American artist Pokey LaFarge fanned the flames of controversy about Billy Bragg and the Americana genre during his two Womadelaide shows on the weekend and even reportedly mocked the British singer/songwriter by holding up Bragg’s photo in front of his face. Bragg hit back on stage and has added to the debate on his website.
On Sunday night Bragg asserted that many people, not just Americans, had contributed to Americana – including UK skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan (who was an influence on The Beatles) – and he also played what he said was ‘a prize piece of English Americana’ in The Rolling Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers.’
Bragg noted on his website yesterday that he had approachd LaFarge but that the American had not wished to discuss the issue.
“The only blot on the evening was my conversation with Pokey La Farge,” wrote Bragg. “I spotted him backstage about an hour before I went on, walked over, shook him by the hand and suggested we took a moment to sit down and iron out our differences.
“We did speak for about ten minutes, but I was unable to convince him that I was not questioning the originality of American roots music: jazz, blues, ragtime, country, western, rockabilly, soul, r&b and more all come from the USA. My argument is that if Americana as we know it today is music inspired by those roots, then skiffle fits the bill and the British have some claim to be first adopters.
“He continued to rail at this idea, constantly returning to long lists of American roots musicians for whom I have the greatest respect. He seemed unwilling to accept that foreigners might have taken inspiration from those roots and created something new. In Pokey’s eyes, it seems, only Americans can create new music.
“I rejected this nativist argument and suggested we conduct this argument in print, either in the press or online, citing our sources and honing our points. He rejected this and walked away, still accusing me of disrespecting roots artists.
“All I want to do is to get some respect for skiffle in the UK and in the USA. It’s a real shame that Pokey can’t be big enough to accept that we have differing views on this and to agree to disagree without getting personal.”