American Fingerstyle Guitarist

Les Blues Du Richmond



Les Blues Du Richmond

Demos and Outtakes 1973 – 1979

Tompkins Square Records

Release: April 2018

 Now available on Compact Disk and Vinyl LP
A1 Maple Leaf Rag
A2 Charleston Mad/Charleston 
A3 Homage to Leadbelly
A4 Doing the Racoon
A5 Allah, Perhaps
A6 Wolverine Blues
B1 Les Blues De Richmond
B2 Fire Down There
B3 That Rhythm Man
B4 Little Boy
B5 The Humors of Whisky 
B6 Sandy River Belle
B7 Swedish Jig
B8 Pretty Girl Milking a Cow
Duck Baker, guitar, all tracks, vocal on A2, A4, B3
Mike Piggot, violin on B3
Joe Spibey, bass on B3
Side one recorded at Alpha Audio, Richmond, VA, spring 1973
Joe Sheets, engineer
Marty Gary, producer
Side two recorded at Livingston Studios, Barnet, London, 1977-1980
Nic Kinsey, engineer
Stefan Grossman, producer
Transfers and mastering by Joe Lizzi and Ben Young at Van Alst Sound East, Brooklyn NY
Photography by Lynn Abbott
I made the demo tape from which the first side of this record is drawn in 1973. I was 23 years old and living in Richmond, Virginia, the town where I grew up but felt as if I had outgrown. I had played in a rock band as a teenager before becoming interested in the folk music I heard older kids playing in local coffeehouses, gravitating especially towards fingerpicking guitar, blues, and ragtime. The latter I learned about from a piano player named Buck Evans, who really opened my young ears, since almost no one remembered what real ragtime was in the mid-1960’s. My arrangement of “Maple Leaf Rag” was based on Buck’s version. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wolverine Blues” I got from a record. The same is true of the songs “Charleston Mad,” from a Lovie Austin record, and “Doing the Racoon,” from George Olsen’s version. The other two tracks from the demo reflect how taken I was with free jazz, and the idea that I had that I could combine that style with folk material. I continued my interest in free jazz in later years but gave up thinking there was much of a crossover audience between the two styles, and only got around to rerecording one of these two tunes many years later. It may seem obvious that folkies would not want to hear some kid trying to sound like Eric Dolphy with a nylon-strung guitar, but back in the 1960s and early ‘70s this was not quite so clear-cut. Sandy Bull had recorded with Ornette’s drummer Billy Higgins, after all, and people did talk about blending genres quite a bit (they still do talk about it, anyway). 
It was local record store owner and occasional music producer Marty Gary who offered to help me record a demo tape that I could send around in hopes of landing a record deal. Marty arranged for me to go into a local studio one afternoon, and since I had no idea about splicing takes or anything like that, I pretty much just sat down and played the pieces I wanted to record one after another, apart from a few false starts here and there. A couple of hours later I was finished, and copies of the tape were sent around to indie labels like Vanguard, Arhoolie and Blue Thumb. But no one bit, and not long afterwards I moved to San Francisco.
Once ensconced in the Mission District, I took to pestering Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie about the demo I had sent him, until he finally told me I would probably do better to approach Ed Denson, who was partner with Stefan Grossman running a new label called Kicking Mule Records. So I sent the demo to Ed, who sent it to Stefan, and from there I got to be a Kicking Mule recording artist. It’s downright quaint to remember how I thought about this at that time, imagining it would change my life dramatically. And I guess my life did change, as I went from being someone making a workingman’s wage for driving nails in Virginia to a guy playing music for a lot less than that in coffeehouses, clubs, and bars in towns I drove to around the country over the next few years, and then in folk clubs and small concert venues in Europe by the end of the decade. But the most dramatic change for me was the opportunity to play bluegrass and swing locally in SF with people who had a lot to pass on, and then to hook up with all kinds of musicians once I got on the road. 
A few years ago, Marty Gary got in touch with me to say that he had digitized the tapes of that 1973 demo session and gave me a copy, and then when Josh Rosenthal at Tompkins Square asked if I might have any early, previously unreleased recordings, I was able to say that I did, indeed. There are even a couple of things that I never recorded again. I did redo the two ragtime instrumentals on the demo for early Kicking Mule releases, but the two vocals on jazz age songs weren’t revisited. This happened because my first two KM records were all-instrumental and by the time I got around to making a record that included vocals (The King of Bongo Bong, in 1978), I had newer arrangements I was into more. Of the tracks in more of a free jazz style, I did rerecord “Allah, Perhaps”(on the Mighty Quinn CD, Everything That Rises Must Converge). But “Homage to Leadbelly” had rotated out of my repertoire long before then.
The material on side B is taken from later 1970’s sessions, mostly made after I moved to London in 1977. Stefan Grossman was always putting out anthologies on Kicking Mule, and so pretty much anything I recorded was bound to come out on one of these if not on one of my solo records. But a few things remained in the can after the label wound down around 1981, and in 1985 Stefan put most of these out on a limited release cassette called Both Sides, which featured studio tracks on one side and an early live recording on the other. “That Rhythm Man” dates from a trio session I did for The King of Bongo Bong that featured the fine violinist Mike Piggot, whom I met when he was playing with Bert Jansch in the 1970’s. “Fire Down There” and Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Little Boy” presumably date from the 1979 sessions that produced The Art of Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar, the former being best known by the name Sonny Rollins gave it in 1956, “St. Thomas.” Most of the rest of what’s here would have been recorded at the time I made The Kid On The Mountain, in 1980. And I remember being perplexed at the time that a couple of these were not included on the LP, especially “Pretty Girl Milking a Cow,” which I had learned from fiddler Larry Matthews. 
I did return to most of these arrangements on later records, but while I kept “Fire Down There” and “That Rhythm Man” in the repertoire, never revisited them in the studio. As for “Les Blues De Richmond,” I learned this from a Cajun record my friend Lynn Abbott had, back in Richmond, but can’t remember the name of the tune it’s based on. In one way it makes a good title track here because it shows how I was trying to expand on folk material in a way that traditional folk musicians would not have done, using an approach that was meant to be true to the tradition I was drawing on. With the passage of time, I became less likely to try things like this, so I’m very glad for this arrangement to see the light of day.
Duck Baker
Reading, Berks
May, 2017