Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Folk music on the radio

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

So, to continue my saga of how I got into this particular field of music...

I was 14, lying in my bed listening to the radio, and discovered a local program which changed my life.  A local guy, Dave Graham, was hosting a show on KTUC, Tucson's first radio station, about folk music.  I don't even remember the name of the program; but I was electrified by what I was hearing.  Not only was the music mostly new to me, his presentation was engaging, informative, and conversational, not the usual plastic announcing.

Dave had opened a coffee house where he was presenting live acts--a little place off a tiny courtyard literally in a downtown alley.  The alley had a name, and Dave, understanding the main problem in advertising, named his place by its location:
"Ash Alley 241."  (This proved its genius when he needed a larger space to accommodate the growing crowds, and opened "30-15 North Campbell;" although a guy did ask me once, "So, where is it?")

My best friend (whom I would later offend and lose), Dan Webster, was 16 and had the use of a car.  Nights we weren't going to "the game" he would park up the block a bit and I would sneak out the window of my room for an evening at Ash Alley.

We were sooo young, yet we were welcomed, and became enthralled with the incredible performances of artists presented in an intimate, carefully crafted setting.  Sometimes, when Dan wasn't going or couldn't get the car, I'd just hitchhike there and mooch a ride as far back as I could from any willing beatnik.  Yes, beatnik--1960.

It was there we saw Michael Grossman, Barbara Dane, The Blue Ridge Boys, and many more.  It was there I met Bud & Travis.  They were closer to my age, and therefore less intimidating, so I could actually converse with them.  They found out I shared their sense of humor and actually began to use a few of my lines.
This led, later, to my getting to work as a writer for Travis after the duo broke up.

Bud and Travis were born on the same day, a world apart.  Once they met, the blend of attitudes and talent was beyond chemistry, and they quickly became recognized by their peers in the burgeoning folk market as musical masters who understood the power of comedy to turn a recital into a show.  The Limeliters, The KT, Judy Collins,
and The Smothers Brothers all acknowledged to me, at one time or another,
their admiration for these two young men.

Of course, their similarities also made for a volatile relationship, to put it mildly.  Once, Bud actually stabbed Trav with a knife in an argument over a girl.  Their brilliant partnership produced several albums, college concert tours, and even a world tour, but lasted less than five years.

Bear in mind all these artists were in their twenties (except for Theo Bikel and Burl) in those days.  Compare their output with that of today's young "singer/songwriters" and you'll understand a little of the disdain felt by us dinosaurs.

Here's another taste:
Next week, the song keeps growing...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Questions answered:

When we perform, we get asked certain questions:
“How do you remember all those words?”  We often don’t.
“Are you married?”  Why else would she hang out with him?
And a favorite, “Where do you get those songs?” 
Well, actually, we write a lot of them.  This endeavor includes, of course, the parodies of others’ work, involving finding a well-known song so folks will know it’s a parody.

Deciding to “cover” another’s material is a different matter.  From thousands of outstanding songs, finding and selecting one to arrange, learn, and present is daunting.  A major problem is knowing a song exists at all.  Folks are always trying to turn us on to songs “you guys should do,” and that is always welcome and helpful; but most are drawn from Whitt’s experience in the so-called “folk” idiom.

The explosion of interest in traditional American music which started, really, long before, reached commercial potential in the late 1950s and the Great American Folk Music Scare began. 

When Whitt was six or seven, he would watch black and white Sunday morning telecasts of Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives, tenderly sharing, primarily, Appalachian and English ballads and, as they were known academically, “folk carols.”  To him, the lyrics were less fascinating than the concept of music offered with such simple accompaniment.  The airwaves were packed with music full of instrumentation, arranging gimmicks, sophisticated rhythms, and “hooks;” but nothing seemed to affect him like those solitary, often plaintive, old songs of actual history.

When Whitt was in 7th grade, it happened.  The Kingston Trio.
The impact they had on most adolescents was amazing.  This was a masculine, energetic sound, and their fast-and-loose approach to adaptation transformed many a simple tune into a rousing, rollicking experience. (Much more about them later.)

Our young student began to follow the newly popular idiom, as well as pop comedy phenomena like Stan Freberg.  Then came Bud & Travis and The Limeliters
A neighbor, an “older” hip guy named Hugh Morgan (a name many Californians will recall from his later broadcasting career),  turned him on to Bud & Travis and The (slightly fabulous) Limeliters, (again, much more later) who were able to capture and combine true traditionalism, original songwriting, and humor.

It was the beginning of a lifetime journey which led Whitt to buy his first guitar and eventually get into the business.  (Thanks, Hugh!)

Whitt would eventually become professionally involved with all three of these groups.

Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, consider this:
Hope to see you here next Wednesday for more!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Now is the winter..."

...but not of our discontent! 
Indeed, we're very grateful for shelter, food, and WARMTH!
When we decided to spend winter "ashore" (for a variety of reasons we've already outlined) we actually forgot about some things; like how spoiled we'd become.
The first serious snowstorm in December reminded us.
Yup, that's our road van, The Mighty Creampuff.

Of course, if we had gone south for this particular winter, it would have been difficult to stay warm anyway, with the Polar Vortex everywhere we usually haunt.
So, like tourists who had never spent 14 years in Northeast Upper Lower Michigan, we enjoyed the novelty of a small dose of "real" winter.

We had some visitors stop by, but not for long.  Weren't even interested in eating.  Stayed like this 'til we began to worry about them, and then left, hopefully for an overhang somewhere.
Thought about a bike ride--it's right on the front porch...

Well, maybe after it lets up a little.

 How 'bout a stroll through the winter wonderland?

Maybe later.  Like, May.

So, we dealt, mostly enjoying the scene through the double-paned window of our toasty apartment.

Then came Round 2, an ice storm, and the next day, enough sun for a spectacle!
 Everything encased in glass...

More than half an inch of ice can bring down tree limbs and power lines, which it did to the dismay of many folks around the country who weren't at all used to such things.

In Michigan, though, they're used to it; so only a couple hundred thousand folks lost power, many for several days.
Ours was only out one day, restored just after it got dark.  What a blessing!

So here we remain until Spring and the start of our "tour" for the season.
We thank all those of you who've been inquiring about us and sending us greetings.  Bless you for staying interested in us through our off-season months!
We're still working on our web skills, trying to rehearse when Judy is not "on duty," and writing scads of new material we hope to one day have time to learn.

Hope to see you out there!