been successfully touring and doing what he does best – making beautiful music and entertaining thousands. Throughout the Midwest, his name brings back memories of the big-band era.
Since age six, Ron has been perfecting his musical ability. Starting on the accordion, and in High School moving on to the clarinet and the saxophone, he has always been excited about performing in public.
Ron began his career playing at local weddings and soon his accordion talents were in great demand by many prestigious leaders. He was also quite busy in the polka field. But his true love of the Big Bands was always apparent and by age twenty, he already had his big band on the radio and was featured at Chicago's famous Aragon Ballroom.
Evidently people all over the Midwest are enjoying the music of Ron Smolen because the orchestra plays many return performances and is busier than ever with a full schedule of both public and private engagements.
History of the Ron Smolen Orchestra
RSO director Ron Smolen has been performing professionally since 1969 and – with signed contracts currently on file through 2008 – he will continue to direct the Ron Smolen Orchestra well into the new millennium.
The RSO ten-piece dance orchestra consists of four saxophones, two trumpets, one trombone, bass, drums, piano and vocals.
Past engagements include: private events, appearances at historic ballrooms, theatres including the Avalon Theater in Milwaukee, grand hotels, resorts, casinos, state fairs, city and county festivals, parades and big band weekend events. Back to topics
Music in Film by George Busateri
I’ve been a musician my entire life. My specialty has always been live performance; but earlier in my career I was always to be found in the recording studio. I was writing, arranging, and performing tracks on numerous songs and jingles.
In fact, back when I was going to school I was working at a recording studio on the northwest side of Milwaukee. Jack DuBlon (“Albert the Alley Cat” – WITI-TV6) came into our studio. He wanted to record a couple of Christmas standards to sell on a 45 rpm record. The proceeds were to go to a charitable organization. Our lyricist and I talked him in to recording two original songs. He thought it would take too long; but we knocked them out in a couple of days. He wanted to record the songs using the “Albert” voice. We talked him in to using all of his voices on the flip side – a real showcase!
You can listen to them at my web site: www.georgebusateri.com
Or click on the following links:
Send me a bit of Home for Christmas Santa's Helper
Shortly after these songs were released, I was asked to join WITI as their Music Director. I was performing on the morning show called “Funny Farm” with Barbara Becker and Jack DuBlon puppets. That gig lasted over three years. I really learned a lot about production at Channel 6.
To date, this experience has proven to be invaluable to me.
In the years that followed, I primarily made my living with live performance. Feel free to browse my web site for the kind of performances that my fellow musicians and I will perform.
In the mid 90’s, I was once asked to provide a soundtrack for an independent film. I had no idea of how to approach this beast; but with a bit of research and staying true to my conceptual approach to the project – I did it! Unfortunately, I have no examples of my work to share with you in this article. I honestly don’t remember the title of the film, either. Not exactly a Blockbuster!
This experience absolutely sparked my interest in this music medium; and to this day I continue to enjoy music in film. I envy the talented composers that continue to stir my interest in this unique music medium.
It has gotten to the point that I can predict the quality of any given film, by the music composer chosen to provide the film score.
I’ll offer some examples and let’s see if you can remember some of the soundtracks or hit songs that came from these incredible films:
James Horner has provided the soundtracks for:
“Titanic,” “ Braveheart,” “ The New World,” “ A Beautiful Mind,” to name a few.
The great John Williams has given us:
“Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Indiana Jones,” Harry Potter,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Close Encounters,” The Patriot,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and many, many more.
Hans Zimmer gave us: “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The DaVinci Code,” “Batman Begins,” “Gladiator,” “The Lion King,” and more.
Danny Elfman (one of my personal favorites) has scored:
“Spider-Man,” Beetlejuice,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and more.
Some other personal favorites:
Randy Edelman: “The Last of the Mohicans”
David Arnold: “Stargate”
John Barry: “Dances with Wolves”
Elmer Bernstein: “The Magnificent Seven”
Leonard Bernstein: “West Side Story”
Maurice Jarre: “Lawrence of Arabia,” & “Dr. Zhivago”
Howard Shore: “The Lord of the Rings”
OK, I won’t bore you with more examples; but I’m sure that you can see the immense impact that these brilliant musicians created with their film scores.
What is a film Score?
A film score is the music in a movie, used to heighten emotions provoked by the imagery on the screen or by the dialogue.
A rather clinical way of saying, let’s add anything from mood music to enhance a scene, to musical effects used in punching up a scene.
For example, you can punch up the scene; by the way John Williams created musical tension in the score from Jaws. You just knew that shark was nearby. Or, how about that shower / stabbing scene music, that Jerry Goldsmith gave us in the movie Psycho? These are examples of truly heightening our emotions.
To the great film score composer, the soundtrack of the film requires so much more. A great musical theme that runs through the film often will become mainstream hit music.
The theme of the movie is the hit song that you can purchase to remind you of this great film. Add the lyrics and a rhythmic groove with that theme. Now add the Barbra Streisand or Celine Dion vocals and you’ve got a hit!
Some examples would be:
“Heart Will Go On” – Celine Dion, “Titanic”
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” – Elton John, “The Lion King”
“Beauty and the Beast” – Celine Dion – Peabo Bryson, Beauty & The Beast”
“I’ve Had the Time of My Life” –Bill Medley JenniferWarnes, “Dirty Dancing”
“Up Where We Belong” – Joe Cocker, “An Officer, and a Gentleman”
“Chariots of Fire” – Vangelis, “Chariots of Fire”
“Evergreen” – Barbra Streisand, “A Star is Born”
“Speak Softly Love” – Al Martino, “The Godfather”
“The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand, “The Way We Were”
“Laura’s Theme” – Jarre & MGM Orchestra,“Dr. Zhivago” (remember the balalaikas?)
“Pink Panther” – Henry Mancini, “The Pink Panther”
“Moon River” – (Audrey Hepburn sang it in the movie)“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
“As Time Goes By” – Dooley Wilson (played “Sam”) in “Casablanca”
“Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz”
Of course, many movie soundtracks become synonymous with their film titles, as mentioned earlier in this article (ex: “Last of the Mohicans,” by Randy Edelman; “Gladiator,” by Hans Zimmer; “The Lord of The Rings,” by Howard Shore, etc.) These soundtracks give you the illusion that you have been transported back to that time, to that era. I cannot imagine that any of these movies would have had the Academy Award impact they had, without the corresponding soundtrack. Can you?
Okay, you’ve got the gig. The Producers think you’re the most talented, innovative and brilliant composer on the planet! So, what happens next?
You meet with the producers. The composer is shown a rough cut of the film. There will be a discussion with the Director, the Producers, and the Composer about what sort of music styles or themes should be applied.
This process (in film jargon) is called “spotting.” In some cases, the director will talk to the composer prior to shooting the film. This is to give the composer more time to create a theme; or because the director needs to shoot song or dance scenes. However, in most instances the composer is given about eight to ten weeks to create and complete his work.
George Busateri is a Milwaukee musician, arranger, producer and songwriter, who has performed locally and nationally.
George Busateri was featured in this Milwaukee Sentinel article:
No Recognition in Leading a Double Life by Joe Cannariato, Milwaukee Sentinel
(April 23, 1982)
Not getting respect has propelled a major comedian to great success, but for many individuals in the entertainment industry that joke is a nasty fact of life.
In Milwaukee, George Busateri bears testimony to that.
By day, Busateri works as an arranger, producer and songwriter for a number of entertainers based here and in Las Vegas, including Sha Na Na member, Johnny Contardo.
It's largely unheralded work.
By night, Busateri leads the talented yet relatively unknown George Busateri Trio. The group is the house band Wednesday through Sunday at Sardino's (1617 N. Farwell Ave.), one of Milwaukee's few remaining havens for a fulltime club musician.
As a producer-arranger, Busateri loves the behind-the-scenes work but admits it sometimes is frustrating.
"When your job is to make other people look good, it upsets you sometimes when it's all finished and you don't receive any recognition," he said.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with what I do. What bugs me is people are so naive in thinking that musicians do it all themselves."
The public tends to believe that stars are just – born. They are not. People with talent are. Stars are created by energetic individuals like Busateri who devote long hours to produce a single that may run just 2 1/2 minutes.
The 33-year-old arranger agreed with that observation during an interview at Cornerstone Studios, a South Side recording facility. Busateri gestured expansively over his mixing board and confided, "I've resurrected more junk (music) in this place."
One of his recent production projects was a country-flavored, middle-of-the-road single, "Loving On Borrowed Time," that's receiving airplay on several local radio stations.
Busateri's five weekly gigs at Sardino's are a refreshing catharsis for him.
The trio features Busateri on piano, organ and vocals, Jay Herman on bass and vocals and Scott Wenzel (a member of Magewind as well) on drums. The trio struck out on its own last September after six years of backing various performers here and on the road.
"At first we just weren't together at all because we were so used to a front person," Busateri explained. "We started from the must embryonic stage a group can be in and blossomed into what I consider a strong trio."
Initial skepticism about the trio quickly evaporates when Sardino's intimate atmosphere combines with the band's skilled musicianship and excellent audience rapport.
One word aptly describes the trio. Professional. Whether playing to a packed house on a Saturday night or 10 people lined up along the glass-topped piano bar on a snowy Thursday night, the band gives the same high caliber performance.
"Sardino's is a good place for us. They let us do what we want," Busateri said.
The trio easily handles widely varied musical styles. One night gives listeners the chance to hear high quality pop, rock, blues, jazz, reggae, bebop, R&B, golden oldies and old standards.
"If it's a good song, period, we do it," Busateri explained.
But the band is caught in a vicious circle of anonymity vs. unemployment.
"We're here cranking out but nobody knows it because the owners can't afford to advertise," Busateri said. "If they advertise then there wouldn't be enough money to pay musicians. Then people ask why aren't the good musicians working today."
Busateri believes the late '70s disco craze mortally wounded club musicians and forced them out, leaving nothing more than a void now that disco has died a long overdue death.
"People say Milwaukee music stinks, but give 15 bands a place to play regularly and it would be all right,” he declared.
Busateri's dues-paying began with nun-taught piano lessons at age 7, high school bands, a University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee music degree with a correspondence course from Juilliard, music director for the old "Funny Farm" morning show, six years on the road and many gigs in Milwaukee in the past few years.
His addiction to music has sustained him through the valleys. That addiction has never waned.
"I admit I probably have a distorted view of life," Busateri said. "There's a lot of things I'd give up for music, including marriage. I'm organized when it comes to my business, music. It's when it comes to the rest of my life that I'm in disarray." Back to topics