Goodbye Babylon ... (Hello Grammys)
But here we are, with Goodbye Babylon Ledbetter's 6-CD box set Gospel compilation that is clearly a labor of love meriting two of the prestigious nominations from The Recording Academy and deservedly so. (The work was nominated both in the Best Historical Album and the Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package categories.)
The anthology is a quality piece from start to finish, from layout to graphics, to design, marketing and, of course, audio. Born on Ledbetter's own Dust-To-Digital label, a home-grown boutique record company that he created to cradle his efforts, Goodbye Babylon more than satisfies anyone's craving for deep digging into sacred folk music of the South from the first half of the twentieth century.
When you buy the product, you'll find all six CDs (135 songs) nestled in honest to goodness cotton, packed in an attractive screen-printed cedar box with a slide lid, and accompanied by the grandaddy of all liner notes, a 200-page bound volume that describes every song, listing all the lyrics.
The Atlanta-based Ledbetter whetted his appetite for archival Gospel music during his time as host of "Raw Music", a show on Georgia State University's student-run radio station, Album 88.
Quickly realizing that while there was a nice set of pre-war blues, folk and country material available, there was a dearth of Gospel music from the period. Not that it didn't exist, of course. It just took someone like Lance Ledbetter to spearhead the five-year odyssey it took to put it all together.
Ledbetter took some time to speak with Gospelflava.com about the experience.
Gospelflava.com: You've had experience in the genre of archival gospel music through your radio show, but when did you actually decide to start your own record label, and begin to assemble this project? How did that happen?
Gospelflava.com: Were you ever advised against starting out Dust-to-Digital with such a massive 6-CD set to begin with? What were the particular challenges unique to such a large project, as it pertains to your business?
Lance Ledbetter: People probably thought I was crazy or that it would never sell, or whatever. But I didn't care. The music moved me so strongly that I wanted it to be out there for others. And I wanted there to be a book that explained what this music was and where it came from.
Gospelflava.com: What were the main obstacles you had to overcome in assembling the music?
Lance Ledbetter: Money was probably the biggest obstacle. I had everything budgeted on the salary I was earning as a computer technician. In March 2001, I got laid off. That made it difficult to finish the project, but looking back on it I feel it was a blessing in disguise. It forced me into debt, but it gave me more time to focus on Goodbye, Babylon.
Lance Ledbetter: Gospelflava.com: You connected with some very well-known experts in the field (Dick Spotswood, Joe Bussard), and it's obvious that they strongly supported you in this project. Did it take much convincing to bring them on side?
Lance Ledbetter: All the writers that worked on Goodbye Babylon were so great to me. I didn't start approaching any of them until I had done about two years of work, and when I told them about what I'd been doing they all wanted to help. Some of them told me that they'd been waiting on a project like this for decades.
Gospelflava.com: With regards to obtaining publishing rights, was that as big a job as it would seem? How did you even start to figure out that aspect of things?
Lance Ledbetter: Again, we had people who saw where we were coming from and helped us out. A couple of attorneys worked for basically nothing giving us advice and telling us how to approach people.
Gospelflava.com: Can you explain the importance of the packaging of this project? Is it primarily a marketing matter, or is it more than that?
Lance Ledbetter: For me, the packaging is paying respect to the artists featured on the anthology. A lot of them spent their life making beautiful music, but never got back what they deserved. The wood box was my attempt at trying to give back to them.
Gospelflava.com: You've earned two Grammy nominations for your efforts so far. Is that your greatest reward to date, or are there other satisfactions that rank up there?
Lance Ledbetter: The Grammy nominations are good because it tells us that as a record label our peers feel we're doing a good job of preserving historic recordings. But I think the greatest rewards are the letters and emails we receive from people who talk about how the set made a difference in their lives.
Gospelflava.com: In your opinion, what is the relevance of Gospel music from this period, with respect to today's generation?
Lance Ledbetter: I think today's music is completely different from the music recorded in the 1920's and 1930's. There is money to be made today there wasn't back then. For that reason, and for several other reasons, music back then came from a place that not many artists come from today. I just feel it came more from the heart.
Gospelflava.com: Can you point to any particular song or two that particularly grab your attention?
Lance Ledbetter: If I were going to pick just two songs, I would say Blind Joe Taggart's "Goin' to Rest Where Jesus Is." I really love that song, and I can remember the first time I heard it, thinking it was the best song ever. It really blew me away. Second, I would include all of the Sacred Harp recordings, because they opened up an entire genre of music to me that I'd never heard before. In the past few years, I've attended a dozen or so Sacred Harp singings, and I probably would have never known about them without working on Goodbye, Babylon. That makes me all the more grateful for the experience.
Gospelflava.com: I understand you in fact have a Sacred Harp project in the works.
Lance Ledbetter: We're working on that Sacred Harp project and a couple others too. We will be sure to let you know once we have a more definite release schedule in place!
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