Alan & John A. Lomax

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Father and son team who discovered some of blues' biggest talents, including the great Muddy Waters.
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A well-known and well-read folklorist, Alan Lomax (b. 31 January 1915, Austin, Texas, USA, d. 19 July 2002, Safety Harbor, Florida, USA) travelled with his father, John A. Lomax (b. John Avery Lomax, 23 September 1867, Goodman, Mississippi, USA, d. 26 January 1948, Greenville, Mississippi, USA), on field recording trips during the 30s, collecting folk songs and tunes from various states in the USA. They collected songs for the Library of Congress Archive, for which Woody Guthrie was later recorded. Until that time, John Lomax had been an administrator at a college, and had collected cowboy songs, including "Home On The Range", as a hobby. As a result of the Depression and economic crash of the 30s, John Lomax became jobless, and started collecting folk songs and related material on a full-time basis. In 1934, John Lomax became honorary consultant and head of the Library of Congress archive of folk song. By the time Alan was 23 years old he was assistant director of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library. After special service in World War II, Alan became the Director of Folk Music for Decca Records.

The Lomaxes met a number of blues singers who later became almost household names, including Lead Belly, Son House and Muddy Waters. Lead Belly was discovered in a Louisiana prison, but John Lomax managed to secure his release, employing him as a chauffeur. Lomax later took him to New York where he performed to college audiences. John and Alan Lomax were also responsible for collecting a number of the songs of the Ritchie family of Kentucky. Alan Lomax travelled to Britain during the 50s and collaborated with Ewan MacColl on the radio series Ballads And Blues. He later returned to the USA to conduct field recordings in the southern states. The results were subsequently released on Atlantic Records as part of a series called "Southern Folk Heritage". He also ventured abroad to the Caribbean.

In addition to his many other activities, Alan Lomax was a fine performer in his own right, as can be heard on Texas Folk Songs, which contains the standards "Ain't No More Cane On The Brazo's" and "Billy Barlow". Sings Great American Ballads, on HMV Records, included Guy Carawan (banjo) and Nick Wheatstraw (guitar). It featured such classics as "Frankie", "Darlin' Corey" and "Git Along Little Doggies". The latter song had been recorded by John Lomax in 1908, and originates from an Irish ballad, converted and adapted by cowboys. As a singer, Alan performed both in the USA and Britain. Twelve years of research culminated in Cantometrics, a set of seven cassettes with a book. In later decades he made extensive use of new technology, returning to the southern states to videotape performances for his five-part documentary series American Patchwork, which was broadcast in 1990 on the PBS channel. During the 90s his field recordings were gradually made available on compact disc by Rounder Records.

Popular music may have taken a different course had not the Lomax's made their voyages of discovery. Certainly without Alan Lomax, Muddy Waters may never have been discovered outside his home town. Had that been the case there would have been no "Rolling Stone", no Rolling Stones and no Rolling Stone.