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vendredi 7 septembre 2018

ROBERT PETE WILLIAMS/ Complete Early Recordings 1959-63



ROBERT PETE WILLIAMS/ Complete Early Recordings 1959-63




            Lorsque l'ethnomusicologue Harry Oster pénètre en 1958 dans le pénitencier d'Angola pour enregistrer des chants de prisonniers, il ne s'attend pas à trouver un artiste de la stature de Robert Pete Williams. Qui y purgeait une peine de prison à perpétuité pour meurtre et n'avait jamais imaginé de devenir musicien professionnel.
            C'est un talent majeur que Oster découvre au pénitencier! La musique de Robert Pete Williams (né à Zachary, Louisiane le 14 mars 1914) - même si dès ses débuts on note une certaine influence de certains grands bluesmen texans comme Lil Son Jackson - est largement originale car il a toujours vécu sans électricité et donc sans disque ni radio. Le timbre impassible de sa voix cache une flamme surgissante et il utilise sa guitare presque toujours en accord ouvert de ré mineur, tisse une trame rythmique complexe, à la limite de la dissonance. Au mieux de sa forme, il est extraordinaire: sommets d'émotion, textes improvisés d'un grand lyrisme. Oster enregistre à Angola certaines des plus belles séances de l'histoire du blues des années 1959-63 comme avec les longs poèmes de désespoir Letter from Penitentiary ou surtout Prisoner's talking blues qui émouvra tant Big Joe Williams, pourtant loin d'un cœur tendre, qu'il dictera une réponse envoyée par lettre à Robert Pete!
            Robert Pete Williams est, quelques années plus tard, libéré sur parole grâce aux efforts d'Oster et assigné à résidence chez un fermier de Louisiane. Il enregistre alors plusieurs albums, est enfin autorisé à participer aux grands festivals comme Newport en 1964 puis l'American Folk blues festival en 1966. Le public découvre avec étonnement cet inconnu qui interprète avec une passion débordante un blues intense. Tout en continuant à travailler dans sa ferme, Williams joue alors régulièrement et sur une base professionnelle. Il rencontre ainsi de nombreux autres bluesmen comme Johnny Shines, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes... Ceux-ci l'influencent et sa musique change alors substantiellement de nature, se discipline, s'ouvre aux grands styles de blues mais perd parfois une partie de sa puissance dramatique.
            Après sa libération, tout en vivant largement de son métier de ferrailleur, Robert Pete n'a pas cessé de tourner dans les grands festivals du monde entier, d'enregistrer des albums aux USA et en Europe. Cette carrière de musicien reconnu et apprécié lui a apporté une visible sérénité d'esprit. Il décède le 31 décembre 1980 à Rosedale, Louisiane.
            Ses meilleurs enregistrements demeurent ses premiers, véritables chefs d'œuvre, remplis d'une atmosphère tragique et oppressante, souvent d'une qualité émotionnelle exceptionnelle. Beaucoup de ces morceaux étaient devenus extrêmement difficiles à trouver. A l'exception d'un nombre de morceaux toujours inédits (hélas encore assez importants!), nous avons réussi à rassembler tous ceux qui, enregistrés entre 1959 et 1963, ont fait à un moment donné l'objet d'une parution ainsi qu'une poignée d'inédits, ce qui permet d'apprécier pour la première fois la superbe musique de ce grand bluesman.
            Nos plus vifs remerciements pour leur aide à la réalisation de ce projet vont à Klaus Killian, Brian Pounders, Alan Braun et Xyros.
                                                                       Gérard HERZHAFT

            When ethnomusicologist Harry Oster entered at the end of 1958 the Angola's Penitentiary researching folk and blues talents among the inmates, he probably didn't expect to meet such a major artist like Robert Pete Williams who was there serving a life sentence for murder!
            Robert Pete Williams (born 14th March 1914 at Zachary, La)'s music was strikingly original and moving beyond anything else Oster had heard before during his collecting jobs. Although his guitar playing and impassionate singing styles reveals some influences from Texas popular bluesmen like Lil'Son Jackson, Robert Pete's music was then essentially his own. He had always lived out in the country as a sharecropper, in a shack without electricity (and no radio or records player) and the few gigs he played were strictly in his vicinities. He almost always plays his guitar with an open chord (of D, most of the time), weaving a complex weft sometimes almost jangly that didn't please every blues and jazz critics at first. And his blues, mostly improvised on the spot (he said he was just catching lyrics in the air while playing) are at best absolutely extraordinary and never less than very good. Between 1959 and 1963, Harry Oster will record some of the most moving blues of that era, like Letter from the penitentiary or Prisoner's talking blues which will move so much a Big Joe Williams (certainly not a soft heart!) that the bluesman will dictate a letter for Robert Pete and send him to the Penitentiary!
            Thanks to Oster's continuous efforts and after many false attempts, Robert Pete Williams is released on parole but still under house arrest to a Louisiana's farmer. There he records again many wonderful field sessions. At last he is freed and he may then travels and appears at main blues festivals like Newport 1964 or Europe on the AFBF 1966 tour, playing before a huge audience of blues, folk and jazz fans stunned by this real deep bluesman largely hitherto unknown!
            While making a living as a scrap metal dealer and a farmer, Robert Pete will by now regularly tour across the USA and abroad, making enough money to buy his own land and also meeting and playing alongside other bluesmen like Johnny Shines, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes... He absorbs some of their musical styles and thus his music changes substantially, becoming more disciplined, less original and sometimes losing some of its dramatic power. During the late 1960's and 1970's Williams will record many albums and this musical recognition brings him a visible real peace of mind. He dies on 31 December 1980 at Rosedale, La.
            His very best recordings are his first, field recordings made in Angola's pen or while on parole in a nearby farm between 1959 and 1963. They are full of masterpieces filled with a gripping tragic atmosphere. Many of those early recordings had become very hard to find and just hear. With the exception of a (unfortunately large) number of still unissued titles laying on some vaults, we have here gathered all of those recordings which appeared on LPs or even a rare 45 during this period plus a handful of hitherto unissued tracks. It is thus more easy to fully appreciate the superb music of this major bluesman.
            Our heartfelt thanks for their great help to Klaus Killian, Brian Pounders, Alan Braun and Xyros among others.
                                                           Gérard Herzhaft


46 commentaires:

  1. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par l'auteur.

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  2. Many thanks Gerard. I had the pleasure of seeing him sometime in the mid 70's in Amstelveen. While unpacking boxes the last couple of days I came across some faded colour photos I took of the concert.

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  3. AS always mucho thanks Gerard...

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  4. Very interesting Gerard and certainly a bit different from the discography described in Fancourt & McGrath. I will have a good look and comment again.

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    1. Thanks. No, there are only very slight differences (due to Smithsonian discography) with Fancourt & Mc Grath Blues Discography (2nd Edition)

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    2. Gerard, the 2 versions of Levee Camp Blues from 26 January 1959, have different lengths and sound different. Were they diffeent recordings?

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    3. As far as I know Those are two different takes of the same number

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    4. ... your "Levee Camp Blues II" (6:54) obviously is the version re-released on Arhoolie CD 394 ("7:07"), don't know if this was also the original Louisiana Folklore Society LFS A-3 resp. Arhoolie 2011 resp. Collector JGN 1003 version :-)
      Wasn't (yet) able to find out where your "Levee Camp Blues I" (6:07) stems from :-(

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    5. The "Levee Camp blues n°1" comes from a bunch of still "unissued" tracks given to me by a friend who works at the Archives. It is reported being recorded the first time Robert Pete was interviewed and recorded.
      Unfortunately, there still are dozens of Robert Pete's unissued tracks from that era, as well as many by other inmates.
      Let's hope the Smithsonian which now owns those Oster's vaults will publish them while we're still able to hear them!

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    6. I think I have resolved the mystery. Levee Camp Blues I is the version released on the original Louisiana Folklore Society LFS A-3 and Levee Camp Blues II the version released on Arhoolie CD 394.They do sound quite different and the question therefore is, when was II recorded.

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    7. Thanks Ballas for solving the problem (?). In fact, the Oster discography lists the two Leveee Camp blues (I & II) as two takes of the title from the same day 26 January 1959.

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    8. ... And the same Oster's disco (used by the Smithsonian who owns the files) lists only one other Robert Pete Williams version of the same title (Levee Camp blues) this time recorded 23 April 1963 in Baton Rouge with RP Williams, vcl/g + C..J. Jones, vcl. This track is still unissued

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    9. Thanks Gerard. What you say makes sense, particularly if you have the Oster files. I can now relax and enjoy both recordings!

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    10. ... he did another version of "Levee Camp Blues" on July 25, 1964 live at the Newport Folk Festival, rel. on Vanguard VRS 9180 (mono) = VSD 79180 (stereo) "The Blues at Newport 1964 Part 1", re-released on Vanguard VCD2-77005 (US 1993) "Blues With A Feeling"

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    11. Of course Stefan. But this version of " Levee" was not a Harry Oster's recordings but a "live" track (Those I've not included on this comp).

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    12. What Gerald has done here is to rewrite the RPW discography up to 1963 in a much improved manner as what can be found in Fancourt & McGrath. I certainly hope someone will publish all the unissued recordings at some stage.

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  5. What a wonderful gift, Gerard. Thank you so very much for your generosity; and thank you so much for your scholarship and honoring of your subject.

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  6. Fantastic Gerard! Thanks for including the very rare 45 "Letter from the penitentiary I & II."

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  7. Outstanding again Gerard, many thanks for putting this historical collection together.

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  8. Been reading on here about this artist and anxiously awaiting this post. Thanks again for all you do for the blues fan.

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  9. Thanks very much for compiling and sharing these. One of my favorite blues musicians...so unique and different, unlike anyone I've ever heard. Cheers!

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  10. Un immense merci pour ce travail colossal!

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  11. Thank you very much for your efforts and generosity. Greatly appreciated!!

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  12. Réponses
    1. Thank YOU, Brian! Without you this post would never have been issued

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    2. You did all of the heavy lifting on this my friend. It is an honor to help out with such a scholarly work.

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  13. Quel bonheur ces faces ! Mille merci Gérard !

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  14. Gerard - you have really done us all a service by making this comprehensive collection available. Yes, there are still many
    unissued Robert Pete recordings as well as other artists recorded by Oster. As I understand Smithsonian only acquired the issued recordings from Chris Strachwitx who still has possession of the unissued material. Strachwitz and his assistant have proposed a box set of Oster material which would include the best of the unissued material but Smithsonian declined for cost reasons. It seems like Smithsonian is starting to become like other record companies. I know it's not blues but years ago they were going to put out a box set of one of my favorite old time singers Bascomb Lamar Lunsford but that was also postponed for cost reasons.

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  15. Gerard
    One more thing. You mention a Harry Oster discography - is that available anywhere?

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    Réponses
    1. Thank you Frank for those infos! I thought the Smithsonian had the enture Oster vaults since someone from the inside told me so and even gave me a couple of unissued tracks. Let's hope we'll be able to hear those hundreds of unissued tracks one day. For the Oster discography, I only have a paper copy that is difficult to digitalize entirely. To my knowledge a printed or pdf copy might exist somewhere but I don't know really about that

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  16. Thanks as always-the info behind the posts is always interseting!

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  17. Thank you for this painstaking compilation of powerful and compelling music!

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  18. Thank you for this wonderful compilation. I never knew there was so much from him.
    Thanks for all the work.

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  19. merci a toi Gerard pour ces Magnifiques posts;un veritable tresor ;chapeau mon ami

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  20. (eyes popping out of the head) THANK YOU!!
    Cheers Daniel, from Spain...

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  21. Hello Gérard !

    Encore un foi, merci pour cette excellente sélection d'un artiste que je découvre et apprécie.
    Autre temps autres mœurs...

    Barbar Drunker.

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  22. The link is broken -- please reupload if you can! Thank you!

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    1. CD1:
      https://mega.nz/#!GI50iKrJ!bFZcWGC_kCJTa4VizV6jX0QkQwwZy4U6-iC_LhHQS2I
      CD2:
      https://mega.nz/#!TMgEAASI!_Fz1FSfodY6KFYNTsanfLuw6fyxpY-wmgyekw4OFxM0
      CD3:
      https://mega.nz/#!vRwQRAyb!W9q2HTGIm84W1ughvJjY8pjdMb_Ems8HGRM5c27KFaA
      CD4:
      https://mega.nz/#!2MgS2aKR!1_8dMMD9JMn0t-xOF6yxCPslcewVW8qPZn4li6-NkkI

      Take it while it lasts and don't forget to say Thank you!!!

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  23. Really - thank you :-) Greetings from Poland

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  24. Many thanks for this incredible effort!

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