Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Right-On Music & Left Politics – Minstrels of the Midwest


[This is the 5th post on the music of the ‘60s by Karen Grote Ferb, my collaborator on this blog. Karen was a student at Indiana University during the period described. We welcome memories of the time from readers who were there and, as always, any necessary corrections.] 
 
The early folk scene at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington began in the late ‘50s.  It included the Phase Three and Quiet Answer coffee houses, radio shows, and hootenannies.  The campus Folk Club (IUFC) was founded in 1962, the year I entered IU as a freshman; I also remember folk sings at Hillel House on 3rd Street; one song I particularly remember is the hauntingly beautiful but sad Dona Dona, which singer/songwriter and activist Joan Baez, a major contributor to the folk music revival, had made popular on her debut album in 1960.

Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
Never knowing the reason why
But whoever treasures freedom
Like the swallow has learned to fly
 
Professor Neil Rosenberg, then a graduate student in Folklore and a long-time performer of folk and bluegrass, tells us the  IUFC sponsored folk sings, lectures, symposia, films, concerts, and instructional workshops. IUFC also sponsored well-known performers such as the New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson and Dave Van Ronk.  A documentary film, Always Been a Rambler, chronicles the contributions of some of the performers. 
 
As the legendary Bob Dylan put it, “One of the things that the New Lost City Ramblers did was uncover great old songs that you could only find in those days in piles of 78s in somebody’s barn. They breathed new life into those songs, and their records stand the test of time, just like the originals.”
 
IUFC tried to book Joan Baez, but, due to university restrictions, could not bring her to campus even though she had agreed.  Later the university tried to book her, but she refused to come. In the early ‘60s Rosenberg was one of the ‘Pigeon Hill Ramblers’* along with Ann Rosenberg, Dan Scullin, and Jeff Sharlet’s very good friends and fellow activists Bernella and David Satterfield. The Satterfields had been involved with the burgeoning folk music scene in Greenwich Village along with the likes of Dylan, Baez, Paxton, Ochs, Van Ronk, the Weavers, and the New Lost City Ramblers.**   
 
Along with traditional folk music, the ‘Pigeon Hill Ramblers’ performed music of social protest, such as card-carrying Wobbly Utah Phillips’ song No More Reds In the Union at the ‘Owl’ – a New Left/hippie hangout –  and at demonstrations as well as in the Satterfields’ living room at 102 North Dunn Street, the center of  meetings of the IU chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the scene of lively political discourse.

Each year we have a swell affair, there's no more reds in the union.
The bosses and their friends are there, there's no more reds in the union.
They give us food, they give us beer,
But one thing seems so very queer:
We eat that good but once a year, there's no more reds in the union!
††
 
Since the postwar revival of folk music had been nurtured by the left (Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, and others), it was no surprise that participants in the IUFC were likely to have a leftist point of view; some went so far as to say that folk singing in itself was an activist undertaking. 
 
This association eventually led to the decline of the club as political energy was drawn into the growing Vietnam antiwar movement.  Peter Aceves (he later changed his surname to Narváez) was one of those musician/activists drawn into SDS; he ran instructional workshops in jazz and folk under the group’s auspices.
 
Folklore grad student Aceves, a fine guitarist and songwriter, assembled a group to perform his compositions.  Members of the group included Neil Rosenberg, David Satterfield, Richard Blaustein, John Hyslop, Dave Brock, and Jim Barden.  They eventually released a now hard-to-find album, Homegas, in 1970. 


The Homegas musicians

The highly regarded album track Bulldozer Blues, written and sung by David Satterfield with Aceves on guitar, is about the house at 102 N. Dunn, which was bulldozed, 'tractored down' in the words of the song. An adjacent building on the corner of E. Kirkwood and N. Dunn had earlier housed a Black-owned business called the Black Market, which was razed soon after being firebombed the day after Christmas, '68, by Indiana Ku Klux Klansmen (KKK). The land the two buildings stood on eventually became known as People's Park and, true to its radical past, became the site of Bloomington's Occupy movement in 2011.

♫ …Well, I could hear that motor running
My mind was in a chill.
I went on down to my home place, Babe,
Down to the place I used to play.
But the house was tractored down,
Landlord said it would not pay…†††
 
In ‘65 a young singer/songwriter, Roger Salloom,* arrived in Bloomington and found his way into the musician-activist crowd.  He remembers Jeff Sharlet as vivacious, charismatic, and very politicized about the Vietnam War.  He said that when Jeff spoke, people listened because he spoke with the authority of a GI who’d been there and seen it all.  But Jeff was in the political world, while Roger was in the musical world. 
 
Roger would record with David Satterfield and front a band called ‘Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear’. ‘Mother Bear’ was a group of working-class Indiana guys.Sinclair was Robin Sinclair; she came from an operatic background and had a powerful voice that was capable of “keeningly high notes” according to one listener.
 
 Roger Salloom
 
           Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear
 
Around this time locals involved in the folk revival discovered the music festivals held in the town of Bean Blossom in Brown County, about an hour’s drive from Bloomington.  Since 1941 it had been a local center for traditional culture, folklore, music, and arts and crafts. The legendary Bill Monroe, oft dubbed the father of bluegrass, bought property there in 1951 and called it his home away from home for over 40 years. He brought the first bluegrass festival to Bean Blossom in 1967, two years after the first ever in Roanoke VA.  The Bean Blossom festival is the oldest continuously running bluegrass festival in the country.  As the pre-eminent authority on folk and world music Alan Lomax put it, bluegrass was “folk music with overdrive,” and many IU performers wholeheartedly embraced it.
 
The IU musician-activists began to reach out to other performance venues, even ranging far afield to the likes of the ‘Saturday’s Child’ coffee house in the town of Porter up in the northwest corner of the state. But the’ Owl’ coffee house, located in the dimly candlelit basement of the old Wesley Foundation building at 4th and Lincoln in Bloomington, continued to be a popular venue. Several of the musician activists broadcast their music and more on a small local radio station.

 
David Satterfield broadcasting

Tables were in a semi-circle around a raised performance platform.  The tablecloths resembled Paul Klee's later art--simple line, form, and color. To get a waitress, you held up the candle in a straw-covered Chianti bottle.  It was crammed to the rafters with students wanting to listen to the music, so much so that some resorted to sneaking in through a cellar window.
 
A focal point for music in the mid-‘60s, the 'Owl' was open Friday evenings. It was organized by students led by David Hunter, who’d been chairman of the Progressive Reform Party, IU's Student Power party. The 'Owl' at first leaned heavily toward folk music, later toward rock and roll. It served as a staging ground for aspiring local performers with occasional out-of-town acts.
 
Some of the local performers at the 'Owl'  the Satterfields, Aceves/Narváez, and Salloom were stars on campus and in the community.  The hip hippie crowd gathered there, folksong being the music of choice among the left-leaning activists who occasionally went to the mike in the front of the room to make political statements.
 
An SDS law student, Steve Schlosser, persuaded a bunch of SDSers and folkies to organize a political singing group called the ‘Subversion Singers’. Their material was mainly self-written, frequently satirical. Guy Loftman, an SDS leader and one-time president of the student body, parodied a pop song aimed at Robert Shaffer, Dean of Students, called Big Boy Bob, the Dean, after a particularly controversial campus banning of a student group and the arrest of two of its members.

Folks was standin’ in the Union
Up in the Activities Fair
When all of a sudden up pulled a Batmobile
And out stepped a Dean with grey hair,
Kiwanis rings on every finger
And a 1939 suit
He had a bottle of aspirin and a cigarette
And some tranquilizer pills to boot***

They performed a number of songs taken from the Fugs, Kill for Peace and Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side, on which Robin Hunter (no relation to David), another leading activist and go-to guru for budding leftists, sang lead and played tambourine.  The ‘Owl’ eventually put out a vinyl LP of its performances with many Roger Salloom songs.

What became of the Bloomington minstrels?

David Satterfield died more than a decade ago and Peter Narvaez more recently.
 
Neil Rosenberg is Professor Emeritus, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland.  See his profile at http://www.mun.ca/folklore/people/Rosenberg.php
 
Bernella Satterfield, now known as Nell Levin, still fiddling and singing, is an accomplished Grammy-nominated musician, journalist, and political activist working on progressive causes in Tennessee. Her band is the award-winning  Shelby Bottom String Band:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GL6WxsZ1G8o
 
Roger Salloom, “America’s best unknown songwriter,” won 6 awards, was on the 2006 Grammy ballot, and received rave reviews across the US. A documentary film, “So Glad I Made It,” has been made about his life and career.  See http://rogersalloom.com/
_______________________
 

 
***M A Wynkoop, Dissent in the Heartland (2002), 32ff
 
 
††There’s no More Reds in the Union:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QN7-8BPp6Y
 
†††Bulldozer Blues:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnDbElxh5sU
 
Links to music of Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear:
 
Links to music of Aceves/Narvaez and Homegas:
 
 
 

1 comment:

  1. It was, indeed, heady times, and I miss some of those coursing feelings running through my body….and I am sad to know that some of those glorious characters are gone…oh my

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