Audio-Video A-V 101
When I entered CCNY in 1948, I had notions of becoming a great physicist. I had also been playing the guitar for about four years and was appearing every Sunday evening on WNYC's Folksong Festival. For two years there was a silent tug of war between the sterile but fascinating physics lab and the vigorous world of folk music.The environment of City College offered many choices to many, many people. The cafeteria during free periods was one continuous hootenanny on those days. Tom Paley, Joe Jaffe and many other fine guitarists and banjoists held forth daily amid the trays, chairs, books people eating, people studying - and people singing.In warm weather it was otside around the flagpole and on Sunday afternoons down to the Passon Pit - Washington Square.Names like Guthrie, Ledbetter, White and Seeger began to jostle other names like Newton Descartes, Faraday and Einstein. Finally, in my junior year I took a deep breath and went up to the third floor of the Townsend Harris building to speak to Professor Mark Brunswick, chairman of the Music Department, about changing my course of study. I don't blame him for raising an eyebrow at the prospect of a folk guitarist wanting to major in music - it was certainly the first time anything like that had happened at City - and Professor Brunswick, who probably had had many a peaceful lunch shattered by us Convent Avenue cowboys was, no doubt, wondering what he was letting himself in for.Anyway, I passed the qualifying exam and soon became immersed in the fascinating world of music. Mozart operas, Bach chorales and Beethoven sonatas may seem to have as little to do with the five-string banjo as a e = mc2, but I am graetful for everything. Folk music remained a continuing love but I was beginning to be able to add a new dimension to my playing and singing. It had been "folk" - now it was "music".I began teaching the guitar at the Neighborhood Music School in the Bronx in 1949 - where I studied mandolin as a child and guitar as a teenager. Over ther years since then I have seen a trmendous growth in the popularity of the folk guitar as reflected in the number of guitar students, teachers and general enthusiasts.Upon graduation from CCNY in 1952, I entered NYU Graduate School (at Washington Square, appropriately enough). The Graduate Music Department of NYU is primarily devoted to musicological studies but, again. here as in CCNY, I believe I was the first "non-classical" musician to enroll. Curt Sachs, the "dean" of contemporary and ancient musicology, was the inspiration of the department. All who came into the presence of that venerable scholar felt that they were near greatness. It was under another outstanding musicologist, Gustave Reese, that I prepared my thesis: The Blues Guitar Technique as Illustrated by the Practise of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie Ledbetter and Josh White. The Preparation of this thesis was an experience for both of us I am sure - a real musicological venture: research into anchronicled field.As an outgrowth of may Master's Thesis I began collecting folk blues for publication in song-book form (there being no such collection previously available). The project took exactly three years - October 1955 to October 1958.The book is titled Folk Blues, published by the Macmillan Company, New York. It contains 110 American folk blues arranged for voice, piano and guitar. In addition, the introduction to the book, of both general and technical interest, contains musicological considerations of blues as well as bibliographical sketches of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie and Josh White.The 12 songs in this album were selected from Folk Blues. This is the first album of a series which will eventually include all the songs in the book.
Audio-Video A-V 102
= Folkways F-3529 (1962)(Liner notes: "Originallyproduced by George Ohyeand Jerry Silverman")
custom-made CD FG 3529
1. GALLOWS POLE - This is based on one of Leadbelly's songs, which itself has a long history dating back hundreds of years in England. The rythms and finger-picking styles have taken me four years to evolve. It is my favorite number, but it is so strenuous that I must perform regularly for a week before I'll attempt it.
2. HAM AND EGGS - A chain gang work song. The sliding bass note on the guitar could be a striking axe or hammer.
3. DE KALB BLUES - Again I borrow from Leadbelly. This song gets its name from a town in Texas where Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson used to play and sing.
4. OLD HANNAH - A well-known blues field-holler. This kind of worksong blues is probably the earliest forms of blues and has been sung in the Texas chain gangs for many years. "Old Hannah" is the hot sun.
5. FANNIN STREET - One of Leadbelly's most exciting instrumentals, a unique piece for displaying the 12-string in motion. I consider it a blues classic. With some rhythmic exceptions, I have maintained the
6. SAMSON - This song was taught to me by Blind Reverend Gary, who sings it to his Negro congregation
1. THIS LITTLE LIGHT - A rousing, handclapping, foot-stomping gospel
2. LITTLE GIRL - Originally titled "Black Girl", this version is a mixture of Leadbelly, Nick Thatcher and myself. The story I tell is my guess at the original story. At any rate, it is about the age-old battle between parent and child.
3. MOTHERLESS CHILDREN - The imagery contained here can be traced back directly to the older spirituals.
4. RISIN' SUN - A famous old blues. I have been singing this one for so many years, I don't even remember where I first heard it.
5. BOLL WEEVIL - This is the farmer's fight to kill the crop killer. The melody is my own and bears no resemblance to the original. I intended the "nervous" notes on the guitar to represent the boil weevil's feelers
"lookin' for a home".
6. GOIN' DOWN SLOW - I wrote this four years ago, in a rented Bowery loft across the street from the Salvation Army. I got to examining the cause of Bowery Bum's disintegration. Some of these men had been "well-to-do" citizens. I think all of us suffer to some extent the inequities of an imperfect society. A combination of circumstances might make the best of us start "goin' down slow".
In 1912 a man named Huddie Ledbetter, who was proficient on the 6-string guitar, the double-bass, the mandolin,
the accordion, the piano and the harmonica, wandered into a circus in Dallas. There he heard a man play the 12-string
guitar, and then he decided to give up his other instruments and master the difficult 12-stringer. His mastery was
complete, and in the next 37 years, until his death in New York in 1949, Leadbelly, as he was called, reigned alone as
the "King of the 12-String Guitar". He made countless appearances all over the country and hundreds of phonograph records, achieving immense popularity as a man and as a performer.
Leadbelly's identification with the beguiling sound of the 12-string guitar was so complete that he seemed almost to
discourage any others who would play it. And after Leadbelly's death there was no one to carry on, until the
emergence of Fred Gerlach, who is undoubtedly the finest 12-string guitar player today. Fred was born of immigrant
Yugoslav parents in Detroit in 1925. He fought in Germany and the Philippines as a GI, and after the war he settled in New York City's civilian life as a top-flight draftsman . . and a boogie-woogie and blues pianist, with a powerful left hand rolling out the bass runs. Caught up in the vast post-war revival of interest in American folk music, Fred heard somewhere the sound of a 12-stringer and, like Leadbelly almost four decades before him, gave up everything else to master the instrument. With a respect bordering on reverence, he is now carying on the rich, full traditon of Leadbelly, meanwhile adding new technical dimensions to the instrument.
The transition from boogie-woogie piano to 12-string guitar is a logical one. The rolling bass possible on the lower guitar strings is strikingly reminiscent of key, board instruments. In fact, the double-string octave tuning arrangement gives the 12-stringer a quality decidedly like the harpsichord. There is an apt description of the 12-string guitar in the book Folk Blues, by Jerry Silverman: "In size it is somewhat larger than the familiar 6-string guitar; its twelve strings . . six pairs tuned in octaves and unisons . . are proportionately longer and heavier, and are generally tunes lower in absolute pitch, though maintaining the same general intervallic arrangement between strings as on the "six". The reinforced vibrations by the double strings, their greater length and heaviness, and larger sounding box all give the 12-string guitar a richer, more complex, louder and more resonant quality than its 6-string cousin."
A 12-string guitar is hard to come by, Fred Gerlach wrote recently: "I went into one of the largest musical instrument stores in the country, and the manager assured me that no such instrument existed. On another occasion a maker of fine 12-string lutes (nylon strings) pictured for me a nightmare of explosive force required to hold twelve steel strings in proper tension. He envisioned bits of guitar and guitarist flying asunder. I have combed New York City pawnshops and music stores and have received a variety of comments ranging' from 'Sorry, we're out of them now. Won't a six-string guitar do? to 'Have you got rocks in your head, buddy?' In fact, it took me about a year after I had first decided to play a twelve-string before I found one. It wasn't a concentrated search, but it nevertheless indicates the general unavailability of the instrument."
In discussing the songs on this record, Fred expressed his profound indebtedness to the music of the Negro people:
" . . . Now we come upon a larger truth . . the music of the Negro people. It is my attempt to perform this music and,
of course, to alter it to conform to my own condition of expression. Not all these songs are blues, as there are other
musical influences in my life. In any case, my aim is to examine the world we live in . . to grasp reality".
AUDIO-VIDEO PRODUCTIONS is especialy proud to present this recording of FRED GERLACH and
his 12-STRING GUITAR. It marks the first time this instrument has been given the benefit of modern, studio recording techniques, producing a remarkable sound. We feel that this fact alone would suffice to make GALLOWS POLE a vitally important addition to the record library of every folklorist, musicologist and just plain folk-song enthusiast.
This recording has been made and processed in accordance with the specifications of the standard RIAA curve.
Cover design: Lawrence Photo
Folkways FA-2406 track list:
- This Land Is My Land
- A Gut Morgn
- Pastures Of Plenty
- Red Rosy Bush
- Mule Skinner Blues
- Run Come See
- The Ox-Driving Song
- Mrs. McGrath
- House Carpenter
- Na Kone Varanom
- Sinner Man
- Virgin Mary
- Liebster Meiner
- Orcha Bamidbar
- Walking In Jerusalem
- Que Bonita Bandera
- Roll Over
green = tracks on both records
rec. summer 1959 in Hollywood; The Harvesters are: Ethel and Walter Raim, Joyce and Ronnie Gluck, assisted by Jerry Silverman, g, mandolin, Roger Horn, b; prod. by Ed Michel
Audio-Video A-V 103
(=) Folkways FA-2406 (1961)