MEMORIES; “Eslie, a.o.”:
Looking at a photograph of Dan DelSanto and The Arm Bros band in front of their bus at the bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom in May of ’74 got me to thinking (see Notes – 3314, O&S #53). I’ve never been a major bluegrasser in my musical tastes, but it was “and now for something different” to go to Bill Monroe’s annual bash. And it was well worth the sidetracking for me, because there was a lot of great music to be heard and “new” musicians (for me) to be exposed to! It happened this way.
Dan and the band were slowly working their way to Indiana and the festival, and we decided to meet up first in Rochester, NY. It was more or less on the way. That was where one Lesley Riddle lived (I think it was Kip Lornell who gave me his address) – not all were interested only in Son House. Dan and the boys were interested in meeting Riddle, who helped A.P. Carter gather songs from African Americans in the ‘20s – similarly to what Brownie McGhee also did back in the day with Carter. In fact, McGhee and Riddle went way back as musical friends in Tennessee, playing together often: Brownie on guitar and Lesley on mandolin or guitar. I sounded out Riddle on the possibility of recording for me, but he wasn’t interested, but he was a very gracious man. Fortunately for “us”, Mike Seeger had more luck than I… but I was just a passing fad for him and Mike had a longer-term relationship with him.*
What was I doing there in that direction, you might well ask?! Pretty far from the Piedmont! Well, I was going to Detroit for my third Sunday afternoon of blues piano players. This I had done in 1972 with Mike Rowe, Peter Bullock, and with the guidance and assistance of Boogie Woogie Red. (See NOTES entry for Trix 3311, O&S #23) A serious amount of recording was done that June. Feeling comfortable enough to go alone after that, I went again the following year after getting OK’d by Lamp. By ’74 I had decided to put together an album from the two afternoons’ taping – by then I also had a “real” camera (Nikon F2) and needed photographs for the album covers. Thus began another position on my business card! Again, I OK’s it with Lamp well in advance to come by, and called all the folks I recorded, telling my intent and needs. Interestingly, everyone showed up for the photo session except Red (who I had lots of photos of anyway!). It was on my way there when I stopped at the festival – well worth the detour! So I had quite a varied musical buffet on that trip.
Actually, that wasn’t my main purpose for heading into the Mid-west. The trip was activated initially by Jim O’Neal and Amy VanSingle, then co-editors of LIVING BLUES magazine, who were on a mission! They had heard many a Chicago blues artist playing informally and acoustically in their living rooms and felt that there should be some sort of documentation done of this sort of playing while still possible. Now at that point in time, the local record companies recording blues in Chicago were underwhelmed by the thought of recording the acoustic flavor. It was the electric bar bands that ruled the recording roost back in that day and time. Money was tight and folks didn’t see any fiscal benefit of recording acoustic blues. So Jim and Amy approached Mr. Acoustic Blues (moi) to take up the slack! It was also a good “fit” philosophically for me.
So began my brief, but intensive, association with Homesick James, and Honeyboy Edwards that led to a pair of very fine albums (NOTES Trix 3315, O&S #26; NOTES Trix 3319, O&S #25) that caught many by surprise on release. The world had moved on from acoustic blues by then… another example of my good timing! Jim and Amy had the right idea, though, and supported me in my efforts, smoothing my way around in a major city I did not know and which did not know me, either. Thanks, guys. It turned out worthy and worth-while, if not financially remunerative! Again, I caught the proverbial iceberg’s tip in another locale: “What a long, strange trip it’s been!” for me and my dogs.
*Lesley T. Riddle was recorded by Mike Seeger between 1965 and 1978, portions of which were collected on the very fine CD album “Step By Step” by Rounder Records. He played guitar or piano on the album. Riddle also appeared in various folk festivals over the years, aided by the Carter connection, and was often recorded there until his death in 1980 from lung cancer. [big tobacco’s revenge]. There are many and varied sources of information published on Lesley – prime among them being a 38 page booklet written by Barry O’Connell: ‘“STEP BY STEP”: LESLEY RIDDLE MEETS THE CARTER FAMILY. A Biographical Essay with Notes to His Recordings”. This booklet was published privately in Amherst, MA in 1993.
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney; Sep 2015