Just a word to let everyone know that John Cohen’s new film, “Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy, Kentucky” is out now! It has been released by Shanachie Video and is available for purchase by CLICKING HERE.
The film has been packaged by Shanachie as “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb.” The DVD includes John’s new film about Roscoe as well as his classic 1962 film about Holcomb, “The High Lonesome Sound.” You get both!
“Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy, Kentucky” recently premiered at the Margaret Meade Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History together with a retrospective of John’s work and also just won the award for Best Documentary Short at the Woodstock Film Festival.
Also, a very nice piece about John Cohen and the new film just aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition: CHECK IT OUT
Here’s a synopsis that I wrote for the program guide of the Woodstock Film Festival:
“John Cohen explores the life, philosophy and music of Eastern Kentucky banjo player, coal miner and construction worker Roscoe Holcomb. Holcomb has been injured on the job and forced into early retirement. He discusses his life and music and plays a number of traditional songs from his region. Using intimate footage of Holcomb at home as well as footage of his family, community and region, Cohen presents a remarkable and visually beautiful portrait of Roscoe Holcomb, a man who despite economic hardship and changing times has maintained a powerful and authentic personal music and philosophy.”
John used old footage from the early 60’s that he couldn’t use for “The High Lonesome Sound” because the technology didn’t exist at that time to put the film footage and audio into sync. But now that is possible and was accomplished in expert fashion. For this new film John also used really awesome color footage that he took of Holcomb and his family in the 197o’s. It’s a beautiful film and a wonderful tribute to Roscoe Holcomb.
[Roscoe Holcomb with John Cohen, 1964]
Recent reviews of the film “Roscoe Holcomb: from Daisy, Kentucky.”
Roscoe Holcomb is one of the giant iconic figures in American traditional music. He personified the high lonesome sound so celebrated and admired today for its powerful and haunting effect. His style of singing and his brilliant banjo and guitar playing transport the listener straight back to the earliest roots of American music, a style that remained vital in his native eastern Kentucky long after disappearing everywhere else. Although Roscoe died in 1981, his masterful performances have only gained in recognition and respect since then. …12 partners
By TED ANTHONY AP National Writer
December 17, 2010 (AP)
Roscoe Holcolmb, “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb” (Shanachie)
In this DVD cover image released by Shanachie, “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb,” is shown. (AP Photo/Shanachie)
Odds are you haven’t heard of Roscoe Holcomb. If you’re a fan of American music, though, his is most certainly a voice worth hearing.
Holcomb was the “high lonesome” singer of eastern Kentucky, a man whom performers from John Cohen to Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton revered as a source of spare, original mountain music and the hardship behind it. His voice, which reached almost into falsetto at times, told of work and pain and wondering — stoicism and emotion delivered by a man on a porch with his banjo and the traditions within him.
In the early 1960s, Cohen, a musician and historian, traveled to Kentucky to film a stark, black-and-white movie about Holcomb called “The High Lonesome Sound.” It helped propel the aging Holcomb into a career that took him away from manual labor and, for a time, into a world of performance where people appreciated him for his music.
Now, Cohen has taken unused footage from that session and several others to create a compelling new movie, “Roscoe Holcomb From Daisy, Kentucky.” It is the anchor of a definitive new DVD called “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb” that also features other rare video of performances and a copy of the original 1962 movie.
Quiet, introspective and moody, the new film reveals a man trying to make sense of his life and his music — a kind of music that Dylan referred to as “an untamed sense of control.” In long, lingering clips around Holcomb’s house, interspersed with performances, he comes across as a man lost in time, figuring himself out. In short: authenticity, the kind that any Nashville wannabe today would hand over his pickup and his hound to acquire.
Caught between two American eras, the rural one that produced him and the urban one that made him a recording artist, Roscoe Holcomb called his time on this earth “hard labor” and a “rough life.” His art, born of that life, is the real deal, one of the fundamental pieces of the American roots music mosaic. This new DVD gives his music, and the experiences behind it, their due.
This is simply a wonderful package that combines the various video appearances of this amazing old time musician from Eastern Kentucky. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 50 years since John Cohen made his classic documentary film HIGH LONESOME SOUND. That landmark work has been combined with a new piece by Cohen taken from out takes and leftover segments from his 1962 film.
At first hearing, Holcomb’s high, piercing voice may scare the new listener, but those who are ready for something real and truly rural should love this video. Shot in black & white, Cohen’s glimpses of the coalfields, the farms and the mountain people are spellbinding—at times the viewer is transported to a time and place that might just as well be 100 years ago. Though Holcomb’s main weapon is his voice,he can play some deft old time banjo,such as the spellbinding HOOK&LINE, LITTLE BIRDIE,and LITTLE GREY MULE.. He also plays some bluesy guitar (GRAVEYARD BLUES).
The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb
If ever anything warrants the label indispensable, this is it. The 1 hour 40 minute DVD brings together all known footage of the wonderful Roscoe Holcomb together with previously unseen film including a surprising version shot in colour of him singing Single Girl. Briefly, Holcomb was a singer, banjo player and guitarist who played purely for his own amusement around his home in Daisy, Kentucky. When he was discovered in1959 by John Cohen, Holcomb had never recorded commercially, never been on radio or given any kind of performance. Like striking gold, Cohen realised he had discovered one of the most amazing talents mines by the urban folk revivalists. Not an old recording artist presumed lost, but someone who had a store of music that he never bothered to translate into performance
Listening to Holcomb talk about the inextricable links between his life and his music as he extols the virtues of hard work is riveting. He had been a miner, worked in a sawmill where he broke his back, but worked most of the time in construction until he was too sick to continue. As he says, 10 hours a day for 15 cents an hour, but not complaining, in fact stating that the greatest thing in his life was work. It is an old man you are watching and listening to, yet at the time of some of these films, Holcomb was only in his 50s.
Daisy was in Perry County, with Hazard being the best known town in hard, coal mining country. Read Night Comes To The Cumberlands by Harry Caudill for the definitive account of the region and to set Holcomb’s life into con text. Roscoe says that sometimes he comes home and doesn’t feel right playing. It just doesn’t work, so he puts down his banjo. Then when he does feel right, the music is right in his body, in his soul. He talks about how he selects what to play and sing depending on his feelings: “It’s just according to what a man feels, when he’s got the mind when he’s got a notion to play one. That’s the way I feel. To satisfy me, to pass the time away.” Not for money, not for fame, just for the sake of his music, as much a part of him as eating and sleeping. Just watch him, as well as listening. He is only vaguely aware of the camera, even on his TV appearances on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest.
His music comes from within and he absorbs himself init to the exclusion of all else. The music and the man are one being. Listen to Holcomb sing Single Girl, Wayfaring Stranger, Little Birdie, Omie Wise and others and you are temporarily in the presence of a phenomena that will never be repeated in the western world, music that has been learned aurally from friends, neighbors and family and had no other function but to provide an outlet for the performer’s feelings and emotions.
Music and social history, entertainment and education. What more could you ask for?