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December 2023
Vol. 23, No. 3

Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Lou Curtiss Sound Library Digitization Project

August 2021

Russ Hamm and I are starting in on the work of transferring the material in my library to digital format. As I told you previously, the Grammy Foundation gave us a grant to do just that. Mostly the material we will transfer will come from the series of festivals we did from 1967 thru 1987 at SDSU (festivals 17, 18, and 19 of the 20 festivals were held in other locations) as well as selected material from its successor, the Adams Avenue Roots Festival (mostly the more traditional and roots artists). Along the way we also did three blues festivals (in 1979 and 1980 and again in 1995; interestingly, the 1979 Blues and Black Music Heritage Festival was the first festival I put together in the Adams Park location, which would become the site of the Roots Festival some 14 years later). After this material is transferred to digital format, the archives will go to the Library of Congress Archives in Washington D.C. and to the UCLA Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Hopefully there will be a location, besides my own collection, where this material can be stored and studied here in San Diego, such as the SDSU Library, but no one has come forward from that organization with any interest nor has any other San Diego institution of learning come forward either, at least not yet. Just a few weeks ago the fortieth anniversary of the first festival at SDSU passed and no one mentioned it, except for me. Next month, on July 31, Folk Arts Rare Records will be 40 years old as well (around the same time that the Lou Curtiss Sound Library started to come together).
You’ll note that I said “mostly” the material will come from the festivals, but there is another quality portion that will come from a series of concerts that took place mostly in San Diego (there I go, using that mostly again), which I was involved with in one way or another. In some cases it was only because I was there, or helped set up the chairs, but mostly it was because I wound up with the tapes and I’m a notorious pack rat when it comes to stuff like that. I used to go to concerts at a bookstore called the Sign of the Sun on the corner of College Avenue and Adams Avenue near El Cajon Boulevard. The store was owned by Harold Darling who later ran the Unicorn Theater and the Green Tiger Press. The store catered to the students at San Diego State, carrying textbooks (new and used) and magazines of a political and artistic bent. Harold also sold recordings of traditional folk songs and blues and various kinds of ethnic music. And then there were the concerts we have on tape that feature Bessie Jones, Jean Redpath, Jean Ritchie, Guy Carawan, Rev. Gary Davis, Jack and Marilyn Powell, the Chambers Brothers, an early incarnation of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, Hedy West (all from the summer of 1962). I remember seeing so many others at the Sign of the Sun (Mississippi John Hurt, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Skip James, Slim Critchlow, the New Lost City Ramblers, Rosalie Sorrels, Mike Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Gunter Schmitz, Janet Smith, Roger Perkins and Larry Hanks, and Rita Weill), however the tapes haven’t surfaced. Maybe one day they will.
There was also a series of concerts I put together at my shop starting in the early 1970s that will be archived, which includes people like Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin, Ray and Ina Patterson, U Utah Phillips, the Old Hat Band, Fiddlin’ Red Simpson and the Old Scratch Band, Sam Chatmon, Sam Hinton, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Thomas Shaw, Jane Voss, Tom Waits, Sandy Dutky, Jack Tempchin, Roger Belloni, W.B. Reid, Del Rey (then known as Lani Kurnik), Walt Richards, John Bosley, Gala Parish, Molly Stone, Robert Jeffrey, Hank Bradley, Art Rosenbaum, Bill Staines, Ruthie Gorton, Kenny Hall, Martin Henry, Ray Bierl, Ted Staak, Guy Carawan, the Fern Street Irregulars, the Normal Heights Lounge Lizards, Holly Tannen, Clabe Hangen, Johnny Walker, Dave Page (Gregory’s grandfather), Hunt and Peck, Wayne Stromberg, and so many others. Three or four years later we moved the concerts to Orangos restaurant on Washington Street and continued for a couple more years with the same kind of people. After that time and between the end of the last Folk Festival and the first Roots Festival we did some house concerts on Robinson Street in Hillcrest, and during the whole period from the 1960s forward there are tapes from coffee houses like the Heritage in Mission Beach, where we helped Bill Nunn and later Bob Webb book people like Big Joe Williams, Sam Chatmon, and others (I have a terrific tape of Kenny Hall playing with the Krudd Family at the Heritage). Another tape that has survived features bluesman Johnny Shines playing acoustic at an Escondido coffee house called In the Alley.
I also have recordings from the Bifrost Bridge, Land of Oden, and the Candy Company, various church social halls, school auditoriums, and outside picking sessions from just about everywhere. Besides myself, people with tape recorders in those days included Richard Schurch, Dennis Squier, Jerry Weddle, Jack Van Olst, Bob Pillow, and a few more I’m leaving out because I just can’t remember and others I haven’t talked to yet (but I know they have stuff).
Now comes the stuff I’d like to be able to add to the library. Two or three years before the first San Diego Folk Festival at SDSU was held, the San Diego Folksong Society put on a Folk Festival out at Cal Western University (then in Point Loma). It featured Sam Hinton, Hedy West, the Kentucky Colonels (with Clarence and Roland White), Bess Lomax Hawes, and Stu Jamieson, and someone must have taped some of it. Those tapes belong in these archives. There should also be traditional music taped at various San Diego music events, including stuff we missed at our own festivals, that belong in these archives. We have a lot of material and it’ll take us awhile to digitize it, but it would really be nice if some of you came up with recordings from some of the other area festivals. For instance, we would not have even began this project if the San Diego Folk Heritage hadn’t allowed us to use their non-profit status to apply for this grant and for that we are ever grateful. This is an organization that has put on a fine series of concerts and festivals of their own. It’d sure be nice if someone provided us with tapes of some of their events to include (particularly the more traditional artists) in the digitization. I have nothing in my library that was recorded at the Old Time Cafe in Encinitas either, although there were many fine traditional and roots artists who appeared there. I could go on and on and I’ll probably think of six things I forgot right after I send this off to Troubadour Central. As we go along with this project, you’ll be hearing more about it here.
Now, speaking of traditional music, let me tell you that the good folks at the San Diego Folk Heritage will be hosting the Sam Hinton Folk Celebration this year on Saturday, June 9, at Old Poway Park. The festival features Trails and Rails, Wood ‘n’ Lips, Chris Clarke, Jean and Butch Hibben, Allen Singer and Dane Terry, Johnson, Bosley, and Morin, Greg Campbell and Tom Boyer, Larry Robinson, and oh yes, Lou and Virginia Curtiss. And it’s all FREE. Don’t miss it.
Lou Curtiss

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