Friday, December 5, 2008
Hear Richard on Dave Marsh's KICK OUT THE JAMS radio show on XM 50 The Loft this Sunday, December 7th
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I'll be signing copies of my new book, WORLDS OF SOUND: THE STORY OF SMITHSONIAN/FOLKWAYS, at the grand reopening of the National Museum of American History, on Friday, November 21st, between 2 and 4 PM.
Hope to see you there!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Tapestry of the Times: http://www.tapestryofthetimes.org/Episode10.php
Talk of the Nation: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96820123
Monday, November 3, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
THIS SATURDAY NOVEMBER 1st! Signing/reading/Mariachi concert at Politics and Prose, Washington, DC,. for WORLDS OF SOUND
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Photo (c) David Gahr
Asch’s attitude toward the big labels crystallized early on when Woody Guthrie complained to him that RCA had withdraw his Dust Bowl Ballads album due to poor sales. Even though the label was no longer selling the recordings, they insisted they still held the rights, and wouldn’t either issue the records or give the rights back to Guthrie. Asch simply took the matter into his own hands, reissuing the recordings himself, challenging Victor to respond.
Victor eventually responded, when the folk revival suddenly made reissuing Guthrie’s original recordings commercially viable. In 1964, Victor wrote to Asch challenging his reissue of the Dust Bowl Ballads 78s, which Asch had recently converted from the original 10 inch album (issued with Guthrie’s blessings in 1950) to a full-size LP. Asch typically replied to Victor that he had every right to issue the material, having Guthrie’s approval—in fact Guthrie had pleaded with him to make the recordings available. Further, he had bought the original records on the open market and—once RCA declared them out of print—felt that they were fair game for reissue. Asch goes on to tell how Guthrie had approached RCA twice, in 1948 and 1950, and the label had declined to reissue the recordings on both occasions. Asch closed his letter explaining his belief that:
cultural property belongs to all and is limited to individual ownership only in so far as the copyright of the material is subjected to and limited to. Since records do not carry this copyright and since Folkways is in a unique position regarding the above, I cannot see what RCA can do about this, except to make a nuisance of it. I have patience and fortitude.
Indeed, Asch did have "patience and fortitude." Rather than fight with him, RCA simply reissued the Dust Bowl Ballads on its own label, adding tow previously unissued masters to its LP. Asch could hardly complain.
For Asch the right of “the people” to have access to recordings like Guthrie’s was greater than corporate ownership rights. During the early ‘50s, when he reissued Guthrie, the Jazz series, and the Anthology, the major labels showed little or no interest in their back catalog. Soon, specialty labels like Riverside (originally started to reissue early jazz recordings), Origin Jazz Library and Yazoo (blues reissues), and County (old time country music) would rise to carry forward this mission.
Asch was correct that copyright didn’t apply to sound recordings; the law was not updated until 1978, so that technically all records made before that date were “public domain.” However Asch went further than merely copyright law, basing his philosophy on the Constitution, where he found that the people were given “the right to know” that superseded copyright:
The Constitution of the United States was to me a very basic document. When World War II began there was a shortage of metals, copper and shellac, so the big companies broke up the masters . . . of Bessie Smith and all the other early recordings. They all disappeared . . . I started to realize here the Constitution was saying “dissemination”—the right to know is a right of the people, and there the record company wasn’t caring whether people have that right or not. They were destroying property which they claimed was their own. I always claimed what they were destroying was the culture, so I started to reissue some of the records which I thought ought to be preserved.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
· Week of October 10 Sam Litzinger, CBS News Weekend Roundup (broadcast nationally throughout the week on different CBS affiliates)
· October 14, 7-9 PM Lilli Kuzma, Folk Festival, WDCB Public Radio, Chicago
· October 16, 4:30 PM (MST) Jerry Puffer, KSEN-AM Radio, Montana
· October 29, 11 AM David Dye, World Café, WXPN Philadelphia (and NPR nationally)
· November 3, 2 PM John Schaefer, Sound Check, WNYC FM, NY
· Dec. 7th, 10 AM Dave Marsh, Kick Out the Jams, Sirius Satellite Radio
Broadcast Dates to Be Announced:
· Aaron Heinken, Tapestry of the Times, Baltimore (WYPR), WGBH (Boston), and other NPR stations. Taping November 1st
· Neal Conan, Talk of the Nation, NPR. Taping October 30th.
· Sam Litzinger and Jeff Place, Sound Sessions with Smithsonian Folkways, WAMU, Washington, DC, already recorded
Tell your friends!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Smithsonian/Folkways has launched its own WORLDS OF SOUND webpage to accompany my new book, WORLDS OF SOUND: THE STORY OF SMITHSONIAN/FOLKWAYS. It's just in its beginning stages, but soon it will feature full notes for the book, interview transcripts, additional photos and illustrations, audio clips, and lots more! Plus, if you order YOUR COPY of the book directly from Smithsonian/Folkways, they'll throw in a FREE SAMPLER CD that features never-before-released archival material along with samples from the many collectors profiled in the book.
So, why not visit the new site:
Thursday, September 11, 2008
18 October: Chicago, IL Old Town School of Folk Music 6:30 PM
1 November. Washington, DC Politics & Prose Bookstore 3:00 PM
15 November Montclair, NJ Wachung Booksellers 1:00 PM
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
You'll also save a bunch off the list price!
Tell your friends and family . . .
Monday, August 4, 2008
This image, found by my friend Perry Werner, speaks to the influence of blackface and banjos but also to older British entertainments, specifically the Morris Dance and short plays associated with it. In fact, the motley crew here seems to borrow from many different traditions: the clown like figure on the far left playing the fiddle joined with the blackface banjo players, suggesting a circus connection (initially, some blackface banjo players in the US performed as part of traveling circuses, so perhaps the connection is there). On the other hand, the well-dressed bones player (in the rear center) and the top-hatted fiddler on the right seem to be parodies of British upper-crust performers.
Exactly what the occasion was for this photo -- whether this was a regular traveling performing troupe or a one-time gathering perhaps for a local village fundraiser or fair -- is unknown. (At least by me -- anyone out there with thoughts about who these folks might be, please post!) This kind of cross-fertilization--the crazy quilt of traditions that come together through the imaginations of performers uninhibited by any "rules" that might keep different performance styles apart--is to me the truest expression of what happens in traditional settings. Scholars try to categorize and separate but ordinary folks just perform for the fun of it -- and draw on whatever inspirations seem right to them.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
—Mickey Hart, musician and author
“Worlds of Sound is a monumental study that captures the vision of Moses "Moe" Asch and his lifelong effort to preserve folk music in the 20th century. Asch's unwavering commitment to social justice and his passion for folk music inspired his massive Folkways Recordings, which are a national treasure of recorded sound. Richard Carlin eloquently captures Asch's life and his recordings in a book that features stunning photography and artwork.”
—William Ferris, co-editor of Encyclopedia of Southern Culture
“This entertaining romp chronicles how some of the oddest characters in American popular culture — from drugged out record collector Harry Smith to documentarian Studs Turkel — helped Moses “Moe” Asch create a label that is now run by the Smithsonian. Few music histories are as all-encompassing as this one, but whether he’s writing about Bob Dylan or the Carter family, Carlin shows a rare combination of authority and passion that makes any reader want to pull out these dusty recordings and feel their magic once again.”— Charles R. Cross, author of Room Full of Mirrors: The Biography of Jimi Hendrix
"Richard Carlin's Worlds of Sound is an excellent document. So many of the artists featured in this book are familiar to me, and it was a treat to learn their stories through the history of Folkways Records. Carlin really finds the details that make the music come alive—like finding out that Albert Einstein inspired Moses Asch to record all the sounds of the world.”
—Roger McGuinn, cofounder and front man, The Byrds
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Here's a part of Peter's email:
- They first went on the stage in 1912 & were soon a sensation for their beauty & their talent &and the fact that they were 'unusual' being a quartet of 4 young women.
-- they became big stars at the London Palladium & were 'top of the bill' there for many years, I believe into the 1930's.
- the 4 of them went on musical tours throughout the world. The only place that their father forbid them to visit was Russia. He often performed in the Russian State Circus & considered the Country to be 'unsafe' for 4 beautiful spinsters! They were in Vienna when the Russian Revolution took place & told me harrowing stories of meeting bourgeois families fleeing into Europe and exchanging gold, silver & jewellery for food & shelter.
- their musical act involved every sort of concertina, accordions, 2 one-string fiddles & the piano. Their repertoire was mainly popular classical music, but latterly they were involved in big musical shows (Rogers & Hammerstein, Gershuin, etc...) Tina was the one who arranged their music. Lillian looked after their accounts & living expenses,& Inga took charge of bookings & overseas travel, & Sylvia took care of their wardrobe & was responsible for the making of their fabulous costumes.
- Tina was widowed in 1976 (I think!) . Shortly after this Sylvia suffered a stroke whilst on a visit to her, & died in Conwy Hospital. Inga was left alone in the Lambeth house & decided to sell up & move to live with Tina. Tina, Inga & Lillian lived into their 90's. They were indeed secretive about their ages! Inga was the eldest & died well into her 90's.
- Tina's musical ability & memory was extraordinary. Though suffering badly from arthritis in her hands, at 92 she would sit down at the piano & play any of the great piano concertos without any musical score in front of her! Amazing!
- Tina continued to play the piano for the two operatic societies' rehearsals until a dreadful accident when she was 92 yrs old. She was on the stage during a rehearsal, & afterwards, blinded by the footlights, she stepped off the stage onto the steps -- but they had been moved to the other end of the stage. She was lucky not to have been killed, but sustained a bad fracture to one of her ankles. She was a stoic & refused to seek medical attention. I found her in a bad state shortly after & insisted that she went to hospital. She went down-hill rapidly from then and went to live in a rest home where she died after a few months there.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Meanwhile, for my concertina friends near and far, I'll be posting some of my history of the English concertina, along with interviews and photos. This will be squeezed out over the coming months. (Sorry for bad concertina humor, but that's all I got left at this time of day.)
So keep watching this space. I promise to have something new and exciting up soon.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Nor was it my intention to write about photographers in particular, since most of the people I’ve known are musicians or writers. But still the recent passing of two of New York’s hardest boiled cameramen—David Gahr this year and previously Fred W. McDarrah—has made me realize how important these difficult, endearing men were to me.
Fred was another one of those crusty New Yorkers who scared away the common folk by yelling at them over the phone. His phone was a heavy, black rotary model – a relic of the ‘50s – but only such a well-made machine could take the abuse of Fred’s righteous indignation. He was always angry about some mistreatment – how his work was undervalued; how he had foolishly settled for a lower fee than he deserved; how you needed to go back to your publisher and beg, borrow, or steal the extra bucks that he needed otherwise he couldn’t possibly keep working with you. The higher he held you in esteem, the more he enjoyed spinning your wheels, and every encounter was a death-match test of your ability to recognize his worth.
A little more panache would have landed Fred a higher standing in the world of journalistic photography. He might have even ended up working for a slick magazine, except the idea of photographing to someone else’s agenda would probably have nauseated him. Fred started out selling ads for the Village Voice when it was still a neighborhood news-sheet; he worked his way up to be Photo Editor, which meant he pretty much covered all the angles—from politics and police work to the wondrous strange world of the Village art scene—while also training (in his abusive-but-loving way) a cadre of younger photographers.
I met Fred through the author John Gruen. I had edited collections of Gruen’s dance and art interviews, and he suggested that I might like to reprint his first book, The New Bohemia, which included an ample selection of Fred’s photographs. Gruen was the polar opposite of Fred; his apartment was a carefully presented stage set, with art nouveau wallpaper and velvety chairs. He had a refined sense of being refined, and liked to name drop the various artistic celebrities whom he had profiled and befriended. Fred was a street tough compared to John’s cloistered intellect, and the two would never have worked together except that Fred was assigned to take photos for an article John wrote for the Herald Tribune, on the new artists of the East Village, which became the basis for the book. Fred’s photos were badly cropped in the original, and he was not given equal billing to Gruen, and all these hard feelings had been festering for decades when I sheepishly called him and asked for permission to reprint his work.
After the ritual yelling that was the beginning of any true friendship with Fred, it took months of delicate negotiation to actually get him to participate in the new edition, and I had to show him along the way that I would respect his work and properly present it. Once I had won his trust, however, Fred was ready to produce dozens of books based on his work, always with the steadying influence of his wife, Gloria, who often also authored the text to go with his pictures.
Fred seemed to soften over the years – or maybe I became more open – and although he still enjoyed arguing – what New Yorker doesn’t? – the arguments became more like banter, less like shock therapy. He could even relax and recall some of those moments that made him the quintessential New York photographer. Once, we were meeting with Art D’Lughoff to negotiate for a signing for one of Fred’s book at Art’s famous Village Gate nightclub. D’Lughoff was sniffing for money to underwrite the event—which I didn’t have—while Fred was vainly trying to get him to provide something for nearly nothing—which Art wasn’t about to do. Nonetheless, there was a certain camaraderie among these veterans of New York’s art scene.
“Remember that time Norman Mailer threw up on you,” Art asked Fred with a big grin.
“Those were the days,” Fred replied, pleased to be associated in any way with Mailer, and the excitement and tumult that defined New York in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
As a young record producer for Moe Asch, I brought him a tape recorded in two-track stereo, admittedly primitively made in the basement of an Irish musician’s home. I wrote on the tape box “STEREO” in large letters, because Moe had previously issued an album of mine in mono—despite it being a stereo source. He took one look and said contemptuously to me: “Stereo is a lie.”
Because he believed recordings were “documents,” Moses Asch had strong feelings about how recording sessions should be conducted. He had begun his career as an audio engineer, and was a believer in using a single microphone, and ideally making a single take. Barring a major mistake, the “real performance” would be captured best in this way. In the early days, the recording was cut directly to a wax or acetate-coated disc, so there was no opportunity to manipulate or change the sound. In the later ‘50s, when “hi fi” was introduced, Asch vehemently opposed it because the original recordings were being manipulated (the “highs”—or higher frequencies--were being boosted and the “lows” compressed) so that the finished records would sound better on the playback equipment of the day. Asch became known as the advocate of “flat” recordings.
Peter Bartók, a recording engineer and close associate of Moe’s from his early days, commented in a lengthy interview in 2006 that an absolutely “flat” recording would be impossible to make. All equipment has built-in parameters to compensate for the mechanics of sound reproduction. In the 78 era, for instance, Bartók notes that bass frequencies had to be compensated for, otherwise the grooves on the record would have been so wide that the needle wouldn’t track. When LPs were first introduced, it took a while for engineers to work out the new parameters that would make recordings sound “natural.” Bartók —who did a great deal of mastering work and recording for Asch in the ‘50s and ‘60s—freely admits that he used equalization and other techniques to improve the raw tapes that Asch supplied.
Just as ‘50s era “color” films have a glossy, surreal quality, early “Hi-Fi Stereo” recordings can sound artificial to today’s ears. As a member of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the ‘50s, Asch vigorously opposed its introduction. Peter Bartók said that Moe was always particular when he was mastering a tape that Bartók take care to represent all the frequencies equally, without “favoring” one over the other: