Recordially, Lou Curtiss

An Update on the Tape-to-Digital Project in the Lou Curtiss Sound Library

Well, we are starting into converting the music from the 11th San Diego State Folk Festival, having just finished the 1975 and 1976 concert series we did at Orango’s Natural Food Restaurant and Sprout Farm (formerly located on Washington St. in Mission Hills). There’s so much more to do and so much that we’ve heard about that has yet to surface. Concerts at the old Pacific Ballroom of Jazz and R&B in the ’50s and ’60s. I once talked to the guy who put a lot of those concerts together; he told me about having those tapes of artists like Bobby Blue Bland, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Jimmy Reed, and others but I’ve lost track of him (last time I saw him was when he started a short-lived club out on El Cajon Blvd. in the ’70s and put on Mary Wells and J.J. Johnson in concert. I’d sure love to find those tapes.

A guy named Doug McKee used to tape things endlessly out at the Heritage coffeehouse and other places. His reels (if they still exist) should be added to this library. Last I heard, Doug lived over Arizona way. He keeps in touch with folks in San Diego bluegrass circles.

They used to do concerts at the old Blue Guitar when it was out on Midway Drive. That was back in the 1960s. Does Ed Douglas or anyone else have tapes they’d like to have be a part of this San Diego Music Library? The Blue Guitar was, and still is, an important part of San Diego Music History. Someone at the Troubadour should do a showpiece on the history of this place, talk to Ed Douglas, Larry Murray, Yuris Zeltins, and some of the other fine instrument people that have made this place so special. (Note to Lou: the Troubadour did, indeed, do an extensive write-up on the Blue Guitar in the August 2007 issue. It is archived on our website: www.sandiegotroubadour.com/category/pdf-editions/page/4/)

There have been many other places where music was played in the San Diego area and some of it might have been committed to tape. How about the Old Time Cafe, Drowsy Maggies, Circe’s Cup, the End, the College Inn, the Land of Oden, the Upper Cellar, the Bifrost Bridge, the Bostonia Ballroom, concerts at the Sign of the Sun I’m missing (like Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, the New Lost City Ramblers, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and more). I’m leaving a lot of places out but since we started this project I’m really surprised at what has come to the surface.

I’d love to include some of the material from the collection of the late Fred Gerlach. I know Fred had lots of tapes going back quite a ways, which really belong in this collection. I’d love to include tapes of some of the early bluegrass groups in the San Diego area, some of the Old Time Fiddle jam sessions that someone might have taped.
Did anyone ever tape a show at the old Black and Tan, the Sportsman Club, the Creole Palace, the Crossroads, or any of the other R&B and blues clubs here local? If so, those tapes ought to be preserved. How about a tape of Slim Gailliard during his years in San Diego? That would be special.

To anyone who has old reel-to-reel or other tapes. Let us tape them for this San Diego Music Collection and we’ll give you CD copies (professionally done). Just let me know what you might have and if we can use it you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are keeping a part of San Diego’s music heritage alive.

AND HOW WE FUND THIS PROJECT!
I just found out that our own Assemblywoman Toni Atkins is one of two assembly representatives on the California Historic and Cultural Endowment, which provides grants to preserve the state’s cultural legacy. It seems to me that our project fits into those catagories. If anyone knows Ms. Atkins and approves of our project, how about dropping her an email or a letter and asking her to give us some support? Thanks.
Watch my Facebook page (Louis F Curtiss) for more live material as we get into the 11th San Diego State Folk Festival. Watch for tracks by Kate Wolfe, Olabelle Reed, Doye O’Dell, Tom Paley, Smokey Rogers, Kirk McGee and Blythe Poteet, Stones Throw, Happy Traum, Elizabeth Cotton, Los Hurricanes Del Norte, Hank Penny, Leonard Emmanual, Johnny Bond, and a whole lot more.

A QUITE FINE READ!
A new book by Stephen Wade titled The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recording and the American Experience is part scholarship and part detective story. Stephen has selected 13 iconic field recordings made for the Library of Congress between 1934 and 1942 and has given them new life by exploring, in depth, the stories behind these recordings. He gives us the story of the lives of the performers through their own stories (of the few alive when the research was begun), and those of relatives and folks that knew them. He reconstructs the sights and sounds of the recording sessions themselves and discusses the origins and histories of the songs and how the music worked in the lives of the performers and the influences of the performances on later musicians.

The recordings were made in locations reaching from Southern Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta and the great plains and includes the children’s play song “Shortnin’ Bread,” sung by Ora Dell Graham in Drew, Mississippi, in 1940, the fiddle tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat”; played by fiddler Bill Stepp in Lakeville Kentucky in 1937; the blues worksong “Another Man Done Gone,” recorded by Vera Hall in Livington, Alabama, in 1940; the traditional song “One Morning in May” by Texas Gladden in Saltville, Virginia, in 1941; and the spiritual “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold Me Body Down” by Bozie Sturdivant in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1942; and more. Some of these musicians developed musical reputations beyond these recordings but for most these tracks were all that they did. Stephen’s researches have unearthed a treasure trove of previously unpublished photos – I never thought I’d ever see a photo of Bozie Sturdivant but there it is on page 199 alongside a funeral program for him from 1978. The book also includes a CD with all the recordings discussed.

This book is, I feel, a major contribution to the study of American traditional and roots music and puts flesh and bones onto these performers who were previously mysterious voices on decades-old recordings.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

  • March 2013

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