Floyd Cramer master of the ‘slip note’

Country Music Hall of Fame pianist Floyd Cramer played piano for such stars as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson and the Everly Brothers.

But it was his 1960 piano solo ‘Last Date’ that made him famous. The “lonesome cowboy” melody sold over one million copies and went to number two on Billboard’s ‘Hot 100’ pop music chart. It was shut out from the number one spot by Elvis’s ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ — in which the pianist was none other than Floyd Cramer.

His “slip note” style of playing was described by Floyd himself as “a whole-tone slur which gives more of a lonesome cowboy sound. You hit a note and slide almost simultaneously to another.” The unique style became a key “Nashville sound” of the 1950s and 1960s and influenced a generation of pianists.

Floyd Cramer died on December 31, 1997. He was 64.

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Blues singer’s violent life and lasting legacy

Blues singer Lead Belly

Early 1900s chain gang convict Lead Belly was a huge influence on The Beatles and many others bands.

George Harrison simply stated: “No Lead Belly, no Beatles.”

Folk and blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, born January 23, 1888, in Louisiana and known by his stage name Lead Belly (also given as Leadbelly), was the master of the twelve-string guitar.

Lead Belly also played the piano, mandolin, harmonica and violin, and accompanied his singing by clapping his hands or stomping his foot.

In the early 1900s, he performed in Shreveport’s St. Paul’s Bottoms, a rough red-light district of saloons, brothels and dance halls, now known as Ledbetter Heights.

Blues singer Lead Belly

Between 1915 and 1939, Lead Belly served several prison terms for a multitude of crimes, including killing one of his relatives in a fight over a woman.

During one of his prison terms he was stabbed in the neck by another inmate and nearly killed his attacker with his own knife. In 1930, he was sentenced to Louisiana State Penitentiary for attempted homicide after stabbing a man in a fight. He served his final jail term in 1939 in New York after another knife fight.

It was during one his prison terms, thirty years after beginning his music career, that he was “discovered” by folklorists John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax.

Lead Belly’s Pick a Bale of Cotton is a classic, beginning in slow tempo and speeding up to an amazing virtuoso performance.

In 1949, Lead Belly had a regular Sunday night radio show, Folk Songs of America, broadcast on station WNYC in New York. Later that year he began his first European tour, starting in France, but had to cancel the tour when he fell ill and was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Blues singer Lead Belly
Lead Belly and Martha

His final concert was in 1949, singing spirituals at the University of Texas in Austin, with his wife Martha.

Lead Belly died on December 6, 1949, in New York City at the age of 61. He was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, Louisiana.

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