Hutch has a long career that has included working with John Cipollina, the Neville Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others, through session work and live performances. Since the early 1980’s he’s been the bassist for Bonnie Raitt, and still an active contributor to other projects.
We hear about how the pandemic impacted the tour and album plans for Bonnie Raitt, who Hutch was rehearsing with in the San Francisco Bay Area when the crisis began. He also tells some great stories of connecting to several of the music luminaries who we’ve lost to the virus: Manu Dibango, Toots Hibbert and Ellis Marsalis among them. Hutch also shared some stories connecting to both his time with the Neville Brothers and experiences working with Jerry Lee Lewis.
Hear the complete interview:
Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson Off the Road with HPR’s All Things Considered – February 2021
Now 89, one-time refugee Chris Strachwitz presides over one of the greatest US labels, having removed the stigma from working-class music like blues and zydeco to give a voice to the ignored.
The ripple effect of Chris Strachwitz in the world is immeasurable in preserving this music. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have heard those records. This music that without his care and watering would have withered probably. It didn’t matter what country he was from. This is somebody that was born to do this for the music that he loves.
– Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt – Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues (Fred McDowell)
Bonnie Raitt – Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues (Fred McDowell) SIXTY YEARS OF ARHOOLIE AN ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION – December 10, 2020
Ross Lahey – video/audio recording / Ryan Freeland – audio mixing / Derek Williams – video editing
This year, 3 November saw two momentous events take place in the US: American voters chose Joe Biden for president and Arhoolie Records turned 60. I put this conjunction to Arhoolie’s founder, Chris Strachwitz, who laughs. “Well, that may have been the day of the invoice from the pressing plant when they shipped the first albums,” he says, underplaying quite how seminal the release of Mance Lipscomb’s 1960 LP Texas Sharecropper and Songster would prove to be. He pressed only 500 copies of Lipscomb’s album to begin with, but one of America’s greatest record labels has grown from those humble beginnings.
The recording of Lipscomb, who had rarely sung beyond the cotton plantation he lived on, came about after Strachwitz, a San Francisco Bay Area high-school teacher (“I was lousy”), had spent his 1960 summer vacation in Texas failing to record Lightnin’ Hopkins. The blues musician insisted on being paid upfront for every song recorded, rejecting Strachwitz’s offer of a small advance plus future royalties. Strachwitz was directed towards Lipscomb instead, and while initially reluctant – Lipscomb was a “songster”, his music far gentler than Hopkins’ razor-sharp blues – he agreed to make the recording.
Fortuitously, the album’s release rode a wave of interest in folk music then under way across North America and Strachwitz found that by booking concerts for Lipscomb and selling the album (alongside trading in rare 78s) he could earn enough to quit teaching. Now aged 89 “and a half”, he has never retired and Arhoolie Records (named after the sound of a field holler) stands as the world’s foremost repository of American vernacular music: alongside blues, Strachwitz would record Cajun, zydeco, all manner of Mexican American music, New Orleans jazz and brass bands, klezmer, polka, hillbilly, gospel, street and outsider musicians, free jazz, bluegrass, sacred steel and more. Arhoolie captured the sound of myriad American communities and, in doing so, has preserved a remarkable kaleidoscope of music.
“I don’t see myself as a producer, more a song catcher,” says Strachwitz when I inquire as to his recording technique. “When I heard Lightnin’ in that Houston tavern in 1960, he was playing electric guitar, backed by a drummer, and he kept up these stream-of-consciousness raps, singing anything that passed through his mind. It was so exciting, and that’s what I wanted to record. Folklorists had recorded him playing acoustic guitar as they disdained electric, but I wanted to capture what I experienced in his neighbourhood bar.”
He adds: “I’ve always been very attracted to what you might call ‘honky tonk’ type music; I just find so much value in what gets called ‘low class’. There’s always been this stigma attached to it and people try and make it ‘respectable’, but I don’t see any value in that.”
Arhoolie’s albums, then, are “snapshots”. “It’s nothing permanent. Classical musicians can play the same way every day, but this vernacular music can change so quickly. And this is what we like about it – it’s so quirky!”
Quirky is an appropriate description of Strachwitz himself, a friendly, happy man who is also restless and extremely opinionated. Ain’t No Mouse Music, Maureen Gosling’s 2013 feature documentary about Strachwitz, captures his idiosyncrasies – at a festival he berates a lemonade vendor for not using enough lemons – and enthusiasms. “Mouse music” is, in Strachwitz parlance, anything he dislikes, ie almost all popular music across the spectrum. As for the music he does like, he’s devoted his life to ensuring it gets heard.
Age has slowed him of late. He’s now in an assisted living home, the pandemic having stopped him from commuting to Arhoolie’s El Cerrito headquarters (and then off to hear live music), but remains mentally sharp. “We had a great ride,” says Strachwitz of Arhoolie. “Kids these days don’t value music like we once did and have so many other things to spend their money on. I hope we can last a few more years because I’m uninterested in golf.”
Strachwitz was born into an aristocratic family in Lower Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland), and, as the advancing Soviet troops drew near, they fled to allied-controlled Germany. Here they lived as refugees in a ruined mansion until prominent American relatives enabled the Strachwitzes to enter the US in 1947. Chris, a lanky, lonely teenager who spoke fumbling English with a strong accent, found solace in music.
I ask whether being a teenage refugee led to his embracing music from marginalised communities, but Strachwitz dismisses the suggestion. It was, he says, simply the power of the music he heard on the radio: jazz and blues on a Los Angeles station with black DJs while “border blasters” – radio stations situated just across the Mexican border – played the music of the southern working class, be they black, white or brown.
Down Home Music – A Journey Through the Heartland 1963
Please support the work of the Arhoolie Foundation. Donate: https://donorbox.org/donate-596
Filmed by Dietrich Wawzyn In 1963 German filmmaker Dietrich Wawzyn set out to shoot a series of films for German television that took him through the southern US in search of American jazz and roots music. He contacted Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, who jumped at the chance to join him and share his enthusiasm for regional musical traditions. Wawzyn made three films dealing with blues, gospel, and hillbilly music. The negatives to those films were lost. This film re-creates the journey from the best elements still available and includes much previously unreleased footage. There is an optional audio track featuring off-the-cuff commentary by Chris Strachwitz. Edited by Maureen Gosling. Black and White. 75 minutes. NTSC, all regions.
Jesse Fuller — Lightnin’ Hopkins — Lowell Fulson — Red Sovine — King Louis H. Narcisse — Mance Lipscomb — George Lewis Quartet — Chief White Cloud — Black Ace — Rev. Louis Overstreet — Sweet Emma Barrett — Barbara Dane — Blind James Campbell — Whistlin’ Alex Moore — Lewis Family — Willie Thomas — Goodtime Washboard 3 — Shorty LeBlanc — Ed Lee Natay — Hodges Brothers — Eddie Schaible —J. E. Mainer — Tohono O’Odham Conjunto — Willis Brothers — Brother Davis
The Nine Lives of Barbara Dane: trailer
The Arhoolie Foundation is proud to sponsor the production of the new documentary film “The Nine Lives of Barbara Dane” on the life and music of Barbara Dane.
Filmmakers Maureen Gosling (THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC, BURDEN OF DREAMS) and Jed Riffe (ISHI, THE LAST YAHI, THE LONG SHADOW) have joined forces with producer (and daughter of Barbara Dane) Nina Menéndez (TROPICOLA), have begun production on a feature-length documentary, THE NINE LIVES OF BARBARA DANE.
THE NINE LIVES OF BARBARA DANE (working title) illuminates the true story of Barbara Dane, a trailblazing woman and an unsung hero of American music: blues, jazz and folk singer, social activist, wife, mother of three, world traveler, feminist, record producer, maverick and general troublemaker. Barbara Dane, a fiercely independent woman, born in the 1920s, took the power of her voice from the bright lights of jazz and blues celebrity to the tumultuous streets of 1960s America, paving her own way with her art, in the service of social justice, civil rights and peace. Still going strong in her early 90s, Dane’s dynamic contemporary life offers a jumping off point to recount how she turned many setbacks into opportunities, and provides deep inspiration for generations of musicians and activists.
The Chambers Brothers, Pablo Menéndez, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Giddens (jazz critic), Estela Bravo (Cuban filmmaker), as well as archival footage and music of Jessie Fuller, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Lightni read more
Down-Home Music: The Story of Arhoolie Records
The Films of Chris Strachwitz
This Ain’t No Mouse Music! (2013) details the story of the eccentric, amateur ethnomusicologist and record producer Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records. The other four documentary films feature genres of music that he has dedicated considerable time to recording and preserving.
Chulas Fronteras (Beautiful Borders) (1976), explores conjunto/norteño music and culture in Texas. The film was conceived and produced by Chris Strachwitz and filmed by director Les Blank. It highlights legendary recording artists such as Lydia Mendoza, Los Alegres de Teran, Santiago and Flaco Jiménez, and Narciso Martínez. Some of the songs, which are translated from Spanish to English in the film, document the hardships and discrimination experienced by Mexican Americans in Texas and the difficult life of migrant farm workers. Lydia Mendoza’s famous ballad “Mal Hombre” is also featured.
Chris Strachwitz produced J’ai Été Au Bal (I Went to the Dance) (1989), with acclaimed documentary filmmaker Les Blank and Maureen Gosling. The film, which traces the roots of Louisiana Cajun/Creole and zydeco music, features numerous important musicians such as Dennis McGee, Canray Fontenot, Clifton Chenier, Queen Ida, Marc and Ann Savoy, Michael Doucet, and Wayne Toups.
Sacred Steel (2001), produced by the Arhoolie Foundation and directed by Robert L. Stone and Alan Govenar, documents a unique form of gospel music that incorporates lap and pedal steel guitars. It d read more
The New Lost City Ramblers – Always Been a Rambler
The Arhoolie Foundation Presents: A film by Yasha Aginsky. This hour-long documentary celebrates fifty years of the New Lost City Ramblers (Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Tracy Schwarz and Tom Paley.) Among the first urban musicians to seriously pursue the old-time music traditions of the American South, the New Lost City Ramblers became stars of the 1960s folk revival, appearing at Newport Folk Festival and touring widely in the U.S. and Europe. They inspired generations of younger musicians to explore America’s traditional music, from elder statesman Bob Dylan to banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck to the contemporary African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, all of whom participated in the film.
ALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER reveals the Ramblers as musicologists as well as expert musicians, showing them side-by-side with traditional musicians including Dock Boggs, Maybelle Carter, and Doc Watson. Beginning with archival footage of the early NLCR from their start in the late 1950s, the film shows the Ramblers with some of their mentors. Octogenarian banjo picker George Landers gently teases the young acolytes in between tunes, and a Greenwich Village jam session features Clarence Ashley with a young Doc Watson. Nearly fifty years later, the Ramblers chat with musician friends including Doc Watson, Maria Muldaur, and Del McCoury.
Live footage of onstage performances, rehearsals, and informal music-making are combined with a wealth of archival material, with footage of the New
Strachwitz tried to play some of his 78s to his classmates “and they called me ‘a damn hillbilly’!” He laughs, then adds: “I remember when I was listening to Bunk Johnson, my father said in German, ‘They are playing off key.’ And I said, ‘Doesn’t matter to me – it’s got soul, it’s got feeling.’ So I was always going against the mainstream.”
An avid record collector, he became part of a loose network that included Harry Smith, John Fahey, Robert Crumb and others. These young white men shared a huge passion for blues, jazz and hillbilly records of the 20s and 30s and, in doing so, helped open ears to the remarkable, largely ignored vernacular musical culture. While his contemporaries were happy to collect, reissue (in Smith’s case his celebrated Anthology of American Folk Music) and even attempt to play this “lost” music, Strachwitz knew from visiting the south that the music remained alive there. So off he went, at the height of the civil rights struggle, a blond man with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, heading into African American neighbourhoods.
Inevitably, he ran into problems with racist police in Texas and Mississippi who suspected Strachwitz to be either an activist or a junkie. Strachwitz laughs about such encounters now, but they must have been terrifying at the time. He survived unscathed and says the hassle was worth it because he found musical treasure.
Arguably, the greatest of all was Clifton Chenier, a Louisiana Creole (French-speaking African American) who played accordion and sang. In 1964, Lightnin’ Hopkins took Strachwitz to hear Chenier in a Houston bar where he was playing “this very pure Creole French blues. It almost sounded like Haitian music.” Strachwitz arranged to record Chenier only to find he wanted to cut R&B, believing no one would be interested in Creole music. Eventually Strachwitz recorded Chenier performing what is now known as zydeco for the 1965 album Louisiana Blues and Zydeco. The record stunned listeners – almost no one other than habitués of the bayou bars of Texas and Louisiana had heard this powerhouse sound – and Chenier would go on to tour the world and win a Grammy.
Around the same time, Strachwitz began recording the music of Chenier’s white neighbours, the Cajuns. “When I initially went down there, asking for Cajuns was like asking for Gypsies in Europe – the response I’d get was along the lines of, ‘What do you want those people for?’ They were considered just the scum of the earth. I finally found a Cajun band playing. One guy was singing in English and one guy was singing French verses; people were dancing around in circles, counter clockwise; the men were tiny and the women were huge. The first time you encounter something like that it really hits you.”
Strachwitz never stayed still, always seeking out new artists to record and, having long collected Mexican American border records, in 1970 he began championing corrido and norteno musicians (alongside reissuing, as he did for every genre that engaged him, the 78-era recordings, and paying royalties). Through his efforts both Lydia Mendoza – the 12-string guitarist who had first recorded in the 20s – and accordionist Flaco Jiménez would win audiences beyond their core, Spanish-speaking communities. Ry Cooder, who accompanied Strachwitz and film-maker Les Blank to Texas when they were filming Chulas Fronteras (a documentary on the Mexican musicians of the US south west), would go on to work closely with Jiménez. Blank and Strachwitz’s documentaries stand as some of the finest music films ever made.
“Mexicans in the US live a totally backwater existence,” says Strachwitz. “People see them as cheap labour and little else.”
Mexican culture tends to get looked down upon, treated as a joke. People like their food and nothing else. It’s sad as their culture is very rich, but there’s almost no recognition of it here.
– Chris Strachwitz
Inevitably, such albums didn’t sell in large quantities and Arhoolie survived largely through Strachwitz’s good fortune in music publishing. In 1965, he recorded Country Joe McDonald’s song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, unexpectedly cashing in when it was used in the Woodstock documentary. Then the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers featured You Got to Move, a gospel blues tunes they (eventually) credited to Mississippi Fred McDowell, an Arhoolie artist. “We got in contact and said, ‘Pay us the royalties’, and their lawyer said, ‘The Rolling Stones only perform their own songs.’ So this went on for a while until they finally agreed to pay. This meant I got to give Fred the biggest cheque he had ever seen in his life. When I did so he said, ‘I’m glad them boys liked my music!’ He was a wonderful human being.”
Southern Documentary Project ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’ focuses on Fred McDowell’s bottleneck blues with Bonnie Raitt
Shake ‘Em On Down: The Blues According to Fred McDowell A Documentary Film by Joe York & Scott Barretta B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf. When it comes to Delta blues, there’s no shortage of well-known names to cite. But there’s another region — and other musicians — to credit for Mississippi’s state-line-road-sign
Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label run by the Smithsonian Institution, acquired Arhoolie in 2016 from Strachwitz and his business partner Tom Diamant – they continue to oversee the label, but no longer have to concern themselves with its finances. The Smithsonian has made more than 300 standout titles from the roughly 650-album catalogue available digitally (with some on CD and vinyl) and is focused on ensuring the remaining titles become available. Strachwitz notes, “Arhoolie never sold a lot of albums and, once people stopped buying CDs, things got rough.”
Now Arhoolie Records is safely ensconced in the Smithsonian, Strachwitz’s great passion is the Arhoolie Foundation, whose board of advisers includes Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits. He established it a quarter of a century ago, initially to document his collection – the world’s largest – of Mexican and Mexican American recordings, photos and more. This and other material relating to vernacular music are now part of UCLA’s online archive. Los Tigres del Norte, one of Mexico’s most popular bands, were so impressed by the material that they donated $500,000 to protect it. Strachwitz proudly notes that the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities have also helped, “as they agree this is really significant stuff that has never been documented”.
The Arhoolie Foundation is active on several fronts: it gives grants to educators and artists, digitises hundreds of hours of recordings and interviews, puts on concerts and does its best to continue Strachwitz’s mission of ensuring people get to hear beautiful music. On 10 December, a prerecorded livestream concert will celebrate both Arhoolie’s 60th and the foundation’s 25th anniversaries. Alongside noted Cajun, sacred steel, bluegrass and norteno artists, such marquee names as Bonnie Raitt, Billy Gibbons, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Charlie Musselwhite are also appearing.
“I’ve always admired the complete honesty of Chris and honesty in the music of Arhoolie,” says Musselwhite, a Memphis blues musician who recorded for Arhoolie in the early 70s. “Chris is a great fellow, and I love it when he don’t mix his words telling you what he thinks. He’s always correct, so I always listen.”
“Without Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records I probably never would have found Cajun music,” says Ann Savoy, matriarch of the Savoy Family Cajun Band, also performing at the concert. “One of his Old Timey series of Cajun 78s won my heart, and led me to a life of mystery and awe on the Cajun prairie. Chris has always done what he wants with no concern for fame or commercial success. It is his passion and hard work that saved much of the American rural songbook.”
Strachwitz chuckles when I relay the compliments to him but shrugs them off. “Lady Luck has always been with me,” he says. “I’ve dealt with a lot of people who have had very little luck in their lives and my philosophy has always been, ‘The world will never be fair but you can try and help by being nice.’ I hope I have helped some people.”
He laughs, and his joy is infectious. “It’s been an amazing journey and a never-ending lesson – I learned so much!”
Ed Cherney, a Grammy and Emmy-winning engineer, who worked on such seminal works as Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time, Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” The Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylon, Willie Nelson’s My Way and hundreds more, died Tuesday (Oct. 22) from cancer. He was 69.
Heartbroken at the loss of my dear friend and brilliant engineer/producer, Ed Cherney. Together with Don Was, we made a mighty trio, creating some of the most celebrated albums of our careers, garnering us a string of Grammy nominations and awards for Nick of Time, Luck of the Draw, Longing in their Hearts and Road Tested in the early-mid 90’s. He was one of the sweetest, funniest, big hearted and talented people I’ve ever known, as widely liked as he was respected as one of our businesses greatest recording Engineers. I will miss him so much and am so grateful we got to have him as long as we did. Thank God he is out of pain and my deepest sympathy goes out to his beloved longtime wife and partner, Rose. —Bonnie Raitt
Cherney, who worked out of The Village Studios in Los Angeles, was
known for his quick-witted, jolly manner. The Chicago-native enjoyed a
great conversation or golf game as much as finding the perfect sound.
“Eddie was a real sonic genius,” says producer Don Was, who worked with Cherney on the Raitt and Rolling Stones’ albums, among others. “He knew how to add some ear-pleasing sparkle and sheen while keeping the music feeling intimate and natural. The records we did with Bonnie are perfect examples. More importantly, he added a really warm spirit to every session. Ed was funny humble and so good hearted that everyone felt at ease. A terrific person and a great friend. He is utterly irreplaceable.”
After Cherney’s wife, former Record Plant head Rose Mann-Cherney, announced news of his death on Facebook Tuesday morning, other tributes began pouring in from fellow engineers and producers, as well as artists like Slash, Keith Richards, Jann Arden and Raitt.
I am beyond sorry to hear about the passing of my dear heart friend- Ed Cherney. Ed and I worked on many of my early records together in the 90ties- all of which I treasure. Ed was the best engineer on the planet. Ask anybody! Biggest heart. Kind. Funny. What a loss. Devastated
Cherney, who was nominated for five Grammys, snagged his first win in 1995 for best engineered album/non- classical for Raitt’s Longing in Their Hearts. That year, he engineered three of the five nominees in the category. He won again in 2003 for best traditional blues album for Buddy Guy’s Blues Singer and in 2016 for the best traditional pop vocal album with Willie Nelson’s Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, an award he won again in 2018 forNelson’s My Way. In 2015, he won an Emmy for HBO’s Bessie Smith film Bessie.
In an oral history celebrating the 30th anniversary of Raitt’s Nick of Time, Cherney told Billboard about the precision required to get just the right sound, especially on “Thing Called Love.” “It may have taken me five or six times to nail the mix on that, because where it sounded great was on the head of a pin. It was that delicate.” When the album went on to win album of the year at the 1990 Grammys, Cherney said, “It came out of nowhere — this was just a little record. No one was expecting that at all. I may have cried. I may have just broken down and cried.”
30 Years of ‘Nick of Time’: How Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Underdog Record’ Swept the Grammys & Saved Her Career
Before Nick of Time became perhaps the biggest Cinderella story in Grammy history — as well as the cement to Bonnie Raitt’s now-unshakeable legacy as a singular song interpreter and advocate for the blues tradition, and the soundtrack to so many ‘90s babies’ childhoods —
Classic Tracks: Bonnie Raitt’s “Thing Called Love”
By Blair Jackson – When I call engineer extraordinaire Ed Cherney about the recording of Bonnie Raitt’s commercial breakthrough, “Thing Called Love,” the first thing he says is, “Isn’t that a little recent for a ‘Classic Track’?” “Dude,” I said, “it was recorded 22 years ago!” He got a laugh out of that; it does seem
Iconic engineer Al Schmitt, a close friend of Cherney’s who talked with him everyday, tells Billboard, “Ed’s ability to concentrate and focus was brilliant. He was always thinking about the final product and his ability to create great musical balances was something very special. Also, his incredible sense of humor and the ability to keep things light no matter what was going on. He was the best of the best.”
Engineer Ann Mincieli, best known for her work with Alicia Keys, was also a friend of Cherney’s. She tells Billboard, “From the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt and everyone in between, Ed Cherney defined his sound and left us with a sonic imprint we will never forget. Ed and his wife Rose helped raise the bar of every aspect of the music industry and mentored several people like myself. As [Recording Academy] Producers & Engineers Wing co-chairs, we walked the halls of Congress, sat behind a console, lobbied for credits and high-resolution audio and the list goes on and on.”
Appropriately enough, his email address was “mixerdudeman.” And fitting of his humility, on his website instead of tributes from the superstars he worked with, he had a quote from his dog, Archie: “Cherney is one of the great music engineers of all time. And then there’s bacon.”
His mantra, also on his website, best expressed his approach. Even though, by his own admission, he was obsessed with technology, he wrote: “Ultimately, mixing is about heart — nobody leaves a session dancing to what kind of gear you used.”
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Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
'A Tribute To Mose Allison' Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.