Though not as well-known as Fahey or Kottke, Peter Lang sounds right at home among them on the 1974 compilation released by Takoma records where I first heard his playing. This track comes off his debut The Thing At The Nursery Room Window, which was put out by Takoma a year earlier. Like Kottke, Lang also hails from my home state of Minnesota and to my knowledge still lives there. As the presenter in this segment from Minnesota Public Television in 1977 lays out, the guitarists who are often grouped together under the label of American Primitive were trying to elevate the fingerstyle playing found in American folk, blues, and country music to the level of respect usually afforded to classical instruments. Even if they didn’t necessarily succeed, they definitely produced some great records in the process.
Lang released four records in the 1970s before taking a break to pursue a career in animation. He did return to music in the early 2000s, releasing a couple albums of his own and appearing on a John Fahey tribute compilation. You can see him perform Young Man live in 2007 here. I’m not sure if its the same performance, but a live album from around the same time is available on Spotify along with some of his more recent releases. When I go to record stores I usually keep an eye out for Takoma recordings, as they’re not always available electronically and even if its all in your head I think this kind of music really does sound better on vinyl.
My Red Dog appears on Lukas Read’s debut self-released record Ramble Man, Ramble, which he put out in late 2013. After releasing one more EP on his own, Read just put out another record Neo Age with the German label Dying for Bad Music. Though his latest release is all instrumental fingerstyle guitar and experimentation with effects, his first record is a nice blend of instrumental guitar and original singer-songwriter material. You can check out a video for the title track of Neo Age here. I knew that I was going to like this album as soon as I saw there was a tribute medley to John Fahey’s Poor Boys Long Way From Home, which is one of my favorite Fahey tunes. You can find his EP over at Bandcamp and purchase a limited edition CD from Dying for Bad Music here.
Put out last year by eilean rec., who also put out Wil Bolton’s latest, Lake Mary’s And the Birds Sing in Chorus First is a treat from start to finish. While his earlier releases blend his guitar work with sustained drones, this release reflects a more stripped-down approach, which could have something to do with the fact that each track was recorded in a different place as the artist traversed the US. Lake Mary is the performing name for Chaz Prymek, who has been releasing music under the Lake Mary moniker since about 2010. The location may have been different, but Prymek’s masterfully contemplative playing remains solid throughout. I’ve been listening to his earlier releases, like There are Always Second Chances in the Mountains and Canopy/Mardotsha which add drone-y experimentation to the mix and they are also excellent. There’s also a live set on his Bandcamp where he performs with the Ranch Family Band, and it’s pretty neat to hear how those sounds are constructed in a live setting. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who reads this regularly that this ticks a lot of boxes for me, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
Alex Archibald is an American Primative-style guitarist, but he hails from Vancouver, Canada though I suppose we shouldn’t hold that against him based on how he plays. Dry Leaf Into The Sea comes from his most recent release, Early Suburban Terrorism, which came out on Halloween of 2015. He has two more releases up on Bandcamp, Accidental Waltzes and Western Life May Suit You Less. I had a hard time picking a track, but I think choosing the best album title of those three is equally challenging. As far as I can tell these are only available digitally, though you can get more information about Archibald’s work on Facebook.
Gimmer Nicholson had been poking around the Memphis blues/folk scene for a number of years before moving to San Francisco in the mid-1960s. He recorded a few demos on a crude reel-to-reel deck and sent them to his brother, who brought the tapes in a brown paper bag to Terry Manning back in Memphis. When Nicholson returned from the Bay Area, he went into the studio with Terry-the same studio where Big Star would later record-and they began combining Nicholson’s acoustic playing with electronic delays.
I recorded on an 8 track 1″ Scully at 30 ips. Although most of the guitar is acoustic, there is actually some electric also. Gimmer had a Gibson Howard Roberts, a beautiful jazz guitar that is almost an acoustic (I liked it so much that I bought one a few years later, but I stupidly sold it when I moved here to Nassau in ’92). He played that through a Fender Bassman blackface amp, through some kind of guitar delay/repeat box I had, which had just come out. Gimmer was euphoric about the delay, and loved to set it very long, then play a phrase, and when it repeated, he would play live a copasetic second phrase, then do the same for the next bar, playing with the second phrase, and so on (sort of like a “round”). When we did the acoustics, I got the longest tape delay that I could to accomplish this. It had to be carefully timed to the tempo of the composition. EMT 140 plate reverb was also used.
With recording finished, Manning began the mastering process only after providing a rough mix for Nicholson to take home. This proved disastrous, as Nicholson was outraged when he heard this new, cleaned up mix and left Memphis in a huff. The album gathered dust and Manning moved on, but not before the sounds of the album would infuse other artists in that milieu, most notably Chris Bell. Manning released the album, titled Christopher Idylls on CD in 1994 on his own imprint, Lucky Seven Records, the first time the songs got any wider audience. However, the good folks over at Light in the Attic Records have recently announced a new vinyl reissue of Christopher Idylls that is available for pre-order and set to ship later this month. Gimmer Nicholson passed away a few years ago after years of working for the Red Cross, according to Manning. He had contacted him regarding some new compositions, but nothing materialized. It appears this beautiful release will have to suffice.
Meg Baird began her music career as the vocalist and guitarist of Philadelphia psychedelic folk trio Espers along with Greg Weeks before releasing a string of solo releases. “All I Ever Wanted” appears on her first solo record, Dear Companion which was released by Drag City in 2007. The tune was originally penned by John Dawson for the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album, which features Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, Mickey Hart on percussion, and Phil Lesh credited as a producer.
Dear Companion features a mix of covers, arrangements of traditional folk tunes, and original songs and it’s a treat from start to finish. She has since released two more solo records on Drag City, including Don’t Weigh Down the Light at the end of 2015, and has appeared on releases by Kurt Vile, Sharon Von Etten, and Glenn Jones. I couldn’t find much in the way of tour dates in support of her latest album, but if I were a betting man I’d say it’d be a pretty awesome show.
In keeping with many masters of delta blues, Mississippi John Hurt did not receive much recognition until later in his life, though he is revered as a master of the style to this day. Pay Day comes off his 1966 Vanguard release Today!, released the same year (1996) as Skip James Today!. Like Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt was a self-taught fingerpicker from (you guessed it) Mississippi whose recordings for Okeh records in 1928 met with little success. His music career seemingly over before it started, he spent the next forty years sharecropping and playing local shows and bars and dance halls. Inclusion on the Smithsonian’s Anthology of American Folk Music revived interest in his work and the man himself, who was located in part because one of his few early singles contained lyrics suggesting his hometown was Avalon, MS.
Riding a renewed wave of interest in American roots music throughout the 1960s, Hurt recorded a number of albums first for the Smithsonian and then for Vanguard, Piedmont, and Gryphon. John Fahey memorialized him in the first track from his Requia release, Requiem for John Hurt, which was released following Hurt’s death in 1966. You can see Hurt perform Lonesome Valley here on an episode from Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest, a short lived television show hosted by Seeger devoted to folk music. For more info on Hurt’s life and music career, check out this website run by his nephew.
This version of “Drunken Spree” comes off Skip James’ 1966 release Skip James Today! The exclamation mark was in order, because it came thirty years after his first and (up until then) only recordings were met with mild response in 1931. It’s likely that the tough economic times played a role, though perhaps his idiosyncratic tuning and playing style were not particularly popular at the time. The lack of success had relegated him to obscurity, though his fingerpicking technique and somber songwriting style endeared him to blues enthusiasts like John Fahey. He was rediscovered during a spell in the hospital, and was thrust into the role of elder statesman for the folk/blues revival that kicked off in the early 1960, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival. You can see some rare footage of him performing at Newport here. Though you may not recognize his name, you might have heard the song “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” which he recorded in 1931 and which later appeared as on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack as covered by Chris Thomas King. Capitalizing on this renewed interest, he recorded a flurry of material in the early sixties, much of which has not been released or is scattered on various compilations. You can see a more complete listing of his output over at Discogs. He died in Philadelphia in 1969 at the age of 67.
Jerry Hionis is an American Primitive-style guitar player who, when he’s not picking away, is also an assistant professor of Economics. I think that’s a first here at Orion’s Bastard. He researches fancy sounding things like conflict theory, but I’m mostly interested in the music, though some of his research does sound pretty interesting. According to his Facebook he’s got some new stuff in the works, which is very exciting. This post is a little lighter on info than usual but I think the music itself is pretty solid.