Trading Verses: James “Son Ford” Thomas and Allen Ginsberg

James "Son Ford" Thomas, courtesy of the William R. Ferris Papers, Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Trading Verses: James “Son Ford” Thomas and Allen Ginsberg

by William R. Ferris
Southern Cultures, Vol. 19, No. 1: Global Music

"What does it mean - about the eagle flying on Friday?"

On December 27, 1980, I traveled with blues singer James “Son Ford” Thomas to Houston, Texas, where we appeared together at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association on an oral and written literature panel that was organized by Michel Fabre. I spoke about the blues, and Thomas sang the blues for a large, appreciative audience. During the program I noticed a member of the audience in the front row who was thoroughly enjoying the music. It was Allen Ginsberg, with my old friend Gordon Ball (who took photographs of the Beat Generation for more than two decades and has written important books on Ginsberg). At the end of our program, Gordon Ball introduced Thomas and me to Ginsberg, who invited us to his room in the hotel to play more blues. We accepted, and I taped and photographed Thomas and Ginsberg as they spoke and sang together.