Connect with us
December 2023
Vol. 23, No. 3

Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Moving Day!

by Lou CurtissJune 2014

It’s been a big effort moving the Lou Curtiss Sound Library from its home in the back rooms at Folk Arts Rare Records to its new home in El Cajon, but it’s been one Virginia, Ben, and I have been involved with these past few weeks. I guess some folks got the idea that since new owners would be taking over the shop they could grab a few things for themselves. I had some posters and pictures on the wall at the various editions of Folk Arts for over 40 years that someone had to rip off at this late date. My poster from Chess Records showing classic album covers from Sonny Boy, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters got ripped off when our backs were turned. Also gone was a Dr. Ross poster (signed by the artist) that Thomas Shaw brought me from Germany, and a couple of old Pacific Ballroom blues concert posters of Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, and Big Joe Turner. I don’t know if they are worth much (if whoever got them sells them on Ebay; I guess they’ll find out) but they had sentimental memories for me. If you run into someone who has these posters on their wall, tell them what jerks they are for me. I opened Folk Arts Rare Records in July of 1967 and a good part of the last 49 years has been spent in this place. It’s hard to leave it as it is but this last insult is just cruel. I’ll be here through June at least. Try to drop by and say howdy at least one more time. Hopefully, there will be new owners that will keep the spark alive. I’ll let you all know here.

Since 1967 (longer if you count my learning years) I’ve been involved with roots music and presented it to the people of San Diego. I’ve brought to this town folks like Bill Monroe, Merle Travis, Rose Maddox, Sam and Kirk McGee, Tommy Jarrell, Cliff Carlisle, Sam Chatmon, Bukka White, Robert Pete Williams, T Bone Walker, Clyde Davenport, Elizabeth Cotton, Mike Seeger, Mance Lipscomb, the Hoosier Hot Shots, Lily Mae Ledford, the Balfa Brothers, D.L. Menard, Bashful Brother Oswald, Hank Thompson, and several hundred others. In the last few years it seems there are more festivals going on in the area than ever and fewer with any roots music content. This so-called Americana term is used as an excuse for contemporary music to pass itself off as traditional and take over the whole scene, which is what they have done. I know there are fans of roots music. I talk to them every day in my store, yet no one has come up to take any kind of leadership role in this area. When we were doing the San Diego State Folk Festival (from 1967 to 1987) the Library of Congress called us “the finest traditional music festival in the Western United States” and we received high praise in The Journal of American Folklore, Sing Out!, and other magazines. Today, most of the other West Coast cities (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Berkeley, not to mention Port Townsend, Washington, and Vancouver BC) have major roots presentations, music camps, and festivals and San Diego has nothing. There are still a lot of old-time and traditional performers out there that it would sure be nice to see at a festival (maybe one formatted like the old San Diego State Folk Festival, with concerts and workshops over three or four days) and I don’t see why one of the universities here hasn’t done something. I guess it takes someone like me, who likes a pretty wide variety of music, will stay with it for the long haul, who doesn’t mind getting yelled at, and will never get rich doing it. It has to be a labor of love. I know each of these other cities that do roots festivals has some folks like these organizing things. So what happened to San Diego, besides me getting old?

The Lou Curtiss Sound Library transfer of tapes to digital format continues with copies going to the Library of Congress, the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology, and now the Library at San Diego State University. To date we have copied music from the first 11 San Diego State Folk Festivals (working on the 12th), the Sam Hinton tape library, tapes from the Sign of the Sun bookstore concert series in the early ’60s, the Cliff Niman collection of tapes from the old Candy Co. Music Club, concerts from Folk Arts Rare Records, and Orango’s Restaurant, the Ed Cormier, and Ted Theodore tapes (mostly backstage at the various folk festivals). Right now I’m working on the compiled tapes of Kenny Hall by Vykke Gray for her work on the Mel Bay book of his material. There are some 75 tapes of Kenny.

Still to go are quite a few field recordings I’ve made or had donated to the project, the rest of the 20 Folk Festivals, some miscellaneous concerts I did along the way. In 1994 I started doing the Adams Ave. Roots Festival and the Adams Ave.Street Fair of which a good part got videotaped. Those have to be digitized as well (my tenure lasted about 15 years on those). I’d also like to get a few tapes from some of the area coffeehouses over the years. I have a few from the old Heritage Coffeehouse in Mission Beach and In the Alley in Escondido (I got those from Phil Gross). I’d love to get some sounds from North County’s Old Time Cafe or North Park’s Drowsy Maggies or maybe some of the early San Diego Folk Heritage concerts. They should be part of San Diego’s Music Story at the Library of Congress.

I must have put up near 5,000 songs on my Facebook page (that’s LOUIS F CURTISS) with a good part of them culled from the digitized material talked about above and another great part from vintage blues, jazz, country and ethnic material on 78rpm records from my own collection that I play also on my JAZZ ROOTS radio program (KSDS 88.3FM, Sunday nights from 8pm to 10pm. Check also to listen on line). On Facebook you get to check in and let me know what you think about the music scene in San Diego, and especially the roots music scene.

One of the problems I have with the digital project is coming up with a complete list of the music, especially instrumental music (fiddle tunes, banjo tunes, cajun and Mexican songs, and various other ethnic material). I need to find some folks who could drop by and identify some of this music. It would have to be voluntary but you’d get to hear some nice rare stuff. Let me know if you can help. Thanks and don’t forget to support old time music.

Lou Curtiss

Continue Reading