Chris Strachwitz, founded Arhoolie label, dies age 91

Streaming HUBMay 6, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) – Chris Strachwitz, a producer, musician and one-man preservationist whose Arhoolie Records released thousands of songs by regional artists and comprised an extraordinary American collection known and loved around the world, has died. happened. He was 91 years old.

Strachwitz, a 2016 recipient of a Grammy Trustee Award, died Friday from complications with heart failure at an assisted living facility in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin County, the Arhoolie Foundation said Saturday.

Admired by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and many others, Strachwitz was an unlikely champion of the American vernacular – a native German born into privilege who fell deeply for the music of his adopted country and one of the most fearless to emerge since Alan Lomax. Was one of the field recorders.

He founded Arhoolie in 1960 and spent the following decades traveling to Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, among other states, on a mission that is rarely relatable: tapping little-known artists in their home environment, whether dancehall Ho, a front porch, a beer joint, a backyard.

“My stuff doesn’t get made. I take it as such, as he explained in the 2014 documentary “This Ain’t No Mouse Music”.

The name Arhuly, suggested by fellow musicologist Mac McCormick, is reportedly a regional expression for field holler.

Rye Cooder called him “El Fanatico”, the kind of true believer for whom the mere rumor of a musician worth listening to would prompt him to hop on a bus and ride hundreds of miles—just as he did when he heard bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. Was looking for Houston. Strachwitz, along with Grammy winners Flaco Jimenez and Clifton Chenier, produced a vast catalog of blues, Tejano, folk, jazz, gospel, and zydeco, which later attracted a wide following. Arhooly’s 50-year anniversary box set featured Maria Muldaur, Tajmahal, the Savoy Family Band and Cooder, citing Arhooly releases to “Mississippi’s Big Joe Williams and His Nine-String Guitar” as an early inspiration. Will give

“It just came out of the speaker on this little school record player,” Cooder told NPR in 2013, making him decide “once and for all” to become a musician. “I’m going to do that too. I’m gonna be good at guitar, and I’m gonna play it like that.

Strachwitz disdained most commercial music—”mouse music,” he called it—but found it enough success to continue playing Arhoolie. In the mid-1960s, he recorded an album in his living room without charge by Berkeley-based folk artist Joe McDonald, who in turn granted Arhooly the publishing rights. By 1969, McDonald’s was a highlight of Country Joe McDonald and the Fish and the anti-war anthem “I-Feel-Like-I-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” a song from the Arhoolie sessions. Woodstock Festival and Soundtrack.

The Arhooly releases were praised by blues fans in England, including Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Around the same time Strachwitz met with MacDonald, he taped over a dozen songs by bluesman “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, including McDowell’s version of an earlier spiritual, “You Gotta Move”. The Stones sang a few lines of it during the 1970 documentary “Gimme Shelter” and recorded a cover that appeared on their acclaimed 1971 album “Sticky Fingers”. Strachwitz overcame the resistance of the band’s lawyers and ensured that the royalties were paid to McDowell, who was dying of cancer.

Strachwitz later said, “I was able to give Fred McDowell the biggest check he ever got in his life.”

In 1993, Arhooly received another boost when country star Alan Jackson scored a hit with “Mercury Blues”, a song co-written and first performed by Casey Douglas for the label.

In addition to his Grammy, Strachwitz received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Blues Symposium and was inducted as a non-performing member of the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1995, Strachwitz established the Arhoolie Foundation to “document, preserve, present and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music” with advisors including Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt. In 2016, Strachwitz sold his majority interest in the record label to Smithsonian Folkway Recordings, part of the National Museum in Washington.

“The ripple effect in the world of Chris Strachwitz is immeasurable in preserving this music,” Raitt, a longtime friend, told the podcast The Kitchen Sisters Present in 2019.

The son of wealthy farm owners, he was born Count Christian Alexander Maria Strachwitz in the German region of Silesia, now part of Poland. His family, displaced at the end of World War II, moved to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in Santa Barbara, California. Strachwitz had already been exposed to swing overseas via Armed Forces Radio and became a jazz fan after seeing the film “New Orleans” featuring Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday in 1947. He also felt a strong kinship with country and other forms of “mountain music”.

“I felt it had this kind of earthiness that I hadn’t heard in any other kind of music. He sang about how lonely you are, and how you miss your girlfriend and all those other things,” Strachwitz told NPR. “Those songs really spoke to me.”

By his early 20s, he was taping local radio and live performances and perfected his craft while attending the University of California at Berkeley. He served two years in the army, completed his studies at Berkeley through the GI Bill, and taught high school in Los Gatos, California for a few years in the late 1950s.

Short of money, Strachwitz sold pressings from his collection of old 78s to support his early recording efforts. Arhoolie’s first release was Mance Lipscomb’s “Texas Sharecropper and Songster”, for which Strachwitz and friends personally assembled 250 copies.

In a 2013 interview with the online publication, he said, “There’s so much sloppiness added to pop music, with the background that I can’t even call it music.” “You can barely hear the voices! They drown out the voices. If someone wants to sing, sing God! You know? In the old days, you could hear them sing.”

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