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Thursday, April 5, 2012

NEWS FEATURES: Acoustic Americana Music Guide, April 5, 2012

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The latest edition of the Acoustic Americana Music Guide’s SPOTLIGHT EVENTS, April 5, 2012 edition, has all the EVENTS – concerts, club gigs, workshops for artists, and extensive write-ups of spring music festivals. It’s available (the latest edition always is) at
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www.acousticmusic.net where you can click your way in,
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OR go directly to the MOBILE-DEVICE-FRIENDLY latest edition at www.acousticamericana.blogspot.com
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THIS is the Guide’s NEWS FEATURES, limited this time to remembering three wonderful musicians we lost just a few days apart.
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. NEWS FEATURES
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. from THE ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE
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. April 5, 2012 edition
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We’ll bring you more comprehensive coverage of the news in a few days. But this can’t wait.
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THE WORLD LOSES THREE GREATS, JUST DAYS APART:
EARL SCRUGGS, ERIC LOWEN, FRANK JAVORSEK
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Part One: Earl Scruggs
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EARL SCRUGGS died March 28th at the age of 88. He was both legendary and influential, throughout his long career. He was half of FLATT & SCRUGGS and renowned as a solo artist for decades after LESTER FLATT’s death. For many Americans, their first-ever experience hearing the banjo was when Earl played it in the theme music of a TV show that remains a cultural icon.
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The enduring impact of Earl’s banjo in “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the signature theme of TV’s “The Beverley Hillbillies,” is best realized every time JOHN McEUEN plays it in concert. McEuen easily gets his audience to sing along, then abruptly tells them, “You know the words to that, but you can’t sing the National Anthem.” That always brings laughter as recognition of truth.
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Yet his trademark tune was “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” first recorded in 1949. Years later, it would be a hit when Earl played it again in the soundtrack for the film, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
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Scruggs was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004, on the same California trip when he performed to standing ovations at the annual Huck Finn Jubilee.
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As an octogenarian, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY. And he celebrated by inviting friends – banjo’s elite players, including STEVE MARTIN – to perform with him on the DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW.
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Ask any banjo player of any level and he or she will tell you of their efforts to replicate the Scruggs Style of three-finger-picking. It’s a rite of passage for banjo players. Thus, Earl’s legacy isn’t simply the rich catalogue of original music and his masterful interpretations of traditional tunes. It isn’t just countless recordings of his own, and even more recordings where he backed and accompanied others (seemingly everyone in music).
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Earl’s greatest legacy is threefold.
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There’s his influence on everyone in the culture who has ever heard a film or TV soundtrack with a banjo in the hands of someone who plays well; he set the stage for “O Brother Where Art Thou” and the proliferation and popularity of youthful, new-fangled old-timey string bands, from the groundbreaking work of BELA FLECK & THE FLECKTONES for the past 25 years, to OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW since the mid double-oughts, to MUMFORD & SONS today.
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Second, there’s Earl Scruggs’ inspiration, for more than 60 years, on anyone who picked up the banjo and sought to make it speak to an audience.
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And finally, there’s something else equally important, if more intangible. Call it overcoming the “Deliverance” factor – the joke embodied in the bumper sticker of the two guys in the canoe and the slogan, “Paddle faster, I hear banjo.” While we can laugh, nobody but the ignorant can seriously equate banjo music with ignorance. Earl made the instrument is as all-American as apple pie, as musically welcome as the guitar.
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We can all thank him for a heapin’ helpin’ of enjoyment served-up from his mastery of that five-string instrument.
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Part Two: Eric Lowen
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ERIC LOWEN died March 30th at age 60. He was half of the performing songwriting duo, LOWEN & NAVARRO, with longtime music partner DAN NAVARRO. Other music partnerships may be more famous, but none were better. Eric and Dan wrote songs that became worldwide hits for others, yet the music these two created always remained THEIR songs in the minds and ears of a legion of global fans and followers who often refer to them simply as “L&N.” (Though putting just that in your browser still gets sites about the old Louisville & Nashville Railroad, despite the duo’s achievements.)
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Many artists have sought “crossover” appeal. Eric and Dan got it, and along the way, opened the gate for newer and younger artists to stake a claim in American Folk Music. That’s more significant than it seems now. They achieved it at a time when the boundaries in folkdom had almost become fences and walls, set around a rather limited area of traditional folk music. After BOB DYLAN played electric at Newport, and rock and pop record labels fought to exterminate the several waves of the Folk Scare, folk music retreated to a Fort Apache. Musicians who were “apart, from some other kind of music” endured an era where it was almost “papers, please” to get in the door. There were even rejections of the blues and bluegrass as “other genres.” If a singer-songwriter had gained acceptance and signed a record deal in the rock / pop world, that was pretty much “it” for them as far as acceptance in folkdom.
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Fortunately, those walls are lowered if not gone gone. We may not have experienced a Joshua with his horn, but we do enjoy a rich vitality that characterizes today’s more inclusive Folk-Americana.
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There are many people we can cite as icebreakers, but the ones who put the duct tape on the door latch, so others could slip-in and establish identities and acceptance as folk musicians? That was Lowen and Navarro.
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From PAT BENATAR’s worldwide hit in 1984 with their song, “We Belong,” to their songs recorded by country stars, to their key roles in founding the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance – Folk Alliance – Eric and Dan brought their ability to delight audiences and inspire other artists with great lyrical songwriting and hooky melodies.
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Today, an indie artist can seek an acoustic showcase at a Folk Alliance conference and play a rock club en-route without fear of ostracism. That artist can even draw conference attendees to their plugged-in gig at a local nightclub during the conference. They, and all of us, have Eric and Dan to thank for opening the doors, for overcoming folkdom’s “cringe factor” when someone uses a phrase like “genre-defying.”
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We are much closer to recognizing the elite among our communities of musicians by assessing their musicianship and creative abilities, their artistry, instead of defaulting to some notion of their bona fides as knowing how to play the catalogue of folk standards. We seldom feel the need to preface groups like THE WAILIN’ JENNYS with qualifiers like “New Folk,” or to call artists “Neo Folk.” We thank Eric and Dan for that openness and the fresh air of inclusion.
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When Eric was diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease – he quickly organized a benefit for the organization that helps families and those with the disease. Still, he wasn’t yet sure how forthcoming he was ready to be about having the deadly disease himself.
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He resolved that with his own characteristic openness. Our editor will always feel honored that Dan and Eric choose to come on “Tied to the Tracks,” the editor’s radio show, for Eric to break the news to the world. That hour-and-a-half of live music performance, conversation, and Eric helping others come to terms with challenges they may be facing, remains the all-time best edition of the show.
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Eric described the disease and how it successively takes away the mobility of those stricken with it. (Think Stephen Hawking.) Even then, Eric was remarkably free of angry references.
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During that broadcast, Dan and Eric revealingly discussed their creative partnership, one that had often been difficult and sometimes contentious. They discussed life and philosophy and bared their souls as artists, and ultimately, as mutually caring and devoted friends, brothers of different mothers who had a lot to teach others about the meanings and values of true friendship between artists.
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Eric continued to tour and perform with Dan, performing as Lowen & Navarro as long as he could – until ALS robbed him first of the ability to play his vast assortment of string instruments, and then to sing.
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Before Eric lost substantial abilities, the duo organized a unique musical meeting of over 100 people afflicted with ALS, and brought them to a large soundstage. It became a “We Are the World” moment, as voice sections were established and parts were assigned.
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That ensemble of ALS patients performing Eric’s original, “Learning to Fall” was magic. The unique session yielded a powerful music video and audio recording as the enduring legacy of that day. It was more than a group of professional artist friends helping one of their own to include non-musicians, people with whom he suddenly shared an unexpected fate. The song and the big cast performance transformed that fate into light and melody and harmony and celebration of life. It’s a genuine expression of the human spirit that you can enjoy in audio form on your MP3 playlist, on an L&N CD, or watch on YouTube. Hear it, and you want the song for the way it makes you feel.
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It’s on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-FLb90lfCg
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Eric had only recently married for the second time before he began to fall over his own feet. That’s the typical first symptom of ALS. (Hence, “Learning to Fall.”) His diagnosis changed the expectation of decades of togetherness into one of treasuring every moment with his blended family. When he and his wife married, they instantly became parents of five eleven-year-olds. Eric took great pride that, before long, the kids had formed their own band. They got to open several times for Lowen & Navarro.
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I can’t write this without including personal reflections. Eric and I once discussed the role of stem cell research in finding a cure for ALS. Indeed, there had been considerable momentum before Eric’s diagnosis, and until the G.W. Bush Administration pulled the plug in 2001. Eric acknowledged that had set things back years or decades, as other countries sought to pick up where U.S. research had abruptly ended. He, like other ALS patients, saw stem cells as the ultimate way to survive the disease. Yet, in that context, Eric wasted no time or energy on recriminations or bitterness. As far as we know, he never allowed one of his remaining days to be lost to negativity.
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Two more things stick with me, both typical of Eric. When he went public on the radio show about having ALS, he said, “I always dreamed of playing Major League Baseball. Now I guess I have something in common with one of its greatest players, Lou Gehrig. Though not exactly what I had in mind.” He delivered that with the same warmth and clear-eyed smile that all his fans knew from the stage banter that always connected so well with everyone.
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The other is a late night conversation with Dan Navarro, after a concert in what would be the final series of L&N shows. The venue had closed, the lights were out, everyone had long ago gone home. It was just Dan and I, under the Streetlights, leaning against a car, talking for a couple hours about life, the universe, and everything. Dan spoke of Eric’s latest multipart conversations with him, gently preparing him for the time when he, Dan, would be continuing his music career in another context.
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Dan said, “I’ve never been a solo act. I don’t know how to do that. I mean, I know I can do it, but I just don’t want to. Eric is amazing, finding all the ways to say to me ‘It’s alright.’ There has sometimes been a lot of ego between us. It just amazes me how important it is to him that I go on with my career and that I know it’s okay, and it’s not simply okay with him, but that he wants me to get out there and carry on and enjoy myself and be happy and be successful.”
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Fortunately for all of us, Dan Navarro does, indeed, carry on, with his own wonderful new originals, various performing collaborations, and the enduring songs of Lowen & Navarro.
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So, Eric, for that, too, as well as all your songwriting, collaborating, patience in dealing with radio people, and bringing people together, we thank you. Thanks, Eric. We hope you’re where you can work your pedal board again, reach for and grab all those instruments, and pick all those strings, and sing in jubilation.
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Part Three: Frank Javorsek
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FRANK JAVORSEK died March 22nd at age 70. He was truly a musician’s musician, perhaps more so than anyone we’ve ever known. He owned or was associated, in one way or another, with the late, great, Blue Ridge Pickin’ Parlor in the San Fernando Valley for years. That gave him the pick of the region’s best musicians as teachers, and he got them. But Frank himself always remained in demand by students of all ability levels.
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In recent years, Frank had retired and worked with a loyal clientele of students on a vast variety of instruments. Among his star pupils in recent years were THE DARRINGTON FAMILY, a huge gaggle of beautiful kids who, collectively, must have won every award at the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest at least once. Banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, Frank had plenty to teach you on whichever instrument(s) you chose.
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Frank died doing exactly what he loved most. He had a massive heart attack while giving a mandolin lesson.
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We knew him as quiet and soft spoken. Yet somehow he just commanded respect and rapt attention. He was an attentive listener in conversation, as well as to music and his students’ progress. When Frank led the weekly jam sessions at the Pickin’ Parlor, he took care that things were structured to allow players of all abilities to get some time, and to do it in a way that didn’t burden or hold back the advanced players or intimidate the beginners.
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Indeed, the motto of the shop was “Teaching people to play together.” Some of those people went on to be in bands, make records, tour and play festival and concert hall stages. So that motto? You achieved it, Frank, most admirably and effectively, you achieved it, and we thank you.
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We have indeed been publishing regularly on our main sites, BUT, a computer crash – one that also took out our backup – left us without our mailing lists. We reconstructed entry codes to post to our partner sites. But we don’t have our complete direct distribution lists reconstructed. So, if you were getting the GUIDE directly in your inbox (not through another source) OR if you would like to, just let us know.
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