Sounds from Lomax: Keeping the Ballad Hunter legend alive, John Lomax III performs songs from his grandfather’s collection at John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian Oct. 12
MERIDIAN – Finding, preserving, presenting and promoting unique American music and musicians is what now four generations of Lomaxes have done. Like his legendary grandfather John Avery Lomax, father John Jr. and uncle Alan, John Lomax III’s life circled around music. He supported lesser known and upcoming country music in the broadest sense – from management of artists, to helping produce records and supplying the international market with affordable country and folk music.
Now at 78, Lomax III is thrilled to announce a series of Texas performances of songs from the Lomax Legacy. Meridian is the last stop for a four-city Lomax tour including performances in Nashville, Houston and Austin. The show at the John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian Park at 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 will be free to the public and is co-sponsored by the Meridian Public Library, Meridian Parks and Recreation and Southern Cross Creative.
The “Lomax on Lomax” show – titled by Joe Nick Patoski in a Texas Highways feature – runs about 90 minutes and is followed by a Q&A session. Donations are encouraged to help cover expenses, but not required. The Meridian Public Library was instrumental in getting the Lomax Amphitheater site recognized with a national Literary Landmark designation.
“It’s time to begin performing songs from the Lomax Legacy,” Lomax III said as he embarks on somewhat unfamiliar ground in taking the stage and singing the songs his grandfather collected and preserved. “These are wonderful songs that could possibly be lost forever, were it not for the Lomax family preserving them for future generations.”
After 25 years of distributing country music through his company Roots Music Exporters, music industry figure John A. Lomax III is concentrating on promoting his grandfather’s legacy as the great ballad hunter, pioneering musicologist and folklorist by singing the songs of the Western pioneer and cowboy days. That legacy received its first public notice with the 1910 publication of his book, “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.”
“I’m really excited to present my brand of acapella authenticity at this new venue named for my grandfather,” said Lomax III. “He began his song collecting journey in Meridian. It’s invigorating to think that as I stand there singing songs he discovered and first published that I am extending his legacy.”
Since cowboy and folk songs are also about the history and the stories behind the songs, Lomax III will be offering introductions to the songs, for example talking about how his grandfather as a young man managed to go out on horseback with a giant tape recorder for his first recordings.
“I’ll sing a lot of cowboy songs of course, but I’ll also present material discovered and popularized by his sons, Alan and my dad, John Avery Lomax Jr.,” Lomax III said. “I grew up knowing I was not particularly gifted as a singer, but it’s more about the songs and stories. And this is how I do my part to add to the legacy.”
Not sure whether stage-fright would squash his ambitions to continue promoting the Lomax legacy, a well-received house concert solidified his idea to do offer one-man-shows.
The tour also commemorates the release of “FOLK - Live: The Gardner Recordings,” an album featuring John A. Lomax Jr. recordings made for a Houston radio program in 1965. The reel-to-reel tapes were digitized by the Rice University, Department of Folk Music and made available to Lomax III.
John A. Lomax passed away in 1948, but his sons picked up where their father left off. John Lomax Jr. – Lomax III’s father – was a real estate developer with a passion for folk music. This led him to be a folklorist and a folk performer in his spare time, and a booster for the music in other capacities in a long career helping to preserve and promote American folk, especially in his native state of Texas. And John Lomax III’s uncle is the great Alan Lomax, is best known for his field recordings and work with the Smithsonian Institution, as well as his efforts as a performer and preservationist.
“I grew up with this; the Houston Folklore Society literally started in our living room,” Lomax III said on how he put together the song list for the current performances. He learned about 50 songs, making a selection from his father’s 1969 tapes of living room performances, and album his father made with the Texian Boys and of course the Lomax books.
Raised in Houston, TX and attending college in Austin, Lomax III saw songwriters such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, and Richard Dobson rise in popularity. After studying at the University of Austin, Lomax III moved to Nashville in 1973, right into the thick of it.
He served as the manager for Van Zandt from 1976-78, overseeing the release of Van Zandt’s iconic live album “Live at the Old Quarter.” Later, Lomax went on to manage Steve Earle from 1983-86. He also oversaw Earle’s big breakout on MCA records, and the release of the landmark album, “Guitar Town.” In the 1990s and early 2000s, Lomax III also spent time as the manager of The Cactus Brothers, Kasey Chambers, Kimberly Clayton and Sunny Sweeney.
Furthermore, Lomax III is the author of numerous books, including “Nashville: Music City USA” and “The Country Music Book.” He started multiple publications including the Nashville-based magazine “Hank” and later the “Nashville Gazette.” He has written hundreds of articles promoting lesser known country music for periodicals in Australia, England and Japan. As a photographer, several of his photos ended up in the Ken Burns’ recent documentary on country music.
Lomax III is a Country Music Awards winner, earning the 2010 Jo Walker-Meador International Award for his work advocating for country music outside of the United States. He also instilled a love for folk and cowboy music to a fourth generation of Lomax’s – his son John Nova Lomax is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Texas publications and operates his own Substack, and his daughter Amanda Lomax is an artist and photographer living in Nashville.
“I was last in Meridian in 1993 [for a Lomax Gathering],” Lomax III said. “So it will be great to return; particularly in a venue named for my illustrious grandfather.” What a special feeling it will be to walk where his grandfather walked back in the 1870-80s.
Photos courtesy of AMANDA LOMAX ART & U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ARCHIVES
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