American Fingerstyle Guitarist

2019 Releases, 2020 Plans

2019 was a very slow year for Duck Baker in terms of gigging, as various annoying health issues continue to hamper his activities. But it was a productive year in terms of CD releases, with four titles coming out, on four different labels. First came Plymouth Rock on Duck’s own Fulica label, a collection on rare and mostly unissued early recordings that was a sort of follow-up to the 2018 Tompkins Square release Les Blues De Richmond. When Southern Summers followed with the long-awaited reissue of Duck Baker’s second Kicking Mule record, When You Wore a Tulip later in the year, it meant that virtually all of Baker’s early recordings were in print. This became even truer when Emanem Records released The Guitar Trio in Calgary, 1977, featuring Eugene Chadbourne, Duck Baker and Randy Hutton. A single long track from this CD had been released by Chadbourne as one side of an LP in 1977, and this was supplemented by a previously unissued recording of a concert in Calgary from the same time. This all dates from the same year as When You Wore a Tulip, but the music is radically different. Tulip featured hot fingerpicking in the folk/blues/ragtime guitar style, while the Trio material was very avant-garde, and focused on free jazz and free improvisation.

The only Duck Baker 2019 release that consisted entirely of new recordings was the debut CD of the Duck Baker Quartet (with Alex Ward, clarinet, John Edwards, bass, and Steve Noble, drums) on the Copepod label, Coffee For Three. This record shows how Baker has continued to develop his approach to avant-garde material, and the quartet seems to operate in what might be described as a mid-Atlantic style, drawing equally on American free jazz and European free improvised music ideas and approaches. It also documents Baker’s continued evolution as a composer, as six of the eight pieces are his own originals.

The process of releasing previously unissued material will continue in 2020. First up will be Not The First Time, on Fulica. This is an exciting release for many reasons, the first being that the recordings date primarily from the mid- to late-1980s, a period in Baker’s career that is poorly documented. And most of the material that has never been released before, while the few tracks that have appeared only briefly on small European labels that most of Baker’s fans never heard of. Quite a few of the tunes here were never recorded by Baker on subsequent releases. But the main reason this is a particularly exciting record is that the performances are particularly strong. Some Duck Baker fans might prefer his more traditional material to his jazzier side or vice versa, but all of them should enjoy Not The First Time, which will see the light of day in early 2020. Another Fulica release of archival material that should follow soon after is a budget-priced CD called I’m Coming, Virginia. This collection is focused primarily on swing tunes, with a bit of blues, gospel and ragtime thrown in, and it consists mostly of live recordings drawn from every decade of Baker’s career. It is being released in response to many requests about swing tunes Duck has performed in concert over the years but never recorded, for one reason or another. There are eight tunes here that have not appeared as solos on any other Duck Baker records. The idea is to make up for the less-than-perfect audio quality of some of the live recordings with maximum running time, at a minimal price.

Also scheduled for release in the coming months is a duo recording with Duck’s old friend Mike Cooper, who was a label-mate in the early Kicking Mule days, at which point Mike had already established himself as one of the best British acoustic blues performers on the scene. The two guitarists were surprised to discover that they were both also involved with free improvised music, and have performed this style together occasionally over the years since then. Finally they recorded a series of improvised duos in the kitchen of Cooper’s flat in Rome in 2010, and when Mark Wastell at Confront Records heard the music years later, he decided to release it. Cumino In Mia Cucina should be out sometime in the Spring of 2020.

Negotiations are underway with other labels concerning several jazz and free jazz recording projects drawn from archival material, as well as a compilation of Duck’s solo arrangements of American fiddle tunes from over the years. There are also new recording projects featuring the Duck Baker Trio and Duck Baker solo that are about halfway completed at this point, and one or both of these may see the light of day this year. So things will be continuing apace for the foreseeable future!