“Been returning recently to one of the more intense and affecting albums I’ve experienced in my short life of trouble: recordings made by Bruce Jackson in 1965 at Texas’s Ramsey Prison Farm (now the Ramsey Unit) of a fellow named Johnnie B., or J. B., Smith. The record was released in 1966 on John Fahey’s Takoma label, and is as far as I can tell the only LP devoted to a single unaccompanied singer of prison work-song (or field hollers, if you prefer). Not only that: the LP, “Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown,” devotes nearly all of its second side to a composition of Smith’s of that same name, a 24-minute opus drawing on imagery and lyrics most fans of African American work songs, hollers, and blues will find familiar, but strung together and performed with an artistry and delivery both unsettling and incredibly moving.” – Nathan Salsburg , excerpt from his entry on the Root Hog or Die blog.
I was first made aware of this record, and its incredible title track, by Nathan Salsburg, host of the fantastic internet radio show Root Hog or Die. I listened to the record and was blown away. Then Nathan played it again on his show last week and I realized the gravity of the situation and that I had to jump on this bandwagon and post the album on my site as well. This song, “Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown,” is a masterpiece, it draws together moving lines and imagery from all across the spectrum of folk music. Smith’s performance is apparently completely relaxed and masterful. Give this 24 minute song the time it deserves. Listen closely or intermittently, or both as it bears many repeat listenings.
This record was digitized and is available for download on the Magic of Juju blog.
Click Here To Download the Record directly!
Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who made this field recording is currently a distinguished professor of American Culture at State University of New York at Buffalo and edits the online journal The Buffalo Report, mostly covering politics but also some cultural stuff. He mentioned Down Home Radio last year when Henrietta and I rebroadcast the program she produced on WNYC back in 1940 featuring Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. In 1966 Bruce Jackson, together with Pete, Toshi and Dan Seeger made a film called “Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison.” An incredible film, you can watch it for free on your computer at FolkStreams.net. Bruce Jackson continues to do great work, definitely check him out.