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Recordially Yours, by Lou Curtiss
Normal Heights, Lou Curtiss

THE DUTIES OF A RECORD COLLECTOR OR MUSIC HISTORIAN OR JUST A MUSIC FAN

It isn't enough to sit in your lonely room contemplating all those really rare records you've found. It isn't even enough to sit at your computer hawking what you've found on eBay. If you like the music enough to collect it, you've got to love it enough to want to help keep the music alive.

In the more than 50 years I've been a record collector I've done over 50 music festivals where I organized the kinds of music I collect, and I've paid to attend a couple of 100 more. I've done radio shows for over 30 years (I currently do two; one of which has been running for over 16 years). I have been on the production end of 27 long-play records and some 32 CDs, all of which feature the kinds of music I collect (vintage, country, blues, jazz, rockabilly, gospel, and vaudeville). I've produced well over 200 concerts and presentations. I've taught classes at UCSD Extension on vintage country music and country blues, and I've owned a collector's record shop for over 36 years.

Now you know where I'm coming from. One other thing you ought to know is that except on a few occasions, I haven't taken any money for doing what I do (except, of course, for the shop). Most of the cases that I've taken money were in the form of a grant. I have a couple of research grants along the way and the National Endowment for the Arts put together some touring troupes of old timers back in the '70s. My payment has been mostly in terms of the great music I've had the pleasure of hearing and take credit for bringing to San Diego. So, to you other record collectors who actually like the music you -- and I'm not talking about you guys who are in it purely for the bucks, since you guys aren't going to listen to me anyway it's almost a duty to give something back. That means buying records and CDs and going to concerts, but it also means, for those of us who collect music outside the mainstream, helping to expose others to that music. If you have rare stuff that should be reissued, then make your stuff available to those who'll reissue it. Don't think about getting rich doing it either. The music isn't there for you to get rich off of. The guy who made the music probably didn't get rich off it, so why should you? When I look at reissued CDs of country blues, jazz, old timey, cajun, or whatever, I see the same 15 or 20 collectors (fortunately my name is included as often as possible) who donate copies of their rare sides for reissue. I know many other collectors who should be offering up the stuff they have but are content to be members of "the I have it, you don't club." They ought to be ashamed of themselves because in 30 years or so they'll be gone. At least some of them will have heirs who will throw their "lovingly collected" rare recordings into the garbage and some of that music will be lost forever.

Liking a certain kind of music also means getting involved in keeping that music in front of the public. Whether it's where music has been (featured at the Adams Avenue Roots Festival) or where the music is going (like the Adams Avenue Street Fair), you can be a part of the preservation effort on just about any level you choose. I might add to those of you who like old-time music that there's a hell of a lot more work to be done in that area. Contemporary musicians are more pushy than old-time musicians in getting their sound around. It's probably been 25 years since an old-time group had a regular coffee house or club gig. As popular as the festivals on Adams Avenue are, there is yet to be a club in the Adams Avenue neighborhood that books old-time music and promotes it. We know there is an audience for it. The crowds at the festivals tell us that. I don't think a week goes by that someone doesn't ask me where they can hear some of the artists we present at our local festivals and clubs. Except for the contemporary artists, I can't help them. You'd think some of the Adams Avenue coffee houses and clubs would have old-time music nights but again, it comes back to this giving back thing. Old-time music is an important part of our heritage and you damn club and coffee house owners ought to realize that, too. It isn't enough to have a two-chord singer/songwriter with a ten-person following while great San Diego traditional musicians like Curt Bouterse, the New Lost Melody Boys, Mimi Wright, Wayne Brandon, and Clarke Powell never work anywhere except at the Roots Festival and occasionally the Adams Avenue Street Fair. The clubs on Adams Avenue ought to be ashamed of themselves, too.

Well, I've spouted off at just about everyone this time around, but you all deserve it. Now, get off your butts and go down to the Adams Avenue Street Fair. If any of you think I might be right, drop by Folk Arts and I'll tell you a few things you might do to get involved. Go thou and blow now.

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss


(Source: The San Diego Troubadour, page 18, September-October 2003)
 
 
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