Friday, February 04, 2011
Arhoolie records, one of the great American labels, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend. The record company is the brainchild of Chris Strachwitz, a German immigrant who has left an indelible mark on the nation's sound-scape. The catalog of Arhoolie reads like a who's who in Cajun, Zydeco, Tex-Mex/Tejano, Bluegrass, Gospel, Blues, Country and Jazz music, making it one of the premier roots record labels in the world. Some of the many musicians who have recorded for Arhoolie are Clifton Chenier, Big Mama Thornton, Mance Lipscomb, Earl Hooker, Flaco Jimenez, Lightning Hopkins, Treme Brass Band, Beausoliel, and the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra.
The story of Arhoolie's longevity and broad tastes really reflect Chris Strachwitz's love affair with all types of American music. Over the years of personally knowing Chris and having been introduced to so much music through his recordings, it is easy to see how he fits into any musical setting. Chris has an aura with an incredible musical halo. The music seems to become magical or at least magical musical moments occur when Chris is present. There was a time in the nineties at Zydeco accordionist Geno Delafose's farm in Eunice when I first met Chris; soon after a multicultural jam took place in Geno's barn which could only have been topped by the wonderful spicy food served up his mama. Even last year, when Chris showed up in my courtyard as a guest of the band fat my annual Jazz fest party, there came a magical musical moment. I had just received a vintage 1930s book of Haitian sheet music as a winning EBay bid which I, of course, had to show to Chris. He promptly said, "let’s see if the band (Seva Venet's Storyville String Band) could play one of these Haitian numbers." They did, and little magic occurred, again orchestrated by Mr. Chris.
As part of the 50th celebration of Arhoolie Records "Hear Me Howling: Blues, Ballads and Beyond," a 4 CD set, has been released along with text by Adam Machado. The book has 136 full color pages and 150 photographs and features recordings made by Chris Strachwitz in the San Fransisco Bay area in the 1960s. These 72 tracks, many of which are previously unissued, concentrate on Strachwitz's home recordings from this time period. Strachwitz was very interested in the blues men who had found their way from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi to find work in the ship yards of San Fransisco Bay. All of the recordings come together to show the broad expanse of his musical taste as well as the magical musical things that happen around this tall, slender soft spoken man.
Some of the musical highlights on the four CD set include the Skid (jug) Band doing a version of "Junko Partner," Bluesman Jesse Fuller covering an old vaudeville number of Bert Williams and some delightful comic wordplay in Bob Neuwirth’s "Come See." You'll be transported back into the sixties with the original recording of Country Joe and the Fish doing “Fixing To Die Rag," made famous at Woodstock some years later. Louisiana is represented by wonderful sides by the Hackberry Ramblers, Clifton Chenier and John Semien and The Opelousas Playboys. Two unreleased songs by New Orleans bluesman Lonnie Johnson are included and other bluesman represented are Rev. Gary Davis, Fred McDowell and Mance Lipscomb.
So celebrate Arhoolie this weekend by digging out your favorite Arhoolie LP or CD and consider picking up "Hear Me Howling; Blues, Ballads and Beyond" a 4 CD set of gems that will give you a view in to the world and music of Chris Strachwitz.