Front cover of "Green Fields of Illinois"GREEN FIELDS OF ILLINOIS --

INTRODUCTION

 


INTRODUCTION

In the spring of 1962 the University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club issued a long playing record by the Philo Glee & Mandolin Society -- Paul Adkins, Jim Hockenhull, Doyle Moore -- featuring 18 folksongs and instrumentals. Unlike most other folk music records for sale. across the country, ours had a strictly non-commercial purpose. We were trying to show that our Club, or at least some of its members, had successfully assimilated the sounds and techniques of traditional Appalachian music; that the Club had defined for its members a valid meaning for the term "folk music"; that students in Champaign-Urbana -- almost totally deprived of academic guidance in the folk arts -- could learn to recognize and appreciate traditional music and to make artistic judgments about it. The PG&MS disc, after a year of drifting about the country and being reviewed by the scholarly and not-so-scholarly journals, appears to have accomplished its purpose. Our Club is now recognized as a force -- not an overwhelming one -- but simply a power source, actual and potential, in the field of traditional music. And that is where the matter stands -- and will stand -- until the scholars and laymen have listened to CFC 201 -- Green Fields of Illinois.

How and when we first got the idea of producing a disc of field recordings from our home state is rather difficult to say with any degree of assurance. It started to take shape when our members returned to campus in the fall of 1962, flushed with the success of having disposed of some 500 copies of the PG&MS record, in the spring and summer. The Club's Executive Committee soon authorized its Record Production Committee to prepare a second pressing of the initial disc in order to meet the slow but continual demand for more copies.

But at the back of everyone's mind lay the prospect of a new record. Along with the usual round of folksings, concerts, workshops, and seminars there was talk of the new disc: what would it cover, who would perform, how would it relate to our first offering? A number of possibilities were considered by members and were soon sorted into three basic categories: a record of a live concert at Illinois featuring a guest artist; a folksing-type disc featuring a potpourri of member talent; a field recording of traditional musicians in Central and Southern Illinois. In retrospect the last choice seemed inevitable for it flowed from the stated aims of the Club. Actually a complex of reasons led to this path. The whole "folk revival" of the 1950's had not produced a single LP of traditional Illinois folksongs. The Club felt the challenge in filling a void and also in learning why Illinois had been overlooked by collectors and recording companies. The prospect of pioneering was itself exciting. It might be fun to collect at home instead of in the far off and, seemingly, more romantic Southern Highlands. Some members were pleased at the chance to meet and work with townspeople, to exchange songs and techniques, to share experiences, to find homes away from home.

Preston Martin, who had guided the PG&MS offering into existence as well as handling its successful distribution, now presented the Executive Committee with a formal proposal for a traditional record. The decision was made, and work began at once. The first task was to sound out friends we had already made in the community and to seek out new talent. From the Club's inception some members had jammed with town musicians at post-sing parties. Indeed, the very first concert completely under the Club's aegis in May, 1961, had featured a local bluegrass band -- Red Cravens and the Bray Brothers. But for our record there seemed to be a consensus that we needed older persons and styles. The first choice, then, pointed to Lloyd and Cathy Reynolds, Champaign residents and Church of God gospel singers. They had been the first traditional performers to appear at the Club folksing late in 1961 and had been most helpful to the PG&MS while the trio prepared for its own disc. The Reynoldses were pleased at the chance to place a selection of sacred songs on our record, for they already knew all the Club members who would be involved in taping and production. The assent of the Reynoldses now focused attention on other choices for the disc.

In September, 1962, Archie Green, Club faculty advisor, had become acquainted by chance with Lyle Mayfield, a Southern Illinois printer who had just moved to Champaign to accept the job of day foreman at the Daily Illini, the University's student newspaper. Lyle, as it developed, had been working since his teens at acquiring the old tunes his mother and relatives used to sing and play. He was proficient, on guitar, mandolin, bass, harmonica, and fiddle, and his wife Doris, had spent over ten years perfecting a simple, old-timey duet singing style. He had taught Doris to play the guitar as well, and likewise had busied himself at writing his own ballads about life love, and death in the low, rolling hills of Southern Illinois.

In October the Mayfields were invited to make their first appearance at the Club's regular Friday night folksing. They were immediately accepted and soon became solidly entrenched as two of the Club's most popular and respected performer-members. They were invited into members' homes and promptly responded by inviting Club members to their own home in northwest Champaign, where tradition- starved college students happily regaled themselves with folksongs, gospel tunes, Southern Illinois lore, Lyle's bountiful supply of tapes and old records, and, no less important Doris Mayfield's home cooking.

Through the Mayfields we suddenly realized that we had failed to see the flowers that were growing in our own back yard. We had overlooked the fact that Champaign-Urbana lies in the heart of rural America, and that many of its residents had saved the music that belonged to their parents. On questioning Lyle we found that Southern Illinois was still full of active country musicians, and Lyle himself proved it by playing us tapes that he had recorded in the region around his own home town of Greenville. He promised to bring us some of his friends to perform at a folksing. On February 28, 1963, Lyle brought the Club one of his oldest and most respected musical friends - Mrs. Stelle Elam of Brownstown. Lyle brought her on stage at the folksing as soon as he and Doris had finished their performance, with Lyle backing her up on guitar, Mrs. Elam performed four of her old-timey fiddle numbers, to what was perhaps the longest and loudest applause ever received by an artist in the history of our folksings. Mrs. Elam was an unqualified success, having won the admiration of the membership by her skill and interpretation, as well as by her obvious devotion to her tradition.

More important for the buyers of this record, however, was the recording session staged the night before that folksing in the home of Club member Thacher Robinson in Urbana. Using a twin-track stereo tape machine operating at 15 inches per second, Robinson captured some 20 of Mrs. Elam's finest fiddle tunes, many of which we had never heard before. John Schmidt, then president of the Campus Folksong Club, assisted Robinson, while Judy McCulloh, academic folklorist from Indiana University and resident of Urbana, took notes and made separate tapes for her own studies. We are indebted to Mrs. McCulloh for the biographical details of Mrs. Elam's background, as well as for much of the research into the latter's music.

From this point forward the disc quickly took shape. With Mrs. Elam's fiddle tunes already on tape, the Mayfields and Reynoldses were recorded in night sessions the following week. These took place in John Schmidt's home, with John acting as engineer, assisted by sundry Club members.

At the same time, the groundwork was being laid for taping the fourth and final group. Preston Martin and Mrs. McCulloh were already interviewing the Goodwin family of Urbana, who came from Southern Illinois in 1920, bringing with them not only the music on their lips but also two large notebooks filled with the words of their songs.

Like the other performers on the disc, the Goodwins had been "discovered" by Club members almost by chance. The Reynoldses had been invited to a Club folksing by a member of their Church who had worked with the Club on the 1961 Jimmie Driftwood concert. Lyle Mayfield had performed at a folksing after his chance meeting with Archie Green in a campus printshop, and he, in turn, had invited Mrs. Elam to a folksing. Jim and Cecil Goodwin, however, had never appeared at any Club function, although they lived but a stone's throw from the campus. In October, 1962, Vic Lukas -- a co-founder of the Club and a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist -- had simply met Jim Goodwin on a Greyhound bus. Jim was carrying a banjo, and the pair began swapping songs and tunes right then and there. The bus session led to home visits, and Vic led his Club colleagues -- tape recorders in hand -- to the Goodwins.

The Goodwins, it turned out, had been folksong collectors before most present members of the Campus Folksong Club were born.

Only back then it was not called collecting, but "song swapping," and the Goodwins were masters at it. For many years Cecil and Jim Goodwin had wandered with their widowed father in search of work, filling in their less productive hours by playing at square dances and company picnics. This continued until music began to interfere with Cecil's newly acquired family life, and he laid down the guitar for 20 years, taking it up again only when our Committee asked him to record for us. When we asked what he could sing, Cecil's wife turned to the two massive songbooks, composed of carefully written long hand texts of all the songs the boys had picked up in their years of wandering. In the books we found the ballads -- many of them apparently never recorded before -- which the Goodwins had carried with them out of Southern Illinois, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Our work was complete. Within a few days the last tapes for CFC 201 had been cut and only the laborious job of selection remained, for the actual amount of material recorded from all the artists was about five times that which could be contained on a single disc.

Here, then, we present our final selections. Some of them have been recorded before -- the old favorites -- which appear to be more "favorite" than "old," for they continually reappear, thumbing their noses at all efforts to "play them to death." Others we discovered for the first time -- old songs that were new to us and will, no doubt, be new to many of this record's audience.

And the purpose of our disc? Of course we offer it to the scholars; we hope they will be able to make use of it. But to the greater part of its audience we offer it for enjoyment -- musical enjoyment -- as well as for the satisfaction that comes when we rediscover our musico-historical heritage. To our artists we offer this record as a tribute to their musical skill, the pride with which they bear their heritage, and the dogged persistence they showed in preserving and improving their songs through wars, depressions and family troubles -- in good times and bad -- until they brought to the generation of the 1960's this chronicle in music.

introduction by:

Archie Green
Fritz K. Plous, Jr.

 


"Green Fields Of Illinois" was a record of traditional folk music performed by artists from southern Illinois,  released by the Campus Folksong Club of the University of Illinois in 1963.  It was accompanied by a booklet with extensive documentation about the artists and their songs.  At this website I have reproduced much of the content of that booklet as well as some of the images and cover art.

 


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the old same place

2004 David B. Nance