Monday, November 23, 2009

Back from UNC - Symposium for Archie Green & more!

Mr. Chris, Bob Cantwell & Adam Machado

Just came back from North Carolina - I visited my sister Rosy and her family in Tryon after landing in Charlotte and then drove over to Chapel Hill. Had a great talk over dinner with my good friend Dave Freeman of County and Rebel Record fame who is still riding high with many Ralph Stanley CDs and other more modern bluegrass bands. We started out about the same time - but he was smart and concentrated on building up a huge catalog of older styles of country music and has continued to serve that large clientel with energy, knowledge and enthusiasm - while I jumped all over the place trying to capture and re-issue various vernacular sounds which captivated my ears! I wish our Down Home Music Store had kept up the kind of loyal mailing list that County Sales developed! Oh well, we can't do it all!

Steve Weiss, director of the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC at Chapel Hill, NC had kindly invited a whole bunch of Archie's friends - mostly scholars who wrote books and such - to put down some of our recollections about Archie and listen to each other. It was a full day (November 21, 09) of formal and informal opening remarks, then a Laborlore panel with several recipients of the Archie Green Occupational Folklife Graduate Fellowship. Then a keynote address from Norm Cohen - lunch - then a Music Panel with Pat Huber who just put out the book "Linthead Stomp", followed by John Hubbell - an interesting fellow who is the director of Old Bridge Media in Memphis and with whom I had some lunch on the way home at the Charlotte Air Port! Then David Whisnant followed by Jack Wright who produced the fine double CD "Music Of Coal" - he is a great down home type guy and I really enjoyed him. He showed a video of the girl, Molly Slemp, who sings the opening ballad on that set and she was only eleven when recorded - seeing her do that ballad just knocked me out! She is something and apparently has a band now who appeared at Obama's Inauguartion! But I just looked for her on YouTube and it was awful stuff!

Finally the last "Remembrance Panel" had a bunch of us giving out with some remembrances of the great Archie! Julie Ardery, Robert Cantwell, Adam Machado and yours truly pontificated a while! At the end of the session, Bob Cantwell recognized Derek Green, Archie's son, who had been listening to the proceedings and was probably the only union member present and who finally had a chance to say a few words. Derek spoke about the Fund For Labor Culture & History and mentioned many of its accomplishments but my very favorite project has been the annual Labor Lore Conversations where all sorts of people including actual union members are encouraged to present papers or anything about their work - even songs and such to join in Archie's world!!!

After a "Reception" with food and drinks, there was a concert with Elizabeth La Prelle, a nice ballad singer but a bit stiff compared with the young Molly Slemp. She was followed by the absolutely superb musician, entertainer and educator, Stephen Wade (this film is 20 years old but does give you some idea as to what this remarkable charater can do!) - accompanied by Mike Craver on an old Salvation Army pump organ and some vocals - but it was Stephen's show - and what a variety of American music he dished out!! He has to come to the next Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest in SF - he is a one-man theatre! An old bassy sounding banjo which he played like a man possessed was my favorite banjo! But he played some great medley including a march, a rag, and another March: "Under The Double Eagle" which has always been a favorite of mine since I first heard it back in high school when Bill Boyd's version was played on XERB - back in 1947! Am getting old! The final entertainers of the evening were the New North Carolina Ramblers! Well, they were a surprising delight because of the variety of material they put down from Charlie Poole to Gid Tanner with some really nice vocal and guitar duets on the way giving out with Carter Family and Dixon Brothers songs - the fiddler had an uncanny way of imitating Gid Tanner including those high pitched yells and squeaks!

I was also reminded that Arhoolie is sitting on all those JEMF LP releases of historical stuff and we need to put those out in one form or other and soon! Also the LP revolution was brought to my attention - especially by a young student at UNC, Reed Turchi, among others! More on this later - Cheers for right now - but don't forget the Savoy Family this coming week end here in Northern California - Great American Music Hall on Friday 27th and at Down Home Music Store on Saturday the 28th from 2 to 3 PM - see you there and in Sacramento and Santa Cruz! Chris

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My first tirades and comments!

Hello folks: I am curious if anyone will find or read this - so let me know if this might be of some amusement or interest to anyone!

Recently I heard three local Bay Area bands at the new and super modern Freight & Salvage here in Berkeley:

First was the huge Western styled swing band: Lost Week End - with 3 horns, lead guitar, steel guitar, 2 fiddles, singer and rhythm guitarist Don Burnham, piano, bass, and drums! They were very tight and played good dance music and at times as many as a dozen couples were having fun on the dance floor which is a real asset for the New Freight! It was a fine program and the music was very good - my only complaint is that due to the size of the band very few of the excellent musicians really get a chance to solo at length and really get hot - especially I would have loved to hear much more from the 2 fiddlers!

On another night at the Freight & Salvage I heard two very different bands on the same bill - Devine's Jug Band opened and did a nice job with some old time jug and novelty tunes from the late 20s with the jug player, Pete Devine, and the wonderful hot and amazing fiddler, Mayumi Urgino, being the outstanding players to my ears. They are especially strong on the fast and hot instrumentals. In the case of this band I felt their CD on the Porto Franco label is actually better than their live performance. The second band was the California Honeydrops who put on a killer live performance featuring leader, vocalist, guitarist, & trumpeter , Lech Wierzynski - who offers an unusually broad spectrum of superb rhythmic music from contemporary New Orleans sounds to Blues, to almost country type songs done with just Lech on guitar acc. by his tub bass player and the drummer playing washboard - to what delighted my ears perhaps the most, a wonderful version of the "Weary Blues" (also known as "Shake It and Break It") done in really rough, old New Orleans style with of course Lech on tumpet dishing it out a la Kid Shots Madison and his soprano sax player sounding like Sidney Bechet - with the entire rhythm section of piano, tub bass, and drums falling being in total synch in real old time black NO style! They also did a fine version of "Junko Partner" - anyway pure delight from start to finish. The band under Lech is unbelievably tight musically but their personal interplay is delightfully casual and informal - just the perfect mixture in these days of super egos on stage or boring singer song writers! However their CD I felt was disappointing - it lacked the drive and power of their live show - I hope they can appear again at the Freight and make a live recording - Arhoolie would love to issue it!

I made the mistake to catch James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin at the Hebst Theatre in SF - part of the SF Jazz Fest. This nice concert hall is simply not the place for an electric bass player to drown out the entire proceedings with his constant overly loud drone and rumble - it was atrocious!

If you are interested in what is happening in Mexico I would strongly urge you to check out on YouTube: Los Tigres del Norte and their latest hit "La Granja" - it is a most remarkable protest song but written by Mexico's # 1 composer who is illiterate but has the uncanny ability to come up with a corrido in this case - which can be interpreted many ways - but basically as far as I can detemine, accuses the Narco trafficers, the Mexican government, and the US and it's Berlin style Wall, for ruining not only Mexico's farmers but the entire country. You will also see on that YouTube site a remarkably informed Mexican comentator wearing a black mask who gives his interpretations of that corrido as well as of many other corridos by Los Tigres Del Norte - and the blogs are amazing! Viva Los Tigres - the voice of the underclass!

That's it for right now - let's talk up some of the best we have heard or seen!

While I have your attention: The Down Home Music Store, like all record shops is going through tough times and they are in the process of letting folks know what's available from them - so check out the Down Home Music Store on EBay - they are auctioning LPs etc - including many of the Mexican LPs I am selling. I will also auction off many of my 45s of Blues and Cajun Music via the DH E-Bay site! Check it out - I will not have the time to do this on my own and hope it will help Down Home survive.

The Savoy Family Cajun Band - Marc, Ann, Wilson, & Joel - are coming to the Bay Area! One night only in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall - Friday November 27th - right after Turkey Day - get on your dancing shoes - direct from Louisiana - a rare treat with this authentic family band - with meistro Marc on accordion, wife Ann on vocals and powerhouse rhtyhm guitar, Joel on fiddle and Wilson on hot piano, accordion, fiddle and real Cajun yells!! You never know what interesting combinations will appear - all four also play fiddle - maybe a 4 fiddle tune? Or accordion duets? Jerry Lee Lewis style piano romps - Wilson is guaranteed to rock the joint!

Cheers from Chris Strachwitz


Welcome to Mr Chris' Blog. Here you'll find the words, thoughts, observations and news from Chris Strachwitz, founder and President of Arhoolie Records and President of the Arhoolie Foundation.