Bentley's Bandstand: Various Artists, Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads & Beyond

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Various Artists, Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads, & Beyond, Arhoolie Records

There are heroes in the American music business that will never really be known outside a core of the committed. These people started small labels to release the music that drove their passions, the sounds that would not leave them alone. Sometimes those efforts ended in great riches, and other times it led to madness and beyond. What mattered most was the way the originators bet on the music with their lives. Chris Strachwitz was one of those believers.

He had moved to the United States from Europe in the late ’40s, and by 1954 Stracwitz was recording musicians in the Bay Area that caught his spirit. There was an incredible array of roots music to be sampled, and with a trusty tape recorder and an unstoppable fire he went wherever the music took him. By 1960 Strachwitz had started Arhoolie Records and was releasing albums on the small label. The very first was by Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb, and that proud reign of audio treasures hasn’t stopped since.

In many ways Chris Strachwitz is the last true explorer left. His road trips around America, and especially through the South, are legendary and helped him build his record label into one that has always stood for quality and soul. He went by the simple theory that if he loved something he should try and record it to share with the world. There have never been any stylistic walls, or attempts to manufacture results. This is music played for the heart from the heart.

Hear Me Howling! is a four CD book-set. Adam Machado’s wonderful words tell the endlessly inspiring story of Strachwitz’s mighty efforts, while the music brings alive all the people who made it. These recordings, recorded around the Bay Area between 1954-1971, are astounding. There is no other way to say it. They vary from Jesse Fuller to Notes from the Underground, and come from coffee houses, festivals, studios or sometimes even someone’s home. Every single song, all 72 of them, is a chill bumper in its own way. Many have never been released, while others have not appeared on compact disc before. But no matter their origin, it’s like we have discovered a world that has now disappeared, whether it’s the artist themselves or just the open freedom of the musical culture. If you want to learn where we are now, it’s helpful to find out where we’ve been. Chris Strachwitz can show the way.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.