WHERE THE SOUTHERN CROSSES THE YELLOW DOG, JOHNNY MADDOX
by David Reffkin, Director, The American Ragtime Ensemble; Producer/Host,
This is another concept album form Crazy Otto Music, featuring the blues and blues-derived music of the early 20th-century. Nine of the 20 tracks are in fact by WC Handy, a legend that heard Maddox himself in 1952. Just about all of the most famous handy pieces are on the play list. And there is the understanding that the 'ragtime era', as it is so-called, also encompassed the early blues tradition. It is hard to distinguish some of the rags from the blues of the time. It would be more accurate to describe a piece as a 'bluesy rag' or as a 'raggy blues'. Johnny gives those borderline pieces as much ragtime flavor as they can handle, and none of the tunes is mired down in the slow 'down and out' feel often given by lesser-informed players.
Another reason that Johnny Maddox is one of the most successful artists of his time is his total immersion in the music, as a prodigious collector and researcher who has at hand sheet music, vintage recordings, piano rolls and more. He's also the descendent and piano student of a musician from the St Louis World's Fair era (see CO-004) and as noted by a 1913 photograph in this CD, son of a trombonist with the Commercial Club Band, Gallatin Tennessee.
Johnny's long been recognized as an artist and pioneer, but a particularly early note of recognition is displayed on the back of the CD booklet for this recording. None other than pioneering ragtime researcher Rudi Blesh wrote in a letter to Johnny in 1951: "(The records) have quite an infectious spirit and a kind of easy going lilt that ragtime should have." The assessment after more than 50 years remains the same.