This album is dedicated to my two traditional music fathers and gurus, now both departed, Stu Jamieson and Sam Hinton. Even more than my first two efforts, it is a tribute to the folk process and my small part in it. In the world of traditional music it is not just a poetic truth that “no man is an island.” The creation, shaping, and ultimate acceptance of any tune is the responsibility of families, villages, and nations of listeners and performers. This is a collection of favorite songs transmitted and inspired by some of the wonderful people I have met over the past half century. Many of them were learned in oral fashion from these great singers and players while others were created “under the influence.” In all cases I owe a great debt to them and hope my efforts help keep both their memories and the traditions of these songs alive.
My Second CD: Curt Bouterse & Bob Webb
The deciding factor, however, was not the fact that George was famous, nor that it was tremendously flattering to be asked to be recorded, but that I learned of George and Adam’s first (then current) project. The reason my recording had to be delayed for a year or more is that they were busy recording everything that Sam Hinton knew. For those of you who have never heard of him, I can only urge you to remedy that lacuna. For those of you who know and love his music, from “Old Man Atom,” to “Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts,” to his amazing harmonica playing and his years of school assemblies and folk festival appearances, you know how I felt to be associated with him. He has been a great influence on my musical life, traditional and otherwise, for over forty years. Eagle’s Whistle Music’s first issue was of Sam’s harmonica music, their second is mine. I am honored.
Eventually, Adam and George and I spent wonderful, long hours in the recording studio of Dan de la Isla (another sympathetic, kindred spirit) and even managed to get some tracks laid down. I am greatly indebted to George’s continuing compassionate, supportive attitude as well as Adam’s insightful encouragement. Without the loving, creative synergy of all parties, these CDs would never have happened.
My first CD
I come from a long line of country preachers on both sides of my family. My mother’s people are Hargis’ and Lee’s from East Tennessee. My paternal grandfather came to America from Zeeland, and the Dutch know that Zeelanders are Really Country. Grandpa Bouterse was in the Salvation Army for many years, then a Methodist minister, founding several churches in South Florida. Becoming a Baptist minister, he started several more churches in the same area. My grandmother, a Rijskamp from Groningen, was a Salvation Army lassie on skid row in Chicago at the age of 16.
My father’s first pastorate was Carlisle, Kentucky, in the edge of the Bluegrass, and there I was born. Music was always a part of our family; Mom and Dad both had beautiful voices and played instruments. I probably would have remained a country boy, perhaps following my father’s footsteps into the family business, but the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Pearl Harbor when I was seven months old and Everyone’s world was changed.
My father joined the Navy as a Chaplain and our family began to move. While my father was in the South Pacific during WWII, my mother went to be with family in East Tennessee when my sister, Lee, was born. Then we moved to Central Florida where my parents were originally from. When my father returned from the war, the Navy began shipping us all around the world: California, Florida, Italy, Tennessee, California again. I attended three different schools in 3rd grade: I learned to expect change if not embrace it.
In the early 1950’s, while we lived in Naples, Italy, I heard music on the radio from all over Europe and around the Mediterranean, and I was entranced. On returning to the States I went to junior high school in Clarksville, Tennessee, where I discovered rock and roll and, more importantly, old-time music. Between the farm reports, one of the local radio stations played country fiddlers and bluegrass bands. I listened every day.
After we ended up in California again, my father brought me a yang qin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer, from Hong Kong when I was 16. Though I had always considered myself a singer, I had trifled with instruments before but this was of a completely different order: to begin with there were 96 strings to tune. I can’t remember if I had actually ever heard one before but I knew they could play the kind of tunes that banjers and fiddles played and I began the long process of trying to figure out how to do it.
In just a few years, after I graduated from high school, the general public “discovered” folk music, the good and the bad. Hearing this oft-familiar music reinforced my love of American music and sharpened my perception of tradition and change. I think my mother was slightly amused by the sudden atention that was paid to the kind of music she had grown up with.
I met Sam Hinton and Stu Jamieson, who both lived locally, about 1962. Sam became my general Folk Guru, introducing me to Sacred Harp music and encouraging my playing. Stu opened up the world of the fretless banjo around the time I first began becoming interested in banjo. Thus, I started off fretless and never worried again. The next year I built my first fretless (a box banjer that fit into an old wooden fiddle case), along with an Appalachian dulcimer (taken from pictures, before I had ever seen one in person). Our family never had many material things, and what we had was divided among five children, so everyone was a do-it-yourselfer, and making musical instruments has been a joy for me ever since. I’ve made numerous medieval instruments to complement my studies of early music. And, recently, I’ve begun creating gourd fretless banjos, some of which are featured on this recording.
[I suppose I should say something about my banjer playing style. I don’t frail. I know how to do it, in theory. I even taught my brother, Mark, how to do it, but my hand just doesn’t want to go like that. Somehow, at the very beginning of my interest in banjers, I learned a two-finger (or, strictly, one finger and thumb) picking style. I remember hearing it called “up-picking,” and that it was a North Carolina style, but I have no idea from whom I learned it. I have recently asked all my friends who were around at the time and no one remembers anyone else playing like that. I am fairly certain I didn’t get it out of a book but, other than that, I’m stumped. I know it didn’t take me long to get the hang of it: my fingers really liked the motion and I’ve been picking ever since. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the rhythm is the same as in frailing: bum-diddy, boom-chicka, dum-takka. The index finger picks up, then strums up, and immediately the thumb picks downward. The complementary, melodic, figure is takka takka: the finger picks up followed by the thumb plucking down, alternating. The style which, in my case at least, doesn’t seem to want to go very fast, has determined much of my banjer style and even choice of tunes.]
I have also made a number of songs and tunes in traditional style, some of which have become popular in folk music and dance circles: the two most frequently played are “Waiting for Nancy” and “Nixon’s Farewell.” I have played on the soundtracks of several motion pictures, the most famous being “The Long Riders,” with music by Ry Cooder, as well as on David Lindley’s album, “El Rayo X.”
I have degrees in anthropology(archeology), history, art history, musicology, and ethnomusicology. My ethnomusicological work has included extensive studies of Balinese gamelans, African music and drumming, and Southwest American Indian singing, in addition to medieval Spanish music, the American shape-note tradition, and the effects of oral and literate societies on traditional musics.
I believe that intellectual curiosity is a virtue, not a cause for suspicion, repression, or accusation of heresy. I believe creating brings us closer to our fellows and to God, that knowledge is power, the truth will set us free, and love is the thing, without which, as Bernard de Ventadorn said almost 900 years ago, life is not worth living. I still haven’t given up on finding love or a job. One of my favorite quotations is from the Japanese writer Zeami, “Never lose the heart of the Beginner, not even occasionally, not even in old age.”
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