BBC Radio 6 Music broadcast: 10th January 2017
The great American folk singer Huddie Ledbetter (otherwise known as Lead Belly) had a major influence on popular music on both sides of the Atlantic.
From humble beginnings singing work songs as he picked cotton in the fields of Louisiana, to his time as a shining star in the emerging 1930s New York folk scene, Lead Belly had a broad repertoire which included folk, blues and protest songs. Popular songs he performed, long before the big names of today, include Goodnight Irene, House Of The Rising Sun and Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Part one of Eric Burdon's portrait traces Lead Belly's roots back to the American Deep South of the late 1800s where he was born into a farming family on the borders of Louisiana and Texas. Picking cotton was the main trade of the time and it was while picking cotton that Huddie became acquainted with some of the songs for which he'd eventually become famous.
In this episode, singer Arlo Guthrie (son of Leadbelly's close friend Woody Guthrie) examines how his tough life influenced much of his early musical repertoire. Arlo argues that music played an even bigger part in peoples' daily lives in the late 1800s than it does today, especially within America's impoverished black communities. Lead Belly would pick up songs "like a sponge" as he travelled the Deep South and re-work them.
Songs discussed in part one include Black Betty, Pick A Bale of Cotton, Cotton Fields (which would later be popularised by The Beach Boys), Midnight Special and CC Rider, which was eventually picked up by presenter Eric Burdon during his time as lead singer in The Animals.
Contributors to part one include Arlo Guthrie (son of Woody Guthrie), Lead Belly's niece Tiny Robinson and legendary record producer Nile Rodgers.