Chris Strachwitz 1962 Article
Vol. 2 No. 1 December 1962
Searching for music in 1962 with Chris Strachwitz
Now, that the commercials are over, and that you have put your check for some good down-home LPs in the mail to me, I can get on with the main feature: A summary (very brief!) of my trip 1962. Off to the heat of Texas – they had a heat wave when I got there – even Houston didn’t have any rain! Mack McCormick had just returned from some extensive research trips throughout Texas and had also made some very interesting recordings – more about those in the future. I hear that the book on which Mack and Paul Oliver are collaborating is coming along nicely and is no doubt awaited anxiously by of us interested in the Texas scene. I paid another visit to Gold Star’s Bill Quinn and an agreement was signed which gives Arhoolie Records the exclusive rights to the fine blues material recorded for that label.
The purpose of this last trip was really four-fold: 1) find outlets for Arhoolie LPs; 2) look for old masters which might be suitable for reissue on Arhoolie; 3) find old 78s 4) look for new talent. Since these aims took me to many different people little time was actually left to dig up new talent – but maybe I was just lazy! However some recordings were made as you will find out later.
Going through Louisiana, I was lucky enough to finally locate one of the real legendary figures in American folk music: Joseph Falcon – the man who made the first recordings of Cajun music back.in the late 20s for the black Columbia label.
When I telephoned Mr. Falcon he was just getting ready to leave for a job and he invited me to join him there. It was a typical road house in Kaplan, La. and the band consisted of Falcon – amplified accordion, a steel guitar, rhythm guitar, fiddle, and Mrs. Falcon on drums. Almost everyone there spoke cajun and in general most of the people were elderly – the music was almost entirely of cajun origin and all of the vocals were in that language – but every now and then they would slip in a western or hillbilly tune. In Lake Charles I met Eddie Shuler who produces Goldband Records, he used to play a little guitar himself and was with the Hackberry Ramblers for quite a while in his younger days. He has recorded a good deal of cajun music but will wax anything he comes across. I Interviewed one of the real old-timers of Negro french music in Rayne, La. – Sidney Babineaux -and I hope that the album ZYDECO (F 1009) will soon be ready – at least all of the material has been recorded.
On I went to the home of the old jazz: New Orleans after driving through New Iberia where Clifton Chenier was playing a gig. The Jaffes keep the sessions at Preservation Hall going every night giving the tourists as well as native white listeners a chance to hear some of the best jazz in the world. One night I actually heard the “Saints’ because someone had paid $5.00 for it!!! In general the bands always play just what they please and many nights the music is beautifully relaxed. I met Sam Charters again and his wife Anne, who had just returned from a trip to Central America and who has also been working on two films on Blues featuring Sleepy John Estes, Memphis Willie B. & others. Sam was also very excited about a woman singer he had met who sang in 17th century French. The results will eventually appear on Folkways. However he scoffed at my plans to produce an album of ZYDECO music — I guess he feels that is “inferior” music like Rhythm and Blues: To me it is all very much alive and vital. Also met Ken Mills again of ICON Records and an agreement was made to issue some of his wonderful material on the Arhoolie label (F 1013) – a sort of sampler of some of the bands he has recorded but many of the tracks are alternate takes or are numbers which will not be issued on Icon.
From New Orleans I went up into Mississippi — Hattiesburg, where thanks to hints and clues from Paul Oliver, I talked to a number of members of Kid Vick’s Edgewater Crows. they made records in the 30s and anyone who has them please drop me a line – I would love to have a little tape dub of them. I first thought I had found members of the Miss. Jook Band but even though they used that name – it turned out they really belonged to the Edgewater Crows. There apparently was a lot of music in Miss. in those days – but most of it has vanished with the mechanization of agriculture. I was also told that the Miss. Mud Steppers (Old- Timey LP X 100) came from just north of Hattiesburg but unfortunately I did not follow this up.
Through the piney woods to Alabama – Bessemer and Birmingham. Met various people who recorded in Birmingham and a man who called himself Piney Brown introduced me to a blind guitar player – and singer – whom I recorded. Otherwise I found nothing of interest – and went off to Georgia. Churches everywhere in Alabama and Georgia – but no jook joints – where you would see a road house or jook joint in Louisiana there would be a church in this part of the country. In Atlanta thanks to the hospitality of Dough Grimm I was shown around town and met a number of personalities in the music biz. Piano Red was the most important – I met him at station WAOK where he has a daily program as “Dr. Feelgood” and his recent recordings under that name have been quite successful from a commercial standpoint – and they are funny!! But no one knew the whereabouts of Charlie Lincoln, Buddy Moss, or Fred McMillan – but Piano Red told me that Curley Weaver was dead. On a Monday night I finally heard Red’s band at the Magnolia Ball Room but the music was very disappointing. I guess I had expected too much hoping for the wonderful swinging sound of the band he had when Victor recorded him at that same ball room for their Groove label – but his “Interns” today are nothing like it. It’s a drab band of youngsters who play, the latest pop R&B tunes and members of the band take the vocals – Red only sings the last number in a set and you can guess what that is! But no doubt his changing with the times has made it possible for Red to survive in this fickle music biz – and since his band attracts mostly teenagers I guess it has a secure future – but with the three guitars, electric bass, and drums you can’t hear a note the leader plays – and he is such a fine pianist – what a shame!
Off again – this time to Macon, Ga.. Primary elections were just around the corner – and if you know the South, these are more important than the final elections since only conservative Democrats run for office – the primaries decide on one of them. The radio was filled with the insane screeches and Hitler like outbursts of one Marvin Griffin who was running for governor on a platform which could be summarized as: “Keep the niggers out of the government and in their place – as they would put it down there.” It was simply a hate campaign -you felt you were in another world – fortunately he lost the election. Atlanta is really almost an oasis in the desert. It has one of the best newspapers in the South – maybe in the country – it was one of the few papers to print the full text of Khrushev’s letter to J.F.K. – the Atlanta Constitution. It is a modern, big, teeming city, but I felt that on the whole Georgia would have been better off had it remained a British Colony! Anyway in Macon I really had quite an experience but space does not permit details here (subscribe to Jazz Report for fuller accounts of some of the experiences I had). I finally did record a man who although I first thought he was quite a songster, turned out to be largely a singer of gospel and spiritual numbers – very moving, with bottleneck and quite primitive. He was the first player I have ever met who actually carried a real bottle neck with him – even though his guitar had been broken. On to Brunswick to visit my sister and brother in law but hopes to hear the washboard band which is active there faded when we found out that two of its members were ill and that the rest were putting on a clown act at a small white club – and wanted nothing to do with old time blues. I felt the sea islands had been sufficiently covered by Mr. Lomax and so I went on to Savannah where I found some of the old 78s on the new auction list – no doubt Savannah must have blues talent but I was too worn out or lazy – and it was hot – I wish Paul Oliver had been along – he was wonderful for pursuing leads even though the weather and other factors were against us – Paul, I hope you come back
Now off to the land of the real hillbillies – the Carolinas – met various recording men but none of them had any feeling for the rich heritage which was all around them – all they seem to want is that Nashville “sound”. I spent a very enjoyable morning with one of the real “Greats” of hillbilly music: J.E. Mainer. He and his brother Wade with various friends had made some of the finest records of that type during the 30s for the Blue Bird label. J.E.’s family is carrying on the tradition: His son J.E. Junior plays with him and another son Glen, who lives near there joins him from time to time, also one of his daughters who plays guitar is still with him. I am very hopeful about being able to present the music of this remarkable family on the Arhoolie label in the not too distant future. (By the way some of the Blue Bird originals by this group are on my new auction list!) For a full article on the Mainer family look for the American Folk Music Annual this coming spring.
Off again to Washington, D.C. – not much luck there but a nice evening with collector and field worker Dick Spottswood & his wife. He has one of the most impressive collections of old Paramounts and that vintage material I have ever seen, From there to Baltimore and Philadelphia. In Philadelphia I met the man who operated one of the best labels on the East Coast: Gotham’s Mr. Ballen. He also produced 20th Century Records (Ralph Willis, etc) and many other obscure labels. I bought what he had left in the way of blues 78s, which unfortunately wasn’t very much but he is now working only as a custom pressing plant & is on a 24 hour shift pouring out Twist and Bosa Nova LPs. On to New York – this is a very quicky summary – but space is running out – met Israel Young at the Folklore Center. Also saw Len Kunstadt of Record Research fame – and visited Victoria Spivey. Made a deal with Sam Goode to stock Arhoolie LPs but am not sure if that will last very long! Meeting Mr. Goode was quite fantastic – maybe his life is typical of New Yorkers? I hope not but it was like going through an art gallery on a motor bike when he showed me through two of his stores and warehouses – although the sights were not as picturesque to the average person. He was very nice but what a frantic way of life! Take me back to Texas or good old California!
From the East Coast I went through the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah River – real hill country from there – through West Virginia and Ohio up to Detroit, where I met one of the real characters in the record business: Joseph Von Battle – who was the man behind many of the early John Lee Hooker sides – he now leases some of his many sermons to Battle-Riverside and seems to do very well with them judging from his initial royalty statement which I saw. He has reels of old tapes – all unmarked – stacks of acetates -also unmarked – but since I was curious we listened to some and I bought some by a very nice–guitar and harmonica duet who unfortunately will remain unknown since even JVB couldn’t recall who they were!! The people at Fortune/ Records were not very cooperative at all and the only word I got out of the man was that he might issue an LP by Big Macao sometimes.
On down to Chicago – the blues capital of the world – and a very pleasant stay with Bob Koester and a few days with Down Beater Pete Welding. Bob is working on his new Sleepy John Estes LP which he hopes to have out soon – but business is slow and Bob is having trouble getting up the loot – also saw Muddy Waters band with Bob and some of his friends – at Club Alex -great band with Otis Spann, harmonica, gtr, bass, and drums – and Muddy sounded very good. One Sunday I started with Pete Welding on Maxwell St where we saw and heard Daddy Stovepipe, James Brewer, & Arvella Grey. Stovepipe is a very good spiritual singer and makes up songs on the spot – was also favorably impressed with James Brewer. From there we went to a big religious con-cert – a homecoming for the Staple Singers and Pete presented them with the Down Beat Award -other groups were the Meditation Singers – very emotional group of ladies who really put on a show – they should make it on the Gospel Circuit! After that I went back to the Club Alex where a “going sway” party was in progress for Shakey Jake, Jump Jackson, Willie Dixon and others who were shortly to leave on a tour of Europe. Pete Welding is doing in Chicago what I had planned on doing and that is record the many fine blues players around Chicago today – and the results of Pete’s work may sooner or later appear on LPs. Anyway we will soon hear more from Pete.
From Chicago south again to Louisville – a very pleasant stay with blues fan Paul Garon who is doing some research work in that area. On down to Nashville. Some time ago a fellow recorder and researcher Don Hill had stopped by my place in Los Gatos and played me some tapes and one lead by singer, guitarist James Campbell impressed me. He was kind enough to give me their addresses and so this year the group was recorded for Arhoolie. Especially good was the oldtime fiddler Clay Buford who can also play banjo, and guitar. I recorded him with just the guitar backing on a few very nice blues and breakdowns. On south to Miss. where they were having riots – back through New Orleans again and Houston back to the West Coast. The climax of my trip came close to home: In Phoenix, Arizona where after two years of searching for him, I finally located the preacher whom I first had heard on the streets of Scottlandville north of Baton Rouge, La. – he is a wonderful singer, guitar player and leads a very spirited congregation at his sanctified church there. I began my recording of this artist but a full story and more details will have to be put off until some future time since I’m running out of space.
In closing I want to wish all of you a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year – may the man with this big beard on his face bring you many low-down records -I’ll be happy to help him!
This fall Arhoolie was two years old and maybe in the next issue I can devote some space to telling you about all the people who have helped make it possible – not the least of which were you the customers. Thanks for now.