May 30, 2012

Rest in Peace, Doc...

I have mentioned Doc Watson, the legendary flat-picking guitarist, many times in this blog.  I learned that he passed away yesterday.  It is always a sad event when we lose one of our most-admired artists and this is no exception.  I will miss seeing him next year at Merlefest, the music festival founded in 1990 to remember Doc's son Merle, killed in a tractor accident a few years previously.

The first time I saw Doc play in person was at a festival in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the mid 1960s.  He was spectacular.  And he was notably humble.  Apparently at least one of the audience members was unaware of Doc's blindness.  During a question and answer session, he asked Doc if he could read music.  Doc's reply was typically down-to-earth -- "No, and I couldn't if I could!"

Doc, I among many millions of others, love you and will miss you.  Play well for The Master.

May 29, 2012

Vun-Vun Day...

Today, for the first time in a long time, I could actually sit in my hot rod roadster and go "Vun, Vun," and pretend to be driving.  It now has floorboards and we put the original bottom seat cushion in place to measure the geometry of the new seat back cushion.  Monty Love and I enjoyed the ride.

May 28, 2012

Experiences with Well-known Directors...

A recent image of the All-City Choir
On Sunday, May 1, 1954, the Schenectady Gazette ran an article with the headline, "11th Annual 'Music for Unity' Program Blends Student Practice With Perfection."  The article described the event, 
William L. Dawson

William L. Dawson was the guest conductor of the massed choirs yesterday in the 11th annual presentation, of the "Music for Unity" program of Schenectady schools  singers.  It was Dawson's fourth visit to the city and by now he needs no introduction to most of the audience or performers.

Director of music at Tuske
gee Institute, which today has a registration of 1,800 students, Dawson knows voices and singing, and how to achieve the utmost from any group.  His conducting is a revelation and each time he comes, directors and students get invaluable aid not only in technique but in inspiration.  Two spirituals, arranged by the guest, were included in the group which he led along with the magnificent "Gloria" from Mozart's "12th Mass," among others."

I had the pleasure of singing in that concert as part of the All-City Choir, a singing group started in 1929 by Kenneth G. Kelly, who was the city's Supervisor of Music at the time.  It was a fairly small group that was selected by individual audition and to be selected was considered quite an honor.  At the time I participated we were under the leadership of Rufus Wheeler, who served for many years as Schenectady's Supervisor of Music.  We rehearsed weekly after regular school hours in the old Nott Terrace High School.  And this particular concert was the first of several over the years in which I had the opportunity to sing under the direction of a well-known and widely-recognized conductor.  My recollection of William Dawson (whose arrangements are still widely used) is that he was a gracious and patient conductor.  He worked long hours preparing us for this concert, even though we were well rehearsed in the repertoire before he ever arrived to do the final preparations.  And the concert was inspiring.

The next occasion on which I sang under a renowned director came about 6 years later when I was singing in the University of Rochester's Men's Glee Club.  This was an old organization with a proud tradition, having been started in 1876.  About twenty years before I auditioned for the group, there had been an international competition among men's glee clubs.  It had been sponsored by band leader and chorus director Fred Waring, who  had a popular and successful weekly radio show.  The Rochester club bested more than 140 other groups to win the Fred Waring National Glee Club competition, and performed for President Franklin Roosevelt.  Dr. Ward Woodbury was our director, and he was a great and inspiring one.  We tackled some very difficult pieces and under his leadership, we gave some fine performances.  Elsewhere on my blog, I've described our appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Fred Waring

In 1960 or '61, we performed a concert for which Fred Waring came to Rochester to be a guest conductor.  I seem to recall that it might have been for the eighty-fifth anniversary of the glee club's founding.  Fred Waring himself had founded the "Pennsylvanians," a very successful singing group, after a successful career as a band leader.  He had a popular radio show and an award-winning TV show.  He also ran a successful music publishing house, and to add to his credentials, he was the inventor and manufacturer of the Waring blender!  We all looked forward to the opportunity of being under the direction of such a well-known musical figure.

Dr. Woodbury prepared us most thoroughly as he always did.  And then the "big man" arrived to take over the final rehearsals.  It was not a pleasant experience.  He was impatient to the point of rudeness.  And his directing style was not easy to follow.  There are conductors who communicate with their performers 
with uncanny clarity -- the beat is evident, the dynamics of the music are clear, emotion is apparent in every move.  Dr. Woodbury was that kind of director; Fred Waring was not.  I don't have fond recollections of that concert.
Howard Hanson

Within a year of that concert came another occasion, however, which still inspires me.  The Glee Club joined the Rochester Philharmonic and several other choral groups from the city to perform the Mozart Requiem at the Eastman Theater.  And the conductor was none other than Howard Hanson, the Director of the Eastman School of Music, a position he had held for nearly forty years.  He was spectacular!  His passion for the music was contagious.  He exuded confidence.  He knew the music intimately and could focus totally on grooming the assembled choirs and orchestra.  And the result was spectacular, performed before a capacity crowd.  I still feel privileged to have contributed my tiny voice to that marvelous chorus.  I received much more than I gave.

So I have had the opportunity to be led by three very different recognized musicians in three very different kinds of concerts.  I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

May 21, 2012

A Little Family History...

George and Delia's Grave Marker, Courtesy of the "Find a Grave" Website.
It is located in the Neddo Street Cemetery in Whitehall, New York.
I've written about my Great-grandfather George Neddo before.  However, I recently ran across a book that is now digitized and available on the Web that has an interesting biographical entry about him.  The book is History and Biography of Washington county and the town of Queensbury, New York, published in 1894 by the Gresham Publishing Company of New York and Chicago.  On page 47, we find:
"CAPT. GEORGE NEDDO, who has for the last eight years held the important position of marine insurance adjuster for some of the best companies in the United States and Canada, was born in Rouse's Point, New York, which he has always made his home, on April 26, 1840.  He is a son of Peter and Mary (Belele) Neddo, who were both born in the Dominion of Canada, and where they were married, coming to the United States in 1837.

Peter Neddo was forced to leave his native country on account of his being one of Papineau's soldiers, and was given his choice to leave the country or be hanged.  He located immediately after his arrival in the village of Whitehall, where he resided until his death occurred in 1856, having been born in 1802.  He was a member of the Catholic church, and by occupation was a boat-builder. His wife died in 1885, at the age of eighty-one years; she was also a member of the Catholic church.  Capt. George Neddo grew to manhood in Whitehall, receiving his education in the schools of that village, and after leaving school, at the age of sixteen, commenced work at ship-carpentering, at which he continued up to the breaking out of the war in 1861.  In that year he enlisted in Co. A, 6th Vermont infantry, as a private, and served for three years and three months, being discharged at Brattleboro, Vermont, October 20, 1864, with the rank of captain.  In 1865 he commenced work again at boat-building at Whitehall, where he has continued manufacturing canal boats ever since.

He has completed since engaging in this business himself, one hundred and sixty canal boats, which is a greater number than has been built by any other man in Whitehall.  In 1888 he accepted the position of marine insurance adjuster, operating north of Troy and in Canada, for some of the best insurance companies.  Captain Neddo has been twice married: first in 1865, to -Mary Brown, of Whitehall; her death occurred in 1866, leaving one child, a daughter, Kate, who is the wife of John Morris, formerly of England, but now a resident of Whitehall; his second marriage was in 1867, to Delia Archambault, of Canada.  By the last marriage there have been born four sons and six daughters: Mary, Oliver, Delia, Emma, Henry, Eva, Clara, Thomas L., Robert C., and Phronie, who died in 1893, in her seventh year.
In political opinion Captain Neddo is a stanch republican, served on excise board, and has been village trustee, and takes an active interest in the success of his party."

As you might note, George's gravestone shows a date of birth in 1836 whereas the article states he was born in April of 1840.  This is typical when tracking down genealogical data.  There are often disconnects.  I tried contacting the Catholic church in which he would have been baptized, but their records from the 1830's-40s were destroyed in a fire long ago.  Then, through a Civil War site dedicated to George Neddo's 6th Vermont Infantry Regiment, I discovered a distant cousin named David Lowndes living in Oakland, California.  He has done extensive research on the Neddo family, including trips to Canada for first-hand reviews of original documentation.  This same George Neddo is David Lowndes' great grand-uncle.  It turns out the George was really born in Montreal on April 28, 1836, and baptized there the next day.  He was not born in the United States.  And even more confusing -- the real family name was Forcier.  The original French Canadians were a very small group of people with an even smaller number of distinct surnames.  To avoid confusion between two families with the same last name, families chose to assume a different family name.  In this case, my Forcier ancestors assumed the name Nadeau, later anglicized to Neddo.  In the world of genealogy and Canadian legal records, it is written as Forcier dit Nadeau.

An important lesson here -- from Peter Neddo (Pierre Nadeau to his Canadian friends), my great-great grandfather.  Given the choice of being hanged or leaving the country, choose the latter.

May 19, 2012

A Great Barn Find...

The 1913 Model T Ford
Every old car nut dreams of finding that unmolested old car that has been stored away from the weather for decades.  For most younger collectors, the dream probably involves a muscle car of the '60s or '70s.  But for people like myself, one of the more desirable cars would be anything from the so-called "Brass Era," before about 1915.  These cars earned that nickname because they have brass radiator shells, lamps and trim, and they look like a million bucks when all that brass is polished!
The Proud Owner!

So I was surprised and amazed a few weeks ago when my friend Deron Shady informed me that he was going to spend part of his weekend moving a barn find that he had acquired several years ago and kept confidential -- a 1913 Model T Ford touring car.  He had not spoken of the car because he was concerned about the word spreading and the possibility that it might result in vandalism or theft.  Parts of these ancient cars are extremely hard to find and have a way of disappearing.  And the story was that this car had just about all of its original components and had been stored by a long-time collector back in the 1950s.

The following week I went out to Deron's shop to see the car.  It is like looking at a time capsule.  It was built two years before electric lights appeared on Fords.  The headlights operate on acetylene gas like old-fashioned miner's headlamps.  There is an acetylene gas generator that is mounted on the driver's running board with rubber hoses that go to each headlamp.  The other lamps are fueled with kerosene.  You look at this vehicle and everywhere you turn you're reminded that it's 99 years old!  Some craftsmen nearly 100 years ago in a noisy Detroit factory put this thing together.  And a few weeks later, some proud family acquired what was likely their first automobile.  What a wonder!

The brass end of the car --
and the simple 4-cylinder engine

Then the inevitable discussion starts among car enthusiasts -- Do you restore a car like this?  Is it better left unrestored to serve as a reference standard for restorers to examine to see how certain elements were originally constructed?  I think Deron has decided to leave the car as-is and to get it operational but leave everything as it was originally constructed.  I spoke with him yesterday and he was attempting to get the engine running with the intent of showing the car in today's Train Depot car show in Huntsville.

I plan to attend that show to see the car moving under its own power.  I was probably 10 or 11 years old the last time it ran.

Update:  On May 26th, Deron notified me that the car was running!  Here's a video of Daniel learning to drive a Model T -- how cool is that?

May 13, 2012

A Visitor from Down Under...

A restored 1927-28 Stutz Coupe with right-hand drive,
similar to the subject of this story
In 1911, the young Harry C. Stutz left his job with the American Motorcar Company and founded his own enterprise which was to become the Stutz Motor Company.  That firm produced luxury automobiles in Indianapolis, Indiana, from 1911 until 1935.  According to Wikipedia, "Stutz was known as a producer of fast cars (America's first sports car) and luxury cars for the rich and famous."   One of the cars they produced was a custom bodied 1928 coupe with right hand drive that was built for a customer in Australia.

Many years later, a car collector in Atlanta, known to be a Stutz aficionado, and owner of several early Stutz autos, happened to marry a woman from Australia.  She then purchased that very same 1928 Stutz that had crossed the ocean so many years before and gave it as a gift to her new husband.  In the process of restoring the car (which, by the time I first saw it, needed lots of restoring!), it ended up in the capable hands of Dan Shady, the talented craftsman who has recently been reconstructing my 1932 Plymouth roadster.  Dan has worked on the Stutz for many years, rebuilding the wooden body structure, correcting old repairs that were poorly performed, and fabricating new body parts where pieces were long gone.  It was a labor of love on the part of the owner and a demonstration of Dan's skill as the car was being resurrected.

Monty Love meets Fred Edwards

Not too many months ago, Dan was notified that the owner had passed away.  All work stopped on the car as the gentleman's widow decided how she wished to proceed.  She ultimately decided to sell the entire collection and the individual cars, including this 1927 coupe were brokered, auctioned, or sold through club affiliations.  A gentleman named Fred Edwards of Melbourne, Australia, became the proud new owner of the coupe.

Shipping a car like this is something of a challenge.  It was in hundreds of pieces, most of which were at Shady's.  The car had to be made ready to be placed in a closed shipping container to head for its new home.  So Mr. Edwards did what any red-blooded car collector would do -- He came to the U.S.A., proceeded to beautiful Huntsville, Alabama, and has spent the last several days inventorying and assembling the disparate parts of this latest Stutz in his collection.  (He also has an earlier Stutz "Speedway Four.")  Monty Love and I went out to the shop on Monday and met him.  He is a charming individual, very knowledgeable about cars (Stutzes in particular), and seems to have the drive and resources to complete the restoration.  By Thursday, he had made remarkable progress in getting it ready to ship.

The car being prepared for its return home

And so now, after a remarkable 85-year journey, this rare and exquisite car is returning to its home of so long ago and more importantly, to see the completion of its restoration.  I wish Mr. Edwards a safe trip home and hope he stays in touch.  I can't wait to see the finished product.

May 6, 2012

A Music Tragedy

April Limber, Bob McQuillen, and Pete Colby (with his customized autoharp),
The band known as "New England Tradition"
In the 1980's, I was looking for an Autoharp instructor.  I was self-taught and felt that I had reached a plateau that I couldn't get past without some formal instruction.  I had been unsuccessful in finding such an instructor when I heard that there was a magazine for autoharp players called The Autoharpaholic (no joke!).  I subscribed and even bought some back issues. It was through this excellent publication (a subject for another blog) that I learned of the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia.

These "workshops" are best described as a summer camp for grownups.  The Augusta Center, located on the campus of Davis & Elkins College, hosts a summer program of dozens of classes in arts, crafts, and history.  The range of classes is staggering.  And the very first year I heard of this program, they were offering a class in autoharp playing taught by one of my favorite artists, Evo Bluestein.  I signed up, took the class, and attended the Augusta Workshops in various classes for the next several years.  I believe that 2005 was the last year I went there.

In the late 1990s, during a lunch hour in one of my Augusta experiences, I was introduced to 
2002 NEA National Heritage Fellow Bob McQuillen, who was teaching a class in Irish dance piano accompaniment.  After he had left, a friend related a very sad story about him.  

It seems that Mr. McQuillen had played in a contra dance band called New England Tradition.  According to Great Meadow Music website, "
New England Tradition was formed in 1978 to continue the rural contra dance tradition of southern New Hampshire. Their repertoire reflects the diverse cultural heritage of the region: French-Canadian, Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton and English tune all make a contribution. Peter Barnes summed up their music: "In New England Tradition you have the best distillation of the fun, drive, and excitement of this region's traditional dance music that I can imagine. I promise you enjoyable listening!" This music has passed the test of time with flying colors."
The band featured Bob McQuillen playing piano, April Limber on fiddle and Pete Colby playing banjo and autoharp.  In 1988, this band had recorded an album called "Farewell to the Hollow" that is still available as a CD.

The autoharp and banjo player, Pete Colby, was a gunsmith and instrument builder.  In 1981 he was listed in 
Susan Ferrell's Directory of Contemporary American Musical Instrument Makers as having a shop at 74 River Rd., Andover, MA, where he built 5-string banjos and autoharps.  In fact, Mr. Colby had enrolled in one of the autoharp classes during a year during which I was unable to attend the Augusta Workshops.  I had heard from a friend that "There was a guy in our class that plays Irish dance tunes on the autoharp and has a custom built autoharp that's so fancy it looks like a 1955 Buick hubcap!"

My lunch friend went on to describe the loss that Bob McQuillen had suffered in 1994.  It was documented in an Old Time Herald article ten years later.  
Donna Hebert, writing about  "My Life and Times in Contradance Music" described what happened:"A gunsmith and instrument maker who had worked for Martin Guitars, Pete made his own fine banjo and the autoharp he sometimes played. Rather than bluegrass or old-time style, Pete Colby flatpicked in a style that owed something to Irish lead tenor banjo, but was his own unique style, and his sound came ripping through those fiddles and set us a fair pace to match. He’s been gone for 10 years this December—an aneurism took him—and fiddler and lifelong friend April Limber, took her own life when Pete died. This provoked a community-wide response, as we all knew and missed them both."

The Colby Tailpiece
As my lunch friend told the story to me, Pete and April were lovers with a suicide pact.  Allegedly, if either one was taken first, the other would take their own life so the two could be together again.  This is apparently incorrect as indicated in the informative comment received from Sarah Bauhan (see below).   The suicide pact story is false.  Regardless of the cause, the result of this tragic scenario was that Bob McQuillen lost two of his closest friends at the same time.  I can't even imagine the grief!

Peter Colby, who was only about 50 when he died, is remembered for a banjo tailpiece that he designed, still produced by the 
Breezy Ridge® Instruments, Ltd. company.  That "hub cap" autoharp resides in the cherished collection of Eileen Roys.  I have seen it and it is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and ingenuity.

May 4, 2012

Ogden LaFaye, Musician and Exterminator

The Catholic Church in Kiln, MS

Palmetto Bug
 When I lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, between 1972 and 1978, I spent many weekends at my brother and sister-in-law's home in Pass Christian, MS.  They used an exterminator by the name of Ogden LaFaye (pronounced lah-fye'), who lived nearby.  The gulf coast is known for the bugs it grows, including a variety of large cockroaches known locally as "palmetto bugs."  Ogden had plenty of job security.  Nonetheless, my brother Willy often joked that he was sure Ogden used roach food instead of poison to ensure his future.

One day, shortly after Ogden had left, my brother asked if I was aware that Ogden had at one time been a fairly well known jazz pianist.  In fact, he pointed out, Ogden had an article describing his music career in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.  I was impressed.  The next time I visited the public library, I looked up the article described by Willy, and sure enough, there was Ogden's name.  In fact, if you do a Google search on Ogden's name today, you will find a "Dixielandjazz" forum exchange dated April 28, 2006, in which author Pat Cooke states,

"Back in the late 40's I played a daily local (New Orleans) radio show in the "WTPS Trio".  It consisted of Ogden Lafaye on piano, Al Hirt, and myself on bass. At that time Al was at his peak.....his technique and range were dazzling.  After a few years, his health began to deteriorate.  His playing began to suffer and gradually deteriorated also.  His later recordings lost a lot of the spark and excitement that his earlier recordings had, but Al continued to perform.
     I saw his last performance about a week or so before he died.  He had to be helped onto the stage, and helped onto a stool.  How can I say this kindly?  I don't know, but I will try.  His playing was nothing like anything I had heard in his entire career.  It was pitiful.  I felt so bad for him, I nearly cried.  I was relieved when the set was over.  I had known Al for so many years, even used to go fishing with him. 
     At his funeral, a TV truck was there expecting large crowds, and extra police to direct traffic; but they had an easy job.  I had no problem parking.....traffic was not a problem.  I saw lots of musicians, show people, and his family.  A smal dixie group played softly in a corner of the room.  When the casket was moved to the chapel, some of his more popular recordings played softly on the PA system.  There were a few words by members of his family, and a eulogy by the Archbishop.  After the service, the recordings resumed....I remember "Man With A Horn" as we said our goodnights.

   Pat Cooke
   New Orleans

I have corresponded with Mr. Cooke to see if he knew what ever became of Ogden, but he advised me that he had lost touch with Ogden many years ago.  He had no idea of Ogden's status or whereabouts.  I have found no other Internet references to Ogden's musical contributions to our society, so I'd like to add one.

The city of Pass Christian had a small Catholic church, and there were a number of outlying churches (more like chapels) that were served by a "traveling" priest, not unlike the Methodist circuit-riding preachers of the 19th century.  In the case of this small circuit that included Pass Christian, Creole, Cuevas, and the Kiln, MS, Ogden LaFaye accompanied the priest, along with a small Estey pump organ, that he would set up at each location to provide the music for that Sunday's Mass.  He was the circuit-riding organist.
The Estey Portable Organ

One Sunday morning, I woke up early and decided to sneak out to an early mass.  I recall that the service in the Kiln was at 6:30 AM, so I got in the car and dashed over there from Willy and Joanie's house at Crazy Acres, arriving just in time for Mass to begin.  There were probably 15 people in the tiny church.  The traveling priest that day was evidently from Ireland, judging by his thick brogue.  Ogden selected and announced the hymns to be sung and led the small congregation in song.  Catholics are not known for great participatory hymn singing, so I'm afraid God had to use his imagination on some of the music.

Then it was time for the communion, perhaps the most profound part of the Mass.  As the congregation rose, I heard a slow and haunting melody that sounded familiar.  Ogden was playing "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," a parlor song by Stephen Foster, as if it were a communion hymn!  No one else seemed to notice.  After mass, I heard the priest comment to Ogden that it was indeed a beautiful communion hymn.

No one ever told him that Ogden's daughter was named Jeanne.