Arhoolie Records Founder Chris Strachwitz Passes Away at Age 91

Chris Strachwitz

Chris Strachwitz participates in the 56th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Jan. 26, 2014 in Los Angeles.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Chris Strachwitz, a manufacturer, musicologist and also one-man conservation culture whose Arhoolie Records launched countless tunes by local entertainers and also made up a remarkable American archive that ended up being recognized and also liked worldwide, has actually passed away. He was 91.

Strachwitz, recipient in 2016 of a Trustees Award from the Recording Academy, died Friday (May 5) from difficulties with heart disease at a nursing home in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin County, the Arhoolie Foundation stated Saturday.

Admired by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and also numerous others, Strachwitz was a not likely champ of the American vernacular — an indigenous German birthed right into benefit that dropped deeply for his followed nation’s songs and also was amongst one of the most brave area recorders to arise after Alan Lomax.

He established Arhoolie in 1960 and also over the complying with years took a trip to Mississippi, Texas and also Louisiana, to name a few states, on a goal that seldom yielded: taping obscure musicians in their house settings, be it a casino, a front veranda, a beer joint, a yard.

“My stuff isn’t produced. I just catch it as it is,” he described in the 2014 docudrama This Ain’t No Mouse Music.

The name Arhoolie, recommended by fellow musicologist Mack McCormick, is purportedly a local expression for area yelp.

Ry Cooder would certainly call him “El Fanatico,” the type of real follower for whom simply the report of an artist worth hearing would certainly influence him to hop on a bus and also trip thousands of miles — like the moment he sought bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins in Houston. Strachwitz accumulated a substantial brochure of blues, Tejano, individual, jazz, scripture and also Zydeco, with Grammy victors Flaco Jimenez and also Clifton Chenier amongst those that later on drew in broader followings. An Arhoolie 50-year wedding anniversary box established included Maria Muldaur, Taj Mahal, Savoy Family Band and also Cooder, that would certainly mention the Arhoolie launch Mississippi’s Big Joe Williams and also His Nine-String Guitar as a very early motivation.

“It just jumped out of the speaker on this little school record player,” Cooder informed NPR in 2013, including that he determined “once and for all” to come to be an artist. “I’m gonna do this, too. I’m gonna get good on guitar, and I’m gonna play it like that.”

Strachwitz detested most industrial songs — “mouse music,” he called it — yet he did have simply sufficient success to maintain Arhoolie going. In the mid-1960s, he videotaped a cd in his living area for on the house by Berkeley-based individual entertainer Joe McDonald, that subsequently given posting legal rights to Arhoolie. By 1969, McDonald was leading Country Joe McDonald and also the Fish and also one track from the Arhoolie sessions, the anti-war anthem “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” was an emphasize of the Woodstock celebration and also soundtrack.

Arhoolie launches were valued by blues followers in England, consisting of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Around the exact same time Strachwitz consulted with McDonald, he taped greater than a loads tunes by bluesman “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, consisting of McDowell’s variation of an old spiritual, You Gotta Move. The Stones sang a couple of lines from it throughout the 1970 docudrama Gimme Shelter and also videotaped a cover that showed up on their well-known 1971 cd Sticky Fingers. Strachwitz dominated the resistance of the band’s attorneys and also made certain that aristocracies were offered to McDowell, that was passing away of cancer cells.

“I was able to give Fred McDowell the biggest check he’d ever seen in his life,” Strachwitz later on stated.

In 1993, Arhoolie was enhanced once more when nation celebrity Alan Jackson had actually a struck with “Mercury Blues,” a track co-written and also very first carried out by K.C. Douglas for the tag.

Besides his honor from the Recording Academy, Strachwitz got a life time accomplishment honor from the Blues Symposium and also was sworn in as a non-performing participant of the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1995, Strachwitz developed the Arhoolie Foundation to “document, preserve, present and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music,” with consultants consisting of Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and also Linda Ronstadt. In 2016, Strachwitz marketed his bulk passion in the document tag to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, component of the nationwide gallery in Washington.

“The ripple effect of Chris Strachwitz in the world of is immeasurable in preserving this music,” Raitt, a long time close friend, informed the podcast The Kitchen Sisters Present in 2019.

The kid of well-off ranch proprietors, he was birthed Count Christian Alexander Maria Strachwitz in the German area of Silesia, currently component of Poland. His family members, displaced at the end of World War II, relocated to the United States in 1947, at some point clearing up in Santa Barbara, California. Strachwitz had actually currently been subjected to turn overseas via Armed Forces Radio and also ended up being a jazz follower after seeing the motion picture New Orleans, a 1947 music including Louis Armstrong and also Billie Holiday. He likewise really felt a solid kinship with nation and also various other kinds of “hillbilly music.”

“I felt it all had this kind of earthiness to it that I didn’t hear in any other kind of music. They sang about how lonesome you are, and how you miss your girlfriend and all this other thing,” Strachwitz informed NPR. “Those songs really spoke to me.”

By his very early 20s, he was taping regional radio and also live efficiencies and also he improved his craft while participating in the University of California at Berkeley. He offered 2 years in the Army, finished his researches at Berkeley via the GI Bill and also, beginning in the late 1950s, educated secondary school for a couple of years in Los Gatos, California.

Often brief on cash, Strachwitz marketed pressings from his collection of old 78s to sustain his very early recording initiatives. Arhoolie’s very first launch was Mance Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and also Songster, for which Strachwitz and also close friends directly set up 250 duplicates.

“So much of pop music has all this slop added, with this mush background that I can’t even call music,” he stated in a 2013 meeting with the on-line magazine “You can hardly hear the voices! They bury the voices. If somebody wants to sing, sing god damn it! You know? In the old days, you could hear them sing.”



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