August 31, 2015


Movies

Man's musical passion fuels doc

It should be embarrassing that American music is mostly viewed through the lens of its pop stars, especially given the attention paid to the Kanye Wests and the Justin Biebers of the business.

Chris Strachwitz has a term for their money-raking musical genres: Mouse Music.

Yes, that term is derogatory.

The elderly Strachwitz is the founder of Arhoolie Records, a company that, for 50 years, has sought out the obscure, unsung artists whose music reflects more authentic American experience.

One of the first artists the German emigré signed was Mance Lipscomb, a Texas bluesman who became a staple of blues and folk festivals upon being discovered by Strachwitz. Lipscomb led the producer to another bluesman, Lightnin' Hopkins, who in turn led him to "my cousin," Creole star Clifton Chenier, and so on. Each discovery led to a disc in Arhoolie Records' growing library of earthy, authentic performers who, in many cases, performed menial jobs when they weren't performing.

Asked how Strachwitz's stable of artists differs from most pop practitioners, he can only say: "Their music cooks."

Co-directors Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling have loads of music and archival footage of Strachwitz's 50-year career at the helm of Arhoolie, much of it shot by documentarian Les Blank in collaboration with Strachwitz.

It's captivating stuff, which distracts from the fact that the filmmakers don't really delve into their subject's private life. It comes as a surprise when we discover near the end of the film that Strachwitz never married and never had a family of his own. That info might have given a new perspective of the man's commitment to the music he loves, and perhaps a more expansive view of what constitutes "family."

One is nevertheless impressed with Strachwitz's commitment to the Sisyphean pursuit of recording and promoting real music in a world where the Wests and Biebers stubbornly hold sway.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2014 D5

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