Lead Belly: His complete Victor/Bluebird recordings

How to acquire all recordings Lead Belly made for the Victor Records label (absorbed by RCA Records in 1929) and its subsidiary label Bluebird Records? Lead Belly recorded for Victor RCA/Bluebird on two dates: June 15th and June 17th of 1940 (a saturday and a monday, as it happens), a total of 27 known tracks.

The Lead Belly collection Take This Hammer – The Secret History of Rock & Roll (Bluebird 82876 50957 2 or RCA 50957), the fifth volume of Bluebird series When the Sun Goes Down sometimes has the claim to sport „The Complete RCA Victor Recordings“.

This is one track short of the truth: While it does have the unissued first take „Grey Goose“ (Victor 051327-1), it misses the alternate take of „Grey Goose (Take 2)“ (Victor 051327-2). These are often mistaken for one another, as the vocal performances of Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet were very precise – but apart from slightly different speeds (which could be due to pitch differences), some of the Quartet vocalists do notably different things in the background on the two tracks.

This track, „Grey Goose (Take 2)“ can almost exclusively be found on Document Records „Too Late, Too Late“: More Newly Discovered Titles And Alternate Takes, Volume 6 (1924-1946) (DOCD-5461).

There are two more Document Records that contain Victor/Bluebird recordings: Complete Recorded Works 1939-1947 In Chronological Order: Volume 1 (1 April 1939 To 15 June 1940) (DOCD-5226) and Complete Recorded Works 1939-1947 In Chronological Order: Volume 2 (17 June 1940 To Summer 1943) (DOCD-5227).

These are excellent compilations that contain many other Lead Belly tracks that you can almost exclusively get on them – so you need them. But they do not contain two tracks from the Victor sessions that are available on Take This Hammer: versions of „Yellow Gal“ and „Julianne Johnson“.

This creates one of the more unfortunate overlap situations for Lead Belly: If you get all three Document Records compilations (which you should), you’ll need to get Bluebird’s Take This Hammer for just two tracks.

This is a problem that nowadays can be solved through downloads, I guess, but then you miss out of the liner notes. Here is the tabella for Lead Belly’s Victor/Bluebird sessions:

Lead Belly’s Victor/Bluebird Recordings
No. / SourceTitleDocumentothersRemarks
New York June 15, 1940  Huddie Ledbetter   vocal/guitar with speech-1
051295-1, Victor 27268Pick A Bale Of CottonDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051296- , Victor unissuedYellow GalRCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye; RCA 50957 notes it as „051296-1“
051297-, Victor unissuedWhoa Back, BuckDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051298-1, VictorMidnight SpecialDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051299-1, Victor 27268Alabama BoundDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051500-1, VictorRock Island LineDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051501-, Bluebird B8791Good Morning BluesDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051502-, Bluebird B8791Leaving BluesDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051503-1, VictorT.B. BluesDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051504-, Bluebird B8709Red Cross Store BluesDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051505-, Bluebird B8550Sail On, Little Girl, Sail OnDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051506-, Bluebird B8709RobertaDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051507-, Bluebird B8559AlbertaDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051508-1, VictorI’m on My Last Go RoundDOCD-5226RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
New York June 17, 1940  Huddie Ledbetter   vocal/guitar with speech-1
051322-1, Victor Easy RiderDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051323-1, Bluebird B8750New York CityDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051324-, Bluebird B8570Worried BluesDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051325-, Bluebird B8570Don’t You Love Your Daddy No More?DOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye. Fancourt notes that Wolfe/Lornell also incorrectly note this track for August 4, 1949.
051326-1, Bluebird B8750You Can’t Lose-A Me ChollyDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye. Fancourt notes that Wolfe/Lornell also incorrectly note this track for August 4, 1949.
051327-1, Victor unissuedGrey GooseDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051327-2, Victor 27267Grey Goose (Take 2)DOCD-5461in: Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051328-1, Victor unissuedDidn’t Ol‘ John Cross The Water?DOCD-5411RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051329-1, Victor 27267Stew BallDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051330-, Victor unissuedTake This HammerDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051331-, Victor unissuedCan’t You Line ‚EmDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye
051332-Julianne JohnsonRCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye; RCA 50957 notes it as „051332-1“
051333-1, Victor 27266Ham An‘ EggsDOCD-5227RCA 50957in: Wolfe/Lornell; Dixon/Godrich/Rye