Celebrating the Music of the People: The Life of Alan Lomax
Describing an honest folk song on an early, pre-electric album, Bob Dylan said: “This song wasn’t written up there in Tin Pan Alley, that’s where most the folks songs come from now-a-days. This song was written down here in the United States.”
Blues guitarist and singer Bill Bronzy, being asked to sing a folk song, said he only knew folk songs. After all, he “never had heard no horses sing.”
Alan Lomax knew what they meant.
Lomax was the great musicologists, archaeologists and folklorists. He was the man who saved the natural music springing from America’s earth and being sung by people who just needed to sing. He searched America, and then throughout the world, finding people who were singing on the mountains and in the dust, to the clinking of chains and the beat of hoes and the rhythm of life.
If Lomax hadn’t discovered the music, the last few refrains would have echoed off the mountains and fallen silent.
A man who couldn’t sing himself, Lomax was a song hunter. He scoured the land and found its music. He was discovered the great American music and saved it from silence. He was a song hunter. Lomax discovered American icons Muddy Watters, Lead Belly and Woody Gutherie. He was dedicated to knowledge and understanding, good music and the culture of rural peoples and most of all, the hearty need to sing.
When he asked, men sang of love and crime and dust and poverty and envy and happiness and longing and life. They sang to hammer beats while building roads, cutting throats while locked in chains, dirty feet and dusty hills. They sang of poverty and they sang for free.
They sang for the love of singing. They sang and he recorded.
Alan Lomax died Monday, July 19 at the age of 87 in his Florida home.
Immediately before his death, a few of the recorded songs were produced on the soundtrack for the Joel and Ethan Coen movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou.” The soundtrack became a bestseller, brining the work of the obscure musicologists again.
If any man was deserving of an ode upon his death, it is Alan Lomax.
And because of Alan, the songs are playing for everyone.