Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Mike Seeger: 1933-2009
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of musician and folklorist Mike Seeger. Seeger died at his home in Virginia on Friday, August 7th.
Without Mike Seeger's love of old-time music, and his great efforts to chronicle its songs and musicians, a book project such as ours might not even exist.
We had the great honor of speaking with Seeger twice in conjunction with Don't Forget This Song. It was a genuine pleasure to speak with him about the Carter Family and their musical importance.
Seeger (he insisted that I call him Mike) spoke eloquently and emotionally about the musical contributions of Sara, Maybelle and A.P. in our interviews. His comments helped David and I both to better understand the innovations the Carters brought to the country music songform.
70-plus years later, it's easy to take their music for granted--it feels as though the haunting sounds they made have always existed. But recorded country music before the arrival of the Carters was a much different entity.
Just as A.P. Carter helped define the forms of the country song, with his skillful editing of older folk and parlor songs, and his arrangements of longer ballad pieces to fit the 3.5 minute playing time of a 78 RPM recording, Sara and Maybelle brought constant musical innovations in the way they played their instruments.
Maybelle, in particular, continued to expand the possibilities of the humble guitar as an expressive, vital musical instrument as she performed on the 300+ recordings made by the original Carter Family.
From her very basic backings on the six 1927 Bristol recordings to her development of "the Carter scratch," the introduction of influences from blues, Hawaiian, Hispanic and other diverse musics, and her continual growth as a performer, Maybelle was country music's original envelope-pusher.
Talking with Mike helped bring this aspect of the Carter Family front and center. It was a great gift to have these long conversations with him.
Via his group, the New Lost City Ramblers, and via his tireless exploration of traditional music and its performers, Seeger renewed interest in old-time music, while keeping it alive and well to a modern audience.
He kept these passions alive well into the 21st century. His 2007 CD, Early Southern Guitar Sounds, is a remarkable collection of traditional tunes, played on 25 different vintage stringed instruments. If you aren't familiar with Seeger's music, this CD might prove a good starting point.
If you'd like to learn more about Mike Seeger's life and his accomplishments as a musician and folklorist, Wikipedia has a brief but solid entry on him here. Several obituaries are linked within the Wikipedia piece.
Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to speak with us about the Carter Family. You will be missed by many.