Thursday, May 28, 2015

Folk Songs of North America, 1: cover

Lomax, Alan. 1960. The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company.

See also map and all front matter.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jerry Garcia Transcribing Lenny Bruce

I had completely forgotten that in 1964, upon returning from his bluegrass road trip with Sandy Rothman, Garcia got a job transcribing Lenny Bruce's comedy routines for Lenny's various legal defenses. So cool.

! ref: McNally 2002, 73.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reading Notes - Loren 2014

Loren, Richard, with Stephen Abney. 2014. High Notes: A Rock Memoir. Demariscotta, ME: East Pond Publishing.

When I read a book that I will need to be able to cite chapter and verse, this is how I arrange the chapters and verses. I just pull out quotes and other observations, I effectively tag them, and I sort them into the relevant files. So these aren't really reading notes, just cullings.

That said, I think Richard Loren's book High Notes is nice, well-written, informative, warm but also suitably dispassionate and detached. I learned a lot. Some of the many things of interest to me are David Grisman, Rowan Brothers, Stinson Beach, OAITW, drugs, banjo, Hells Angels, official releases, John Scher, John Lennon, Europe, The Movie, Nicky Hopkins, James Booker, Sirens of Titan.

Notes below the fold.

Circular on Mickey Hart and Rolling Thunder

"Mickey Hart: Off the Road and Into His Head," Circular 4, 36 (September 11, 1972), 2 pp.

Warner Brothers pimped Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder (BS 2635) in its "weekly news device" Circular for its September 1972 release. As I found with an earlier edition of Circular ("Keith. And, Modernity"), this one holds various pieces of interest to me.

First, the admen twice characterize the record as "finally done", in high "LA Passive Aggressive" style. Just gave me a chuckle.

Second, some early bio:
I was born in Brooklyn and went to Lawrence High School ... I had this groovy music teacher, Mr. Jones ... I pleaded with him to let me in the band, it was a turning point ... (He sat up, suddenly remembering the intensity.) I would have given up if I hadn't gotten in the band that day. But there weren't any openings in the band, so he let me pull the bass drum. Yeah, I had a harness and the drum sat on little wheels, see ... (he jumped up). I'd strap up in this ricksha thing and pull the drum while some other cat played it. I was the mule. (He ran around in circles pulling the invisible drum.) I did that for half a year, but I practiced and started actually playing. (He sat down, serious again.) My school had the best drummers in the state. I looked over a list of state champion drummers once (he held an imaginary list)-hey, they're all from my school. (Shrugged.) I don't know why, but Lawrence was the school to go to if you wanted to play drums.
Not sure I knew that story, but I don't really pay much attention to Mickey.

Third, more bio, especially interesting in view of the recent discovery of some Spanish Joe and the Jaguars records, featuring a sharp-looking Mickey Hart on drums, we find discussion of his time "in the Air Force Band" (see Corry's "Pre August 1967 Mickey Hart"). "It was called the Airmen of Note," Hart said, "but it was really the old Glenn Miller band." Mickey spent 3 1/2 years in Europe, also traveling to Africa: "I was just cruisin'. I loved it. No war, it was friendly, not like the Marines or the Army. I was a judo instructor, combative measures they called it, but (slyly) my cover was the band". So, "by day in Europe Mickey taught combative measures, but by night in places like Paris he'd hang out and play with Gerry Mulligan and Count Basie and whoever else was in whatever city." 

I don't claim to know Hart's bio, so I am mostly just putting this out there. Did he really play in the Air Force Band, was that really basically the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and did he really play with Count Basie? I fear this latter might be a garbling of the Count Basie connection in the "when-Mickey-joined-the-Dead" story.

Anyway, Circular is fun. I think I have another Dead-related one around here somewhere, I'll try to check it out.

! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2009. Pre August 1967-Mickey Hart. Lost Live Dead, July 22, URL, consulted 5/24/2015.

! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2011. Grateful Dead Solo Album Contracts, 1970-73. Lost Live Dead, January 15, 2011, URL, consulted 1/24/2014.
! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2012. Album Projects Recorded at Mickey Hart's Barn, Novato, CA 1971-76. Hooterollin' Around, August 24, 2012, URL, consulted 1/24/2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Weir's Book

Since books are in the air (and when, in the Good Life, aren't they), I thought I'd note that Weir says he plans to write his own.

Bring it on!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Creative Destruction

Reminder of the state of my copy of McNally 2002 as of 3/6/2011, under heading "is it possible to love books too much?"

Also in the frame: papers, printer, CD Will The Circle Be Unbroken, CD The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 1: Legion of Mary, Legion Of Mary (Rhino Records R2 74692, August 2005), a transistor radio, miscellanea.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (née Nevill) (January 5, 1893 – June 29, 1987) was a profoundly original American folk musician, vectoring between the music of isolated early 20th century North Carolina and the multimodal hypersounds of the present – check her out playing in crystal clear black and white on your youtube. A southpaw church and porch picker, Ms. Cotten played a righty-tuned guitar upside down and sang the folk and blues of a self-possessed and sassy little girl, who are known to come in all genders, ages, and sizes, Scout Finch a few decades earlier and from the unscripted side of town. 

Ms. Cotten's musical family and environs might have foreordained her, but that destiny nearly passed her by. She mostly stopped playing around 1910, when she became a single teenaged mother in Chapel Hill. Then, "In the mid-1940s, [she] chanced to meet composer Ruth Crawford Seeger at a department store. They began to talk, and Seeger soon hired Cotten to work in the Seeger household. It was here that Cotten became motivated to pick up the guitar again" (cite). Mike Seeger recorded her on reel-to-reel tape and projected her through barriers of race, class, gender through the folk revival and into national memory.

Her first record, Folksongs And Instrumentals With Guitar, appeared on Folkways (FG 3526) in 1958 (youtube), and it introduced the world, including eager young white (wannabe or legit) folkies with turntables and a bit of disposable income, to a totally localized and yet probably universally appealing "country ragtime" style and a set of songs like a bracing draw from a cold spring. Cotten's repertoire tapped timeless British Isles-meet-Africana –i.e., American—stock such as "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad", a bunch of honeybabe songs and, of course, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" (discogs), but her biographic originals are what will slay you.

She was on in years by the time she was "discovered", but this suited her frailing country voice just fine, a spirited gem coming through loud and clear on Folkways vinyl, which rescued many a prospective legend from the obscurity that befell those who never got wire-recorded and waxed in. But it's not just that, it's also the great store of the written word, promising extended-if-not-eternal life for those it picked up and, in the absence of vinyl, utter obscurity for those it missed. "Cut off by the cataclysms of the Great Depression and the Second World War and by a national narrative that had never included their kind," Greil Marcus wrote of many of the musicians appearing on the Harry Smith's Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), "they appeared now like visitors from another world, like passengers on a ship that had drifted into the sea of the unwritten" (Marcus 1997).

Cotten was double-lucky, because not only was she recorded, but she also found pulp-and-glue permanence when Mike Seeger and John Cohen included two of her originals in their New Lost City Ramblers Songbook (1964).

Garcia fell in love with both "Freight Train" and "Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie". Both are utterly haunting, based in Ms. Cotton's childhood and expressing a yearning place-boundedness that has been the fate of most everyone who has ever lived, statistically speaking, yet a world that nevertheless can remain alien and estranged. Ms. Cotten explained OBIANL:
That's the song I wrote about a lady who lived next door to us. My mother had to go to work and this lady would teach children. She told my mother something: made my mother punish me. They hurt me all the day. 'Cause I know what she told my mum was not true. That song's 'bout me getting punished. My feelings got hurt, 'cause I did not do what Miss Mary said I did. And I used cry in a bed, and a little verse came to me, a pretty tune came to me, and I made a little song, a little tune I love.
One old woman, Lord, in this town
Keep a-telling her lies on me
Wish to my soul that old woman would die
Keep a-telling her lies on me

Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
You know this life I'm living is [mighty] high
If OBIANL is a wise child's lament at a world dark with injustice, "Freight Train" provides the dream of escape. Ms. Cotten:
We used to watch the freight train. We knew the fireman and the brakeman, and the conductor, my mother used to launder for him. They'd let us ride in the engine, put us in one of the coaches while they were backing up and changing ... That was how I got my first train ride. We used to walk the trestle and put our ear to the track and listen for the train to come. My brother, he'd wait for this train to get real close and then he'd hang down from one of the ties and swing back up after the train had passed over him.
No wonder this one, too, brings ample morbidity – that kind of shit can go really wrong in a hurry.
When I'm dead and in my grave
No more good times here I crave
Place the stones at my head and feet
And tell them all I've gone to sleep

When I die, oh bury me deep
Down at the end of old Chestnut Street
So I can hear old Number Nine
As she comes rolling by
Garcia tried on both tunes for an abortive Arista album project during November 1976 sessions at Elliot Mazer's His Master's Wheels (HMW) Studios (OBIANL features on All Good Things, disc 3, track 11). (For more on the '76 studio work, see.) They would have fit perfectly. OBIANL found the more fulsome later live expression, appearing in every Garcia acoustic configuration of the 1980s, from the Dead's September-October 1980 treatment (immortalized on Reckoning, Arista A2L-8604, April 1981), to Amsterdam with Bobby Weir (10/11/81), Garcia's only solo engagement after 1965 (4/10/82), to the many Garcia-Kahn and Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (JGAB) gigs later in the decade. "Freight Train" had preceded OBIANL at the solo acoustic show, but Garcia couldn't remember the words and shelved it, as a known and public proposition, for over a decade. He took it back up with Grisman, and it appeared on their Not For Kids Only (Acoustic Disc ACD 9, 1993) chock full of New Lost City Ramblers Song Book chestnuts. By that time, and when it appeared as an acoustic one-off during an electric JGB equipment failure at the Knickberbocker Arena in Albany (11/3/93), but especially on its two 1994 public voyages, the song's lullaby came across a sad Siren's song, a stone being laid at Garcia's own pleading head and feet, buried deep under ol' Chestnut Street.

In response to a fan's concern that the Dead had ripped Elizabeth Cotten off with its "Sugaree" (evoking, as it did, her "Shake Sugaree"), manager Richard Loren said in May 1981 that she was a "great hero" to Garcia (1). When she died, Garcia took to dedicating OBIANL to her memory, the only artist he ever consistently recognized in this way, as far as I know. At many of these shows, these were the only words he spoke to the audience, a testament to the high esteem in which he held her.

! ref: (1) Grateful Dead Archive, MS332, Business Papers, Second Accrual (preliminary), Box 1008.

New Lost City Ramblers Song Book

Seeger, Mike, and John Cohen, eds. 1964. The New Lost City Ramblers Song Book. New York: Oak Books.

Here's a brief list of tunes in the NLCR songbook that Garcia is known to have played. This does not include the Elizabeth Cotten tunes (I have considered them separately) and has not been carefully vetted, since pre-Dead is beyond my ken. Sharp-eyed readers may spot more.

I Truly Understand
When First To This Country
Red Rocking Chair
Little Maggie
Billy Grimes, the Rover
Nine- Pound Hammer
Walking Boss
Hopalong Peter
Man of Constant Sorrow
Hot Corn
Three Men Went A-Hunting
I'll Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
Salty Dog Blues
Shady Grove
Crow Black Chicken
Arkansas Traveler
Ain't No Bugs on Me
White House Blues

Note also:
Lady of Carlisle
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

I am not saying the NLCR Song Book, records or combination of them was the only source that Garcia would have encountered for lots of these songs – everybody knew and did a bunch of these. In my rummaging around some, well, folkways, I have come across all kinds of "floaters", fragments of idea, characters, narratives, or scenes that appear and reappear throughout the folk tradition. But an awful lot of Garcia et al.'s pre-Dead repertoire is reflected in the NLCR Song Book, a lot more than the Smith Anthology. Whether it was Hunter, Nelson, Leicester, Pigpen, Garcia, any or all of them together, they were certainly drawing from this source.

They'd continue to do so: David Grisman had a copy handy when he and Jerry were working up the material that would appear on Not For Kids Only (Acoustic Disc ACD 9, 1993): of the twelve songs on that release, one of the finest explicitly white roots engagements of Garcia's career, seven figure in the list above (see Smith 1994 for Grisman discussing this). But, really what we see here is the core of Garcia's acoustic repertoire, as played from folkie days before the Dead through Old And In The Way, Great American Music/String Band, Garcia-Kahn, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (JGAB), and Garcia-Grisman.

BTW, love these headings: Old Love Songs, Dance Tunes, Take Warning, News & Occupational Hazards, Lonesome Blues, Bible Tales, Wild Men & Murder, Songs, Whoop 'Em Up, Rave On, The Great Depression.