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August 31, 2009

Mike Seeger (August 15, 1933 – August 7, 2009)

Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype.” —Bob Dylan

"In brushing the dust of time from American folk music, Mike Seeger illuminates the roots of contemporary music and champions their strength" - Dan Bottstein, Billboard

"Clean and crisp as any acoustic music now being played . . . Here is an American artist standing forth, voice 'well trained', in narratives, in fun, in irony, himself branch and root of the entwined true vine." - Jon Pankake, Rolling Stone

"His instrumental technique borders on the astonishing. He switches easily from guitar to banjo to autoharp to fiddle to mouth harp, singing and foot stomping all the while. Just playing with authenticity and style is a trick in itself, but Seeger does it with class and jovial spirit." - Philip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner

It's not exactly breaking news anymore, so I'm sure by now you all have heard the sad news of Mike Seeger's passing. But I feel he still needed a bit more honoring and recognition, Grapevine-style. Mike and the group with which he's most associated, the New Lost City Ramblers (NLCR), have done more for American vernacular music than just about anybody, and yet they're vastly under-known and under-appreciated, even though Mike's half-brother Pete Seeger is a household name. I think this has something to do with their refusal to water-down or electrify their brand of folk music in order to appeal to young middle-class cityslickers. I know that for me, it took me a lot longer to get into Mike and the NLCR than it took to get into Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. Some people have accused the NLCR of trying to recreate tradition too closely, trying to sound like the rural old-timers instead of the young middle-class cityslickers that they in fact were. But I think their refusal to 'modernize' their sound came less from some ludite notion of nostalgia, and more from a profound understanding of the subleties and beauty of the old styles - subleties which were completely lost on most everybody else coming up in the Folk Boom of the '60s.

Though they became known for playing old-time music as close as possible to the 'authentic' old sound, they also played blues, cajun, proto-bluegrass, black string-band music, and other American vernacular musics. One of their most distinct and defining features was the fact that all of them played lots of instruments in lots of styles and would switch around from song to song so it always sounded fresh. Mike himself played over 9 instruments (counting the bass, cello, and viola as one) and mastered all of them.

The NLCR were one of the few groups who did absolutely nothing to change after Dylan shook the scene with folk-rock (I mean, Dylan was influenced by them, not the other way 'round...). And though at first listen they appear to be imitating the 'authentic' old traditional sound as much as possible, in reality they change the songs quite a bit, re-arranging and re-imagining them, but they do it in such a way that it always sounds natural and 'authentic'. They actually took the time to understand that music on its terms, and so they can create new music that has the ring of some lost ancestral truth.

And perhaps the greatest contribution of Mike and his fellow Ramblers is in spreading this music further than the old-timers ever could, and in turn helping the old-timers to record and get more recognition.

Here's some bits and bobs I scrounged from the inter-sea:

For more than fifty years, Mike Seeger has been a musician, documenter, and tireless advocate of early folk and traditional music of the United States. He has recorded extensively, and has a rich discography as a solo artist and as a member of the folk revival string band the New Lost City Ramblers (with John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz). As a collector he has captured the sounds of such seminal artists as Elizabeth Cotten and Dock Boggs and edited and compiled collections of material by many others, both obscure and well known. A historian and preservationist of the music he calls “old time,” Seeger has told the stories behind the music that is such an essential part of American culture.

In his book Chronicles, musician Bob Dylan wrote, “Mike [Seeger] was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. … He played on all the various planes, the full index of the old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered — Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel — being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them. … The thought occurred to me that maybe I’d have to write my own folk songs, ones that Mike didn’t know.”

To find out more about Mike Seeger go to his Web site:

Mike Seeger has devoted his life to singing and playing Music from True Vine - the home music made by American southerners before the media age. Music from True Vine grows out of hundreds of years of British traditions that blended in our country with equally ancient African traditions to produce songs and sounds which are unique to the United States. For the peoples of the rural South, their great variety of music, song, and story provided their Shakespeare, their dance music, their news, and the fabric of their daily lives. This music in time became the roots of today's country, bluegrass, and popular music and remains as ever, enduring and refreshing listening.

Fidelity to traditional sounds has set Mike Seeger apart from other performers since he began touring the United States and abroad in 1960. Mike's music conveys all the depth of feeling, the sheer energy, and the infinite variety and texture of true traditional rural music. Like earlier traditional musicians, Mike seeks out his own vision of the music by creating within its traditions, making his music uniquely his own.

As he sings the old songs, he plays in a wide variety of traditional styles, accompanying himself on an array of instruments, including banjo, fiddle, guitar, trump (jaw harp), mouth harp (harmonica), quills, lap dulcimer, mandolin, and autoharp.

The Seegers sang with their children most Saturday nights. Mike learned the old ballad Barbara Allen at age five from the singing of his musicologist/composer parents. Soon he graduated to listening and learning from their collection of early documentary recordings. He began playing instruments in his late teens, learning first from nearby musicians such as his close friend Elizabeth Cotten, and later seeking out other master stylists like guitarist Maybelle Carter, banjoists Dock Boggs, Cousin Emmy, and autoharpist Kilby Snow. Eventually Mike's love for traditional music led him to produce documentaries - more than twenty five field recordings and videos - and to organize countless tours and concerts featuring traditional musicians and dancers.

As a founding member of the pioneering traditional music group, The New Lost City Ramblers, Mike played an integral role in helping to revive interest in a variety of traditional musics, now played by thousands of young musicians across the country. Since his first recordings with the Ramblers, in the late nineteen fifties, Mike has gone on to record more than forty albums, both solo and with others.

". . . To see him perform is to experience the richness of our traditions."

Mike Seeger has been honored with six Grammy nominations, recently for Southern Banjo Sounds in 1998 and Solo: Oldtime Country Music in 1991. In 1995 Mike received the Rex Foundation's Ralph J. Gleason Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the Grateful Dead to recognize "those who exemplify the qualities of talent, vision, innovation that Ralph so tirelessly supported." In the words of the award citation, Mike Seeger ". . . remains one of our great musical and cultural resources. To see him perform is to experience the richness of our traditions."

Mike with Dock Boggs


Mike Seeger was born in 1933 and reared in Maryland, near Washington, DC. His parents, composers and musicologists Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, raised Mike and his three sisters, Peggy, Barbara, and Penny, with traditional folk music and introduced brother Pete to it as well. As a child, Mike listened to early field recordings of traditional folk music, and family singing was daily musical fare.

At age 18, Mike started teaching himself to play string instruments, and at about age 20 began collecting songs and tunes on a tape recorder from nearby traditional musicians. By the time he was 23 he had produced his first Folkways documentary recording. Over the years, he has absorbed traditional styles of music through direct association with master traditional musicians such as Elizabeth Cotten, Maybelle Carter, Dock Boggs, and many others. He is a founding member of the vanguard old time string band the New Lost City Ramblers, which was formed in 1958.

As a full-time musician and collector since 1960, Mike has toured throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan either solo, with the New Lost City Ramblers, with traditional artists such as Tommy Jarrell and Roscoe Holcomb, or as director of traditional music festivals. He sings a wide variety of traditional rural songs and plays a number of styles on banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, autoharp, lap dulcimer, trump (jew's harp), harmonica, and quills (pan pipes). In the music he makes, he strives for both variety and depth of feeling while maintaining his own identity by creating within the boundaries of true traditional music.

Mike has produced 30 documentary recordings of traditional music and another 38 of his own music. He has also produced several instructional audio and video tapes for instrumentalists and a documentary videocassette/book, "Talking Feet," on Southern traditional step dance.

Mike has received six Grammy nominations: two with the New Lost City Ramblers, one with John Hartford and David Grisman, and three on his own. He has served as an advisor or consultant for government agencies, a record company, and many folk festivals. He has won a couple of banjo contests: Galax, Virginia (1958) and Athens, Alabama (1974). He is recipient of four grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Smithsonian Research Fellowship grant, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an award from the Grateful Dead's Rex Foundation. In 2003, The Society for American Music presented Mike with its Honorary Membership Award, citing his “lifetime of work as a master performer and tireless champion of Southern rural music.”

He makes his home in Rockbridge County, Virginia.

Biography by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Born into one of the first families of American folk music, it was probably inevitable that Mike Seeger would become a musician and folklorist. His father and mother, Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, assisted John and Alan Lomax at the Archive of Folk Song in the Library of Congress. Mike's half-brother, Pete Seeger, performed in both the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, while his sister Peggy Seeger was highly regarded in traditional music circles. There was little surprise, then, when Mike Seeger, at the age of 25, joined Tom Paley and John Cohen to form the New Lost City Ramblers.

It is perhaps ironic that a traditional performer like Seeger was born in New York City to a middle-class family. Born on August 15, 1933, he began playing the autoharp at the age of 12. Soon, he also began playing the banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, mouth harp, mandolin, and dobro. His parents brought music home from the Library of Congress. "They started letting me play field recordings when I was six or seven," Seeger told Dirty Linen. "These were aluminum records that you played with cactus needles." He was also influenced by the African-American singer/guitarist Elizabeth Cotton, who lived in the Seeger home for five years.

In the early '50s, Seeger began to conduct his own field recordings and perform at square dances in the Washington, D.C., area with his sister Peggy. Because he was a conscientious objector, he was assigned work in a hospital, and during this time formed a band with Hazel Dickens and Bob Baker. In 1958, he helped form the New Lost City Ramblers, a band that specialized in performing string band music from the 1920s and 1930s. While the band never gained the exposure of folk revival bands like the Kingston Trio, the group's commitment to accurately reproducing traditional music proved significant. "The Ramblers' influence on generations of young musicians who have followed in their footsteps," wrote Randy Pitts in Music Hound Folk, "is incalculable."

In 1962, when Tracy Schwarz replaced Paley in the Ramblers, Seeger became involved in a number of solo projects. He recorded Mike Seeger for Vanguard in 1964 and Tipple, Loom & Rail: Songs of the Industrialization of the South for Folkways in 1965. In the late '60s, Seeger, Dickens, Alice Gerrard, and Lamar Grier formed the Strange Creek Singers (Arhoolie released Strange Creek Singers: Get Acquainted Waltz in 1975, reissued in 1997). He also became involved in the Newport Folk Festival and, in 1970, became the director of the Smithsonian Folklife Company. In 1970, he married Gerrard, though they later divorced.

Seeger continued to involve himself in a multitude of projects. Beginning in the 1970s, he recorded a string of albums for Rounder, and he continued to compile scholarly projects such as Southern Banjo Sounds (1998) and True Vine (2003) -- both for Smithsonian Folkways. He was nominated for three Grammys, won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, received the Rex Foundation's Ralph Gleason Award in 1995, and an Award of Merit from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) the same year. "I feel there's just as much fun in old-time music as there's ever been," Seeger told Dirty Linen in 1997. "People ask me, don't you get tired of it? And some people do, but I think I could have three more lifetimes and not get tired of it." Seeger's 2007 album Early Southern Guitar Sounds was released on Smithsonian Folkways.

Obituaries (excerpted):

Mike Seeger, a folk musician, music historian and collector of traditional music who was a major influence on the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, died Friday of multiple myeloma at his home in Lexington, Va. He was 75.

The younger half brother of folk musician Pete Seeger and part of a renowned musical family, Seeger dedicated his life to documenting, teaching and keeping alive traditional music of the American South. The interwoven strands of Anglo American ballads from the Appalachian hills and hollers, the blues laments of black people in the rural South and the gospel sounds of both black and white churches made up what he called the "true vine" of American music.

A singer and an instrumentalist, he was once described as a "one-man folk festival." He played banjo, fiddle, guitar, autoharp, Jew's-harp, quills, dulcimer, mandolin and harmonica, and recorded extensively on Folkways Records and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. He made a number of recordings in the 1950s and 1960s as a member of the folk revival ensemble the New Lost City Ramblers with John Cohen and Tom Paley.

At age 18, Seeger began teaching himself to play stringed instruments. At about 20, he began collecting songs on a tape recorder from traditional musicians.

Among his discoveries was Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, who had learned to play the guitar as a youngster growing up in rural North Carolina and then had put the instrument aside for the next half-century. Cotten became the Seegers' housekeeper, and Mike Seeger eventually taped her singing and playing. She became a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter whose classic “Freight Train” had an enormous effect on folk music.

Mike started playing autoharp (a form of stringed zither) aged 12, and soon began picking up other instruments, copying the field recordings his parents had brought home from the Library of Congress.

From 1953 he began to make his own field recordings of musicians he met while working as an orderly in a tuberculosis ward – he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War. During this period he also formed a band with Hazel Dickens and Bob Baker, and the recordings he made of Cotten in the family home were eventually released as Folk songs & Instrumentals with Guitar on Smithsonian Folkways Records (1958).

In the same year Seeger formed the New Lost City Ramblers with Tom Paley and John Cohen. Their objective was to give the treasures of old time music as wide an exposure as possible, and they were determined to be faithful to its original spirit.

Their authentic, rough-hewn take flew in the face of slicker, primmer and more commercial contemporaries then dominating the nascent folk revival, such as the Kingston Trio.

About a month ago, Mike Seeger was still touring, still playing the old-time Southern folk music he loved and nurtured for more than 50 years.

After his latest -- and last -- tour, Seeger returned home to Lexington and attended a concert at Lime Kiln Theater performed by his old friend James Leva.

"We talked after the show," said Leva, a Rockbridge County musician who knew Seeger for more than 25 years. "I thought it was real sweet of him to come right after his tour. He seemed a little tired, but I thought it was because he had been on the road."

Seeger was gravely sick, however. In July, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an aggressive cancer of plasma cells. Following a brief round of treatments at the University of Virginia Cancer Center, he returned home to Lexington, where he died Friday at age 75.

A six-time Grammy nominee and the half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger was a major figure in preserving and perpetuating American folk music, especially the music of the Appalachian Mountains. Even as his illness progressed quickly, he still performed.

"Five days before he went into the hospital, he played a concert at Wintergreen [Resort]," said Alexia Smith, Seeger's wife of 14 years. "He wasn't feeling great, but he valiantly did it."

Mike Seeger - Mike Seeger

Year: 1964
Label: Vanguard (VSD 79150)

01 - Hello Stranger
02 - Oh Molly Dear
03 - Bachelor's Hall
04 - We Live a Long Time to Grow Old
05 - Fishing Blues
06 - Johnny Grey
07 - The Two Soldiers
08 - Waterbound
09 - Leather Breeches
10 - Young Mcaffe at the Gallows
11 - Old Rachel
12 - It'll Aggravate Your Soul
13 - Fair and Tender Ladies
14 - Wild Bill Jones
15 - I've Been All Around This World

he hadn't yet been all around this world.
vinyl, cleaned | 320kbps | no cover | 94mb


Mike Seeger - 2nd Annual Farewell Reunion

Year: 1973
Label: Mercury

* Mike Seeger - vocal, banjo, bass, mandolin, fiddle, mouth harp, jew's harp, guitar, autoharp

* Highwoods String Band
Walt Koken - fiddle
Bob Potts - fiddle
Mac Benford - banjo
Doug Dorschug - guitar
Jenny Clelland - bass

* New Lost City Ramblers
Tracy Schwarz - resonator guitar
John Cohen - banjo-mandolin

* Strange Creek Singers
Hazel Dickens - vocal, string bass
Alice Gerrard - vocal, guitar
Tracy Schwarz - vocal

* Ry Cooder - guitar
* Peggy Seeger - vocal harmony, lead guitar
* Ewan McColl - vocal
* Penny Cohen - dulcimer
* David Rea - banjo
* Pete Seeger - vocal, banjo
* Maria D'Amato Muldaur - vocal guitar
* Elizabeth Cotten - lead guitar
* Lesley Riddle - vocal, guitar
* Roscoe Holcomb - vocal, banjo
* Kilby Snow - autoharp
* Tex Londan - fiddle
* Don Stover - banjo
* Eric Thompson - guitar

1. Rye Straw
2. The Train That Carried My Girl From Town
3. Texas Rangers
4. Jock Hawk's Adventures In Glasgow
5. Cindy
6. Blues In A Bottle
7. Snowdrop
8. Well May The World Go
9. I Am A Traveling Creature
10. You'll Find Her Name Written There
11. Take Me Back To The Sweet Sunny South
12. New Year's Eve Song
13. Careless Love
14. Old Smokey
15. You Are My Flower
16. Kill The Shanghai Rooster

that's one hell of a birthday party, mike!
vinyl, cleaned | mp3 128kbps | with back cover


thanks to banjoreinhard!

and don't miss our blogofamily's posts:
Music From the True Vine at Times Ain't Like They Used to Be
Old-Time Banjo Styles at Times Ain't Like They Used to Be
Fresh Oldtime Stringband Music at Times Ain't Like They Used to Be
Peggy and Mike Seeger at Merlin-in-Rags
Tipple, Loom & Rail at Merlin-in-Rags
and at Freebornman's journal, several postings of Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers

and an interview with Mike at Down Home Radio Show.

A performance by Mike Seeger at The Kennedy Center can be seen here.

another great obituary at The Real Mr. Heartache.

Recordings, videos, books -ography here.
and an illustrated New Lost City Ramblers discography here.

August 28, 2009

The Red Fox Chasers - I'm Going Down to North Carolina

A word about old-time string bands and roots music:
This music is at the heart of America. Without music like this, there would be no Woody Guthrie (so no Bob Dylan), no Bill Monroe, no Doc Watson, no John Fahey. Why no John Fahey? Well, if you listen closely to his playing, you'll find that he's just as influenced by the syncopated guitar and banjo styles of old-time mountain music as he is by old country blues players like Charley Patton, Skip James and John Hurt. And there are two contemporary record labels who seem to understand this connection: John Fahey's own Revenant and Tompkins Square, which is devoted to releasing contemporary exploratory guitarists (see their excellent Imaginational Anthem comp), recording old and forgotten (but still living) masters like Charlie Louvin, and crafting beautiful and painstakingly-remastered reissues of classic (but often overlooked) American roots music.

As John Fahey pointed out, the best, most exciting and intricate American vernacular music was recorded not by folksong collectors making field recordings or other documentary efforts (Lomax, Library of Congress, etc.), nor by revivalists of the '60s, but by the commercial record companies of the '20s and '30s. And it was made by musicians who were playing in bars, at dances, on the streets, etc. for money. And they had no conceits that the music they were playing was in any way 'authentic', nor did they try to keep their music 'pure' and unaffected by outside influences. They were, quite simply, making the most fun, appealing, and relevant music they could, and they drew freely from traditional tunes, Tin Pan Alley hits, church harmonies, and contemporary events in stringing together (no pun intended) their wild and compelling brand of hillbilly music. This is melting-pot music, and it will sustain you like a good muskrat stew.

The Red Fox Chasers were a string band of the highest order. They were brilliant musicians, displaying the variety of invention and gleeful madness that characterize the best of old-time music. They had a rock-solid rhythm section composed of guitarist A.P. Thompson and banjoist Paul Miles, both of whom were at absolutely the cutting edge of their instrumental development and innovation (recalling Riley Puckett and Charlie Poole, respectively). On top of this they added a driving, soaring, plumetting fiddle and occasional harmonica. And they had sweet but never-too-easy harmonies that recalls the shape-note singing of the Southern Baptist church.

The way they sing and harmonize, every melody rests in the uncertain area between joy and remorse. A sprightly harmonica line might be coupled to one of the most gruesome murder ballads of the 20th Century ("Murder of the Lawson Family"), or a falling inflection could tint an otherwise celebratory song with an air of melancholy. This confluence of contradictory emotions produces a sort of paradoxical purgatory in which this music lives. And that, friends, is the secret to its timelessness.

For some listeners, old-time music seems like a joke that they don't get. For those, especially, get this set. Play it once, and then a week later play it again. And a week later, again. As you become accustomed to the at-first-off-putting twangy, scratchy surface quality of the music, you will begin to hear the ingenious, robust, exciting, and totally non-generic qualities of this music. For those who have already been bit by the bug of old-time madness, know that the Red Fox Chasers were every bit the equal of the Skillet Lickers, Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters, and the Carolina Tar Heels.

This double-disc set, beautifully packaged and remastered, is the best treatment these songs have ever gotten, and it's well-overdue. These tracks have been digitized from extremely rare '78s and so some surface noise is to be expected, but it soon becomes an invisible background through which the old tones shine, noble and true. Kinney Rorrer's illuminating liner notes bring fresh life to the tunes and performers. Props to label exec Josh Rosenthal for continuing to release brilliant and important collections such as this one.

Wikipedia says:
The Red Fox Chasers were a string band that formed in North Carolina in 1927, and were active until around 1931. Members included vocalist and guitar player A. P. Thompson, vocalist and harmonica player Bob Cranford, vocalist and banjo player Paul Miles, and fiddler Guy Brooks.

The Red Fox Chasers were formed at the 1927 Union Grove Fiddler's Convention in western North Carolina. A.P. “Fonzie” Thompson and Bob Cranford had already been singing partners, as they grew up together in Surrey County. Both had learned the rudiments of harmony by attending church singing schools in the area, where they learned to sing from seven-shape note songbooks. Both also sang in local Gospel quartets. In their spare time, they had also adapted old traditional songs, like those by Katy Cline, to their duet style. Paul Miles and Guy Brooks also grew up together, playing for square dances in nearby Alleghany County. Miles learned to play banjo at age 5, using a homemade instrument crafted from a meal sifter and a groundhog hide.

When the band formed in Union Grove, Paul Miles seemed to have taken the lead of the group. It was he who devised the name "Red Fox Chasers", and it was he who arranged for their first recordings for Gennett Records in April 1928. The success of records like "Did You Ever See a Devil Uncle Joe?" got the group several more offers to record in the next few years, and they eventually amassed a total of 48 sides. These included several hits that were to remain influential for years: "Stolen Love", "Goodbye Little Bonnie", "Little Darling Pal of Mine", "Honeysuckle Time", "Sweet Fern" and "Pretty Polly". One of their original songs, "Wreck on the Mountain Road", was based on a true incident and was one of the first “wreck on the highway” genre songs in country music.

Cranford and Thompson also recorded a number of mountain Gospel favorites for the same company. The Gennett Company routinely leased many of its sides to specialty labels, like those run by Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Some of The Red Fox Chasers’ biggest sellers came out under other names, such as the Virginia Possum Tamers and the Black Mountain Gang.

After the band broke up in the 1930s, all the members continued to stay active in music. Paul Miles recorded for the Library of Congress in the late 1930s, and A.P. Thompson continued to teach at singing schools, and sang with local quartets. In 1967, County Records issued an LP retrospective of the band’s best work

The first complete anthology of one of the great lost Appalachian string bands

Review by Amanda Petrusich

Excepting those preternaturally drawn to trawling auctions and flea markets for old crates of 78s, most traditional country fans haven't heard much of the Red Fox Chasers, a four-man string band from the northwestern corner of North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian mountains. I'm Going Down to North Carolina is the first complete anthology of the band's work, which consists of less than 40 sides and a handful of bootlegging skits, recorded between 1928 and 1931. It's a raucous, revelatory collection of old-time mountain music. The four neighbors and pals — vocalist and harmonica player Bob Cranford, vocalist and banjo-strummer Paul Miles, guitarist A.P. Thompson, and fiddler Guy Brooks — sing, strum and wail with high, Appalachian aplomb.

The band's biography is riddled with folksy details — Miles' first banjo was made from a meal sifter! Brooks bought his fiddle with money he saved up from selling hand-collected chestnuts for a dollar a bushel! They all learned to sing at a two-week shape-note singing tutorial led by an itinerant teacher! — but the music transcends any aw-shucks trappings. A mix of minstrel tunes, Tin Pan Alley cuts, disaster songs, ballads and tracks made more famous by Charlie Poole ("May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?"), the Carter Family ("Little Sweetheart, Pal of Mine"), and Uncle Dave Macon ("Sweet Bye and Bye"), I'm Going Down to North Carolina is a comprehensive introduction to string band music, and a testament to the Chasers' dexterity and glee. Like any good mountain band, there's a healthy tension between the sacred and the profane, and the band's liquor-soaked "Virginia Bootleggers" — sung to the tune of "The River of Jordan," an old gospel song — even got poor Guy Brooks kicked out of his church. Which is possibly the highest endorsement of all.

I'm Going Down to North Carolina: The Complete Recordings of The Red Fox Chasers (1928-1931)

Year: 2009
Label: Tompkins Square

Disc 1
01. Arkansas Traveler - 3:11
02. Honeysuckle Time - 2:42
03. Jim & Me - 3:00
04. Wreck On the Mountain Road - 2:42
05. Girl I Loved in Sunny Tennessee - 3:03
06. Mississippi Sawyers - 3:14
07. May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister? - 2:56
08. Pretty Polly - 2:57
09. The Blind Man & His Child - 2:53
10. Looking To My Prayer - 2:40
11. Little Sweetheart Pal of Mine - 3:07
12. Goodbye Little Bonnie - 3:02
13. Stolen Love - 2:49
14. What is Home Without Babies - 3:11
15. Murder of the Lawson Family - 3:02
16. Twinkle Little Star - 2:58
17. Weeping Willow Tree - 2:48
18. Lula Wall - 2:47
19. Virginia Bootleggers - 2:55
20. Making Licker in North Carolina Pt. 1 - 3:07
21. Making Licker in North Carolina Pt. 2 - 2:33

Disc 2
01. Turkey in the Straw - 3:15
02. Mountain Sweetheart - 3:04
03. Sweet Fern - 2:37
04. Naomi Wise - 2:59
05. Budded Roses - 2:49
06. Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe? - 3:09
07. Something Wrong with My Gal - 2:45
08. Otto Wood - 2:39
09. Two False Lovers - 3:03
10. We Shall Meet on That Beautiful Shore - 2:48
11. Put My Little Shoes Away - 2:59
12. Two Babes in the Woods - 2:49
13. Tell My Mother I’ll Meet Her - 3:22
14. How I Love My Mabel - 3:02
15. Katy Cline - 2:52
16. Bring Me a Leaf from the Sea - 2:44
17. Under the Double Eagle - 3:16
18. That Sweetie of Mine - 3:00
19. Devilish Mary - 2:45
20. Making Licker in North Carolina Pt. 3 - 3:06
21. Making Licker in North Carolina Pt. 4 - 2:56

get it at Tompkins Square

A few songs to give you a taste below:

Murder of the Lawson Family:

Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?

Honeysuckle Time

Turkey in the Straw

see also a fine review with song samples at IndyWeek

August 23, 2009

David Grisman

Hey you devoted and lonely readers, I'm back! Sorry for abandoning you without warning like that, but perhaps you took the opportunity to go outside and enjoy the summer. I did! Now getting back to music:

Of course, there's only one person I could post to follow Richard Greene. His compatriot and co-inventor of newgrass, David "Dawg" Grisman. While his chops on mandolin are undoubtably godlike, to me his most enduring worth is as a composer and innovator. There were a great many experiments with combining the worlds of bluegrass and jazz, many of which you have heard through The Grapevine. But it was the sound of the David Grisman Quintet that defined the sounnd of newgrass (also called "Dawg" after Grisman), and cemented his role as lord-king-godhead of the genre. Like Miles Davis, he turned a generation of people onto a musical form, and like Davis or Zappa, you can be pretty sure that everyone who works with him will at some point become a bandleader or legendary musician in their own right. Also, like Miles Davis, his involvement with the world of rock (and Jerry Garcia in particular) brought him a lot more fame than equally skilled and important people like, oh, Richard Greene.

He has also shown himself to be an endlessly inventive and restless explorer of other kinds of music (avantgarde jazz, Jewish/klezmer, rock, gypsy jazz, blues, world music, etc.), all without abandoning his bluegrass roots. He has never been one to rest on his laurels or just play his 'hits'. As a producer/record-label-founder, he has been equally important in recording and re-releasing important acoustic artists, and generally furthering the cause of that much-maligned tiny double-strung lute, the mandolin.

But back to his compositions: so many of them, especially from his early days, have an intensely driving but directionally open quality which renders them simultaneously graceful, powerful and unexpectedly exciting. In a word, timeless.

For nearly 40 years, mandolinist/composer David Grisman has been busy creating "dawg" music, a blend of many stylistic influences (including swing, bluegrass, latin, jazz and gypsy) so unique he gave it its own name. In doing so, David has inspired a whole new genre of acoustic string instrumental musicówith style and virtuosity while creating a unique niche for himself in the world of contemporary music.

Dubbed "The Paganini of the Mandolin" by the New York Times, David has been praised for his mastery of the instrument as well as his varied talents as a composer, bandleader, teacher and record producer. After recording for several major labels, Grisman founded his own company, Acoustic Disc, which he runs from his studio in northern California. Upon launching the label in 1990, David entered the most prolific period of his distinguished career, producing 45 critically acclaimed, high quality recordings of acoustic music (five of which have been nominated for Grammy Awards).

David discovered the mandolin as a teenager growing up in New Jersey, where he met and became a disciple of mandolinist/folklorist Ralph Rinzler. Despite a warning from his piano teacher that it wasn't a "real" instrument, Grisman learned to play the mandolin in the style of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. He took it with him to Greenwich Village where he studied English at New York University and became immersed in the proliferating folk music scene of the early 1960s.

In 1963 Grisman made his first recordings as an artist (the Even Dozen Jug Band - Elektra) and producer (Red Allen, Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians - Folkways). In 1966, Red Allen offered David his first job with an authentic bluegrass band, the Kentuckians. While studying the music of his bluegrass mandolin heroes like Bill Monroe, Jesse McReynolds and Frank Wakefield, Grisman began composing original tunes and playing with other urban bluegrass contemporaries like Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia, with whom he would later form Old & in the Way.

David's interests spread to jazz in 1967, while playing in the folk-rock ensemble, Earth Opera. A failed attempt at learning to play the alto saxophone turned him into a lifelong student of jazz musicianship and theory. In the meantime, his burgeoning career as a session musician gave him experience playing various other types of music and opportunities to stretch the boundaries of the mandolin. Today his discography includes recordings with Bela Fleck, the Grateful Dead, Stephane Grappelli, Emmylou Harris, Chris Isaak, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Earl Scruggs and James Taylor.

David's unique instrumental style found a home in 1974 when he formed the Great American Music Band with fiddler Richard Greene. "Nothing against singers," said David, "but it became apparent to me that I could play 90 minutes without one. Besides, Elvis never called." Within that year, Greene moved on to join a pop act, and David met guitar wizard Tony Rice, who moved to California where they started rehearsing a new group, the David Grisman Quintet, which also included bassist/mandolinist Todd Phillips and violinist Darol Anger. The rest is string band history.

Since its auspicious debut in 1976, the DGQ has won numerous polls and awards and has headlined at major jazz, folk and bluegrass festivals around the world. DGQ alumni (including Tony Rice, Mark O'Connor, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger) have gone on to establish successful careers as leaders of acoustic music. Current DGQ members include bassist Jim Kerwin, multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, flutist Matt Eakle, and Argentine guitarist Enrique Coria.

In 1990, David founded the Acoustic Disc label with his friend and manager, Craig Miller, and two other long-standing friends from New York, Artie and Harriet Rose. To date label has released 45 CDs, including five with Jerry Garcia, all produced or co-produced by Grisman.

David has always been a pioneer. He continues to deeply influenced several generations of musicians through his own musical explorations, and with the blossoming success of Acoustic Disc has helped make artist-owned independent labels a viable force in the modern music business.

Biography by Richard S. Ginell & Steve Huey

David Grisman is normally associated with the bluegrass wing of country music, but his music owes almost as much to jazz as it does to traditional American folk influences. Because he couldn't think of what to call his unique, highly intricate, harmonically advanced hybrid of acoustic bluegrass, folk, and jazz without leaning toward one idiom or another, he offhandedly decided to call it "dawg music" -- a name which, curiously enough, has stuck. A brilliant mandolinist, with roots deep in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, Grisman's jazz sensibilities were strong enough to attract the admiration of the HCQ's Stephane Grappelli, who has toured and recorded with Grisman on occasion.

Grisman was already playing the piano, saxophone, and mandolin by the time he was a teenager, taking up the latter at age 16. While attending New York University in 1963, he began playing with the Even Dozen Jug Band, which at one time included Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian. In 1966, bluegrass bandleader Red Allen invited Grisman to join his Kentuckians, and the following year Grisman joined Peter Rowan in the progressive-minded Earth Opera, which blended folk, country, rock, pop, and jazz. After two albums, he moved to San Francisco and hooked up with Jerry Garcia, playing on the Grateful Dead's classic American Beauty. He went on to play in Garcia's bluegrass side project, Old & in the Way, along with Peter Rowan, who also reteamed with him in the loose all-star group Muleskinner. In 1974, Grisman co-founded the Great American String Band with Muleskinner fiddler Richard Greene, which first allowed him to explore the lengthy instrumental improvisations that would become his trademark.

Greene didn't stick around for too long, and in 1976 Grisman assembled a new group dubbed the David Grisman Quintet, which featured guitarist Tony Rice, fiddler Darol Anger, bassist Joe Carroll, and mandolinist/bassist Todd Phillips. The Quintet's self-titled debut was released in 1977 on Kaleidoscope and proved a seminal influence on the so-called "newgrass" or "new acoustic" movements, thanks to its progressive, jazz-fueled harmonies and improvisations. The follow-up, 1979's Hot Dawg, was Grisman's breakthrough album; it was released on A&M's jazz imprint, Horizon, and featured guest work by jazz violin legend Stephane Grappelli. By this time, there was already personnel turnover in the Quintet; mandolinist Mike Marshall joined up, and by the time Grisman moved to Warner and recorded Mondo Mando in 1981, bassist Rob Wasserman and violinist Mark O'Connor joined Rice, Anger, and Marshall. In all, Grisman recorded four albums for Warner over 1980-1983; 1982's Dawg Jazz/Dawg Grass was another notable outing with Grappelli that, true to its title, split its repertoire between swing and bluegrass.

By 1984, the original "dawg music" lineup had largely broken up, with most of the members moving on to productive solo and/or collaborative projects (Anger notably joined the Turtle Island String Quartet). Grisman played on a number of sessions in the meantime, including with jazz-minded banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, who claimed Grisman as a major influence. In 1985, Grisman organized a new group with seasoned jazz musicians: bassist Jim Kerwin, guitarist Dimitri Vandellos, and drummer George Marsh, who backed him on a 1987 duet album with jazz violinist Svend Asmussen, Svingin' with Svend. The more traditional bluegrass outing Home Is Where the Heart Is followed in 1988, before Grisman formed his own Acoustic Disc label in 1990 and got much more prolific.

A steady stream of releases appeared on Acoustic Disc during the first half of the '90s, starting with Dawg '90, which debuted a new core group that included Kerwin, fiddler/drummer Joe Craven, and flutist Matt Eakle, as well as returning alum Mark O'Connor, guitarist John Carlini, and fiddler Matt Glaser. Other notable releases included a 1991 reteaming with Jerry Garcia and two albums of Tone Poems (i.e., duets with Tony Rice and Martin Taylor, respectively). Argentine guitarist Enrique Coria joined the lineup of Grisman, Kerwin, Craven, and Eakle for 1995's Latin-flavored Dawganova. Grisman entered another productive period in 1999, issuing several widely varied projects, and reconvened that quintet for 2002's Dawgnation. A collection of collaborations with other bluegrass musicians recorded over three decades, Life of Sorrow, was released in 2003 by Acoustic Disc, followed by New Shabbos Waltz, a collaboration with Andy Statman, in 2006, also on Acoustic Disc.

The David Grisman Rounder Compact Disc

Release Date: 1993
Label: Rounder
Time: 39:24

Originally released as The David Grisman Rounder Album in 1976

Review by John Uhl
David Grisman is primarily known as a (perhaps even the) pioneer integrator of jazz into the prog-bluegrass/newgrass/whatever-you-call-it ("Dawg Music" to Grisman) branch of the bluegrass family tree. And with a number of other suspect jazz dabblers (fiddler Vassar Clements, guitarist Tony Rice, and banjo picker Tony Trischka, for instance) on hand, one might expect The Rounder Compact Disc (originally released as The Rounder Record) to be a Grappelli-sounding crossbreed experiment in line with Grisman's longstanding quintet. Yet, despite some string-slingin', fancy-licked solos, The Rounder Compact Disc is really a true blue bluegrass record. Why, this record has enough gospel harmonies, Bill Monroe songs, stories of money lost on spend-thriftin' women, string sawin', and other neat-sounding contractions to keep even your most die-hard hillbilly warm as a mug of Grandpappy's moonshine on a cold Kentucky night. The tricky thing, the "how'd he do that?" part, is that in addition to (in spite of?) it's unabashed down-home country feel, this album is anything but traditional. Instrumentals like "Waiting on Vassar," "Op. 38," and "Boston Boy" integrate a complex network of orchestral voicings, solos, and interactive group play, and throughout the album solos by hotshots like Clements, Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Grisman himself betray more than a passing interest in other styles of improvisation. In the coming years, the experimental wings of bluegrass would begin to incorporate electric instruments and more overtly bear the influence of jazz and rock. But The Rounder Compact Disc is some of the earliest evidence that bluegrass can be progressive without sacrificing any of its institutional twang.

1 Hello - :22
2 Sawin' on the Strings - 3:17
3 Waiting on Vassar - Grisman - 5:00
4 I Ain't Broke (But I'm Badly Bent) - Public Domain - 1:55
5 Opus 38 - Grisman - 3:15
6 Hold to God's Unchanging Hand - 3:35
7 Boston Boy - Traditional - 2:27
8 Cheyenne - Monroe - 4:45
9 'til the End of the World Rolls 'Round - Thomas - 2:55
10 You'll Find Her Name Written There - Hensley - 2:55
11 On and On - Monroe - 3:43
12 Bob's Brewin' - Grisman - 4:57
13 So Long - :18

opus soap.
mp3 256kbps | w/ cover | 77mb

David Grisman Quintet - David Grisman Quintet

Date: 1977
Label: Kaleidoscope Records F-5
Photographs taken by: Robert Schleifer
Album Design: Ted Sharpe

For those unfamiliar with "Dawg" music it's a little from column A and a little from column B. A basis in bluegrass with an affinity for jazz and then a whole lot of heart and soul thrown in for good measure. The instruments themselves, with their history and patina of age, could stand alone as the stars here were it not for the clever hands playing them. Each player giving his all and carefully avoiding the feet of his fellow dancers. Grisman may write the letter, but it takes all five members to deliver it successfully. The cover photos, simple as they may be, capture all you need to see. The quintet don't hold back much, what you see is pretty much what you get.

Review by Thom Owens
The David Grisman Quintet's eponymous debut was a stunning achievement, capturing a pivotal point in newgrass history. It was a record that opened up new rhythmic textures and instrumental textures, specifically new, jazzier ways to solo. Grisman -- who wrote the majority of the compositions -- arranged each number as a way for his quintet to shine instrumentally, as a way for each musician to demonstrate their innovative skills. It's not traditional bluegrass -- these instrumental recordings draw as equally from folk, rock, and jazz as they do from bluegrass -- but it was a thrilling new variation on the form that broke down countless doors for the genre.

Line Up:
Darol Anger: violin, mandolin on "Richochet"
Tony Rice: guitar
David Grisman: mandolin
Bill Amatneek: bass
Todd Phillips: mandolin

Front Cover Instruments (Left to Right):
David's 1927 Gibson F-5 Mandolin
Darol's 1856 Guisepe Marconcine "Ferrara" Violin
Tony's 1934 Martin D-28 Guitar
Todd's 1924 Laor-Hart Gibson F-5 Mandolin, on loan
Bill's 1875 Czech Flatback Bass

1 E.M.D. - Grisman - 2:37
2 Swing 51 - Rice - 4:25
3 Opus 57 - Grisman - 2:56
4 Blue Midnite - Grisman - 3:40
5 Pneumonia - Grisman - 4:31
6 Minor Swing [#] - Grappelli, Reinhardt - 2:59
7 Fish Scale - Traum - 7:30
8 16/16 [#] - Grisman - 5:35
9 Richochet - Grisman, Somers - 2:05
10 Dawg's Rag - Grisman - 9:04

[#] = bonus tracks not on original vinyl

how many scales on a fish?
mp3 256kbps | w/o cover | 84mb

David Grisman Quintet - Quintet '80

Year: 1980
Label: Warner Bros.

Review by Scott Yanow:
Throughout his career, mandolinist David Grisman has performed music that crosses between many boundaries, from "new acoustic" folk to bluegrass and swing-oriented jazz. This set features Grisman's string group (which also includes violinist Darol Anger, Mike Marshall on mandolin, guitar and violin, Mark O'Connor on violin and guitar, and bassist Rob Wasserman) playing six of Grisman's diverse originals, an obscure tune, and a brief rendition of John Coltrane's "Naima." The music is excellent, but Grisman's more jazz-oriented projects would be in the future.

[Actually, this is one of Grisman's most highly rated albums by dawg fans. Nothing but 5*s on Amazon, and it hasn't even been reissued on CD!]

David Grisman - mandolins
Darol Anger - violin, cello, violectra, violin arrangement
Mike Marshall - guitar, mandolin, violin
Mark O'Connor - guitar, violin
Rob Wasserman - bass

1. Dawgma (Grisman)
2. Bow Wow (Grisman) *
3. Barkley's Bug (Grisman)
4. Seal Of Cortez (Grisman)
5. Naima (Coltrane)
6. Mugavero (Carlini)
7. Dawgmatism (Grisman)
8. Thailand (Grisman)

* includes an excerpt from Beethoven's Sonata in C major

the best album of the 80s?
from vinyl, clean | mp3 320kbps | no cover | 94mb

And if you've dug the last 2 dawgs and want to strech your boundaries even more, try this one...
This is also about as far to the margin as David Grisman's Dawg music ever got. pretty interesting stuff, i'd say, with great titles.

David Grisman & Andy Statman - Mandolin Abstractions

Year: 1983
Label: Rounder
Genre: Free-improv, with echoes of tradition channeled through the mandolins & mandolas

Product Description:
A unique document in the history of mandolin music. Fearless mandolinists Grisman and Statman perform spontaneous, unrehearsed improvisations on their original compositions. Mandolin Abstractions finds the common ground between Grisman's clean, melodic style and Statman's skewed juxtaposition of Middle Eastern and European influences.

1. Overture - 7:29
2. Apassionata - 3:46
3. Two White Boys Watching James Brown at the Apollo - 2:26
4. Journey to the Center of Twang - 5:01
5. Ode to Jim McReynolds - 2:29
6. March of the Mandolas, Pt. 1 - 7:31
7. March of the Mandolas, Pt. 2 - 9:28
8. 'Til We Meet Again - 3:28

if you liked Tom Cora...
vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >192kbps vbr | no cover | 69mb

All these albums are rare, out-of-print, or generally less available than his current releases. I hope you enjoy this introduction to his music, and be sure to head over to Acoustic Disc and buy albums directly from him to support his lifelong dedication to music.

also see his duet with Svend Asmussen here and his albums with Muleskinner here.