Goodbye, Babylon came out in 2003 to wide acclaim. A
six-disc collection packaged in a wonderful wooden box, it collects
135 songs and 25 sermons from 1902-1960. For enthusiasts of old-time
gospel, it quickly became an essential purchase - despite a hefty $100
price tag. Many of the songs are very difficult to find elsewhere,
and not one fails to impress - even to someone with no knowledge of the
genre, this is an extraordinarily powerful and important boxset.
I caught up with Lance Ledbetter - creator of Dust-to-Digital
Records, whose first release was Goodbye, Babylon - to discuss the
project's details and the future of the label. Below are the
Indieville: "Goodbye, Babylon" is not the type of project
you just sit down and decide to work on. What was your motivation for
compiling this box set of songs?
Lance Ledbetter: In 1998, I was doing a radio show at WRAS - the
college station at Georgia State University. The show was called Raw
Musics and its focus was on old timey country, blues, gospel and jazz from
the early 1900s. When I was searching for material for the show, I came
across a void in gospel music reissues. That led me to write a letter to a
collector about whom I'd read on the internet. He lived in Maryland and
owned over 25,000 78 rpm records. Over time we developed a nice
relationship, and for the next year and a half I listened to all of his
religious records. He would make me cassettes of the songs for $.50 a
track and I'd get them and listen to them every night on headphones and
would have the hair on the back of my neck raised. It was an incredible
I: Where did you get all of the songs from? Is there a large collection
you culled them from, or was it a different sort of process?
LL: Most of the material comes from Joe Bussard's collection. He is the
collector I just mentioned.
I: How long did the project take from start to finish? What were some
particular challenges you faced?
LL: The whole thing took 4.5 years to complete. The biggest challenge
was money. But having to save the type of money it took to give Goodbye
Babylon life forced me to spend a lot more time on the book (that comes
with the CDs) - its content and design.
I: Where did you get all of the information for this book? How did
you research the songs, and how did you go about getting the essayists to
LL: Dick Spottswood was the first writer I contacted. He became of
champion of the project. He told me about some different versions of songs
that I had selected that I'd never heard and that were better. He also
turned me on to some songs I'd never heard. He ended up co-editing the
book with me.
Once Dick was on board, I decided to try getting in touch with other
writers. I targeted writers that were experts in their specific field of
gospel. They were all really nice and after hearing about the project
wanted to help.
I: How much interest has there been since the box set's release? Are
you satisfied with the attention it's been getting? Lots of critics have
spoken positively of the collection; have your customers also been giving
you their impressions?
LL: The feedback has been positive - the amount of which was completely
unexpected. We've received some nice letters and emails from people who
received the set as a Christmas gift or bought it for a relative. Those
are very nice to get. Also, some of the critics like David Greenberger and
David Fricke have written such insightful reviews that make me believe
that Goodbye Babylon is really connecting to people.
I: The packaging of "Goodbye, Babylon" is almost as
incredible as the music contained inside. How was the concept of the box
developed, and how did you get the packaging produced?
LL: I wanted to have the packaging be raw and natural. I drew up the
design for the box and found a company in Canada that made custom boxes.
As for the book, I wanted each song to have its own page. I felt like
these artists deserved it.
I: Are there any particularly special songs on the discs? Any
stories regarding either their creation or your discovery of them?
LL: I love all of them, but there's a special place in my heart for
Blind Joe Taggart's "Goin' to Rest Where Jesus Is" and all the
Sacred Harp material. Taggart's song with the backing vocal and violin is
such an anomaly on many levels, but it all makes for an incredible song. The
Sacred Harp music is special to me because I started attending local
singings in the midst of producing Goodbye Babylon, and I'm getting
I: Why was the song "Goodbye, Babylon" chosen as the title
of this release? Does it hold any special significance?
LL: That record was unissued by Paramount. Dick Spottswood recently
obtained the test pressing without a label or listing. We passed it around
the scholar community and it was agreed that it was Rev. T. T. Rose. What was great about the record from an audio standpoint is that each
version of the song is different. So, I thought what better than to have
the two bookend the collection of songs.
I: What was the process like for obtaining the release rights for
each of the compilation's one hundred and sixty tracks? Was this
LL: We received legal and accounting advice on all such matters. There
were some things that we could not get.
I: Have you planned anything for Dust-to-Digital's next project? Can
you give us any details?
LL: We're planning a pre-war sacred harp box set and a pre-war music of
Georgia box set. Also, there will be a few themed one-off CD releases to
fill in the gaps between the box sets.
The Dust-to-Digital website is www.dust-digital.com.
Many reviews of Goodbye, Babylon can be perused here.