Recordially, Lou Curtiss

More Memories from Lou Curtiss

Note from the Editor: Lou Curtiss passed away on July 8 at the age of 79. The Troubadour will be rerunning selections of Lou’s column, Recordially, Lou Curtiss, indefinitely, from the vast archive of his writings, dating back to 2001, so here are a few more golden nuggets from Lou. There are so many great pieces of music history and experiences he had to talk about!

We would also like to invite our readers to share their personal stories about Lou by emailing info@sandiegotroubadour.com.

A memorial/tribute for Lou has been planned for November 18, a Sunday, at the site of the old Bostonia Ballroom in El Cajon. Please stay tuned for further details as the date draws near.
—Liz Abbott

Roy Acuff: The Smokey Mountain Boy at 100 Years
The first phonograph records that I was even consciously aware of when I was about four or five years old were by Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys on those old lavender Okey 78s and I think one on Melotone that my Mom picked up at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I remember tunes like “Wreck on the Highway,” “Low and Lonely,” “Tell Mother I’ll Be There,” “Be Honest With Me,” and, of course, “The Wabash Cannonball.” We also heard Roy on the national Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry broadcasts every Saturday night. Throughout my life his music has been an important part of my musical heritage, not always at the forefront but there nonetheless. For me, Roy nearly always symbolized what was right about country music. I can’t say that I always agreed with his musical choices but more often than not he pointed the way I was going. Roy always stood for the traditional side of Nashville and I always thought he was a bit lost with the Nashville Sound and the non-country direction that Nashville had taken during his last few years. On September 15, we celebrate the 100th year of his birth, well over 60 of which were spent on the Opry. Hardly anyone ever speaks of him these days even though he was one of the first four elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and always championed the Opry throughout his time there. I’d like to put together a celebratory concert in Roy’s memory. I’ve talked to a few fellow Acuff fans and I’d like to hear from some others. Call me at Folk Arts Rare Records (619/282-7833) with your ideas.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

Note: Reprinted from the July 2003 issue of the San Diego Troubadour.

Evolution of a Song
I’m always curious about how songs evolve, and I guess there’s no better documentation of that than by listening to recordings. Take Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” which most of us consider a country music standard. Recorded by Hank in December of 1948, it had been a country song when cowboy crooner Rex Griffin recorded it in September of 1938. However, when medicine show blackface songster Emmett Miller recorded it back in June of 1928, he used backup by his Georgia Crackers, which included jazzmen Leo McConville on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Eddie Lang on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Stan King on drums. This was a jazz-blues-minstrel hybrid that was anything but country.

It was obvious that both Hank and Rex had heard Emmett Miller’s recording. There are enough similarities in the way the song is sung to make that absolutely certain. The same blue yodels are in the same place. So, where did Emmett Miller get the song? The answer is in a fourth recording made in 1922 by vaudeville song-and-dance man Jack Shea. All the words are there but the tune is a bit different and there is an additional verse about going to the doctor:

He looked at me and said, “Why, your final lowka towka is badly bent” . . . you’ve got the lovesick blues.

The record by Jack Shea lists Cliff Friend as single author of the song. All the later versions list Irving Mills and Cliff Friend as authors. Irving Mills was a very successful arranger, agent, and sometimes singer with bands like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Don Redmon, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and his own Hotsy Totsy Boys (AKA Mills Musical Clowns and Mills Merry Makers). My guess is that he got the musicians together to back up Emmett Miller and, as a result, took a piece of the action on his songs. “Lovesick Blues” made him a good piece of change over the years. As for Cliff Friend, who was a prolific songwriter from the early ’20s and into the ’50s, with songs like “June Night,” “Then I’ll Be Happy,” “Wah Hoo,” “When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” and a list a mile long, which appeared in such Broadway shows and movies as George White’s Scandals, Earl Carroll’s Vanities, Many Happy Returns, and Shine on Harvest Moon. Cliff Friend had a lot on his plate. He probably didn’t miss half the royalties on one of his first songs. After Hank did the song, it was done by just about everyone in country music. Sonny James brought it back to the country charts in 1957, and Floyd Cramer charted with an instrumental in 1962. The British crooner Frank Ifield charted with it in 1963. For an old 1922 vaudeville tune “Lovesick Blues” has had a pretty good run. Now someone needs to bring that early verse about the trip to the doctor. I’d be glad to give it to them . . .

Clyde Davenport
The 31st Adams Avenue Roots Festival is coming up May 1-2, and for me, it’s as always a collection of old friends I see too infrequently and people who I’ve wanted to see for awhile.

I first ran into LPs by Clyde Davenport back in the 1970s, and from that time forward, he’s been on the short list of those old-timey performers and musicians that I’d like to have at any festival. Clyde plays fiddle and both clawhammer and finger-style banjo. He was brought up on the music of Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford and makes his home in Whitleyville, Tennessee (in the Cumberland Gap area). Clyde is thought to have the largest repertory of solo fiddle tunes among any southern mountain fiddler. He plays tunes in an archaic style, characterized by cross tunings, elaborate bowing, and eccentric meolody lines.

These were fiddle tunes made for listening (“Kittypuss,” “One-Eyed Rosie,” and “Jenny in the Corss Patch”), which dropped out of general circulation around the turn of the last century (that’s 1900, folks) as ensemble sounds became increasingly popular.

Clyde developed some more progressive phrasing while playing in a country bluegrass group, the Radio Pals, in Muncie, Indiana during the late ’40s. Interestingly, this almost never shows up in his breakdown numbers, where his approach is clean and traditional.

Clyde is equally versatile as a banjo player and can choose from clawhammer, two- and three-finger traditional styles, or Scruggs style to accompany a fiddle tune. He’s been called one of the most important living traditional musicians. You won’t want to miss him, especially if you play banjo or fiddle. You’ll kick yourselves if you do.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

Note: Reprinted from the March 2004 issue of the San Diego Troubadour.

A memorial/tribute for Lou has been planned for November 18, a Sunday, at the site of the old Bostonia Ballroom in El Cajon. Please stay tuned for further information as the date draws near.
In addition, Lou will be honored, along with Sue Palmer, Jason Mraz, Jack Tempchin, and Mark Goffeney, at the San Diego Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday, October 5. Please refer to the calendar for details.

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