Henry Truvillion Recordings

John A. Lomax first met Henry Truvillion, an African American in his mid-40s, in the company town of Wiergate in Newton County. Truvillion worked for the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company which operated a large logging business in the East Texas timberlands. At that time, Lomax and his son Alan were collecting the songs of workers like miners, woodsmen and railroad laborers. Truvillion explained that because of his faith and duties as a preacher, he was reluctant to share reels or anything but spirituals.

But eventually Truvillion, a railroad track crew supervisor, did share far more than spirituals when the Lomaxes returned to Wiergate in 1934 and several years later when John and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax visited in 1939 and 1940. In all, the Lomaxes made more than 50 recordings of Truvillion who relied on work songs, specifically calls and hollers, in his position supervising track crews for the Wier rail operations.

The Lomaxes initially recorded Truvillion in Wiergate and then at his home located in Shankleville along Highway 87 about three miles south of Burkeville. In addition to sharing spirituals and sing along songs, Truvillion provided an extensive selection of work songs that he used to direct his team of laborers in a variety of tasks. Different calls guided workers as they straightened or "lined" new track, drove or hammered spikes, or lifted heavy steel rails from a railcar to the ground. John Lomax later wrote that through Truvillion, "we secured the most complete group of railroad songs," adding that Truvillion's "authentic and artistic mastery of this medium has long been recognized by his employers for its economic value."

John Lomax's repeated visits made an impression on Truvillion's young son Jesse who as an adult recalled receiving Christmas gifts from the Lomaxes. He also remembered seeing the fine strands of "black hair" that covered the floor as records were literally were cut in their living room. "Neither man was purely ordinary," Jesse later wrote in the "Journal of Folklife Research" of Lomax and his father, who died in 1948, noting that the men "were indebted to each other" having "served each other well, considering the raw segregation of the years of their sojourn."

Images

Henry and Oneal Truvillion

Henry and Oneal Truvillion

Railroad worker Henry Truvillion, seen in this 1939 photo with his wife Oneal, was one of John A. Lomax's favorite resources for work songs. Truvillion supervised a crew of railroad line workers for the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company and later farmed his own property along Highway 87, the road in the background of this photo. | Source: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress View File Details Page

Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company

Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company

This 1937 image of the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company shows the importance of the railroad to the lumber industry. Henry Truvillion, a Wier Long Leaf employee, shared several railroad work songs with John A. Lomax between 1933 and 1940. | Source: Gulf Coast Lumberman, Texas Transportation Archive View File Details Page

Wiergate Railroad Depot

Wiergate Railroad Depot

John A. Lomax first met railroad worker Henry Truvillion in Wiergate in 1933 and returned several times to interview him, sometimes meeting him at the railroad depot seen in the center of this early 20th century photo. | Source: Newton County Historical Commission View File Details Page

Gulf & Northern Railway

Gulf & Northern Railway

The Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company operated the Gulf & Northern Railway Company to support its logging operations in East Texas. Henry Truvillion, whom John A. Lomax interviewed and recorded over several visits, supervised a track crew that worked on the Gulf & Northern line which owned the locomotive in this 1938 photo. | Source: Texas Transportation Archive View File Details Page

Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company Railroad

Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company Railroad

In addition to its regional railway, Wier Long Leaf Lumber maintained its own private railroad line and trains, including the locomotive seen in this 1938 image. Railroad worker Henry Truvillion oversaw a crew that worked on the Wier private line, too. | Source: Texas Transportation Archive View File Details Page

Audio

Track-linin' Holler

At the request of Ruby T. Lomax, Henry Truvillion shared one of his calls or "hollers" that he used to direct his track crew as they straightened rails. Ruby joined her husband John A. Lomax when he visited Truvillion in 1939. | Source: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress View File Details Page

Shortenin' Bread:

As Henry Truvillion sang his version of "Shortenin' Bread" during John A. and Ruby T. Lomax's 1939 session, his daughter Modestine, then about 15 months, could be heard in the background responding to her father's voice. | Source: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress View File Details Page

Israelites Shoutin' in Heaven

Railroad worker Henry Truvillion became a preacher later in life. During the Lomaxes' visit to his Newton County home, Truvillion sang the spiritual "Israelites Shoutin' in Heaven." | Source: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress View File Details Page

Who's Been Here Since I Been Gone

In introducing "Who's Been Here Since I Been Gone," Henry Truvillion said that he had learned the song when he was around 18 and working on a farm. John A. and Ruby T. Lomax recorded this at Truvillion's farmhouse in 1939. | Source: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amy Bertsch, “Henry Truvillion Recordings,” East Texas History, accessed June 25, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/24.

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