A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Alan Lomax (1915 – 2002), born in Austin, Texas, was an American field collector of folk music of the 20th century. He was also a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, archivist, writer, musician, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker. Lomax produced recordings, concerts, and radio shows in the US and in England, which played an important role in the American and British folk revivals of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. He collected material first with his father, folklorist and collector John A. Lomax, and later alone and with others, Lomax recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song, of which he was the director, at the Library of Congress on aluminum and acetate discs. It is generally acknowledged among scholars and historians that without his decades of work, American folk music as we know it today simply would not exist. In addition to being an archivist, Lomax also discovered and promoted a number of folk artists who would later become stars, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. He made the first recordings of Muddy Waters (then McKinley Morganfield) and recorded seminal sessions and conversations with bluesmen like Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
The Association for Cultural Equity website has over 17,000 sound recordings made by Alan Lomax. In addition to a wide spectrum of musical performances from around the world, it includes stories, jokes, sermons, personal narratives, interviews conducted by Lomax and his associates, and unique ambient artifacts captured in transit from radio broadcasts, sometimes inadvertently, when Alan left the tape machine running. In this video, we hear Lomax and friends performing “Rambling Gambler” — a traditional folk song of the American West. It was first recorded in print by John and Alan Lomax in their jointly authored 1938 edition of Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. The song begins with the lines “I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler. Lord, I’m a long way from home / And them people who don’t like me, they can leave me alone.”
Alan Lomax in 1991 CBS interview.