The music business is a massive crap-shoot where talent is no requisite for success, and can often even get in the way of possible success. The income possibilities can be very lucrative, but the odds are generally stacked against the independent operator. Trix Records was one of those, a one-person affair with gaping holes in my job description/resumé that are reflected in my business card (see below) of the day.
In recent installments here, I have written of my successes and failures as a record producer and folkloristic field researcher over the decades. There were always going to be musicians that I “missed” due to many possible causes – death before I “got there” [Jack Jordan/NC]; illness resulting in lost abilities [Pink Anderson/SC (O&S #10), Floyd Council/NC]; lack of interest on their part [Herman Jordan/GA – (O&S # 46), R.L. Lowe – GA (O&S #6)] in the recording process; death before I felt “finished’ with them [Henry Johnson/SC – O&S #17, #75, LP 3304]; death while “work” was in progress [Baby Tate/SC – O&S 11, 70, 75]; leads not followed up on [way too many to list!]. Too many folks and too little time for one person to do everything at the same time… you get the picture!
Then there were potential meetings with folks in the business that never took place. I was fortunate to meet and generally know many of the men involved in producing blues and jazz recordings for their own independent labels. What was known initially as N.A.I.R.D. (O&S #37), then A.I.M. (O&S #54), would gather together independent manufacturers and distributors annually to swap lies, etc. Among them were Bruce Iglauer, Bruce Kaplan, and Bruce Bromberg (they weren’t ALL named “Bruce”!): Bob Koester, Chris Strachwitz, Chuck Nessa, Gene Rosenthal, and The Rounder Collective, among others. We all tended to exchange war stories concerning the biz with each other and were generally supportive in a communitarian way. Or not!
One of the friends in my early days in the blues world of the 70s was Jim Fishel, a name to be reckoned with over the years (along with his brother, John). [Consider the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festivals, for one.] He was at one point working for John Hammond (Sr.) and was going to give him “my” issued Trix albums and to set up a meeting for me with him. With typical PBL luck, that never happened as Mr. Hammond passed away before that could take place. It would have been fun to have finally met him, the doyen of commercial record producers of quality vernacular music over the many decades and one of my heroes!
Another friend of mine was Scott Micansin, a former dancer and then cabinet-maker, who lives up near where I used to live in Ulster County, NY. His first musical connection was initially doing work for Ahmet (& Mica) Ertegun in their place on Long Island. I didn’t need his help in having a meeting with Ahmet, though – I had and already met with him at the Atlantic offices, in spite of my inherent shyness – he allowed me to do a series of vintage blues LPs from their vault, much previously unreleased (O&S #15). One of my “payments” for doing that series was to have access to one of their smaller recording studios so that I could record Tarheel Slim with a band. Due to multiple changes in the ownership of the label at that point in time, and my life’s other activities, we missed out on taking advantage of that offer. Slim’s passing didn’t help, either.
Scott had other musical clients of note, though (no pun intended), including John and Yoko Lennon – he did cabinetry for them in one of their apartments in The Dakota in NYC. Scott and I had known each other for some years; he and his then-wife, Jan, lived with me one time while they were between domiciles. Scott promised to take Lennon copies of the Trix LP releases I had to hand as we both felt that he might enjoy them. Another missed opportunity, as Lennon was gunned down in NYC before he could do that for me. [What am I, the kiss of death?]
After that, I winged it on my own, loosing money and loving the music and musicians that I had located, meeting lots of great and interesting people. I went to The University of Pennsylvania for their PhD academic program in Folklore/Folklife for a half-decade or so. This was after “My Year With Alan” [Lomax] (O&S #24) and the label’s activities slowed almost to a halt. At one point, though, “my” album “Detroit After Hours – Vol.1” (Trix 3311) was pre-nominated for Grammy consideration by Jim O’Neal. I was sadly too short of copies to send off to the Academy and hadn’t enough spare dough or time to have more pressed up for it to be possible. That would have been nice, to have been nominated, though.
I was also probably stupid not to pay attention to a request from a folklore journal for a copy of a paper I gave at one of the American Folklore Society meetings I attended/participated in. It was a paper away from my main musical interest, instead dealing with vernacular architecture and US history in early CT. Some of my more experienced fellow students said that that journal was notorious for asking anybody for papers and then culling. Don’t waste your time, they said, so I didn’t bother to submit. Lazy sod! I was an academic green-horn in those days!
The final bit in this piece happened well after 1988 and the birth of my son. Eventually he grew up enough to benefit from day-care socializing in the 90s, so he went to the home of a person living nearby for a few mornings each week. The woman (Annie) running the group told me that she was friends with Levon Helm in Woodstock, and would introduce us sometime. I was not at my best socially, mentally, or physically then and, sadly, never took her up on the offer. In some ways, it didn’t matter as Levon eventually hooked up with Little Sammy Davis (O&S #2, #81) after his second re-location in the Poughkeepsie, NY area (by Doug Price) and so all was well on that front. I do wish I had taken up the offer, though – he’d have liked my recorded output and other stuff, I suspect. It’s too late now, what with his demise a few years back*.
So there you are – missed opportunities, mainly due to others’ mortality somewhere along the way or my own laziness or stupidity. Bad timing was always a factor in my life, it seems. Like I always say, the music business is a thankless crap-shoot riddled with luck gained and luck lost or missed. As I also say, I love the music and hate the business. “C’est la vie, said the old folks… it shows that you never can tell!” as the late Charles Anderson (“Chuck”) Berry wrote/sang once upon a time.
* After Little Sammy Davis visibly returned to the Upper Hudson Valley for the last time, he began playing “out”, including regularly on the then-controversial radio show “Imus in the Morning”. Connections were made with Levon, who often had Sammy as part of the Midnight Rambles held in his barn in Woodstock and included him on his tours. A notable example being a show at The Ryman in Nashville – check the video, or other clips on youtube under Sam’s or Levon’s name. There is also a decent documentary film through vimeo as well. Sammy has had strokes and lives in a home in the Hudson Valley today, the sole survivor of my decade of folkloric field-work.
PETER B. LOWRY