(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Folk music

“I daydream about a high school where everybody plays the harmonica”*…

Lee Oskar, seen here performing with WAR in 1970, was so frustrated with the quality of Hohner’s harmonicas at the time that he eventually founded his own harmonica company

In the late 1960s, as the general manager of Don Wehr’s Music City in San Francisco, Reese Marin sold guitars, drums, keyboards, and amps to the biggest psychedelic rock bands of the late 1960s. His customers ranged from Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service to Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Guitarists as musically diverse as Carlos Santana and Steve Miller could find what they were looking for at Don Wehr’s; so did jazz virtuosos George Benson and Barney Kessel, who would walk down Columbus Avenue from Broadway in North Beach—where the jazz clubs competed with strip joints for tourists—whenever they were in town.

These legends were some of the most demanding and finicky musicians on the planet. So it should have been easy for Marin to sell a couple of $5 harmonicas to Lee Oskar, whose melodic riffs on hits like “Cisco Kid,” “The World is a Ghetto,” and “Low Rider” gave one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, WAR, its signature sound. Oskar, however, heard imperfections in his chosen instrument that Marin didn’t know existed. Oskar was not tentative in his quest for what he considered a “gig-worthy” harmonica. “I spent all my money on harmonicas,” Oskar told me recently, “just to find 1 out of 10 that was any good.”

Marin says Oskar was exaggerating, but not by much. He was actually behind the counter when Oskar made his first of many visits to Don Wehr’s and asked to play all of the harmonicas the store had in stock in C, A, F, G, and E—the keys where rock bands live and die. On any given day, Marin maintained an inventory of 10 to 20 harmonicas in each key for each model they sold. That was a lot of harmonicas for Oskar to put his mouth on, so Marin decided to be firm. “I said, ‘You can’t play ’em unless you buy ’em,’” Marin told me, “and he said, ‘I don’t mind.’”

Shrugging, Marin rang him up, then Oskar proceeded to play every single harmonica on the sales counter, which he then divided into two piles—one for the gig-worthy harmonicas and another for the rejects, which were 80 to 90 percent of the total. “When he was done, I said, ‘Lee, what do you want me to do with all these harmonicas?’ and he said, ‘I don’t really care. I can’t use them.’” Marin ended up giving away a lot of used Lee Oskar-played harmonicas. “Lee did this over and over, every time he was in town,” says Marin. “It was crazy.”

Until relatively recently, playing a harmonica was sort of crazy, too, since doing so was essentially the same thing as destroying it. For harmonicas like the Hohner Marine Bands Oskar road-tested that day at Don Wehr’s, a player’s saliva would soak into the wood inside the instrument, causing it to swell. At the end of a gig, the wood would dry out and shrink. This process would repeat itself over and over, until the wood had swelled and shrunk so many times it would split and splinter, often causing a player’s lips to bleed. “I used to hack off the ends of the combs on my harmonicas with a carpet knife,” recalls Steve Baker, a London-born harmonica player and an authority on the Marine Band. Most players would never do that, of course, content to just toss their worn-out wrecks in the trash.

For Hohner, this must have seemed like a very good business model. After all, the Marine Band had been Hohner’s most popular harmonica brand almost since 1896, the year it was introduced. In the United States, in the first half of the 20th century, American folk musicians and blues artists alike embraced the Marine Band as their own, giving the instrument originally designed to play traditional German folk tunes an aura of cool. With sales soaring after World War II, Hohner found itself making an instrument everybody wanted, even though it needed to be replaced regularly. How could a manufacturer’s product get any better than that?

Well, answered harmonica players and a small but influential community of harmonica customizers, how about an instrument that doesn’t wear out, is built to be serviced and tuned to a musician’s needs, and is made out of materials that don’t cause our lips to bleed?

In the 1970s, Lee Oskar and Steve Baker were at the forefront of a movement to get those questions answered…

In the 1970s, Hohner, the world’s largest harmonica manufacturer, changed its flagship model– and in the process, its signature sound. A few musicians and harp customizers waged a quiet rebellion. And they won. The full (and elegantly told) story: “The Return of the Harmonica.”

* Richard Brautigan

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As we blow, we might recall that it was on this date in 1979 that the classic film Rock and Roll High School was first publicly shown. (Some sources report that the movie opened on August 4 or August 24 of that year– and “officially,” one of those dates is likely right.  But according to director Allan Arkush, in an interview with The Village Voice, the movie played in April in Texas and New Mexico, and did not reach New York City– and national consciousness– until August.)

A Roger Corman production featuring a remarkable cast, it is nonetheless probably best remembered as “the movie with The Ramones.” Amusingly, Corman originally wanted Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren to play the band, but schedules didn’t mesh, so he was forced to find an alternative… at which point Paul Bartel (who played a key role in the film) suggested The Ramones.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 25, 2021 at 1:01 am

How to be noticed…

The world now has access to a list of words and phrases that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses to monitor social networks and news article comments for terrorism and general threats against the country.

The list was part of a 39-page “2011 Analyst’s Desktop Binder” document that was released due to a Freedom of Information Act request by privacy watchdog organization Electronic Privacy Information Center. The list contains references to all the related governmental agencies, obvious references to threats (attack, nuclear threat, etc.) and then some pretty generic words like pork, cloud, electric, port, dock, and many others…

Read the full story– and the DHS document– on VentureBeat.

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As we reckon that we’ve already been fingered, we might send tuneful birthday wishes to Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie; he was born on this date in 1912.  Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned their traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his own songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression– and earned him the nickname, “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”

‘This Land is Your Land (in D)’By Woody Guthrie

CHORUS: This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

CANADIAN CHORUS:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From Bonavista to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake Waters
This land was made for you and me

SANIBEL CHORUS:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to Sanibel Island
From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
O’er the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me, a voice was saying
This land was made for you and me

When the sun came shining and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I went walking, I saw a sign there
On the sign it said NO TRESPASSING
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
In the relief office, I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

 source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 14, 2012 at 1:01 am

The Anti-Skinheads…

 

American Juggalo
click here for video

Once a year, the fans of Insane Clown Posse— a group self-anointed the “Juggalos“– gather at Cave-in-Rock, Illinois for a week of music, carnival rides, and partying.

In contrast to the Skinhead movement, Juggalos pride themselves on inclusiveness, embracing all races, genders, creeds, and economic backgrounds (though they tend to be drawn, like Skinheads, largely from the economically-challenged), and consider themselves a family.

The inimitable Bob Lefsetz on American Juggalo:

This ain’t Coachella. It’s not even Bonnaroo.

We’re used to corporate sponsors, patrons staying in hotel rooms. Everybody in America is a winner, on their way up.

But here you have an endless supply of what society calls losers. And they all seem to know it.

This film is as powerful as the great documentaries of Frederick Wiseman and D.A. Pennebaker. It captures a vibe, a feeling, which you don’t find too often in today’s mainstream media.

I can’t imagine many of these people are Democrats. They want every dollar they earn, because it’s not many. And where’s the better life, the jobs Obama promised?

It’s an endless carnival of the disenfranchised. An underbelly pushed under the rug, joining together to have a good time.

What happens when your parents aren’t rich, when your life has taken a wrong turn? You get tattoos and become a Juggalo.

This certainly ain’t the beautiful people.

And it’s not all stoners. There are Straight Edge Juggalos, and if one of the talking heads is to be believed, even brain surgeon Juggalos. But I’m guessing those are in the minority.

This is not plastic-surgeried, dieted down to nothing television America. This is the people servicing you, doing those low paying jobs you’ve got contempt for.

But they’re also us.

They’re bonded as family, and that’s admirable…

 

As we dream the American Dream, we might spare a warm thought for Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, the musical voice of voiceless Americans for half a century; he died on this date in 1967.  Guthrie began writing and singing as he travelled with other refugees west from the Dust Bowl in the 30s.  He became a professional, and moved to New York in 1939.  Almost as soon as he landed in the East, he met Alan Lomax, who was collecting folk recordings for the Library of Congress.  For two years, Guthrie added to Lomax’s store– which led to the album Dust Bowl Ballads, the nation’s introduction to “Protest Folk,” a form that Guthrie pioneered with such songs as “This Land is Your Land.”

In the 1950s, Guthrie was diagnosed with Huntington’s chorea, a genetic disorder that was treated in those days with confinement to a psychiatric hospital– in Guthrie’s case, Brooklyn State Hospital, then Creedmore– where he spent his last 12 years.

In 1963, Bob Dylan was asked to contribute a 25-word “thought” to the preface of a forthcoming book on Guthrie; Dylan responded with a 144-line poem…  in which, having asked where a man could go to “look for this hope that yer seekin’,” Dylan suggests

You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You’ll find God in the church of your choice
You’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 3, 2011 at 1:01 am

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