Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A 21 Jaw Harp Salute to Mike Seeger

Mike Seeger goes to the West

Last week, while performing at the AFBA bluegrass festival in Wind Gap PA, we had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum. After their set we were back stage chatting and I asked Laurie about a song she had sung that has gone in and out of our repertoire over the years, "Going to the West." I had learned it in 2001 from Joe Herrmann of the Critton Hollow String Band when he and his brother John were house guests in our humble abode. I had often wondered about the origins of the song, but hadn't been able to dig up any historical background. Laurie told me she had learned it from Mike Seeger, who learned it from his sister Peggy, who learned it from a book called "Folk Songs of Alabama." So the mystery was solved, or at least I got a really good clue. Laurie also informed us, and the rest of the audience, that Mike was gravely ill. I knew that Mike had been battling cancer for a long time because when John Hartford passed in 2001 Mike revealed that he was suffering from a similar affliction. During our shows we often tip our hats to Mike and his work preserving traditional American music. During our show with Carlene Carter we made mention of his documentary film "Talking Feet" and told the audience that he had been ill and that we were praying for him. Sadly, after the show Mike Kornfeld of Acoustic Music informed us that Mike had passed on Friday night. His passing is a huge loss to the traditional music community. Mike was an amazing musician. He played guitar, banjo, autoharp, jawharp, harmonica, panpipes, and fiddle. He was also an ethnomusicologist who had more to do with reviving interest in old time country music than anyone I know of. He introduced or reintroduced numerous traditional musicians, including Elizabeth Cotton and Dock Boggs, to audiences around the world. Though we never met him we did correspond, and Mike was always supportive and willing to dispense helpful advice. He was best known for his work with the revivalist group known as The New Lost City Ramblers, which he co-founded with John Cohen and Tom Paley in 1958. But it was his solo work that inspired me and served as a model for my early children's shows that in turn inspired my children to become interested in American folk music. I guess there would be no "Amazing" Annalee if I hadn't learned Mike's version of Fooba Wooba John and passed down the fine art of jawharp playing to my daughter. We are so greatfull to Mike for making oldtime musicians and their music available to us. His presence will be missed, but his musical legacy will be with us forever. Mike leaves behind a huge body of work that includes, books and video as well as his wonderful discography of old-time music.

Music from the True Vine: Mike Seeger's Life and Musical Journey

Old Time Country Music by Mike Seeger

Southern Banjo Sounds

Jaw Harp Photo by Rick Jackofsky

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog, it good to get some up to date information of the HGSB.