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Now isn't that nice? - Skip James, in hospital, to Fahey and Barth after they show him a discography listing his known records

Author Topic: Encounters  (Read 611 times)

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Offline btasoundsradio

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  • the artist formerly known as powerlinehorizon
    • BTA Sounds Radio: Podcast of Obscure Musics
Encounters
« on: November 06, 2012, 12:19:10 PM »
Hello all. I wanted to start a thread to share stories from life. I'm sure this has been done maybe in another thread, but I wanted to start a new one in hopes of others sharing their stories of music obsession. We're all blues and old music fiends here and I wanted to share some of my stories of encounters with performers or records I have come across, and also just adventure and travel stories that concern the search for blues and other old American music, be it live or recorded. I'm pretty young, so I missed the golden era of door knocking and collecting, but I was raised on country/delta blues, old-time, and bluegrass etc. by my Dad and I wouldn't be who I am without his influence and all that great music. When he was 12 in 1966 in Glen Burnie MD, he and his brother and a friend were exploring the woods in between Solley and Marley Neck roads (an old black farming area known as Solley, Marley, and Freetown MD) they entered a recently vacated house and found a phonograph player with 2 Blind Willie Johnson 78's. I Know His Blood, was one, he took them home and played them and his life was permanently altered. I was the same age when I first started to really absorb that music, Blind Willie Johnson in particular. I will forever be smote by lightning when I too hear Blind Willie Johnson.

Around that time my Dad and I (about 1998) decided to hunt 78's. We never turned up much, but always had a lot of fun driving around southern MD, VA and WVA listening to blues etc. We started entering lots of abandoned houses in the area which we also photographed. The area at one time was very rural and some remnants of black sharecropping culture were still present. Our local flea markets in Anne Arundel county MD also always had some mediocre caches of 78's which we would scour through weekend after weekend, antique stores too. One time we had a great lead, a middle aged white guy had a table of 78's at a flea market that I remember a few beat Gid Tanner 78's were in. They guy said his basement was filled with hundreds, so we met him at his house later that day with stifled excitement. We looked at hundreds of 78's stacked up in his basement and maybe bought about 20 or so. Of course, nothing that great came up, but still fun!
This type of thing happened a lot. Sometimes we'd find Columbia reissues of Blind Blake with Charlie Spand or Blind Boy Fuller. We would go to the local record shows and shops and occasionally turn up a decent Carter Family or Jimmie Rogers 78. Sometimes even a Chess or a Checker electric blues 78.
One of the best finds was in a storage unit eviction sale, in which we found what turned out to be an 1897 Washburn, looked a lot like Blake's guitar in the photo. It only need a new bridge and fret work, he sold it recently for a grand!

Several years later in 2006 we met Joe Bussard doing a show at the True Vine record store in Baltimore and he invited us to his home which was highly memorable. We did the Barbara Fritchie breakfast and then went and listened to Joe's records and stories for hours. A highlight was him snickering evilly as he pulled out his Robert Johnson test pressing, I think was Dead Shrimp. Also his cylinder collection and player were notable. I couldn't believe the amount of photos Joe has of string bands. My Dad brought a video camera along and filmed the whole hilarious encounter. Hearing his John Hurt "Frankie" on his sound system was a huge revelation, it was like John Hurt was in the room, eerie. Seeing any amount of mint Paramount blues in person is also incredible, like it never actually happened. I felt as though I had teleported back in time to when they were made. He let me play his Martin New Yorker which he informed me that John Fahey had played on his first Fonotone recordings, I almost lost my mind right there. I tuned down to open D minor and started playing Devil Got My Woman, Joe was searching his shelves for a record to put on and he stopped and turned his head when he heard me play some Skip. He claims he hadn't heard anyone in recent times play old blues that well, I think was must've been stretching the truth concerning that fact considering all the fans that come to visit. "You remind me of back when Fahey was around, I haven't heard anyone play like that in years. You ever play any coffee houses or anything?" Thanks Joe, you make me proud to be from MD.
A few years before that, I'd been playing in Coffee Houses in Fells Point, Baltimore where at the time there were a lot of homeless black street performers. I befriended a homeless guy named Robert who hung out on Aliceanna and Thames street alot, next to the coffee shops I frequented, busking and whittling. He carved African style designs into tree branches and fashioned them into walking sticks and a lot of people would buy them. Especially the employees at the coffee shops and bars. My friends and I that played music together were always carrying around a guitar or harmonica, we got to chatting with Robert and found out he played harp. He showed us some stuff of the harp, included train sounds, but he mostly just improvised bluesy sounding stuff. The more we got to know Robert, the more he liked us and would have long deep conversations about spirituality and life etc. We would see him throughout the winter in front of the Coffee shop on Aliceanna st. and buy him coffee and I would play guitar and he would blow harp.
That spring, I hiked south on the Appalachian trail with a friend. I found some cool 78's in a junk store and mailed them home to MD, one of Bessie Smith's first records I recall was one which was beat to hell, but I thought it was cool regardless. I already had it in mind to keep eyes out for Willie Browns or anything of that nature. Later in the month, I called home to my friend Ronnie on a payphone somewhere in southwest VA, and he told me that Robert was in trouble and had to leave Baltimore. He didn't know why exactly, but he wanted to come meet me somewhere on the road. I said sure, but I wouldn't know how he could find me. I had no cell phone at the time, and he definitely didn't. So Robert disappeared after Ronnie's last meeting with him and no one knows where to. He may have been jailed or died. He was a great guy and helped me in my young confused life with spiritual and musical insight. Thanks Robert, where ever you are!
I hope you like these stories. I have tons more blues related stories to share. I run a zine called Before The Apocalypse and a blog beeteeay.blogspot.com in Baltimore that has tons of obsessive writings, art, music stuff and I'm in a band called the Baltimore String Felons facebook.com/baltimorestringfelons

Thanks! -Geff
« Last Edit: November 06, 2012, 12:28:19 PM by powerlinehorizon »
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline Johnm

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Re: Encounters
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2012, 12:27:51 PM »
Thanks for that post, powerlinehorizon, that was really interesting! 
All best,
Johnm

Offline Gumbo

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  • So Papa climbed up on top of the house
Re: Encounters
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2012, 05:41:26 PM »
I wish I had stories like those! Thanks for posting, powerlinehorizon.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Encounters
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2012, 01:51:17 AM »
A thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable read. Thanks.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Shovel

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Re: Encounters
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2012, 07:07:16 AM »
Love '78 encounters' stories.  The seedier the better.   >:D
Hopefully folks find the time and inclination..
« Last Edit: November 07, 2012, 07:08:23 AM by Shovel »

Offline btasoundsradio

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    • BTA Sounds Radio: Podcast of Obscure Musics
Re: Encounters
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2012, 10:51:18 AM »
Thanks y'all. I hope folks out there post some of their stories. I got a ton more and just got inspired by reading the notes to Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of vol. 2. Especially the hilarious R. Anthony Lee Fahey/Spottswood record trip. Worth the price of admission. Finding Patton records would probably make me speak in tongues too!
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline bigignatz

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Re: Encounters
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2013, 09:55:22 PM »
Great post!

But now I got a complaint...I'm looking all over the interweb for a copy of the Baltimore String Felons CD and after reading through a pile of those drunk-ass fan ramblings on Facebookmyspacerevernation without nary a mention of any place to deposit some banjo string money for ya'll,  I'm starting to think that the CD is about as easy to find as those Patton '78s. Just as I was thinking that the US had nothing left to offer the world but misery, along comes the Baltimore String Felons to prove otherwise. Seriously, how do I get one of your CDs?

« Last Edit: January 17, 2013, 11:17:40 PM by bigignatz »

 


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