Recordially, Lou Curtiss

An Important Anniversary to Celebrate

San Diego is coming up on the 100th anniversary of it’s great 1915 Pan American Exposition and World’s Fair in 2015. A year-long celebration in Balboa Park has been planned and right now I’m putting a plug in to be a part of their folk-life and historical presentations. With 55 festivals, over 300 concerts (you know the rant) under my belt, I think I could contribute a lot to this event. I’ve even had some experience helping Utah Phillips when he did the folk-life events at the Spokane, Washington World’s Fair and helped with similar events in Tennessee, at the Smithsonian in Washington DC during their Centennial events, the Jazz and Heritage Fest in New Orleans, and others. I’ve been a researcher, collector, and promoter of this city’s musical history and I remain devoted to finding out all I can about the whos, whats, wheres, and whys of what happened here, who came here, and what they brought with them. I’ve often talked about a San Diego Folk Life Museum and Concert Hall in Balboa Park. Maybe this anniversary celebration could be a place to start. Maybe it could be a place to house the Lou Curtiss Sound Library (it already has a home in Washington DC at the Library of Congress and at UCLA’s Ethnomusicology Department). It’d be nice if it had a home here in San Diego where a good part of it happened. If any of you out there have any thoughts, let me know. If you know anyone involved in the event let them know I’m interested in helping this event be something that is memorable to everyone that is a part of it.

The End (a Coffeehouse European)
They were all called Coffeehouse European in those early days. Actually The End, on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, was transformed into a coffeehouse from two street-facing rooms of a motel. When you worked there mostly you had to provide your own waitress. I started going to the End on Hoot Nights sometime in the mid-60s, mostly with other members of the San Diego State Folksong Society (Clarke Powell, Ray Kellogg, Curt Bouterse, and others). The guy who ran the Hoots was a guy from Imperial Beach named Peter Keegan who played autoharp. After a while I had a group called the Red Mountain Ramblers (Dennis Squier, Alan Glasscoe, Pat Prickett, Peggy Fallon, Ned Getline, Rex Morris, Larry Fumo and myself) who played pretty regularly there for about a year. Our waitress was Ned’s girlfriend Rita. It was a pretty easy job. The kitchen consisted of a jug of apple cider and some cinnamon sticks, some Folger’s instant coffee, whipped cream, nutmeg and cinnamon to sprinkle on top, a stove to heat the water and cider, and that was it. No espresso machine, nothing fancy. A coffeehouse on the cheap. I saw and heard some pretty good music there, including Hoyt Axton, Ted Staak, the Kern County Boys, Karen Williams, Wayne Stromberg, Pam Baker, Walt Richards and the Eddystone Singers, Guy Carawan, Ray Bierl, and even Sam Hinton.

The End was in competition with the Heritage, which was a few blocks away on Mission Boulevard. I remember a shuttle bus that would pick up folks at The End and run them over to the Heritage (I don’t remember it ever working the other way). Sometime in the late ‘60s The End disappeared like a many coffeehouses did, leaving only a few memories for folks who picked, played, and listened and paid a buck fifty for a cup of instant joe.

Sittin’ around the back room at Folk Arts Rare Records and writing stuff
It was back in the mid ‘70s when we were doing concerts at the Folk Arts store (then in Hillcrest) and during the day folks would drop by and sit on an old davenport we had, gab about music, or try out the old piano. Tom Waits and Jack Tempchin would sit working on a song together about Tijuana, or Gala Whitten would write about some of the folks who hung around the place in those days (Gala lived upstairs from the shop and I could influence the type of song she’d write by playing music in the shop and having it drift up through the floor). One time I asked folks to write singing commercials at the shop and Jack, Gala, and John Bosley all contributed one. On Friday and Saturday concert nights the music would start usually about midday (especially if someone was coming in from out of town with local friends) and the jamming would last until early the next morning after a concert. Those were very special times for me. A lot of them were captured on tape and are being digitized for the Lou Curtiss Sound Library collection. Some special years those were.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

  • May 2011

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