ODDENDA & SUCH: #97

Back page P.O.V.

Last year about this time I was in The States with my son dealing with all my “stuff[1]” in a storage unit in northern NJ. We had finally purchased a place of our own near Sydney and quit being renters!  The new owners of the storage space were being rather nasty and unreasonable with me amid multiple accusations of being in arears on the rent. They seemed to regard my long-term out-of-the-country residency as a golden opportunity to easily cash in some chips – too much watching of “reality TV” shows, I believe. Needless to say, that was not the situation at all and they had probably misplaced some paper work during their transition phase (to give them a small and undeserved benefit of the doubt). It seemed a good idea, then, for me to gather my reference materials into one usable location closer to hand – in Australia.

Julian and I had a month to work with, and I feel we used it pretty well… not perfectly, but not too bad at all. It was not a very enjoyable experience for either of us – Julian had even more difficulty with being a life-long vegetarian compared to being there in 2000. But there we were. First off, for those who are in the know (and interested), my field recording tapes were in quite decent shape: some of the tapes had some mold on them and would need special treatment for their proper preservation. All my music (field and studio) and interview tapes have now been placed with The Folklife Center at UNC – Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library, a logical location that I had considered initially back in 1990. Eventually they will send me digitized copies of everything I recorded on a hard-drive – studio efforts, “field” tapes, and interviews. It sounds (from their most recent communications) like that won’t be too much longer for it all to get here at last! Also on the good foot, my negatives were in excellent condition and I’ll have many things to do with them once my intent becomes clearer to me with all the music and writings. As an added aside, once again we happened to be there during a presidential election year and once again the good guys (relatively speaking) lost… not our fault, people… honest[2]!

The bad news was that a few boxes of LPs were too badly water damaged (source unknown) to deal with quickly enough to salvage in our allotted time and had to be tossed… sadly, “bye bye” to most of my Bluesvilles, for example. The same with some books and journals, though most of them made it through OK. Being lazy, I have let the legendary Doug Seroff take the 45s and 78s to sell for both our benefits… mostly done by now, and successfully so, I might add! I saved a few 45s by people I knew personally for reference purposes, but no 78s.

Speaking of reference purposes, I had made a wad of cassette copies of my field recordings before we left Ulster County in 1990 – 88 of them, to be specific. This was a good, if flawed idea; I say that because only one cassette track turned out to have been recorded then – I was working so fast then and hadn’t bothered then to check the results. My bad, but the machines had all worked so nicely before! I now have half-assed recordings, some not as bad in balance as one might expect, but with some important aspects missing on the “empty” track for some pieces. Such is life, but still they are useful for reference use.

The reason I bring that up now is that I’m messing about with those cassettes as best I can in the here and now, and roughly assembling possible album concepts from these adequate tapes. And most of them generally have decent enough sound for that limited purpose, but the ideas will be even better-sounding once I get my digitized two-track copies here from UNC! I have been assembling this material just from my decade “out there” in the Piedmont for what I will always refer to as potential “albums”. Single artist collections are the primary focus, with two sacred music anthology collections already put together, and (to pinch an idea from my cohort in the SE, Bruce Bastin) then some anthologies with a geographical state label, and designated as “Sketches of…”. Maybe a guitar set or two, and probably a harmonica one as well… time will tell.

Among the single artist albums already planned are: Henry “Rufe” Johnson (v.2), Baby Tate (finally! x2), Homesick James (v.2), Pernell Charity (v.2), Marvin Foddrell, possibly Frank Edwards (v.2), Cecil Barfield, Guitar Shorty (v.2), Turner Foddrell, James Davis (maybe), Honeyboy Edwards (v.2), Joe & Odell Thompson, solo Eddie Kirkland (v.2), Peg Leg Sam (v.2), Tarheel Slim (v.2), probably Roy Dunn (v.2), Earnest Scott (x2), Big Chief Ellis (v.2), John Cephas (x2), Elester Anderson (x2), Dink Roberts, George Higgs (x2), Tommy Lee Russell, Eddie L. Person, Willie Trice (v.2, +), plus one or two folks I’ve probably accidentally forgotten about right now. Some people you may have heard of before from my earlier efforts, but there are many more equally talented ones that you will have not. There’s a lot of good “stuff” in my tapes!

Thus, we’ll have “GA Sketches”, “Atlanta Sketches”, “NC Sketches”, “SC Sketches”, and “VA Sketches”, plus a miscellaneous bunch of stuff that do not fit neatly anywhere obviously geographical! All being mainly blues performances from those states, but where do I put Little Sam Davis’s eight pieces recorded in Poughkeepsie, NY, for instance… a “Harmonica Sketches” one? These anthology albums will have many artists I recorded that I feel are worthy of introducing to public notice, but without having enough material by that person to fill a whole album; plus, unused valid cuts from a number of “full” single artist’s albums[3]. As I have mentioned, I have already gathered two sacred collections of folkloric interest: one mainly with guitarists who did both sacred and secular stuff (entitled “In the Spirit”), plus another one featuring that sort as well as musicians who only did sacred music for me (entitled “I Saw the Light”). Maybe an album of harmonica players… some full-time, some also part-time and better known more as guitarists.

So, I have been a busy little, old beaver, haven’t I, as well as having some fun with it all, but right now I’m exhausted. Who will purchase this stuff and what format form it will eventually take to the public, I have no f**king idea, but onward and upward as I go against the stream… as usual! Look out, windmills… here I come! I don’t care much what folks may or may not say, but I think this stuff is both good and VERY important in the whole scheme of African American folk music performance history both in the South East and in general. There’s a whole realm of often ignored musical endeavors from that region to be shown off to y’all and enjoyed, expanding our musical knowledge and understanding.

The final category of albums will be “on-site” recordings of distinctive musical events: one such will be from the remaining recordings I did in a Detroit “after hours”/ “blind pig”, documenting local pianists in 1972 and 1973. (Parenthetically, I’ll mention that my son thinks these are the most important recordings I did in my decade’s field work from both a cultural and an historical/folkloric perspective.) Besides that stuff, there are two full nights of medicine show tapes from 1972 that I think are just as unique and important as the Detroit material in different ways! Granted, Bastin issued two LPs from them back in the day on a limited edition, 99-off Flyright set, but I was never fully comfortable with his edits from a folkloric perspective… mostly music, and not enough of the equally important spoken material. Having transcribed both night’s shows “ethnopoetically” for my Masters’ thesis while at Penn, I have a better handle on how to deal with that material. That’ll be at least two double album CD sets in my estimation, quite feasible with today’s technologies: one can get 80 minutes on one of those discs. The med show format is one of the main roots of commercial broadcasting!

Then there is the “forgotten” first evening blues concert in late 1972 at Chapel Hill that led to the later week-end series of concerts in early 1973 – the first being a one night event, the other being three. Finally, there are recordings I did during a portion of the S.U.N.Y. – New Paltz college’s day-long Spring Festival in that year: Featured are Eddie Kirkland (backed by a local band), as well as Larry Johnson, and Baby Tate (solo and as a duo) who all introduced good blues to those masses of hippies, a.o.! These “live” recordings may be more of a challenge for me to cleanly accomplish for issue, but we’ll see how it all goes, won’t we.

Going through this stuff, even superficially, I find that I did some pretty damn good work over ten years for a shy white guy from northern NJ who had never attempted such a thing before. And had no firm idea on how to do it in the first place! Certainly, an example of “fools rush in” and the sheer dumb luck that defines the term “serendipity”! My response these days to it all is one of appreciation for the artists (I always had that!) as well as a touch of awe for what turned into my successful efforts in collection and preservation. How the hell did I manage to DO that, I still wonder?! Most of the material brings back great memories of some wonderful people, plus some thoughts of sadness with others. Willie Trice going from two legs to none over the span of a year (and rising above it); Guitar Shorty, and Cecil Barfield – each living in states of nearly abject poverty that I could do nothing about.

That is how the system worked back then and it ain’t much better today, either… just different… maybe. Being poor and black in the South is not a great idea… never has been. But even poor folk have “culture” and know how to use it, either at a Saturday Night Function or a Sunday Morning Service[4]. Hell, much of this work is indirectly responsible for planting the seed for Tim Duffy and The Music Maker Relief Foundation’s existence, and I’m proud of that indirect influence. He’s been doing the best he can more recently with what he can find at a much later date than I, and much else of his actions are things I would be completely incapable of pulling off. Thanks for that, TIM! Fools rush in? Probably. But the results are worthy, ladies and gentlemen. So, hold on to your respective chapeaux. The best is, I hope, yet to come – finally!

 

          And follow what will happen with all this mess via this web site… you’ll be the second to know what happens/will happen/won’t happen (aprez moi) and we’ll all be the better off for it. Wish me luck. If I should cark it before any of this is accomplished, I will at least have left a decent set of guidelines for my son (or whoever else does it) to follow. I’m also writing essays for each prospective album idea, too, and then there are the photographs – I may not have thought of everything, but I’m coming damn close! May the farce be with you all… it’s our only hope. And, remember, music will get us through times of no money better than money will get us through times of no music. Do I hear an “Amen” to that?

PETER B. LOWRY

Sydney – Nov. 2017

[1] Referencing George Carlin!

[2] My son and I spent watching the disappointing 2000 election returns with Rochelle Goldstein, Kenny’s widow, in Philadelphia. For the latest one, we were back here by then.

[3] Foer example, “left over” Henry Johnson pieces to be used on “SC Sketches”, one on “In the Spirit”.

[4] Terms borrowed from Albert Murray’s fine book, Stomping the Blues.

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One Response to ODDENDA & SUCH: #97

  1. Meda Lerner says:

    Exciting! Can’t wait to hear some! Any news on the photos?

    Like

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