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CD32 -

Hedy West - Old Times and Hard Times

Wife Wrapted in Wethers Skin, The
Rich Irish Lady, The
Wife of Usher's Well, The
Barbara Allen
Brother Ephus
Coal Miner's Child, The
Davison-Wilder Blues, The
Fair Rosamund
Gambling Man
Lament for Barney Graham
Old Joe Clark
Polly
Rich Irish Lady, The
Shut Up in the Mines At Coal Cree
Wife of Usher's Well, The
Wife Wrapted in Wethers Skin, The

It's hard to know where to include Hedy's recording; she is the daughter of poet Don West of Pipestem, West Virginia, formerly a radical labor organizer in the south. Her family came from the mountains of northern Georgia and much of her music came to her from that source, but she is also a sophisticated, college-educated musician and a very knowledgeable folklorist. Hedy plays 5-string banjo and sings the songs and ballads of her family tradition in a clear and very pleasant voice, strongly tradition-oriented.





HEDY WEST
"Old Times & Hard Times"

I have been living in England for a year. I made this recording during my first trip to this country four years ago. There are two earlier records in the United States, and three later ones in England.

What am I doing here? Well, I watched a television film last night about platoon-leader-Anderson, model for something, because he's Negro, American and patriotic. (Despite the film's being French-produced, Anderson was just bound to receive lead-role fighting-for-his-10,000-mile-removed-country that proves itself racially just by rewarding him the position of platoon-leader in Vietnam. And there was good old Anderson, too staggered or unenlightened to be anything but Good-Old-Tom. And showing at the same time that deprival hasn't made Negroes any better than anybody else.)

Besides watching that film, I've been reading about Germany, especially about Germany just before and during the Third Reich. I started this during the Johnson/Goldwater presidential campaigns.

Like lots of Americans I supported Johnson only because I was petrified that Goldwater would be elected and the most optimistic of my fears would come true: that we would be unable to avoid a harsh suppression (officially excused and defended, as it had been in Nazi-Germany, as anti-communism) of the degree of democracy/freedom/justice that we'd built at home. That is, that we'd experience fascism in America.

This anti-communism we've been building in America is a potent and dangerous threat to us. Because it is so well established and followed with such unreasonable devotion it can be an effective tool to suppress the dissent essential to democracy. It can already be a personal risk to question anti-communism. When the risk has become so great that we cease to question it, we'll no longer have a democracy. We'll be controlled by manipulated fear.

The second anxiety I felt that led me to read about Germany was that my country (and yours) may be on the road to constructing a record of brutality like the one Germany constructed during the Third Reich.

At the end of Germany's long exercise in destruction there was no empire won for her, nor for the victors. With the exception of arms-producing-America, all the participants were weaker, poorer, and tired.

One thing that Germany had earned for sure was that heinous record of human violation (that her individual citizens still suffer from): a booby prize of international scape-goat. Hate in return for hate.

(That was an uncomfortable position to be in, with no real compensation before the "economic miracle".)

Such a legacy of hate is not out of America's reach. We're well on our way. (As an American in Europe, I recognize it.)

My most pessimistic anxiety during the last election time was that with a president-Goldwater would come an atomic world war. Am I right when I think that few of us are unaware that in world war now there's even less hope for survival than there was earlier? We've become so potentially destructive that we can no longer be sure we can pick up the pieces of war-ravaged lands and rebuild our way to happy boom-times.

Now that we've finally got enough for everybody, we're sitting here about to blow it all up for fear of sharing it. And the thing we're about to blow it all up with is the same technological advance that has made the wealth-enough-to-share-with-everybody possible.

You have to laugh at our dilemma, if only to relieve the tension we feel when we wonder if we'll get over the hump.

I wonder if (and I also hope) we will learn how to get rid of the fear of being personally deprived when confronted with sharing (and in America with the terror of the grand communal sharing with the world that doesn't have it, and therefore by our ethic didn't earn it).

Our resistance is solid. We've always thought of sharing as foolish idealism that one could not practically afford in the face of the world's starving hordes. Our fears are so old, so thoroughly part of us, that it will be a tough job to recognize humanism, based on love and sharing, as the only possible contemporary realism.

I hope we find the way to survive, to welcome sharing, and to believe in loving. I don't want to say: "Goodbye, old world. I'm glad I had a chance to live in you before we ended it all."

That's part of what I'm doing in England: reading, and trying to find out.

I am also listening to and making music, neither for diversion nor escape. Not for irrelevant play. But because music is one part of the creative activity of man that gives vital evidence that he has value and is worth continuing.

Hedy West
London
May, 1967


Hedy West is among the best women singers of the American folksong revival. That "among" is a pretense of objectivity: my private view is that she's by far the best of the lot. She comes from North Georgia and her family were, for generations back, poor hill farmers of the sort called "hillbillies" or "red-necks", who raised what living they could on little holdings clinging to the mountainsides where, so they say, the valleys are so narrow that the moonlight has to be wheeled out in a barrow each morning and the sunlight wheeled in, and the land so stony that the cats run, zip, zip, zip, seventeen miles down to the railway junction, the only place where they can find any soil, and the pigs are so lean they have to stand up twice to cast a shadow. Silly jokes, of the sort they make about the conditions and ways of hill-folk who are often treated as clowns when they aren't being put on a pedestal as "noble Elizabethan survivals" or "our contemporary ancestors". Hedy West will have nothing to do with these clownish or mock-primitive stereotypes; she's not the kind of singer who acts the "country-cousin" and wears a cotton bonnet and makes a pinched nasal caricature of her "down-home" vocal style just to charm city audiences. She's a well-educated girl who attended Columbia University, as proud of her fine training in symphonic music as of her family heritage of traditional songs. She's of that happy band who are entirely at home in either world, the world of fine arts or that of folk-arts. Such people are few.

As often with hill folk, Hedy West has an intense feeling for the family circle, and it's a source of pleasure to her that many of her songs are from the repertory of her family, mostly being passed on from her great-grandmother Talitha Mulkey, who accumulated a store of ballads and lyrics in the course of an unsettled childhood shifting from North Carolina to Tennessee to South Carolina to Georgia. The Mulkeys were among the Scotch-Irish who migrated from Ulster in the eighteenth century and settled in the mountains and intermarried with English, Irish and German immigrants, and sometimes with local Cherokee Indians. Hedy says, "A strong spirit of cooperation was at the heart of these mountain communities where hard labour was a necessity. As late as my parents' childhood, regional music was a vital tradition inside family groups, in local social gatherings, and as accompaniment to cooperative work."

Perhaps in the past the Georgia hill folk had a repertory similar to that which Cecil Sharp reported from a bit further north in the Appalachians, where nearly every item he came a-cross was an old English song or ballad (though there are some who say that this didn't represent the kind of songs the singers had readiest in their mouths, but rather the kind they believed Sharp preferred to hear them sing). Whatever the case, the repertory of Georgia "red-necks", and the singing style, too, underwent a certain change as the life of the hill folk altered. During the early decades of the twentieth century, great numbers of mountain farmers left their stony holdings to seek work in the cotton mills of the Piedmont, the lower country. Hedy West's family went there too, and so the musical style that Hedy was brought up with is not the "high-lonesome" manner of some mountain singers, but the part-country, part-small town manner characteristic of Southern communities moving from a rural to an industrial mode of life.

The most recent pieces in her family tradition are a number of coal-mining songs passed on from her father, the poet Don West, who learned them when he was a relief worker and union organizer among hill-miners in the 1930's. Of this most engaging and varied tradition of the upland Georgia poor whites, Hedy West is a superb exponent: no tricks, no impersonations, no deception; all artistry and conviction.

A. L. Lloyd

Side I; Band 1.
THE WIFE WRAPT IN WETHER'S SKIN

This is one of the ballads handed down in the West family from great-grandmother Talitha Prudence Sparks Mulkey. It sounds like a simple narrative of a farmer who reforms his slatternly young wife by "tanning her hide" in this case, wrapping her in a sheepskin and then beating her. In fact there may be more in it than meets the ear. Instead of the "dandoo, clish-to-ma-clingo" refrain common in the American South, many English versions have a refrain enumerating a number of herbs, rosemary, thyme, etc. In ancient times, herbs were regarded as protection against demons, and it may well be that in the original sets of this song the wife may have been possessed by evil spirits that had to be exorcized by the use of herbs and ritual flagellation. It is a hypothesis.


    
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