Folk-blues legend Josh White had a fascinating career. As a kid growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, White earned his keep as a guide for the blind, including the bluesman Blind Blake. He honed his chops and learned the Piedmont-style of finger picking. In the 1930s, he recorded what, at the time, were known as “race records,” for a largely African-American audience. His work as a musician, actor, and civil-rights activist led to a friendship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt
In the 1950s, White signed a deal with Elektra Records and helped usher in the folk revival.
This 180-gram vinyl edition of White’s 1956 sophomore effort Josh at Midnight (Ramseur), originally released on Elektra, was produced by the legendary Elektra label chief Jac Holzman (Judy Collins, the Doors, Love, Harry Chapin).
It’s a treasure trove of cool folk-blues and hellfire spirituals.
The album teamed White on guitar and vocals with jazz bassist and baritone harmonizer Al Hall, and vocalist Sam Gary. It finds White spinning such straight-ahead folk- and gospel-blues as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed,” later covered as “In My Time of Dyin’” by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. That song, the original cryin’ blues “No. 12 Train” and the jazzy “Jelly Jelly,” find White playing soulful, Piedmont-style fingerstyle guitar. Other tracks would become folk-revival standards, including “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”
But his signature sound is rooted in this sometime Broadway actor’s theatrical vocal delivery—his showmanship influenced Harry Belafonte. That’s most evident on the comedic bawdy blues “One Meatball,” based on British ballad authority James Francis Child’s one-act burlesque opera “Il Pesceballo.”
This audiophile vinyl edition is as robust as White’s vocal performances.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.