The loss of Archie Green

Our condolences go out to Archie Green’s family as well as the extended family involved in folk culture, or as he always referred to it more precisely, vernacular culture. We all lost a remarkable and unique spirit and advocate in Archie Green, who died on March 22nd at his home in San Francisco. He was 91. For details I refer you to the most comprehensive obit which appeared in the New York Times on March 28th written by William Grimes.

Archie was not only a founding board member of the Arhoolie Foundation, but he had a profound influence on America’s folk culture, me personally and on almost everyone involved in the wide world of vernacular American roots music. I will never forget how at almost every event in which I heard him participate, Archie would conclude the session by not only summarizing the important points but by “hitting the nail right on the head” so to speak, giving us all a dose of what is important and where our focus should be. One of my fondest encounters with Archie was in the early 70s when he was at the University of Texas at Austin, and introduced me to a young graduate law student, Jerry Abrams. Although I had been recording many kinds of regional or vernacular music for years, especially in Texas, I had not dared to tackle one of my favorites, Mexican border (conjunto or norteño) music, until Archie introduced me to Jerry. He was just starting to use his recently acquired legal expertise to work with the United Farm Workers Union in the Rio Grande Valley. Jerry had befriended activist, songwriter, teacher, and singer Rumel Fuentes who lived in Eagle Pass, TX. Both were frequent visitors to Piedras Negras, just across the river from Eagle Pass, where they would hang out at bars frequented by Los Pingüinos del Norte, a typical yet marvelous local conjunto that had a huge repertoire of regional songs and corridos!

I soon met Jerry and Rumel and became an enthusiastic fan of Los Pingüinos, and was able to make my first recording of this delightful regional music. I was able to record them “live” in a local cantina, something no one had ever done (at least not for commercial release) because I was impressed with how emotional Rumel and other patrons reacted with their gritos, especially to the corridos which were obviously a large part of the Pingüinos’ popular repertoire. That’s how Arhoolie LP 3002 came into being, and soon led to Les Blank and I spending a good deal of time with Rumel and Los Pingüinos filming our now classic documentary, “Chulas Fronteras.” Archie instigated it all! He had this uncanny talent to put people of similar interests in touch with each other and I had always hoped he would become our international ambassador of vernacular folk culture!

There were so many other times when Archie took me under his wing. He showed me the most interesting archives and buildings in Washington, DC, and he introduced me to so many interesting folks including Nick Spitzer. Upon graduating as a folklorist from UT Austin, Nick went to work in that capacity for the state of Louisiana. I don’t know of any other folklorist who conducted the same kind of field research and outreach programs in that state. Nick not only located and met all kinds of interesting vernacular musicians, he recorded them and produced festivals featuring his discoveries. He also introduced many to guys like me who were trying to put out records for wider distribution. I wound up recording John Delafose at Nick’s suggestion, along with the Carriere brothers, just to name a couple. You can read about many of Archie’s other incredible deeds in the obit – he will be missed but not forgotten!