Friday, December 18, 2009

Mr. Chris' Year End Letter and Tirade:

December 18, 2009

Dear Relatives, Friends, Artists, etc:

All my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!
Yet another year is drawing to a close and it seems time just gallops along with the ups and downs inherent under our uncontrolled capitalist system which makes “the rich get richer and the poor poorer” (or have children as a variant of this old saying goes)! Unfortunately young folks who grew up in the 1990s thought that the booming economy and its easy money would last for ever! They never heard of the rule of physics which says that everything that goes up has to come down! They only learned how to spend it all and never heard of saving! Then came the bust! Today no one claims that they were aware of the shenanigans of the greedy financiers and bankers who run Wall Street and our financial institutions throughout the world. But these trixters exert enormous influence via their lobbyists and clever lawyers in Washington and their shady paper money is spread all over the world. I hope we can soon regain control over the enormous power of the “Military & Industrial Complex” of which we were warned by the late President Eisenhower back in the 50s and the huge banking conglomerates which have been established since largely with our tax payer money! What ever became of anti trust laws?? Not to mention the unbelievable political influence of the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations who are trying to kill once again any meaningful reform ! And how about the horrific growth and power of “chain stores” over the past 50 years which have decimated the centers of our small towns along with the continuing dependence on cars to get people to and from work with ever more wasted hours on the roads and using ever more polluting fuels. Perhaps my thoughts reflect my getting older – but it sure looks like life is on a down hill road! Why do people constantly claim that we are a Democracy when we are a Republic where we have to depend upon the representatives we send to Washington and Sacramento? They can hardly be held responsible for reading and understanding everything put before them and the polarization of the country has continued to mire us in a total lack of real progress in spite of the fact that we finally have a great president. I also somehow wish that people would refer to Republicans as Reactionaries (why conservatives?) and Democrats as Progressives (why liberals?). Just wishful thinking!

I am grateful for still being here and enjoying life to the fullest even though the record business has gone down the tubes or better: has been inundated by the availability of endless free entertainment via the internet. I tell people that we have had 100 good years making records or musical snapshots of some of the most wonderful sounds ever created by man all over the planet. Lets forget the garbage – but then one man’s junk is another ones treasure!

Arhoolie Records has continued to function and present interesting and enjoyable roots music both on CDs as well as via down-loads on the internet (see below) thanks to my manager, Tom Diamant; product manager, Jonathan Schiele; and administrative assistant, Haley Ausserer. We have a brand new web site showing all our productions including LPs and 45 rpm discs still on hand and how to order them from us. There is also a link to I-Tunes and Amazon for downloads of all our CD goodies, including a lot of previously unavailable music – especially Tex-Mex conjuntos and orquestas – now available only by down loading (see below).
In the future we will continue to make more and more of our catalog of obscure material available via down loads. We would love to hear from you via e-mail as to what you would like to hear. The Arhoolie web site also has a link to my BLOG where I pontificate or enter tirades about various things – especially great music I have heard recently! And I really enjoy your responses – keep it up!

On the Arhoolie web site you will also find a link to the incredible Down Home Music Store which has served the Bay Area and beyond for over 33 years (that’s another good speed now that I am 78 years old!) with the best in roots music. The Down Home web site however is in great need of improvement but Allison, a kind volunteer, has appeared to help and there will be progress soon! In the mean time send them your e-mail address and you will receive regular Bulletins about in-store music and other matters of interest. The store has suffered along with all other retailers of CDs (and books) in light of the ever changing scenario as to how music is sold.



I am determined to give the Down Home Music Store another chance to survive and have made some changes. First, I have dissolved the corporation and am once again the sole owner as of January 1, 2010. Secondly, we have reduced the days when we are open to the public to Thursday through Sunday. Third, we hope to increase the number of live performances of various types of music at the store and make the stage a permanent platform for good sounds and perhaps discussions (Paul Oliver will be in the area in early January and we hope to have him at the store – keep in touch as to date!). Fourth, I hope to enlarge the inventory by carrying other items related to the wonderful roots music we all enjoy such as instruments, turn tables for playing ever more popular LP records, or what else can you suggest? Fifth, the store will become more active on the internet to service you wherever you might live! The Down Home Music Store is already actively selling and auctioning rare LPs via our E-Bay store. I will also make more and more of my own collection available to them because I can’t ever listen to all the material I have accumulated over the many years. The crew now is John McCord, J.C., & Lyuba – please visit them!

ARHOOLIE RELEASES for 2009:

CD 367 – Ballads & Corridos: 1949 – 1975. Various artists – wonderful performances originally issued by the south Texas labels IDEAL and FALCON – ranging from old ballads from the late 1800s to the death of the Kennedys, civil rights, Carol Chessman, Patricia Hearst, Martin Luther King, Beulah, and Texas Rangers! One of my favorites! Listen to it all the time in my car!


CD 454/455 – Uncensored Folk Music of Austria. Recorded and collected by Chris Strachwitz & Johnny Parth between 1967 and 1998. Incredible stuff - from a solo girl yodler to a trio of risqué songsters with accordion, clarinet, and hammered dulcimer - to all kinds of musical styles and instruments from almost every part of Austria. Hard to sell but the people who have bought it are totally in love with this set. Includes transcriptions of all songs in a) dialect; b) high German; and c) English! Also includes a video track (plus more audio tracks) by the fantastic fiddle and vocal duet of Hermann Haertel and his wife with bass and accordion which I recorded on my video recorder in Graz!


CD 507 – Rumel Fuentes: Corridos of the Chicano Movement in the 60s. Interesting ballads about struggles on the Mexican border composed and sung by Rumel and accompanied by his then wife, Jo Zettler and two other guitarists. Spirited performances which I recorded at their apartment in Austin, Texas on a Nagra with two mics and which I wish I had issued earlier!



CD 537 – The Best of Mance Lipscomb. The great songster and guitarist who filled the very first Arhoolie LP and whom I had first met with Mack McCormick in Navasota, Texas in 1960 with 22 blues, songs, ballads, instrumentals and more. It took me a good while to edit this from all the tapes I had made of Mance but it’s become one of my all time favorites and stays on my car stereo!



CD 538 – The Magnolia Sisters: Stripped Down”. Ann Savoy, Jane Vidrine, Lisa Trahan, and Anya Burgess have now been making delightful Cajun music together for many years and they are in total synch! From unaccompanied ballads to contemporary dance hall favorites you will hear the incredible variety of voices and instruments by these talented Louisiana women and the CD has just been nominated for a GRAMMY – I hope they win so vote for them if you are qualified! It’s a real honest and raw gem!



DVD AF 204 - The New Lost City Ramblers in “Always Been A Rambler”. A film by Yasha Aginsky and produced by the Arhoolie Foundation. The film celebrates 50 years of the NLCRs: John Cohen, Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz & Tom Paley with old historic footage from the 1950s and 60s as well as recent performances by the group at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in SF. Also seen are many of the old timers which the members introduced to a wider urban audience: Clarence Ashley, Balfa Brothers, Maybelle and Sara Carter, Elizabeth Cotton, Roscoe Holcomb, etc and contemporary singers like Ricky Skaggs, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Doc Watson (among others) are seen and heard. Unfortunately the world lost Mike Seeger shortly after we finished this project but he got to see it and gave his stamp of approval!

Arhoolie Records now also has the following classic Texas-Mexican music available ONLY for DOWNLOADING:


All from IDEAL master recordings:
Narciso Martinez (Vol.1 & 2): THE great accordion pioneer who established the norteno sound!
Carmen y Laura (Vol.1 & 2): Delightful women dueto – they sound like Latina Andrew Sisters!
Beto Villa: THE most popular Tejano orquesta during the 1940s and 50s
Rosita Fernandez: Famous San Antonio singer who later became a TV star
Balde Gonzalez: Blind vocalist, pianist, and band leader best known for his smooth crooning voice.
Tony De La Rosa: The great accordion polka king of south Texas – his first recordings.
Las Abajenas: Nice women dueto from northern Mexico
Gaytan y Cantu: Juan Gaytan, well liked singer and composer with his partner from San Antonio.
Los Dos Manueles: Well known male dueto from San Antonio.
Rosita y Laura: Rosita Fernandez singing duets with Laura Hernandez of Carmen y Laura fame.
Delia Gutierrez: Well liked female solo vocalist with her father’s orquesta from south Texas.
Isidro Lopez: Known as El Indio, a superb singer, saxophonist and leader of a powerhouse Tejano Orq.
Hermanos Maya: Best known for their boleros and as pioneers on radio in Nuevo Laredo.
Hermanas Mendoza: Lydia’s sisters, Juanita & Maria formed a superb and very popular dueto.

Re: The world situation: I just thought of an old blues verse sung by country blues artist Texas Alexander:
“If you see a mule run away with the world – let him go ahead on!!”


My Year 2009

I just want to share a few of my experiences during this past year but I will try to be short!



In January Wayne Pope finished the fine brochure for the Arhoolie Foundation – the Savoy Family Band played a number of gigs in the Bay area prior to their appearance at the wonderful Benefit for the Arhoolie Foundation which was held at Los Cenzontles Center in San Pablo on January 18th and also included Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal, Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Suzy Thompson, and of course Los Cenzontles themselves who just two weeks ago got a raving review for their recent CD (which also features Taj Mahal and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos) in the New York Times editorial page no less!! The money we raised has kept us going to continue the digitization of the Frontera Collection’s 45 rpm discs. But we urgently need more funds to get us to the New Year when we hope to get support from some sources where we have applied this year – with the help of our new assistant, Adam Machado.


In February I once again heard the truly wonderful and dynamic Croatian band, Momci from Detroit who appeared at the Tamburitza Festival at San Francisco’s Croatian Cultural Center. It’s a family band with a father, sons and a daughter plus his brother – it is one red hot string band – if you have a chance to catch them you must do so! Unfortunately the family is spread out and according to the father they have a hard time getting together – I really would love to record them!


On March 22 we lost our great friend, board member and mentor, Archie Green – who did so much for real folklore study and preservation in this country – a truly remarkable person who will always remain in my memory as a driving force and how we should all act! On March 26th Los Tigres del Norte, who have been the prime sponsors of our digitizing the 78 rpm discs in the Frontera Collection, held a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles celebrating the completion of that part of the collection and which Tom Diamant and I attended with great pleasure and joy. Los Tigres are THE super stars of the Norteno music field and have a powerful protest song on You Tube which you should check out – the title of the song is “La Granja” which really hits at the heart of so much what is troublesome in US – Mexico relations.


On April 10th the great Cajun band, Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, gave a superb in-store concert at Down Home Music – and Los Cenzontles appeared that night at the Freight & Salvage folk club in Berkeley. On the 18th I flew to New Orleans for the annual trek to check out Jazz Fest etc. Some of my highlights were Lars Edegran’s String Band at the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in NOLA, then the Savoy Family and others at the Balfa Camp up the country near Ville Platte, La. – then back to NOLA for the Savoy Family Jam Session brought to the Fais Do Do stage – all 30 odd participants! The full Del McCoury Band played their classic bluegrass but at the tiny Preservation Hall with Ben Jaffe on tuba and a few jazz horns joining in at the end with spectacular results. Finally in NO for the Ponderosa Stomp. The most amazing part for me was meeting and hearing from Joe Bihari about how he as the youngest brother was elected to do the pressing for their then up-start Modern Music record label. The Capitol Records pressing plant told the Biharis that they did not have time to press their stuff but if they could furnish a guy to do the pressing in the middle of the night, then he would let him in there! Joe remembered even how they mixed the shellac with cotton filler to make those discs at the time (ca. 1947) and how he after pressing records loaded them in his car and went to Central Avenue and sold them to stores! Then he told stories about how he and Ike Turner drove through Mississippi recording all kinds of great down home blues. Modern, RPM, etc Records owned by the Bihari Brothers, was of course one of the major producers of what was then called Rhythm & Blues – and those guys inspired many of us who came later trying to capture what was left of real blues down south! Meeting Joe was in connection with the release of John Broven’s wonderful book about the record men of that era! Marshall Chess was also there but he was no substitute for his late father and he hardly let Joe Bihari get a word in! A great evening at the Gaslight club in the Treme district where I first recorded the Re-Birth Brass Band many years ago! Then back up the country again to catch Wilson Savoy with Jason Frey at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou!


In May the Pine Leaf Boys visited us in the Bay area followed by ex-Pine Leaf boy, Cedric Watson playing the Eagle Hall in Alameda. Cedric has become a truly incredible performer and musician with his own band and has learned how to get a dancing audience turned up to full steam. Then I visited Washington, DC for the annual ARSC conference and from there down to Chapel Hill, NC to visit with archivist Steve Weiss and then drove up to Fries, VA to visit with Joe Wilson of the NCTA (and his wife Kathy) who works with the Blue Ridge Music Center and produces fine concerts there. Also attended the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention in Mt. Airy, NC where besides some fine mountain music, I saw Mike Seeger working with Yasha Aginsky documenting various banjo players on film.

In June there was a wonderful Memorial for Archie Green in San Francisco where Mike Seeger organized the fine music – unfortunately that was the last time I saw him. On July 4th we head our annual Birthday Party here at Arhoolie – celebrating my 78th and of course Uncle Sam’s birthday as well. Yet another Archie Green memorial was organized in September by the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress which of course was largely established through the lobbying efforts by Archie. I went and am glad I did – it was very moving hearing from many of the people he influenced in many ways – from labor union organizers to scholars and folk musicians etc. That evening was a musical celebration of Joe Wilson at the Coolidge Auditorium with a full House of Prayer black church brass band along with various other traditional musicians – what a program! Late in September the Arhoolie Foundation was invited by the Busto Media company to do a two hour radio program of historical Mexican norteno music and corridos over their extensive network of stations serving primarily recent immigrants all over the country.

This is getting out of hand! The Savoy Family returned for Bay Area shows in November and with Ann unable to sing due to a bad cold, Wilson had to do the honors on all songs – and he did it with superb results and taste. They really are now the First Family of Cajun Music – I just hope more festivals will engage them whenever possible – that is when Wilson is free from gigs with his Pine Leaf Boys! Just call Ann Savoy direct! Finally, I just returned from the Savoy Boucherie in Eunice, LA which was not only perhaps the best one ever but also the occasion for a Christening of the latest addition to the Savoy family – daughter Sara’s little daughter! The porker was superbly tender because he had been corn fed and raised by Marc himself for this occasion – and the music was non-stop in several places. Cajun jam in the main room – old time and Irish outside – country and swing in the kitchen with Mark Rubin making his multi talented presence felt everywhere – at the end a marvelous duet between Cajun fiddler, David Greely and a delightful girl cello player – like at our Arhoolie parties! The whole event was held at a brand new barn at the Lake View Park just north of Eunice – the place where I first saw a Cajun music broadcast back in 1963 or so – with Revon Reed, several drunk musicians and Paul Tate who led me to Marc Savoy! The previous night there was a public dance at this same barn with Jason Frey’s band which included Joel Savoy on fiddle. The surprise for me was that the pretty good sized audience was made up mainly of young people who seem to be once again enjoying their own culture and music – all having a great time dancing and partying! Let the bon ton roulet!
Cheers from Chris and have a good New Year!

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