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DeFORD BAILEY: A LEGEND LOST Photos of DeFord Bailey Courtesy of, L-R: Dennis Wile; Les Leverett; David Morton
 
TIMELINE
BIOGRAPHY
MUSIC

MUSIC
INFLUENCES | PLAYING STYLE | SONGS | HARMONICA

DeFord: “I worked on that train for years, getting that train down right...You don't get any original stuff like this in a day or two."Songs
List of Songs
Recordings
Samples of DeFord's Music

Samples of DeFord's Music

ListenLost John, possibly the oldest piece on "The Legendary DeFord Bailey" album, showcases DeFord's banjo playing and singing. This tune also represents an example of the black hillbilly music tradition that DeFord learned from his grandfather and uncles.

DeFord playing the harmonica. Photo courtesy of David Morton Personal Collection.ListenSweet Marie is an old waltz that DeFord's grandfather Lewis played in contests around middle Tennessee.

ListenCow Cow Blues was a tune that DeFord learned from a black piano player at Nashville's Bijou Theater. He later recorded it as "Davidson County Blues."

ListenAlcoholic Blues was derived from a 1919 anti-Prohibition song recorded by vaudeville and radio singers such as Billy Murray.

Listen Fox Chase was one of DeFord's most popular songs. DeFord was forced to play this song almost every time he appeared. Fans who saw him play it live were always amazed. DeFord actually placed the harp several inches from the mouth while playing and kept the chase going without a break.

The roots for this song were much deeper than DeFord knew. One scholar said the performing style was "pure wordless reminiscence of … African ancestry," and seems to have been a part of black folk music as far back as the 1870's.

ListenPan American Blues and "Dixie Flyer Blues" were the two train songs and probably his most famous pieces. Each song duplicates the sound of high-speed locomotive and follows the steam engine as it starts off sluggishly, quickly picks up speed, highballs down the track, and finally becomes lost in the distance, its whistle echoing away. The pieces were not mere imitations of steam engine trains; DeFord's genius lay in his ability to arrange these sounds into a complex musical form, integrating them with melody and harmony.

"I worked on that train for years, getting that train down right. I caught that train down just like I wanted in a matter of time. I got the engine part. Then I had to make the whistle. It was about, I expect, seventeen years to get that whistle. It takes time to get this stuff I'm talking about, original. You don't get any original stuff like this in a day or two. It takes years to get it down piece by piece."

 

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Source for the material in this section, including excerpts:
David C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991)

Audio Sources:
Courtesy of The Legendary DeFord Bailey and Tennessee Folklore Society

Courtesy of The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

 

Songs
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