August 14th, 2009

self-portrait

Mike Seeger, Rest in Peace

In researching the Carter Family for our graphic novel, Frank and I were not able to interview any of the characters we are chronicling, because the book is set 70+ years ago.  But we were able to interview some of the people who had interviewed the Carters.  (When I say "we", I mean Frank, who did all the interviewing).  Frank was able to speak with Mike Seeger, a monumental figure in American folk music who insisted on being called "Mike".  Even with all the research I've done on the Carters, that interview as an eye-opener for me, because nothing I'd read about the Carters had the kind of understanding of their music and appreciation for their artistry that Mike Seeger had.

Frank sadly informed me on Wednesday that  Mike Seeger had passed away  on August 7.  Frank also wrote a remembrance on our blog.  We were stunned.  We didn't know he'd been ill.  We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to talk with him.

As Frank indicated, a book like ours would not be possible without the work of Seeger others like him.  He interviewed Sara and Maybelle Carter, played on stage with Maybelle during the folk revival of the 1960's, and interviewed and recorded Leslie Riddle (a song-hunting and songwriting colleague of the Carter Family).  And this was just the tip of the iceberg of a career devoted to recording, preserving, studying and performing American traditional music. 

Frank recommends his "Early Southern Guitar Sounds" CD (which is wonderful), and I'd like to recommend one of his instructional DVDs, "Guitar Styles of the Carter Family", made in collaboration with Janette Carter.  I'm not a musician myself, but was impressed with how deeply he studied the playing styles of all three members of the Carter Family (not just Maybelle). 

One thing I learned in Frank's interview with Mike was that Maybelle tuned the Carters' instruments to sound just right with Sara's haunting voice.  He credited Maybelle with a cleverness one doesn't often read about in her bios.  He mused on what an amazing thing it was that three musical geniuses would meet and work together so well at just the right time (as electronic recording debuted) to make the music they made, thereby influencing all the country music that would follow.  I'd never heard anyone put it so well.

We extend our deepest sympathy to Mike's wife and family.