Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some Musicians I Have Known

Harry and Cindy Liedstrand at Clifftop 2007
None of my musician friends fit into "household word" category. I have know greater musicians than will ever grace your local FM radio station. Here's one of them.

His name is Harry Liedstrand, leader and founder of Mount Wow and  H. D. Dwarf and Company. Harry has a Black Belt in all things.His real Black Belt is in some sort of "way out" martial art. I really don't know the name of it but as I understand it, is sorta' like a sheep dog putting the "eye" on a sheep...  it stops it in it's tracks...respecting the Harry Eye Ball. I'll find out more.

His other significant Black Belt is in Elementary School Teaching, from which he retired, more or less intact, surviving the jungles of the California school system. My favorite of Harry's Black Belts is in fiddle playing. He seems most happy with it, too. I think he's working on a Post Belt on this one.

His is not music to induce one to whip out the credit card to purchase. Harry's music falls in the "music of the spheres". Brother Dave Gardner coined this term in his Southern version of  Little David and the Giant. Little David's harp playing didn't kill no giant, but it did soothe King Saul's ill temper to live long enough to have a shot at that 'ole giant.

That's what Harry's fiddle playing does...soothes...it'll make you dance, laugh, reflect, sing, or generally act a fool... if you're given to such. He's somewhat of a Pied Piper with a fiddle instead of a flute. It doesn't make any difference who you are, Harry has the ability to "getcha". Can't tell you how many times I've watched an audiences' jaws drop as they get taken to a place of Harry's choosing. He uses the fiddle as a magic wand, I think. You forget your daily hassle for a minute, nestle down into a good tune or two, and wake up refreshed. Sweet!
I first met him while living in California near Fresno. A friend of a friend came to see us with Harry in tow. I played guitar and mandolin, Harry played the fiddle, and it was the beginning of one of my most bestest musical journeys. I met and played with Kenny Hall, the Bluestiens's, and all manner of other people I can't remember. I got to play a square dance the famous Inn at Yosemite and played a few Grange Hall square dances. I went to places in California I would have never known about with Harry and the music.

Harry asked me if I would play guitar with him in his Master's Recital. I really didn't know what I was getting into. I said yes. Master's Recital are usually drab affairs, few friends and family, couple of stern professorial types, and maybe an accompanist or two.  Harry's Master's Recital had an audience of 350 people. The concert included a square dance caller, his major professor as a performer, Kenny Hall and a host of other performers as accompanist. It was the highlight of the summer recital  season in Fresno, I can assure you.

 Harry fiddled his way through a brilliant Irish program followed by an intermission, and then embarked on my favorite, an American fiddle music symposium. Harry held court, and  knocked every ody's little cotton  socks down around they ankles. We finally have talked him into producing a CD of the concert. I don't know that it's available for mass consumption, but it's a good 'un. It sure put another light on Master's Recitals, in my mind.

I don't know, or can't remember much about Harry's upbringing. His Father, now 97, was a music teacher, and violinist. Harry was encouraged to follow suit. No baseball, and/or other forms of kiddie extracurricular activities. He took to  practicing fiddle for an hour or two every afternoon. It paid off, as he played with the California Youth Orchestra, and other "fancy folks" music group.

Some how Harry  met Kenny Hall, a blind fiddler and mandolin player extra ordinarier in Fresno. Out with the old, in with the new! Harry was captivated with old time and Irish music. He forsook his classical training to some extent and began the journey toward more traditional fiddling. Harry says the hardest part of the transition to old time fiddle tunes was getting rid of the vibrato, something that had taken him years to learn on the violin as a classically trained player.

He eventually met  Gene Bluestien, and Virgil Byxbe, two movers in the establishment of a music camp called Sweet's Mill. It became the seditious hotbed for old time music in California. The camp was dedicated to the advancement of traditional music.

Sweet Mill String Band. L to R Cary Lung, Kenny Hall, Harry Liedstrand Jim Ringer, Ron Tinkler  Photo Pam Phillips

Harry with his  horn calling the troops to order by the 1947 Chevy school bus used by the Portable Folk Festival
Next came Portable Folk Festival.  My favorite stage prop was the 1947 Chevy school bus, that traveled them around. Ain't it cool? I think they got as far as the Mississippi River at one point, playing in schools, camps, picnics, concert halls, hog callins', and a couple of goat ropins', as I understand it.

 Harry payed his dues to old time music community, documenting lots of Kenny Hall's fiddle tunes and spending time with the likes of legendary West Virginia fiddler, Burl Hammonds. He has played at the National Folk Festival, taken 3rd place at Galax in 1973, a real feat considering most of the fiddlers are more Bluegrass oriented. His latest accomplishment was a third place at Clifftop in 2010 in the senior division. He said standing on stage with 83 year old Lester McCumbers, who won,  was worth more than the  award.

Harry pursues perfection. Them Black Belts are just window dressing. It's the chase. He has gone far and seen much, never sitting with the sitters and knitting with the knitters!

Harry and Cindy have two children, Terell and Farrin, also fine musicians. The whole family stopped  by here on the way to Florida one year. They were traveling with Harry's dad. Tired from a long flight from California they gave Janice and me a wonderful concert. Just hearing three generation play on a quiet summer night with the night sounds in the background was a real treat.

Yep, Harry Liedstrand is one of my musical greats...I still get to play with he and Cindy on occasion... not nearly enough, but I'll take it, whenever. I love to jump into a tune that I don't know, and have Harry give the old "nod or wag" as I try to figure where the chord changes are. He won't let me get away with anything, ole Harry don't...I welcome playing with him just to exploit his magnificent fiddling with my mediocre guitar playing!

Thanks, H.D and Company for the tunes!

The Liedstrand Family Band

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