Arhoolie Records set highlights 50 years of roots-music

Thu Jan 24, 2013 6:02pm EST
 

By Randall Mikkelsen

BOSTON (Reuters) - Chris Strachwitz discovered the first performer for his Arhoolie Records label by quizzing roadside field hands, a prosperous cotton farmer named Mr. Tom Moore, and a man called Peg Leg at a railroad station in Navasota, Texas.

As Strachwitz tells it, Peg Leg identified a highway worker and former tenant farmer who entertained local folks: Mance Lipscomb.

"Mance Lipscomb, Texas Sharecropper and Songster," was recorded in 1960 in the musician's shotgun house, and it launched Lipscomb into the surging U.S. folk-music revival.

It also launched German-born Strachwitz on a half-century career of uncovering and popularizing vernacular "roots music" of the Americas. That includes the blues of black Americans, the Zydeco of Louisiana's Creoles, Mexican norteño and Tejano conjunto music, and other styles that spring from deep cultural wells and get crowds dancing in obscure rooms.

"I probably should have become a detective," Strachwitz told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Meeting all these people was an intriguing adventure. I didn't have to go on a safari, hunting for elephants or something. I hunted musicians."

Some of the performers who Strachwitz tracked down on his back-road and honky-tonk rambles, and others influenced by him and his records, gathered two years ago in Berkeley, California for a 50th anniversary concert run.

The three-night run was released this week as "They All Played for Us," a 4-CD set and photo book that showcases Arhoolie's mosaic of musicians.

"They had confidence in the music that they made," Grammy-winning recording artist Taj Mahal said. "It wasn't predicated on selling a million or millions ... it's what made them happy. Chris - most of his records were about that."   Continued...

 
Chris Strachwitz (R), founder of Arhoolie Records, speaks during a gathering in February 2011 in Berkeley, California for a 50th anniversary concert featuring artists from the record label in this publicity picture provided by Courtesy Arhoolie Records to Reuters January 24, 2013. The three-night run was released this week as “They All Played for Us,” a 4-CD set and photo book that showcases Arhoolie’s mosaic of musicians. REUTERS/Courtesy Arhoolie Records/Handout