October 9, 2017

High School Folk Fest: Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, and Hedy West... ....Philadelphia 1964-1967

Poster courtesy of Carl Apter (225)
"Good Evening everybody...with y'all, glad to be with you. Hope I can entertain you nicely... hope I can."

When I found out that Mississippi John Hurt played a concert in 1966 in the auditorium of the school I teach at, I knew there had to be a story.... Others played too: Doc Watson, Hedy West, The Country Gentlemen, The Capitols, and a number of other local and student bands.

So far I've located the phenomenal Hurt and Watson sets, and an odd short interview with Doc, tracked down thanks to an over the air tape of Gene Shay's WXPN folk show where he thanks David Kleiner (Central Class 225) for the recordings.

Mississippi John Hurt - 1966 - Central Auditorium

Set 1
Nearer My God To Thee
Baby What's Wrong With You
Coffee Blues
It Ain't Nobody's Business
Candy Man
Monday Morning Blues

Set 2
Salty Dog
I'm Satisfied
Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor
Spanish Fandango
My Creole Belle
You Are My Sunshine

Doc Watson - 1965 - Central Auditorium

Honey Baby Blues
The Little Stream of Whiskey
We Shall All Be Reunited
The Fisher's Horn Pipe / The FFV
Windy and Warm
The Wild Goose Chase
Blackberry Blossom
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
Life Gets Tedious, Don't It
Deep River Blues
Otto Wood The Bandit
Hiram Hubbard
I Like The Old Time Worship Of The Lord
Ramblin' Hobo
Streamline Cannonball
Oh By Jingo
Tom Dooley
Fiddle Tune Medley - The Fiddler's Dram/Whistling Rufus/Ragtime Annie
Doc demos songs from his earlier band career / Brown's Ferry Blues
Blue Smoke

Interview by Barry Berg

Gene Shay (former WXPN Folk Show host) identified Barry Berg as the recording engineer for both the Hurt and Watson concerts. Berg was a Temple student who had a folk show called Broadsides on WRTI and was one of Shay's "Folklore Flunkies" when he did his show on WHAT. "While Broadsides was technically a folk show, it was sometimes a thinly-veiled attempt to play rock music on the college station where the administration had banned rock and roll." -Broadcast Pioneers

Meanwhile, both Central (all boys at the time) and the nearby Philadelphia High School for Girls had their own Folk Song Societies. "Clubs were the only way to interact with girls from Girls’ High. So I belonged to Drama Club, Folk Music Club, Political Affairs club."  -Jake "George" Fratkin (Class 225), Central Folk Song Society member
CHS Jug Band

The Central and Girl's High Folk Song Societies organized a remarkable series of folk festivals, listed below along with The Centralizer student newspaper articles from the Central High School Archives.

April 11, 1964 - Girls HS Auditorium
Hedy West
Tossi and Lee Aaron (Lee was co-director of the Phila Folk Music Workshop)
Benjamin Aranoff
Quandary Quintet - with Michael Bacon (224) and sister Hilda Bacon
(Recording not yet found)

   ...This concert will be the ""biggest thing in S[tudent] A[ssociation] history," as it will cost approximately six hundred dollars. This is the first SA function with professional performers and the first time an SA function of this type has been held on a Saturday night. The Folk Festival will cost SA members $1.00 and non-members $1.50, a quarter going to the student associations of these schools to promote sales.
   The performers will include Hedy West, nationally known artist from New York City, author of best selling song "Five Hundred Miles"; Tossi Aaron, accompanied on the mandolin by her husband, Lee, the co-director of the Philadelphia Folk Music Workshop; Benjamin Aranoff, one of the best banjo players in the country and runner up in the Philadelphia Folk Festival Banjo Contest; the Quandary Quintet, upcoming jug band that will soon appear at "The Second Fret."

-The Centralizer (student newspaper), March 1964

June 2, 1964 - Central Auditorium
Stupidity Singers (CHS students)
Ukranian Folksingers (GHS students)
(The recording by WRCV has not yet been found. Phil Covelli (222) was president of the club and produced and directed the show.)

   On June 2, the combined Folk Clubs of Central and Girls High presented a folk concert in the Central auditorium. The concert was taped by WRCV AM radio and rebroadcasted at 10:00 P.M. on June 6.
   Two new folksinging groups made their debut on the Central stage. One was a group of Ukranian folk singers.... The other, a threat to the 'Chad Mitchell Trio' and 'Peter, Paul, and Mary', was the 'Stupidity Singers.'
   The concert was attended by more than 400 students from both schools.

-The Centralizer, June 1964

May 1, 1965 - Central Auditorium
Doc Watson
Uncalled IV Jug Band

   Doc Watson and the Uncalled IV Jug Band appeared at the Second Annual Central High Folk Festival in the SA's most successful event.
   510 people attended from many schools, resulting in a $100 profit. All profits from the refreshment stand have been donated to the Mississippi Book Collection [a SNCC and SCLC program to increase literacy and voter participation among Black voters in the Jim Crow South].
   When Doc Watson appeared, no one failed to respond to him. Not only was his guitar and banjo playing extraordinary, but his warmth and personality compelled appreciation from all at the concert. Playing a variety of folk music from blues to country banjo, Watson always told a little story before each song. Watson played his instruments with such tremendous dexterity that even the anti-folk music audience appreciated him. He could flat pick a song, playing only one string at a time, and reproduce an effect created by fingerpicking, or playing three strings simultaneously.
   The high point of the concert was the union of Doc Watson and Roger Sprung, who played the banjo in the Jug Band. Sprung, in his own right one of the best progressive banjo players in the country, presented his stunning syncopated version of "Greensleeves", backed by Watson on the guitar.
   To Doc Watson, folksinging is a way of life. Watson picked up the banjo when he was six and the guitar at fourteen. He played traditional music all his life, but didn't start recording until he was forty, in 1960, when folk music revived in popularity. Doc, a most mild mannered person, is angered at only one subject - Bob Dylan. "I like his songs; they're basically good. I just don't like the way he sounds."
   Appearing with Doc Watson at the festival was the Uncalled IV Jug Band, a group of four of the most gross musicians ever to play. However, despite their appearances, which supplemented their wild music, the Jug Band created the most excitement at the concert.

-The Centralizer, May 1965
(photo not from the CHS concert) 

May 21, 1966 - Central Auditorium
Mississippi John Hurt
Jerry Ricks
John Pilla
Dan Starobin

   Central High's Third Annual Folk Festival, featuring Mississippi John Hurt, was held Saturday evening, May 21, at 8:30 P.M. in the CHS Auditorium.
   Mississippi John Hurt, 75 year-old singer and guitarist, isolated from blues singers for many years, has developed a style all his own. His repertoire includes traditional, traditional-religious, and original compositions. Although Mr. Hurt first recorded in 1928, his 1963 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival marked the end of his long absence from performing.
   Others in the program included Jerry Ricks and John Pilla, guitarists. Of special interest was Dan Starobin, also a guitarist, who was graduated from Central in the 224th Class.
-The Centralizer, May 1966

April 29, 1967 - Girls' High Auditorium
The Country Gentlemen (from DC)
Igra Dance Group (directed by Bill Vanaver)
Dan Starobin

   This year's Folk Concert is a joint venture with Girls' High. The S.A. is sponsoring Central's share of the performance in cooperation with the Folk Song Society, headed by Steve Landau and Mark Schultz (both 226).
   Topping the program are the Country Gentlemen, a group specializing in its own style, a blend of country, jazz, and folk music. The Gentlemen, from Washington, D.C. have appeared at Carnegie Hall... and have recorded on the Mercury and Folkways labels. Unlike many other groups of their type, they gear their program, filled with humor, to urban audiences.
   Also at the concert will be the Igra dance group, under the direction of Bill Vanaver. The dancers, new on the scene, perform folk dances including those of the Balkans, Poland, and the Ukraine.
   Dan Starobin (224), folk singer, humorist, and Central graduate, will be on hand as he was at last year's concert.
   Ticket's can be obtained in the lunchroom opposite the change booth. Tickets are $1.50 with a twenty-five sent S.A. card reduction.

-The Centralizer, April 1967

Other Concerts at Central - Dates unknown
Jim Kweskin Jug Band
Geoff and Maria Muldaur

The Capitols

Much thanks to my Central colleague Elliott Drago for starting this ball rolling by telling me about the John Hurt concert; the alumni members of the Central Folk Song Society for sharing their memories and information and for making these concerts happen: Carl Apter (225), Jake "George" Fratkin (225), Elliott Fratkin (225), David Starobin; Rudy Cvetkovic (239) and David Kahn (220) of the Associated Alumni of Central High School for putting me in touch with members and granting access to the Central Archives and back issues of The Centralizer; Barry Berg, for making the recordings, the late Ed Sciaky for digitizing them, and David Kleiner (225) for sharing the recordings with me, and us all.

Find more at the Mississippi John Hurt Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted primarily to preserving the musical legacy and history of Mississippi John Hurt, while providing musical and educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth.

Jake "George" Fratkin from the 225 Yearbook



Carl Apter (225), President of the Folksong Society sent in the program from the show:

1 comment:

  1. Interesting asides:

    Lee Capallero, aka Lee Ving of the LA punk band Fear, got his start as the first singer and harp player in Sweet Stavin' Chain along with Danny Starobin.

    And Rustle Noonetwisting contributes "This article in the local paper on John Oates (he of Hall and Oates) mentioned that he had "met Mississipi John Hurt in Philadelphia in the 60's" On closer inspection, I found this happened through his teacher Jerry Ricks, who gave inherited Hurt's guitar and passed it on to Oates after he died. Maybe Oates was at the Central High concert? I couldn't find any evidence of that, but I just did a brief search. Question for the alumni!"