Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RIP Mike Seeger (1933 - 2009)

Mike Seeger passed away on Sunday.

There are many people out there who can remember him (and memorialize him) much better than I can. But I'll share a few thoughts.

Early on in my radio career, I conducted a phone interview with Mike and his New Lost City Rambler bandmate Tracy Schwarz. (I am pretty sure that it was on Tracy's 60th birthday, which would mean that it was November 13, 1998, but that was a Friday and not a Sunday, so unless I was prerecording it, that doesn't make sense. Maybe it was just the date of his 60th birthday party.) Although I had prepared my questions for Mike -- I was eager to talk about his CD Southern Banjo Sounds, which had just come out -- Mike suggested rather strongly that I should ask Terry about his recordings, and so I tried to reorient myself to doing that.

My memories of seeing the New Lost City Ramblers similarly involve Mike as a team player. I can barely picture him -- I more or less just picture them: the whole band together, leaning in toward the microphone.

That CD, Southern Banjo Sounds, was an old-time music geek's CD: different songs from across the history of the banjo played using different picking styles on different banjos with extensive liner notes (including photographs of the instruments) to document it all. That's the kind of thing that we love on WKCR.

Fans of old-time and folk music are heavily indebted to Mike Seeger for all of the work that he did collecting songs, writing informative liner notes and articles and recording older generations of musicians. His field recordings gave the world American Banjo: Three Finger and Scruggs Style and Mountain Music Bluegrass Style, two Folkways albums that helped to spread the gospel of bluegrass to the folk revival community.

Smithsonian Folkways has posted some material here, including the following video:

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