Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Amazing 90 Minute Sextet

Just had to share this after writing it for a Facebook post ... 

Wow! Last Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 -- Meredith Axelrod and Craig Ventresco  show 1190 happened while I was off playing for the Floyd Contra Dance... 
A whole week went by before youtube offered me this recording as Saturday breakfast music! 

An amazing 90-Minute Sextet (band name potential there!) with Meredith & Craig, in the bigger Bay Area  living room of Eric (off camera, but i hear his mandolin at times) and Suzy Thompson, and duo Valerie Kirchhoff (vocals) and Ethan Leinwand (piano), a.k.a. the StLouisSteadyGrinders (dotcom). 

Meredith, Suzy and Valerie ragtime-era blues harmonies are wonderful... but it's all wonderful...

Sunday, January 14, 2024

A Zithering Web search for a musician's research legacy

I posted part of this essay in a Facebook discussion among "old time" musicians who play the 20th or 21st century compositions of the late Midwestern fiddler Garry Harrison (1954–2012) -- but sometimes without getting the tunes exactly the way he wrote them. 

Jam session players' simplified versions of his tune "Red Prairie Dawn" set off a substantial rant recently by one of his fans, passionately requesting other players to preserve the intricacies of the tune. The discussion set me off on a compulsive morning of Internet research. I don't think I had ever heard Harrison's name before.

I was happy to find that tune on YouTube, and I think I have heard it in concerts or jam sessions,  although I never knew the name or attempted to learn it... (I primarily play the mandolin in sessions focused more on old Virginia and North Carolina tunes, not contemporary tunes written in an old-time style.) 

Here is the original "Red Prairie Dawn": 

Trying to find out who Harrison was turned out to be a little harder than finding his tunes. My first Google search discovered several websites about a similarly named, but entirely unrelated, South Park cartoon character ("Gary," not "Garry") ... 

Simply adding the word "fiddler" to the search quickly sorted that out, and also revealed that along with being a much loved fiddler and composer, Garry Harrison was also a collector and organologist studying "fretless zithers." 

I have known players of some of those, so I went looking for his research, and fell into another question that fascinates me... the preservation of access to creative websites.

Harrison built an impressive website, originally at "fretlesszithers dotcom," but apparently his heirs did not maintain the registration for the web domain, although they reportedly tried to saved his writing and photographs elsewhere. There is a mention in the memorial page linked below that his instrument collection and a copy of the website were donated to an Arizona Musical Instrument Museum, but my quick search for his name there proved unsuccessful.

However, more than one copy of the original Fretless Zithers website, was saved at the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine before its original and secondary addresses expired. I was pleasantly surprised that the archived home page from 2012 even plays the site's original background music, since archive copies often are unable to maintain multimedia data, depending on file formats and other technical details. Here it is:

Also preserved, sub-pages, including his research on 1920s zither player Washington Phillips.

Here's a YouTube sample of one of  Phillips' recordings -- which may inspire you to read Harrison's research revealing what ethereal "fretless zither" family instrument he was playing:

And here is the 2013 internet archive Wayback machine copy of the introduction to Harrison's FretlessZithers research.

For anyone else who had only heard his fiddle tunes without knowing Garry Harrison...  this memorial page by another expert on uncommon instruments was the most expensive biography I found.

My browsing the Internet Archive Wayback Machine for the pages above began simply because a link from that memorial to Harrison's "fretless zithers" no longer worked. 

The memorial page does provide biographical background and the names of Harrison's various musical ensembles and recordings, which can be found with a Web or YouTube search. A search of the record-collector resource,, also turned up a page about Harrison, with links to other music-related websites for more information. (Screenshot below.)

Personal Motivation

Some people get passionate about preserving fiddle tunes as originally played, before people forget the original composer, and for similar reasons. On the other hand, I get a bit obsessed about preserving access to creative work on the internet, such as Garry Harrison's fretless zither website. 

That's probably because 20 years ago or so I decided to focus more on writing web pages than writing for peer-reviewed academic journals or commercial publication. As a journalism professor who wrote a doctoral dissertation about early web production, I was also frustrated to see so much of the creative work of the first 10 years of the World Wide Web disappear because creative tools and design standards changed, and publishers simply abandoned the originals.

I wonder if, someday after I am gone, readers (you?) might be finding this essay in an internet archive copy of one of my my blogs, with links to or from my original home page!?

Jan.14, 2024, First draft, also an experiment in copying text from Facebook to an intermediary editor, and on to this "Blogger" software android app. I may have to come back with a browser-based page-editing system to correct errors, remove duplication, and make the YouTube video link turn into a video player. But so far, so good. I don't edit this blog very often, so it may be in the present condition for a good long while. But please drop me a line if you see major errors.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

AntiViral OldTime Music

I let writing a "get well soon" email to a Blacksburg, Va., friend get out of hand, after hearing she had to cancel her monthly porch-picking jam session because of covid... The result, a couple of therapeutic listening suggestions for any others facing the 2023-24 season of flu-plus-covid:

The last time I was stuck inside with covid I discovered these two online "oldtime" musical phenomena ... Here they are in case any of you (knock on wood) wind up at home recuperating, and are tired of TV.

The first is clawhammer banjo virtuoso Cameron DeWhitt's audio podcast -- recorded as he travels the music festival circuit playing with and interviewing elders and others who are part of "old time music" scenes all over the country. 

He calls it "Get Up in the Cool," after an old tune, and in various episodes he's even "gotten up" with my banjo and guitar teachers (and Ithaca-based banjo-ukulele inspiration Jeff Claus), all of whom I met at Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts 40 to 45 years ago. 

My teachers back then were, for banjo, Paul Brown, and for guitar (since I hadn't touched a mandolin or fiddle yet) Seattle's Hank Bradley,  who plays every instrument (as does Paul) and Hank's conversation with Cameron includes a wonderful story about hanging out with Doc Watson and blind mandolin and fiddle player Kenny Hall in the 1960s, along with the interesting geography of Hank's career in old time music.

Along with the audio programs , searchable and streaming from his website or subscribable as a podcast, Cameron does have a few video clips available to anyone searching YouTube for his name or the series title, as well as some extra features for people who donate to help him pay the bills. For example, audio-only doesn't do justice to fiddler-singer-and-dancer Sophie Wellington... but her GUitC interview last summer was fascinating too...

The second show is a different sort of "old time" -- ragtime, pop songs and blues from the 1890s to the 1930s, streamed live from their San Francisco kitchen by guitarists (and more!) Meredith Axelrod and Craig Ventresco -- for more than 1,100 pandemic and post-pandemic shows. The live stream is on both Facebook and YouTube, but I used the YouTube archive most of the time, since it straightens out the webcam image and doesn't make them look left handed. Skimming back through the archives you will even find programs with guests, including cartoonist/mandolinist etc. R. Crumb.

Craig plays guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and 12 and 4-string guitars as well as singing part of the time, and Meredith plays baritone and standard tuning guitars, ukulele, cello and vibraphone and has a lovely soprano voice that sometimes sounds like it is in a Time Warp from 1920. 

This is just the most recent episode... a Sunday show starting appropriately with Craig's vocal on  "Sing you Sinners," then a fancy ragtime duet. (Meredith doesn't sing for 15 minutes or so into the 50 minute episode) ..

(The livecasts on both Facebook and YouTube include live comments and requests from fans -- Pacific time 8p.m MTWThS, noon Sundays; they take Fridays off. The city of San Francisco passed a resolution in their honor when they hit 1,000 programs last spring. They kept going.)

Both "Get up in the cool" and Meredith-and-Craig have archives of hundreds of hours of music and conversation... and tip-jars to make a living out of oldtime tunes and new media...

Drop me a comment below if you'd like me to link to more-specific suggestions from their archives!

Best healthy musical autumn wishes!


Monday, November 14, 2022

Oldtime & folk music on Mastodon?

I've just joined that new social networking federation of servers called Mastodon, mostly because of my old friends who are journalists deserting Twitter. But I am curious whether the Mastodon network will also develop a music presence so I'm linking my Mastodon ID here... trying to do this at first with my blogger app on android, but I may have to come back with a web browser to actually edit the code of the page and make this link work to confirm that this site and my Mastodon ID are the same person.

Meanwhile, I've found a list of Mastodon servers that identify with specific topics. Granted most were about technical topics this early in the Mastodon game, but I was still sad that out of 59 on that list only two gave music as a main interest... One for metalheads, and one for rave/electronic fans.

But it's early yet... "Regional" was another option, but only nine of 59 chose that designation, and none was about Virginia or Appalachia. Instead, we have San Francisco Bay, Ireland, Canada, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, two for Scotland, and one for the U.K. in general.

Friday, October 07, 2022

1960s Folk: Greenwich Village, Harry Smith, Oscar Brand, and Joe Rubin

Compulsively wrote this on Facebook around 4 a.m. this morning, but thought I'd share it here too so that I can point non-Facebook friends to it.

Woke up in the middle of the night remembering the name of a song that eluded me at the jam session 10 hours earlier, so went looking for the song on YouTube -- and found this documentary about 20 years of a music-and-progressive-politics culture that was transmitted to me through the early-1960s record bins labelled "folk" and "blues" at the record shop a few blocks from my house... Joe Rubin, a white-haired gentleman I assumed was more into classical music and maybe jazz, ran the place and let me hang out in the back and play LPs that I couldn't afford. (While wondering if I ever thanked Mr. Rubin enough for putting so much music in my life, it just dawned on me that I may have first gone into his store to thank him -- for sponsoring a high school duckpin bowling team I was on!)

I read about the folks and songs on their LP liner notes, and in books by Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg & Oscar Brand from the library, as well as the great booklet inside the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music record set, mentioned in the documentary as source material for many of the Greenwich Village folkies I admired... And I picked up an Oscar Brand folksong-guitar instruction book, a guitar, and a harmonica or two from an instrument store I'd walk by on my way home from school. (Nice clip of Oscar and the Simon Sisters in the film, along with so many others whose records were in those bins at Joe Rubin's record store.)

Before I went back to sleep I also found the song that I'd originally gone looking for, sometimes titled "Coffee Grows on Wild Oak Trees," and sometimes "Hello Susan Brown," including this recording, which was the first place I heard it about sixty years ago.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Fox Hollow memories

 I've just discovered this University of Albany archive of music recordings thanks to a friend or stranger on Facebook... 

I was lucky enough to attend two or three of the Fox Hollow festivals in the 1970s, possibly including the last or next-to-last one.  Located on the Beers Family property near the New York, Vermont and Massachusetts state lines, they were very special. 

The donated tapes and archival notes on the website don't always match, but I'm having fun recognizing voices I haven't heard in years, sometimes piecing together the who-was-who from mentions of single names .... The fragmentary concert and workshop tapes don't always include emcees clearly announcing performers' names, so they're a bit like a blindfolded "seventies folk scene" trivia contest. Fun!

Archive page at

Meanwhile, browsing through the recordings brought me enough flashbacks to Michael Cooney concerts around the same time that I went off on a "What ever happened to...?" search and found his website up in the great state of Maine: 

He opens with an observation that is true here, too...

<<I’m TRYING to re-learn how to do this website stuff.>>

Wishing him all the best! And thanking him for inspiring me to put these links out here on the old music blog that I neglect most of the year because all the bells and whistles usually have moved around since the last time I used it.

I also discovered that Michael is a presence in some YouTube archives too... Including this VERY early episode of Sesame Street, around the same time as some of those Fox Hollow performances! I'm going to share it with a family across the way that I'd like to get strumming ukuleles and singing along... 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

When the blues hit the mountains...

 Oldtime music crossover...

While looking for the words to a less-often-heard "shindig in the barn" verse to "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues," I found several "discography" lists, including the two recordings as "Blue Ridge Blues" below... George Reneau's was apparently the first recording of the song. And Lulu Jackson's version gets left out of some of the "country music" or "oldtime music" lists, maybe because it crossed boundaries, but I'd love to read a history about how she wound up recording the song! Her "recitation" of the "There'll be a shindig in the barn" verse is, well, very special. 🙂
The song (credited to Cliff Hess under the alias Roy B. Carson at certainly was popular. Other 1920s recordings were by Riley Puckett, Ernest V. Stoneman, The Blue Ridge Duo (Gene Austin and George Reneau), Vernon Dalhart and more. (Hess was a prolific songwriter and pianist who had played on Mississippi riverboats, wrote songs with "blues" in the title as early as 1916, and eventually collaborated with Irving Berlin.) The song also mentions an even older "oldie," "Where is My (Wandering) Boy Tonight," published in 1877 and recorded by many artists from the dawn of cylinder and disc recordings.
"Blue Ridge Blues"
George Reneau , guitar and harmonica, from April '24 and again with Reneau and Gene Austin:
Al Hopkins' Bucklebusters / The Hill Billies, 1926 or '28 (including fiddle, guitar, banjo & banjo-ukulele!, and 3-or-4-part harmony singing!)
Also as "Blue Ridge Blues"
Lulu Jackson (vcl/gtr) and piano.
December 21, 1928, rec. in Chicago, Vocalion 1242
Enough computer for today... but tomorrow (or someday soon) I'm going looking for more about Lulu! ❤
I'm afraid she gets left out on both sides of the recording-industry color line, even by scholars. I just found a blues discography note from a major reference book: "This artist was of African-American ancestry, but her recordings are essentially in the hillbilly idiom and of little blues interest." (Blues and gospel records 1890-1943 (1997), p. 430) Her versions of "Little Rosewood Casket" and "Careless Love Blues" are very nice too, and available on YouTube. Apparently enough of her 78s have been collected to be reissued in compilations like this one found at the discography website, discogs:
Screen image of discogs song list for Lulu