Pick 5: Songs of Blind Alfred Reed

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol! This month’s “Pick 5” focuses on the songs of Blind Alfred Reed, a 1927 Bristol Sessions artist, who was born on June 15, 1880.

When one thinks of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, it easy to let the contributions of luminaries such as The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers overshadow the contributions of lesser known figures. Blind Alfred Reed’s music is forgotten by many, but his simple yet eloquent songs are among the most socially conscious of the catalog of early country music. Born in Floyd County, Virginia, Reed relocated to West Virginia where he made his humble living as a street musician, playing for tips and selling broadsides. Perhaps his time on the streets during this time helped Reed to tune into the plight of his fellow humans, as his songs pose questions that were often swept under the rug during their day. Compared to the rough and rowdy ways of Jimmie Rodgers and the overly romanticized heart-and-home songs of The Carter Family, Reed’s music takes to task issues like poverty or dangerous working situations under an often-humorous guise. To pay homage to Reed’s songwriting, I’ve picked five songs that touch on these topics:

“How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”

“How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” is one of Reed’s most widely known tunes, made popular by Ry Cooder’s later rendering. The title of this one explains itself.

“Explosion in the Fairmont Mine”

Songs of disaster within the dangerous work environments where death too often lay in wait are an important part of the ballad tradition. To tell the story of a mining disaster in Reed’s home state of West Virginia, Reed rehashed the traditional song widely known as “Dream of the Miner’s Child.”

“Money Cravin’ Folks”

Exploring the old adage “money is the root of all evil,” Reed makes listeners think about their priorities.

“Fate of Chris Lively and Wife”

As Appalachia was modernizing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, old ways of life crossed paths with the new, sometimes leading to new dangers. “Fate of Chris Lively and Wife” tells the tale of a wagon ride that ends tragically when the wagon and its passengers meet their doom with an oncoming train.

“Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down”

In difficult times, it’s easy to overlook the needs of others while focusing on our own issues, but here Reed urges listeners to help others along the difficult road of life.

Production Assistant at Radio Bristol

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