Tag Archives: blues documentary

Documentary | The Prisonaires Doo-Wop from Prison

Doo-Wop group formed in State Penitentiary Tennessee

About The Prisonaires you could write multiple books, even make a movie that shows more action than you see nowadays. As their name suggests, this doo-wop group was formed while each member was in the State Penitentiary, Tennessee, USA. The founding member was lead singer Johnny Bragg.

While in prison the group was paraded around a variety of receptions and civic functions as demonstration of the jail’s enlightened rehabilitation programme. Back in the day they played a mix of blues, gospel and pop songs under armed guard. It was the new warden James E. Edwards who arranged two talent scouts from Sam Phillips’ Sun Records to see the group. They were subsequently driven down to Memphis in June 1953 to record a song written by Bragg and fellow inmate Robert Riley, “Just Walkin’ In The Rain”. (source Sun Records)

Formed while serving 594 years

The Prisonaires were formed when Bragg joined up with two prison gospel singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart (each of whom was doing 99 years for murder), and two new penitentiary arrivals, John Drue Jr. (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter).

Sun Studio, Memphis, TN (3636820842)
About the life and legacy of the Prisonaires Cass Paley made a beautiful documentary which includes interviews with Sam Phillips Jonny Bragg. and warden James E. Edwards. A thing you probably did not know about Bragg was his training technique by putting a bucket on his head, to enlarge the echo of his voice. It gained him the Nickname “Buckethead”.

Director – Producer Cass Paley

Filmmaker and director Cass Paley is president of Cassel Productions, an independent, full-service production company that has produced numerous documentaries for American television and international broadcast over the past 20 years, including the Saga of Western Man series for ABC television and the Emmy Award winning National Geographic special, Journey to the Outer Limits.

You might know Paley as the archivist for the Roy Orbison Estate and has produced three DVD projects: Austin City Limits Concert, Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits, and The 1973 Australian Concert.

I can highly recommend this documentary to all roots, blues and doo-wpo lovers. I have watched in any case with a whole lot of pleasure.

Fiind out more about ‘The Prisonares Documentary’  on Facebook  and the official Website.

The Documentary about “The Prisonaires”. The Prisonaires were a vocal singing group in the 1950’s made up of incarcerated inmates serving time at the maximum penal facility in Nashville, Tennessee. The Prisonaires recorded several tracks at the now famous Sun Records and several hit songs including “Just Walkin in the Rain”. Johnny Bragg and Sam Phillips brought the vocal perfection of The Prisonaires to the public through very extraordinary measures and difficult political times. Thanks to the ernest efforts of then Governor Clement’s prison reform, The Prisonaires forever changed the landscape of music history.”


Picture credit: By dbking from Washington, DC (Sun Studio, Memphis, TN  Uploaded by LongLiveRock) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction by the Director – Cass Paley

The Prisonaires – Walkin’ In the Rain

The Prisonaires (Official) – That Chick’s Too Young to Fry

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Les Blank Documentary: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

The Blues Accordin to Lightnin’ Hopkins from SOUNDWERK MUSIC on Vimeo.

Les Blank Documentary: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

In 1968 independent filmmaker Les Blank made a beautiful documentary about Texas Blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins called “The blues according to Lightnin’ Hopkins”. “Blank’s work offers intimate glimpses into the lives, culture and music of passionate people at the periphery of American Society” (lesblank.com).

Celebrating music as a mode of life

By che (Please credit as "Petr Novák, Wikipedia" in case you use this outside Wikimedia projects.) (che) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
By che (Please credit as “Petr Novák, Wikipedia” in case you use this outside Wikimedia projects.) (che) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
This documentary shows how the blues and living with the blues made Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Roger Greenspun wrote on December 21, 1970 for the New York Times a story about this documentary. “The Blues according To Lightnin’ Hopkins is as much a celebration of a mode of life as it is a study of a kind of music”. “Almost everyboy seems to be a performer. But Hopkins himself controls the film’s mood”.

Blank met his hero Lightnin’ Hopkins in a nightclub called the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, were like many other blues musicians also Hopkins performed. The blues seemed a good way for Blank to escape from problems like divorce and gave him a strong sense of connection to pain and suffering. After Lightnin’ performance, Blank went with his 16 MM projector camera backstage and gave him a copy of his film about Dizzy Gillespie. He asked Lightnin’ to go to his home in Texas and do a film on him. Lightnin’ was satisfied with the offer, and Les Blank was able to film Lightnin’ Hopkins in Texas.

Blues Storyteller

The blues is about stories, and if one thing is sure after watching the documentary, that Lightnin’ Hopkins is a fantastic storyteller, he tells about meetings with the police, about what the blues is, and show how the blues should be played. You will be chained to the screen while watching this short movie. Hopkins is one of the best guitarist around and a fascinating person.

Filming the life of Lightnin’ Hopkins

When Les Blank went to Houston he find a place to stay at a friend´s apartment. With the help of local Folklorist John Lomax (the only white man lightnin’ was known to trust), he was able to immerse in the life and music of Hopkins.  There is no other Blues musician that recorded so many songs as Lightnin’ Hopkins did.

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