“Where the Devils Were”: On the Road with Alan Lomax

DRIVING HOME the other night, I heard an old interview with musicologist/historian Alan Lomax. A new biography, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, by John Szwed, just hit the stands and I’m looking forward to dipping into it. He spoke with Terry Gross, from Fresh Air about the trick of crossing the thresholds into communities, how difficult it was, for instance, to connivence some African Americans to sing secular songs because they didn’t want it to get around that they were “of the world” it wasn’t a respectable thing to do. He told tales of “dirty cowboy” songs, collecting prison songs and working with Leadbelly. Later, they ran tape of a particularly vivid moment Lomax had with “Jelly Roll” Morton talking about the music in and around New Orleans’ Tenderloin. All I kept thinking, driving in the darkness was: What an incredible way to spend your days and nights, collecting odds and ends that add up to a priceless history.


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