Leadbelly is just unconscionably exhuberant - so straightforward in spirit - he comes on like a wise train pulling a ton of big red and yaller bricks.
listening to his music picks me up, and it's so eminently singalongable - i find myself "alabama bound" or "green corn," "gallis pole" - these are folk songs and he makes them come alive. you'll hear half of the roots of the popular american music reportoire pass through his 12 string guitar (the other half is probably woody guthrie's)
picture from the Leadbelly Web
time was, swarthmore had a folk music festival. polite quakers they were, they refused LeadBelly his usual whiskey. He refused to perform without it, and, well, smart quakers that they were, they gave him the booze.
he has one great song, about Blind Lemon Jefferson, another blues muscian that Leadbelly palled around with for a while:
"oh baby, he's a blind man, blind lemoncatchy! i'm not kidding! wilson and i used to sing this to each other all the time.
oh baby, he's a blind man,
he's doin all he can, oh baby, til he's travelling through the land
doin all he can oh baby, til he's travelling through the land
he's american, oh baby,
til he's travelling through the land, he's american,
oh baby, he's travelling through the land,
get out of here - talk to me."
Leadbelly, Huddie Ledbetter, he's got a great story (take it short or nice and long). Arrested for barfighting, pardoned after the texas governor heard him singing, he was picked up by white folk song fans and was quite a sensation up north. he eventually pulled a knife on the guy that "discovered" him. a full on character.