It’s another dark and gloomy day. I’m listening to an album called Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Selections from the Thomas Fraser recordings. I first heard of him when listening to the Mike Harding Folk show on the BBC. I thought I would tell you about Thomas Fraser because his story is one of the most extraordinary in the history of music. I gleaned the following information from the very informative booklet that accompanies the CD. It was his grandson Karl Simpson that provided the notes and compiled the CD
Thomas Fraser was born on the isle of Burra in the Shetland Islands in 1927. His first instrument was the fiddle. Later, he was given a guitar from which he became inseparable and would cycle all over the island with it strapped across his back. He also learned to play the banjo, mandolin & piano and taught himself to yodel which was to prove very useful. He also played records non-stop on the family gramophone. His favourite singer was Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. Thomas would imitate Jimmie’s style until the resemblance became uncanny. After leaving school he became a fisherman and when ashore he would play at local weddings & concerts although he was very shy about singing in public. He got married in 1955 and bought his own lobster boat The Lark. From our point of view the most exciting thing is that in 1953 he bought the first reel to reel tape recorder that the island had ever seen. Soon he was making his own recordings of music by such people as Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Hank Williams, The Inkspots & Big Bill Broonzy. These recordings were made for his own pleasure. He had no intention that they would have a wider audience.
Fate dealt him some bad luck in the 1970’s. Firstly his uninsured boat sank after running onto rocks and Thomas was fortunate not to have drowned. Then in 1977 another accident at sea left him with serious head injuries. His recordings ceased, and he died in 1978 at the young age of 50.
Word began to spread about his home recordings and his nephew Bobby released some home-made cassettes, but this didn’t satisfy the demand. People began to realise that Thomas Fraser represented the authentic sound of country blues. The pure music that wasn’t commercialised by Nashville. Finally, his grandson compiled the CD of 25 songs from more than 500 that Thomas had recorded. I only have one Thomas Fraser CD but since it was released in 2002 I believe there has been several more. He now has fans all over the world and there is even an annual Thomas Fraser festival in the Shetland Islands. I highly recommend this album.