The Leadbelly 1944 Hollywood Sessions:
Featuring the first known historical recordings of the Dolceola

from The Dolceola Pages
created by Gregg Miner, as part of

Through my contact with the other Dolceola enthusiasts, it finally came to my attention (about January, 2003) that the "zither" long known as the listed accompaniment instrument on 8 Leadbelly tracks recorded in Hollywood during two August dates in 1944 was, in fact, a Dolceola. I found it quite ironic that, while we "lost" the iconic historical Dolceola recording of Phillips (through the discovery of his actual instruments), we had an equally exciting historical Dolceola recording "hidden" all along (known to a select savvy few), still largely overlooked by fans of both the instrument and Leadbelly. It then took me an entire year to track down a copy (eventually found to be easily available – see below).


Finally – an authentic Dolceola recording! It sounds a lot like Andy Cohen’s CD – very syncopated and jazzy – and completely different from Phillips’ lush, ringing instruments.
On the eight tracks, Los Angeles session pianist Paul Howard plays the Dolceola as the lead and fill instrument to Leadbelly’s 12-string accompaniment – and he rocks! It’s a fascinating choice of instrumentation – it’d sure be nice to hear the story behind it one day. 
Dolceola historian Pat Conte reports that there also exists a photo of the session, which clearly shows the Dolceola (lest our ears be fooled this time). Pat tells me "Paul Mason Howard was a studio pianist, and there were photos taken from musicians' union newsletters, I believe, that were reproduced by the folks who publish the Leadbelly Newsletter. He had the benefit of hi-fi and better studio conditions by the late 1940s which explains the very clear dolceola character present on his Capitol recordings with both Leadbelly and sometime soon after with Tenn. Ernie Ford. The contrast sonically with the primitive sound of Phillip's 1920s location recordings, probably with mike placement on the very table the (instrument) rested on, add to the mysterious sound of those recordings made some 20 years earlier than the Leadbelly Capitol sessions. Howard apparently played in his lap, seated on a stool as session photos show, and perhaps supported his rig with a case or home-made sound box. Mike that with an overhead boom and a ribbon mike, and you have the tinkly quality he possesses without the jangly overtone-rich hollowness of his predecessor."

I’ve carefully selected and edited an MP3 containing 8 snippets of the representative samples of Howard’s playing (all are brief, total time is 2:40).

Though it’s somewhat difficult to isolate Leadbelly’s 12-string accompaniment from Howard’s left hand work, with headphones and/or at slow speeds it’s easy to hear that Howard is often playing left hand rhythm – probably on both the melody strings and the multiple –string chord keys.

Download the sample
NOTE: this recording is for research purposes only.
Copyright belongs to Document Records, U.K. and is used by permission.

The samples are:

1. Ella Speed: Intro
2. Ella Speed: Solo Break
3. Rock Island Line: Break
4. Tell Me Baby: Intro
5. Tell Me Baby: Solo to End
6. Irene: Intro
7. On a Christmas Day: Solo Break
8. Backwater Blues: Intro

I hope to add a similar representative sample of Phillips' fretless zither playing for comparison.

 to The Dolceola Pages


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