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Harry Smith's Liner Notes Available for Download


The first time I went to a racetrack — Canterbury Downs in Chaska, Minnesota around 1999 — I picked up the horse-racing program and felt a jolt.

"So THIS is where Harry Smith got the design of his liner notes to The Anthology of American Folk Music!"

Wherever he got his ideas for them, those liner notes were so weird — so peculiar and particular and captivating — that listening to The Anthology without getting to know its liner notes seems a little perverse.  

From the beginning, those liner notes have massively multiplied the force of the blast that's slowly gone off in American culture thanks to Harry Smith's Anthology — a 1952 collection of old recordings from the late 1920's and early 1930's. 

Well, now the Smithsonian has put those notes online for download by anybody for free.  Maybe this is just the first time I've noticed it, I'm not sure. 

In any case, it's a big honking 62 MB PDF, so watch out.  Also note that they start with the new liner notes from the 1997 reissue before getting on to Harry's original notes.

The posting of this PDF seems to be part of a site redesign, eliminating the Smithsonian's old Anthology site and replacing it with a new one that looks rather like their Global Sound commerce site. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this change means that the individual entries of the Anthology will soon be available for purchase as mp3's. 

Of course, I think it's time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself and get the box set on CD.  You'll never regret the expense, believe me.


The Anthology at Tom Waits Concerts


from "KPFK Will Air Folk Fest"
The Pasadena Star Bee, July 3, 1974

Tom Waits is on tour — a rare enough news story in itself. 

But note that the music piped into the theater before and after the shows, to date, has been The Anthology of American Folk Music, edited by Harry Smith. 

I've often pointed out the folk lineage of various Tom Waits songs, showing connections between:

Cold Cold Ground and Stephen Foster,

Georgia Lee and Blind Willie Johnson,

Swordfishtrombones and Bascom Lamar Lunsford, 

Better Off Without A Wife and Chubby Parker, The Carter Family, and John Lomax, and,

Down There By the Train and Uncle Dave Macon and Henry Thomas (although I really "buried the lead" on that one — scoll down).

... I have a lot more of these up my sleeve and I may get some of them written up some day ...

Anyway, it's interesting to see Waits tip his porkpie to The Anthology so explicitly. 

But it would be absurd to say I've finally been "proven right."  Waits has often been pretty generous in acknowledging his debts to other musicians, and folk has always been in the mix. 

Thanks to Ray for pointing out the use of The Anthology at the recent concerts, and to TCCBodhi and Dave R. at the Raindogs discussion list for providing independent confirmations.