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Chris Strachwitz Remembers Mance Lipscomb

Mance Lipscomb
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  • Chris Strachwitz Remembers Mance Lipscomb 00:00
Interviewee: Chris Strachwitz
Interviewer: Tom Diamant
Date: 
Location: California
Language: English

This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. info@arhoolie.org

See below photo gallery for a transcript of the interview

Chris Strachwitz Interview Transcript:

Chris Strachwitz:

Okay, so I was a total Lightnin’ Hopkins fan. I loved the records he was making and he made them for all different labels, but I heard a lot of, Hello Central, for example, was one of my favorites. But almost everything he put out was just an extraordinary record. And by the time I went to Berkeley in the… Actually it wasn’t really until after I served in the army and came back in ’56 to resume my studies on the GI bill in Berkeley, that I met Sam Charters there. And I saw that he was beginning to work on his book about the country blues. Which was really the first book about blues that came out. And he first didn’t seem all that interested in Lightnin’ but I kept pestering him about him. I don’t know why, but I did. And it finally turned out that he did apparently think that he was some interesting character.

Chris Strachwitz:

And so in 1959, I think it was in early ’59, by that time I was teaching high school in Los Gatos. He sent me a postcard from Houston and it said, I found Lightnin’ Hopkins. He lives here in Houston, Texas, and this guy, Mack McCormick is trying to be his agent or his, sort of his agent exactly. So I literally, in the summer of that year, that must have been in the early spring that I got that postcard. And I took literally a pilgrimage to Houston just to meet Lightnin’ Hopkins. I was not planning to record him at all at that time. I simply wanted to meet Lightnin’ Hopkins in Houston. And so I took a pilgrimage down and took, let’s see, I took a bus… No, I drove my sister’s car to Albuquerque who was working there and then I took a bus from Albuquerque down to Houston and stayed at the YMCA and met Mack McCormick. He took me to meet Lightnin’ Hopkins. And I thought this was the most amazing character and I think he realized very quickly that I was a white guy who was really not interested in neither recording him nor being his agent of any kind. Finding him work in the so-called folk world that he was beginning to be introduced to via McCormick and John Lomax, Ellen Lomax’s brother, who lived in Houston. You see, they were trying to have Lightnin’ perform at some of their hootenannies.

Chris Strachwitz:

So I had a wonderful talk with him. And then he said, “Well, come on and hear me tonight. I’m playing at this little beer joint.” I forgot the name of it. And Mack knew where it was and so we went there that night and that’s of course, where I, for the first time heard him live. I was totally knocked out by what he was doing. He wasn’t really singing his records at all. He was simply making up lyrics and rhyming them up while he was playing his ferocious electric guitar. I think it was L.C. Williams on the drums backing him up. And he was rhyming up how he was hurting that day and how his arthritis was bothering him and how he could hardly get to the gig that night about, it was raining hard and his car couldn’t see the chuck holes on the road. And then he pointed at me.

Chris Strachwitz:

He said, “Whoa, man, this man come all the way from California just to hear poor Lightnin’ sing.” And I mean, I had never encountered anything like that from any Black blues musicians that I’d met here on the west coast. There had been a number of them. They were always singing songs that they knew and sort of… When we drove home, I said to Mack, somebody’s got to record this man at a joint like this. Just the way he makes up stuff on the spot. This is just amazing. And that is what happened. I did not go looking to record for him. That was not my intention.

Chris Strachwitz:

However, the next year when I finally came in 1960, because I was also going to meet up with Paul Oliver in Memphis that same summer on my vacation from teaching. And I had brought a tape machine along and I was hoping to maybe record Lightnin’ in a beer joint. Well, that never happened. I mean, we tried. I remember and Mack McCormick and him almost got into a fist fight outside the place because Lightnin’ when it comes to recording, he becomes a different person.

Chris Strachwitz:

You know, he wants his money up front and anything else, but that he starts arguing with somebody. I tried, but I didn’t really succeed. And it also turned out that that was a summer that Lightnin’ was booked to play the Berkeley folk festival. He was to come out here with John Lomax and he was leaving actually, I think the next day when we got there, when I got there, in 1960. And so on our way back from the beer joint to where Mack was living, Mack didn’t really care for Lightnin’ all that much. He thought he was sort of an entertainer and he wasn’t any Son House or whatever, these people thought were the great blues singers. So I said, and he told me, Mack told me, “You know Chris, there must be guys like that around here, out in that part of the country where Lightnin’ comes from.”

Chris Strachwitz:

And so that’s when we happened… He said, “Well, Chris, you got a car. Why don’t we go out towards that part of the country?” And as we drove out there, I had become a kind of a detective by then as to how to locate blues singers. Because on my way down from California, I had driven with Bob Pinson the record collector, but he got off in Dallas and he already helped me find Lil’ Son Jackson . I knew he was living in Dallas or Fort Worth somehow, I think, but I’m not sure. But also Paul Oliver had sent me a long letter full of names that had recorded in Dallas and Fort Worth back in the ’20s and ’30s. And I remember asking some guys in the streets in Dallas and Fort Worth, once I was leaving Bob Pinson up there.

Chris Strachwitz:

I saw some guys playing cards or something like that on the sidewalk and I asked him about a guy named Little Brother because I had a ’78 by a guy named Little Brother. So I asked him, one of them, asked him, “Do you know where Little Brother might be?” And they, one of them came up to me and he said “What do you want with him?” Well I like his music that he made on this record. And this guy told me “Well, he hangs out with Black Ace,” and of course Black Ace was on the letter that Paul had sent me, that’s an unforgettable name, you know? And so I said, “Oh my God, where could I found Black Ace?”

Chris Strachwitz:

“Well, he comes into this Tavern almost every afternoon, around five o’clock.” It was just a beer joint, just around the corner. And so I went there and there came this man with a white shirt on, had ace written on his shirt. I said, “Are you Black Ace?” He said, “Yes, sir.” And that’s how I met Black Ace. And then Bob Pinson also had the idea to look in the phone book because we knew that Lil’ Son Jackson’s real name was Melvin Jackson. And so he looked in an old phone book from the ’50s, you see? And there was a Melvin Jackson in the phone book and we called him and we asked him, “Are you the same as Lil’ Son Jackson?” And he said, “Yes.”

Chris Strachwitz:

And he was working at this kind of auto supply place. That’s where Paul Oliver took that cover photo of him. Anyway, so we had become sort of detectives and on the out of Houston on that day in 1960, when we were sort of hoping to find somebody like Lightnin’, because I wanted some real blues man. I saw some Black people chopping cotton or whatever they were doing on this field. They were kind of hoeing along on those rows. And I went up to the fence and so they came over to the fence and they said, “What you all looking for?” And I said, “Well do you know any guitar pickers in these parts?” And of course they looked at me kind of strange and said, “Well, you got to go to Navasota for that. And that’s what we actually were heading for, for Navasota.

Chris Strachwitz:

And when we got to Navasota, I believe that I and Mack had both heard Lightnin’s gold star record of Tim Moore’s farm, which is a pretty powerful song against somebody that ‘they ain’t, but the one thing I done wrong, but move his wife and fell family to Mr. Tom Moore’s farm. If you ask Mr. Moore for $5, he’ll haul off and give you $10 to put you further in debt’ and stuff like that. It was a really powerful song, but I didn’t even think about that song at that time. I was just looking for somebody that we might, a local musician that’s like Lightnin’. But Mack, of course he was so knowledgeable about Texas. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t get to know half of what I eventually did about the whole underground world and especially the blues world and zydeco and all that, if it hadn’t been from Mack McCormick.

Chris Strachwitz:

And so he said, “Well, anybody knows anybody will be at feed store. You can always find out.” And I remember we went to the first feed store that we saw and Mack and I walked in and I let him do all the talking. Because to me, this was a totally new world. You know, I’d never encountered anything like it. And he said, “By any chance, does Tom Moore live in this town?” And one of the guys answered back and says, “Yes, Mr. Moore sure does.” And Mack said, “Well, how can I get a hold of him?” He said, “Well, there’s a telephone right there. He’s got an office over the bank building. You can just go talk to him, call him.” And Mack did. And apparently, I let Mack do all the talking and he acts like a policeman, kind of. He never, I mean, I was an enthusiast. I would’ve totally blown the whole scene if I’d opened my mouth.

Chris Strachwitz:

So we went up to Mr. Moore’s office. We actually met Tom Moore there. And I thought he was really very pleasant towards us, you know? And Mack asked him, I think it was quite soon about… Oh yeah, he first asked him, can we come and visit your plantation? I want to see it. And Mr. Moore said, “Well, you can make an appointment for that because I can’t do it this afternoon. I don’t have time right now, but if you want to do it, I’ll be happy to show you around.” And then Mack said, all of a sudden, “Well, do you happen to know of any local musicians that the people seem to like here in town?”

Chris Strachwitz:

And as far as I can remember, he said, “Yes, there seems to be a guy that almost all of the people here seem to enjoy.” He plays for, for dances. And so on that Mack mentioned that his suppers or private parties or dances. But Tom Moore said, “Well, I don’t know his name, but you can go down to the railroad station and ask Peg Leg, I’m sure he can tell you who it is.” And that’s how we went to the railroad station and of course you couldn’t miss Peg Leg. At least that’s what I think, he was right there. Of course the image of the one-legged man that’s in the films has been embedded in my mind from that time on. That I don’t think that was quite the way. It was more interesting when Mance tells it that he was in some beer joint near there and that somebody asked him to come out and talk to us, you see? And he gave us the name.

Chris Strachwitz:

That’s his name, is Mance Lipscomb. That’s the first time we ever heard his name. And he told him exactly where he lived on the Washington road and gave us the address. And we went there and of course he wasn’t home. It was kind of in the middle of the afternoon or late afternoon by then. His wife said, “He’ll be back around five o’clock or 5:30 or there about.” And so we came back and that was really how we met and recorded Mance Lipscomb that same evening. Because I think Mack asked him, asked Mance, “Well, could you play us some blues?”

Chris Strachwitz:

And I’m not sure whether he actually said that, let me get my guitar over there. I said, I have a guitar in my car, which I was carrying around because John Lunberg at the time before I left from Berkeley, he said, “If you’re going down south, you should really take a guitar with you, an acoustic guitar because you’re going to be possibly meet people who either have no instrument or a horrible one or an electric one that doesn’t sound good.” Anyways so he talked me into getting that harmony that I was carrying with me. Anyway, Mance took the guitar and played, I think St. Louis blues for us or something like that. Or shine on harvest moon. And then Mack said, “Well, do you know any…”

Chris Strachwitz:

As I said, he used this sort of police like questioning always. And he suddenly told Mance, “Do you happen to know this song about Tom Moore?” And Mance was just astonished and said, “Oh, you want the real stuff?” And of course, but then when we did the recording, he said, “Don’t put this out while I’m still alive here.” You know, I forgot exactly what his response was, but he was definitely opposed to having it out. And I told him, I will not put it out. We are just interested in this song, if you happen to know it. And so he recorded it.

Chris Strachwitz:

And unfortunately Mack did issue it on that 77 label in England. But of course nobody in the states ever heard about it. So nobody in Navasota ever heard about it. Although Mance did hear about it eventually that it was being put out someplace, but it didn’t bother him at that time. By the time that Mance became sort of famous in Navasota, a nephew of Tom Moore, apparently invited Mance to a party to come and play for him, you see. And Mance tells me that, well, he asked me to play the song about his uncle, Tom Moore. And Mance said, “Chris, I had a hard time getting all the good verses to that song together.” Because he didn’t, he didn’t want to play any of the bad ones.

Chris Strachwitz:

But there were some good ones like how the four Moore brothers got together at the Rice hotel, which is the biggest hotel in Houston and had wonderful parties there. And that line about if your woman ever quits you, tell Mr. Moore and he’ll ever brought right back. It was a system that I really had no knowledge about. And that’s really how we met Mance Lipscomb and on the way back to Houston. I remember I didn’t, I thought he was a wonderful gentleman. He was a very likable person. He was an extraordinary human being, I thought right off the bat. But he was no Lightnin’ Hopkins because he was not a ferocious blues singer. You know, that just came out. I don’t know how to put it.

Chris Strachwitz:

And he never called himself a blues singer. He said he played blues, but that’s when we asked him, I’m a songster. He was very definite about that. He said, I’m a songster, and I didn’t even know what a songster was in contrast to a blues singer, not until I met Paul Oliver and all those people. And actually I read the book that McCormick and Oliver put out and there’s a whole amazing scenario about what made songsters popular in those earlier days and those pre blues days. And I remember Mance actually told me once he said, “You know Chris, we had, we didn’t know no blues until… That was the Handy came out with that St. Louis blues.” I think it was the first one.

Chris Strachwitz:

He said, “We had something similar to blues. We call them billets.” I said, “Was it ballad?” “No,” he said, “Not ballads. No, this is billets. We call them billets.” But I’ve never been able to figure out what those were or they must have been sort of a pre blues type of thing where you simply tell stories about somebody. But again, all that kind of thing I’ll leave to scholars to dig into.

Tom Diamant:

You said that you had, before you met Mance, you met Lil’ Son Jackson and also Black Ace. Did you record them when you met them?

Chris Strachwitz:

Yes.

Tom Diamant:

So you actually recorded them before you recorded Mance?

Chris Strachwitz:

Yes. Correct. I recorded, not Black Ace because he didn’t have his guitar. I mean he had his guitar but he had no strings. So I think I bought him some strings. So when we came back with Paul Oliver, I think that’s when I recorded Black Ace. But I couldn’t swear to it. You’d have to look in the logs when that was. But I did record Lil’ Son Jackson, although he was first very reluctant to because when I asked him how much it’s going to cost me, he said, “Well, that’s going to cost you a $100 a song.” You see, that’s sort of what these guys were used to getting from some of these companies. And I said, “Well, I can’t afford that, but this is really only a kind of a historical document. We’re trying to, to document the Texas blues and maybe you can sing stuff like, you may learn from Blind Lemon or stuff like that, you know?”

Chris Strachwitz:

And so he finally agreed to do something. I forgot how much I paid him the first time. But he was kind of reluctant. He had had a bad experience, had a bad accident with his band when all the other guys got drunk always. It was really, he quit the music business. But he finally agreed to do that. And then I think we did some more once Paul came with us on the way back to California. You see Paul and I stopped again in Dallas and Fort Worth.

Tom Diamant:

So you went on this trip to really, to start a record company, to get material, to start a record company?

Chris Strachwitz:

On the 1960 trip, yes, because I mean, I had made sort of amateur recordings of K.C. Douglas and of Jesse Fuller in the Bay area. And even with Ken Mills, the guy who put out the Icon label. I went to LA and I think we found this fellow John Hogg who was some relation to Smokey Hogg and stuff like that. And yeah, I mean, I was intrigued by the whole record business from the get go when I was even a child. I was absolutely knocked out by photograph records because you could put the needle down and you got the amazing sounds coming out at you. I just, I was totally knocked out by that.

Tom Diamant:

So how did Mance feel when the first LPs, you shipped them the first LPs. How did he react to that? Did he start getting gigs? What happened after that?

Chris Strachwitz:

Well, yes. You see the first trip that I remember, he took was probably the next year when… God, I’m not sure about the whole sequence of events there. Whether he appeared at the Berkeley Folk Festival before he recorded an album for Frank Sinatra’s label, what was the name of it? Oh yeah. There was a review in the Saturday review of literature that Pete Welding, I think had written about Mance Lipscomb, the first LP. By then Mance had been at the Berkeley Folk Festival, I believe. Yeah. And all of a sudden these people at Reprise Records, this lady called me and she said, “Would you sell as this master, you see that you made of this man, Mance Lipscomb?”

Chris Strachwitz:

And I said, “No, I don’t particularly want to sell this master, but you know, he lives in Houston. He’d be happy to make you all the records you want if you pay him right.” And so this lady at Reprise contacted Mack McCormick and he got Mance to do a bunch of sessions for that Reprise Record, which they eventually, I think, came out with two of them on CDs. It was also on an LP. And of course that was much more widely distributed because I slowly was learning that it’s all in the distribution that you, where the problem lies. And when I met Bob Geddins that became very obvious that he could never get anything going by just on his own labels. And so he let some of them other boys have them, you see. Figured maybe they can make a hit out of something. Anyway, I learned something all the way, every step of the way along the line, you know?

Tom Diamant:

When Mance was asked to, was the Berkeley Folk Festival the first time he traveled to go and play?

Chris Strachwitz:

Yes.

Tom Diamant:

So how did he feel about that? I mean, he had a regular job. He had a whole life. Did he realize what he was getting into or how did…?

Chris Strachwitz:

No, because I think his work at the time… Sure, it was an existence. He was cutting grass on the highway for the county, I think. I’m not really sure. I mean, he had made some money when he’d gone to Houston some couple of years beforehand. And there was an accident that some lumber fell on him and a lawyer got in touch with him. He somehow got, I think, $1,500 with which Mance bought the land that he eventually built his own house on, and started building his own house with that. I mean, Mance was really a brilliant guy. You know, he taught himself to read and write himself and he had a wonderful handwriting.

Chris Strachwitz:

He was really a brilliant guy and the way he memorized these songs that he would hear. I mean, I could talk to you about him for some time. I remember I always asked him where did you get these songs? And he said… Because I knew he didn’t really make up too many songs. Like many songs just were valued for what Lightnin’ was doing to be improvising things at the moment about the audience around them, in the street or wherever they were playing. But Mance never wrote many songs at all, if any, I’m not really sure. But he had an amazing ear for songs. And he said, “Chris, a lot of them, I would learn. I would go to these medicine shows or stuff that would come through town back in the early ’20s and so on. And they would always have a singer and they would sing a song that nobody had heard of.”

Chris Strachwitz:

And I remember, I forgot which song it was that he told me about. Oh God, it was one of the ballads, one of the lengthy songs. Anyway, he apparently caught onto this song and he learned it instantly by hearing it just one time. And he said, “Chris, that weekend, that following weekend, when I played the dances for my people, I got hired to do that, that’s all the people wanted to hear that night. They wanted it fast and they wanted it slow. I had to play that same song all night long. Fast and slow.” Because the people just, they had heard a new hit. That was it. And then he learned that Tom Moore thing from a guy named anyway, you can look it up. He is very brilliant about who he learned that from and so on.

Tom Diamant:

Did you go to any of the dances, the local dances that he played? Did you ever?

Chris Strachwitz:

No, I never did. No. I never attended anything like that and I’m not sure if… Yeah, I didn’t even think about it.

Tom Diamant:

You have that classic picture of Mance sitting at the Berkeley folk festival and it’s taken from behind him and you can just see his shadow outline and looks like thousands of people watching him. You say that’s his first journey out of Navasota to really play something like that. How did he react to that?

Chris Strachwitz:

Well he was this amazing gentleman. He made the best of everything. I mean, it was… I remember I met him at the train station when he came from Navasota, he somehow made it. He had to go to Houston first because there’s no train from Navasota. And then from Houston, I forgot how he finally got to Berkeley. And of course he didn’t know anybody, but he finally found me. I guess we, at that time you communicated by letters. You didn’t have telephones like you do now. No cell phones existed.

Chris Strachwitz:

So I felt rather bad because in the summertime in California, it’s not exactly hot. And I remember he came in just a shirt of on so I loaned him a jacket. Of course, it was much too big. I should have realized that. I should have taken him to a store so he could buy himself something. But somehow I didn’t even think of that. I said, well, just wear this. At least he felt at home. He stayed at, I think he may have stayed with the Huffmans. That’s very likely, but I’m not really sure. Anyway, I can’t really think of all these things.

Tom Diamant:

Was performing, first of all, performing in front of so many people, and secondly, they were white people. Do you remember him being nervous or reacting in any way about the situation he was in?

Chris Strachwitz:

No. I mean he was calm and just the way he was at home. It seemed like he was a total human being who was at peace with himself, you know? And I think he obviously enjoyed it and getting all this attention all of a sudden. I mean, he didn’t know who Pete Seeger was. But I mean, I was backstage there with him. That’s how I took that picture with my Leica. And Pete Seeger was there and all kinds of other folkies. I forgot who. I think he enjoyed this kind of attention by not necessarily people who were haunting him to record or anything, but to value him for what he represented. And I think he realized that. He was really a very spiritual person and a total gentleman. He never used swear words. He never… he was really totally an unusual human being.

Tom Diamant:

There’s some story about you running, traveling somewhere with Mance and running into, wanting to get some food and Mance-

Chris Strachwitz:

Oh yeah.

Tom Diamant:

Can you tell that story?

Chris Strachwitz:

Oh yeah. I think by that time I had a Volkswagen panel truck, that’s right. And I drove back from Berkeley with Mance. I think he had come out by a train but I drove back with him and you know, the poor guy, he never let me know how scared he was until we finally got back to Navasota. Because in that Volkswagen, there’s nothing in front of you. And maybe I was following a little bit close sometimes to a car and Mance said, “Hey, Chris, my foot was always reaching for that pedal to break.”

Chris Strachwitz:

And I remember driving back, we finally stopped. I think he had, he wanted to get back as far as Abilene that night because he had some relatives or friends in Abilene that he could stay with at night. I think we probably drove the whole damn way from Berkeley to Abilene, if I’m not mistaken. Because it was nighttime by the time we got there. And on the way down there, Mance would get us, that was in parts of New Mexico, I think already. Or was it West Texas? But you know, said, “Let’s just go get a hamburger in this joint.” And of course we sat down and I told Mance, I got to go to the restroom really badly. He probably did too, but I went first, I guess. And when I came back, he was gone. And I asked the man behind the counter, “Where did the man next to me go?”

Chris Strachwitz:

“Well, he might be in the kitchen.” I said, “what?” And so I went in the kitchen there, he was eating his hamburger and he said, “Well, Chris, this is where us folks have to go if we go to a white folks cafe.” And so they told him that he had to go eat in the kitchen, I guess they didn’t stop us from sitting down at least. They didn’t, but I’d never experienced that before.

Tom Diamant:

The picture that you took of Mance that appears on the very first Arhoolie cover. There’s a couple of more in that series including one where there’s a, I think it’s a little girl looking out from the screen door. Was that one of Mance’s children?

Chris Strachwitz:

No. He only had, Mance only had one son, Mance junior, but he produced something like 20 some off springs. And so Mance had to pretty much raise all of them. And in another picture from that same year, I think you’ll see a couple of older girls sitting next to his wife. Those were all kids that Mance raised because his son never had his act together. You know, of really being able to afford. Mance somehow was the total family gentleman who figured somebody has to take care of these kids. And even with his small income, whatever it came from, they all survived in that house. I mean, it’s amazing what people did with what little they had. It was really extraordinary to me. Well, see, I learned a lot about life.

Tom Diamant:

So did you continue to record Mance throughout his, the rest of Mance’s life?

Chris Strachwitz:

Yes. Pretty much. I recorded him on many occasions and because I thought I’d try to bring out the repertoire that he knew. And so at different times we focused on some of the ones that he had not yet recorded and so on. And I remember one time I was recording him at my house in Berkeley. By that time I had the house, which I think I got in ’64. And Pete Welding was in town. My good friend who used to be editor of DownBeat magazine. He also played guitar and he was a well known critic already in papers and so on. And Pete asked, “Chris, can I come and buy and watch you record Mance?” And I said, “Sure, come on up to the house.

Chris Strachwitz:

So we were recording already and all of a sudden, Pete said to Mance, “Would you mind if I tune your guitar?” And of course Mance is a total gentleman, “Of course take the guitar and tune it.” And so Pete tuned it to what he thought was perfect, so called pitch. I had no idea that was, he was anything but that. And then he gave it back to Mance. And Mance took it and I said, “Okay, what’s going to be the next song?” and he told me what it was going to be. And I turned on the machine.

Chris Strachwitz:

And he started playing and quickly his left hand, went right back to the pegs that tuned it, back to the way he had it before. And that was another lesson that I learned about how rural people have their own way of tuning. They may be sounding slightly flat or sharp to some people, but I remember not only did I learn that on that occasion from Mance liked it the way he had it, you see? And he didn’t particularly like the way that Pete had tuned it to perfect pitch or whatever it was. And I had a long argument once with Dick Spottswood when it came to my reissuing this Polish village music from the late ’20s on folk lyric records.

Chris Strachwitz:

He had a lot of the records and I remember there was one orchestra that wonderful sounding band. But even my ears said to me that God, the clarinet or whoever it was is totally out of tune. At least, so I could really notice it. And I said, “Dick, are you sure you must put this, these numbers on there by this band?”

Chris Strachwitz:

“Yes.” He said, “You must put those on.” And then I listened again. I said, “Well, this is really awful.” And I call him again. “Dick, okay. Give me some reasons for why you think this is really essential.” He said, “Chris, first of all, those records came out on Victor. One of the big labels. Secondly, they were supervised by a Polish guy who knew what this music was all about. And thirdly, this is the way they sounded on all their records that they made.” I said, “Okay, I’ll listen to it again.” I said, that’s the way they want it. I better put them out like that. And he said, oh yeah. And Dick always said, “If you don’t do it, I’ll never speak to you again.” He was very adamant about that.

Chris Strachwitz:

And he was absolutely right that Polish village type band that lived in Chicago at the time had that rural sense of tuning the way they wanted it tuned. And of course I learned that in many other instances that rural people, especially in Peru, I mean those brass bands and bands, often there was one called actually Banda Filarmónica de Cuzco, or something like that. They’re just wonderfully out of tune to some, even to my ears, which are only… Which are quite tolerant. But these rural people have definitely own way of tuning things.

Chris Strachwitz:

And that gets to be very noticeable when you deal with, with indigenous people. It’s really extraordinary.

Tom Diamant:

Any other stories about Mance that you can tell me? That you can remember anything.

Chris Strachwitz:

He had these greyhounds. Did you ever see that picture where he had both of his greyhounds with him?

Tom Diamant:

Yeah. Tell us about those greyhounds.

Chris Strachwitz:

Well, he used to love to go rabbit hunting. You see? And apparently the greyhounds, although one of them, I believe had only three legs. But they were just, he was very fond of them. I don’t know what happened to them later on. I never really kept that close or my memory has probably faded. What happened along the way, because those were many years between 1960. And I forgot the last time I saw Mance was when he is at this hospital when he was kind of on this decline. But he was still very lucid as I recall. He was just this unusual person who made a living out of almost nothing or he did the best with what was available to him. And he had this absolute brilliant mind that would learn songs, mostly from other people that he heard. Like the very first one he sings is that sugar babe. You know, he says, “That’s the first one I learned.” He obviously learned it from somebody.

Chris Strachwitz:

Again, I have no idea how he learned his tuning or what. Some of his songs, I never really did find out where and whom he got them from. I wish I’d done more of that. Like, I remember Mary Ann Pollar’s favorite was “Tall Angel at the Bar.” She was the wife of Mr. Pollar who were promoting a lot of folk concerts there, right in the beginning, in the very early ’60s in Berkeley. They were very helpful. They came from the Rio Grande valley. They were the only Black people, I think, that were living in the Rio Grande valley at the time. And they were very interesting people. All these fascinating people I met. It’s just been extraordinary.

 

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