New Lost City Ramblers
I was pleased to see Philip Guras detailed history of the NLCR in the Old-Time Herald. But somehow, something important was left out, and I feel strongly that the fact that I created the name The New Lost City Ramblers should be included as part of that history.
The name for the band was constructed in my mind over a period of several months in fall 1958 after our first recording for Moe Asch at Folkways. As each of us worked on our own introductions and song notes, I took the responsibility of doing the cover art, and created the name The New Lost City Ramblers at that time. In that process, I combined a range of words that deliberately pointed to many interpretations.
In July, 1959, six months after the record was issued, Mike Seeger commented in Gardyloo magazine (a fanzine of that time), We dont agree what and why we are, and especially what we write for notes. Its amazing that we originally could agree on a name for ourselves. Part of the original idea of the name was Moe Aschs wish for us to be New City Lost with accent on the lost to identify us with the city beatniks, etc.
Now, in the year 2000, I asked both Mike Seeger and my brother Mike Cohen to help my memory of that naming process.
Mike Seegers recollection is, We had dinner with Moe Asch, discussed the name of the band, and John Cohen came up with The New Lost City Ramblers.
Mike Cohen offers this corroborating remembrance: Some 40 years ago, you and I were with others in a car driving to Vermont when you mentioned that you were thinking of suggesting a name for you, Tom, and Mike as the New City Lost Ramblers, or the Lost New City Ramblers. I mentioned that there was such a place as New City, in Rockland County. That, you said, changed things--it was too real for what you had in mind so you said that maybe youd put the Lost between New and City. I never heard further about it until I learned the final group name sometime later.
I am proud of what I created, and how the name has lasted. Ive enjoyed the satisfaction of watching it become a symbol for something to which we have devoted our lives.
Putnam Valley, NY
When I had completed a first draft of my essay on the New Lost City Ramblers, I circulated it to all members of the group and asked that they correct inaccuracies. Originally, I had indeed written that John Cohen came up with the name for the band, for that is what he had reported in my interviews with Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz, and him. However, when Tom Paley (who lives in London and was not at the interviews) reviewed my essay, he said categorically that this had not been the case. As he put it, John did not supply the name New Lost City Ramblers.Rather, we started making suggestions and from these the NLCR emerged. It was a cooperative effort by the four of us, he continued, and not a solo creation by John. Faced with this contradiction, in my next draft I simply wrote that after discussion among the four of them [Seeger, Paley, Cohen, and Asch], they agreed on the NLCR . . . . In retrospect, I understand how Cohen could think that I bought Paleys account rather than his. In the large story that I was telling, however, I did not think the matter overly significant.
Obviously, at least two members of the group think that it is, and they disagree on the facts. In light of the corroboration that Cohen now has provided, in the next version of this work I am willing to say that he thought of the name. At that point, of course, I fully expect Paley to challenge me, as Cohen has, with his own witnesses. After that, should I want to reprint this material yet again, I will add a footnote saying that there is disagreement among the principals. I leave it to readers to figure out why this all matters.
Such are the tribulations of writing about people who are still alive and want to shape how posterity views them. Frankly, I am surprised by all the fuss, for I thought that it would be more important for someone to be remembered as an essential part of a seminal group rather than for having named it. And recall that Paley does not claim that he named the group but only that they all had discussed the matter, which they of course must have done. I suggest that in 1959, in the lines that Cohen quotes, Seeger got it about right: We dont agree what and why we are, and especially what we write for notes. Its amazing that we originally could agree on a name for ourselves. But they did, and thats all that I wrote. I didnt intend to take sides, and I apologize to John Cohen if I gave that impression.
Philip F. Gura
Chapel Hill, NC
Youll probably get this from others, but theres an error on page 23 of the spring 2000 issue of the Old-Time Herald.
The New Lost City Ramblers poster reprinted there could not have been from 1969. April 3, 1969, was a Thursday, not a Friday. The poster could have come from 1970, however.
Richton Park, IL
On Reviews I want to say that it is a pleasure to read your reviews. For me, a review is only one persons opinion and sometimes I do not agree with them. However, I admire your reviewers honesty. Besides, we are very lucky to have among them excellent writers who most times are also skilled musicians. I am a fan of the San Francisco old-time/bluegrass tradition. However, I have discovered Cajun music after reading Suzy Rothfield Thompson reviews. Now I feel something special every time that I listen to Allons Lafayette. Readers, we might not always agree with a particular review, of course, but please, remember there are not magazines like the OTH. As Kentucky author Harriette Simpson Arnow said My people loved the past more than their present lives, I think, but it cannot be said we lived in the past. Long live the old-time music!
My interest in Tommy Jarrell stems from a long time back. I was raised in the Boston area back in the days when you could farm 10 miles from downtown Boston, with horses, and make a living at it. I moved to New Hampshire when I knew enough, to work on a dairy farm. The man I worked for played fiddle. Sunday nights we danced in the living room. The only dance we did was the Ginger Ale (Virginia Reel) to McLeods Reel. There was a fire in the fireplace, there were girls there. . . the firelight gleamed in their hair. . . there was the smell of wood smoke. . . the sound of the fiddle. I was hooked. It became my vision for life.
Then I moved over to the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire where the old-time contra dances used to grow on trees. I danced mostly to Ralph Page. His fiddler was Dick Richardson. There was another fiddle, string bass, piano, and accordion (Bob McQuillen)--a wonderful rich full sound. They played tunes like Sourwood Mountain, Old Molly Hare, Soldiers Joy,Liberty, Chicken Reel, Chinese Breakdown, Old Joe Clark, and the like. The dances were mostly square dances with a contra or two, maybe three. . . Money Musk, Lady of the Lake, Morning Star. I loved it.
I played music with the Paine brothers in Westmoreland, NH. They played fiddle, guitar, and piano. Said they played old- time New Hampshire music. . . Golden Slippers, Turkey in the Straw. They did have an old-time feeling to their music. We did square dances in the local hall.
Then I got a chance to buy two acres of land for 25 dollars here in central New Hampshire. I grabbed it and built a little house, planted some fruit trees, made a garden, and have stayed. No one in this neck of the woods knew what a contra dance was. The local fiddler, a French man, Paul Ambeau played for dances here. . . grand march and circle with lots of bridges, a Paul Jones, a Portland Fancy or Soldiers Joy, like a big circle square dance, and several varieties of Virginia reels. No caller. His tunes were Ragtime Annie, Soldiers Joy, Red Wing, plus foxtrots and polkas.
I filed all of that away. At that time I was pretty involved in the old-time contra and square-dance semi-revival going on in the mountains of southwestern New Hampshire and working with my Canterbury Orchestra. But when the urban contra dance stuff began to creep in and take over, I backed away, and took up the traditional dances of where I live now in the low hills of central New Hampshire.
My partner, Jacqueline, and I (two fiddles) find that these dances come closer to my vision of the kitchen dances at the farm where I learned, but also, these dances are user friendly. They do not have be taught or walked through. For tunes we use mostly those listed above plus some French Canadian reels like Reel St. Hubert, Reel Pays de Haut, etc.
Tim Woodbridge brought Tommy Jarrells fiddling to my attention, and I was aware how it reminded me of Dick Richardsons fiddling. I have loved to listen to it since then. I was never particularly into bowing or any of that sort of thing. (Playing fiddle and calling dances at the same time is enough for me let alone trying to figure out bowing patterns.) I am mostly a one stroke per note man, although I might do more than that and not know it. After I saw Sprout Wings and Fly and that tantalizing little bit of dance footage (not the Green Grass folks) of the dance in what I take to be a school house or community hall, I was taken with the spirit of it and how it reminded me of the dances here and of the dances in the farmhouse kitchen. So I feel sort of a connection to that and Tommys music and the house dances he used to play for.
Attention Readers & Music Lovers I just wanted to drop you a line about a new book I came across recently. Your readers and any music lover would enjoy this book. Its called Heart & Hands--Musical Instrument Makers of America. Its a large coffee table-type book full of great photographs by Jake Jacobson of instrument makers and their works. He unfortunately missed a greater portion of the Midwest, namely St. Louis and Geoff Seitz among others also. However, its a wonderful book and is produced by Northlight of Colorado, Inc., and you can reach them at www.northlightofco.com. Incidentally, thank you all for the very favorable review of our new CD of the Ill-Mo Boys, Laugh and Grow Fat. We try to live our music to the best of our abilities. . . hmmm?
Brings Back Memories
Sure enjoyed my first issue since subscribing. The review of Laugh and Grow Fat by the Ill-Mo Boys got my attention. I have backed fiddlers since World War II on guitar, banjo, bass, or piano.
When you mentioned Cyril Stinnet it brought back memories of an afternoon at the Avoca, IA Old-Time Music Festival when a friend and I had the privilege and pleasure of playing backup guitars for Cyril Stinnett. He was very accurate in noting and in tone. He won numerous contests in this area of the U.S.
When you mentioned Uncle Bob Walters it really hit home. His great-grandson, Greg Walters, is a close friend of mine. He is in our band, The Melody Ramblers. We entertain at senior citizen homes and other special requests. Greg Walters mother gave him fiddle lessons as a boy, and he is learning 5-string banjo and mandolin with us.
On page 50 you wrote about these fiddlers learning Little White Lies from Bob Walters. Note on my enclosed copies [of pages from R.P. Christesons Old Time Fiddlers Repertory], Little White Lies was played by Casey Jones. Also, note they learned Salty River Reel from Cyril Stinnett, and then note on an enclosed copy that it was played by Casey Jones. I guess we have to guess who learned it from whom. We probably need one of those ancient Greek Thinkers to think this out to a conclusion.
Clay H. Johnson, Jr.