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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Chris Strachwitz- Of Mice and Men... and Monuments

Mance Lipscomb on stage again... in a viewing of This Ain't No Mouse Music.

Chris Strachwitz, by agreeing to be the subject of a documentary, has inadvertently introduced our favorite son Mance Lipscomb to the world at large, once again. Mayor Bert Miller and I got wind that the legendary record producer was going to be in Houston at the showing of the documentary film on is life. I’m talkin’ Rice University. It was a must go.

Chris is the adventuresome folk music enthusiast who discovered Mance Lipscomb and recorded his music and made him the famous blues celebrity that he became. As one admirer explained, Chris was able to do it all, from “womb to tomb.” And he did it for Mance first and then for hundreds of others. And he did it in blues, conjunto, zydeco and many other music languages.

In This Ain’t No Mouse Music, Chris Strachwitz is celebrated as the treasure he was and is to the music world. He came to Texas looking for Lightnin’ Hopkins, discovered Mance Lipscomb in Navasota in the process, and with the encouragement of fellow searcher Mack McCormick, made Mance his first artist to be released on Arhoolie Records. What followed was a rich, bountiful harvest of various samplings of regional folk music that became the most extensive collection of American folk music ever produced. I do not think that is an overstatement. 

Chris also witnessed Texas farm labor traditions first hand before the Civil Rights Movement, and actually visited with the legendary Tom Moore, subject of many blues recordings... Here is a short anecdote about Mance and the somewhat subversive song he was often asked to sing, the Tom Moore Blues...

What Chris Strachwitz has done, and has been very beautifully captured in the documentary, is to search, find and preserve the very heart and soul of America.

Bert Miller meets Chris Strachwitz.

That might not be an overstatement either, or at least it comes from my heart and soul. Bert and I were glowing like two fireflies as we went home afterwards. I had given Chris a copy of the Navasota Examiner. The one which pictured my new mural featuring Mance on the front page. I told him Hell had frozen over.  He seemed to be smiling with true joy. Bert had shaken his hand and spoke to him officially as a representative from our humble town, which will always be in debt to him for what he did.

A veritable WWII refugee from Poland, young and totally objective Chris Strachwitz came from California and captured our most precious music, so that someday, when he was old, we would finally be listening. It was a great feeling to hand him evidence, second generation fruit which he had not planted, that his work has left a permanent ripple in our Brazos Valley culture. The wall on Blues Alley certainly proved that we value Mance more than ever, and that Chris Strachwitz got through to the most deaf of ear. That must feel good to know that.

At the end of the documentary, Chris walks along in a glorious musical parade celebrating his career. Unlike Mance and so many of his musicians, he has lived to be appreciated and even be venerated and to taste the sweet nectar of validation. It felt good to be a part of that. We cannot undo the past.  But we can sure enjoy getting it right every once in a while.

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