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First Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs

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For a poet blessed with a poet’s voice, Allen Ginsberg recorded an unusually large amount of music. It’s a bit confusing, since there is a larger collection simply called First Blues that was released by John Hammond Records and a New York Blues collection recorded by legendary folk archivist Harry Smith in the Chelsea Hotel in 1971. The collections share many of the same tunes, but Hammond’s sessions often featured many accompanists, while Smith focused on Ginsberg and his droning harmonium. These recordings are Ginsberg and harmonium. He speaks between songs and lets the words stick to your insides, admitting proudly at one point that he only knows three chords. The opening “medley” (there’s no weave or segue here – one song stops, another begins) “4 A.M. Blues / New York Blues / New York Youth Call Annunciation” will determine your interest. Ginsberg is brilliant in his unashamed glee and his incredible sense of dare, but he will never be confused with a professional singer. He is not Leonard Cohen.


Born: June 3, 1926 in Newark, NJ

Genre: Spoken Word

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

The greatest poet of the Beat movement and one of the most renowned American writers of the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg transcended literary and intellectual barriers to exert a profound influence on the culture at large. His accomplishments are too numerous and his oeuvre too large for a music reference resource to do them justice; many other sources exist that offer more complete perspectives on his life and work. Ginsberg made sporadic recordings of his work, both formal and otherwise, starting...
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First Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs, Allen Ginsberg
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