music, Op-Ed

Twelve String King: Leadbelly and the Roots of American Folk Music

There was something nostalgic about driving down dusty California roads, with Ram Jam’s 1977 cover of “Black Betty” rattling the speakers of the old green pick-up. “No one can do it like Lead Belly”, my host and driver, Joe, emphasised, jabbing the air with his cigarette. “Lead Belly was the greatest recorded musician in America.” This was a huge pedestal to place one man on, but I knew that Joe was right. No single artist played as big of a part in the roots of American recorded music as Huddie William Ledbetter – known, as his tombstone reads, as Lead Belly.

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