Category Archives: Extraordinary People

Amazing people I have met around the world

Dulcimer Daze: Robert Force, Al d’Ossche, Neal Hellman, David Schnaufer

In the early 70’s there was a revival of the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, although the term renewal is more appropriate as the instrument became a vehicle for modern music and new composition. A lot of the dulcimer’s popularity came from Joni Mitchel playing it on her 1971 album Blue. However, I found my dulcimer in 1968, so the revival was already well under way by the time her playing hit the airwaves.

Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d'Ossché Rick Scott's "Lotus Eater Blues," 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.
Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d’Ossché
Rick Scott’s “Lotus Eater Blues,” 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.

There were a few names that transcended borders and led the way of this renewal. Robert Force and Al d’Ossche, a dulcimer duo playing guitar style, had written the most popular dulcimer howto book and were touring as a duo. I met them numerous times, on and off stages, up and down the west coast. They were very animated performers and always brought a smile to your face. Al has passed on now, but through YouTube you can still find Robert picking away throughout the US.

Another great dulcimer player making a name for himself back then was Neal Hellman whom I shared a stage with a couple of times. I always felt him a bit deeper a player, and was always impressed by his technique. His concerts always had a warmth and intimacy to them, and he is still out there and better than ever.

schnauferAnother great was David Schnaufer, who probably had more success than anyone and living in Nashville probably helped. He played with Emylou Harris, Johnny Cash and a host of other big names, although his popularity was a bit later than those above. He was quite amazing and we met and played only twice, our styles were different but there was a lot of mutual respect between us. He passed far too early, as he had a lot more to give.

Vancouver had a few good players as well and they still are active. Rick Scott, and Shari Ulrich both with Pied Pumpkin play guitar style dulcimer, although Shari’s main instrument was violin. Holly Arntzen is still an active environmental performer also playing guitar style. Rick and I taught a dulcimer workshop together as well, and had a real motley crew of inspired and warm-hearted students.

I used to travel on my dulcimer in those days, hitchhiking across the continent and being given food and housing for a few tunes on the dulcimer. I met amazing people, jammed with hundreds of great musicians, and even fell in love a few times through the instrument. The most attention I ever received as a dulcimer player was recording Dulcimer Stomp on Aerosmith’s Grammy award winning album Pump in 1989. For some reason it didn’t make me that popular in the dulcimer world, but I got a lot of attention from rock fans!

Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott's Dulcimer Workshop
Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott’s Dulcimer Workshop

My dulcimer is still with me, built in 1970 by the great Michael Dunn, and an amazing instrument. I have played it on concert stages around the world and on numerous recordings. I have tried literally a few thousand dulcimers over the years, and the only other dulcimers I ever liked were the ones played by Schnaufer. Wish I knew who his maker was.

Though most people prefer playing folk music on the instrument, I prefer to fully explore the modes and the plethora of alternate tunings. I play lap style, and definitely lean towards western ragas, as I often go off on long rambling improvisations. My explorations on the dulcimer are what led me to world music, and beyond. I would not have an instrument collection if I had not first explored other culture’s sounds and music on the dulcimer. So if you see or hear me somewhere playing something that you have never seen before from some remote village, you can blame it on my dulcimer.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Hammond, David Amram, Huun Huur Tu, Peter Gabriel, Bim

In 1980, I started to play at the major folk festivals across Canada. Although it was a joy to be playing for such an enthusiastic and informed audience, there was an equal joy to be in the company of a large number of amazing musicians. The practice in those days was to break up the bands and put individual musicians with similar interests on workshop stages in themed performances. Thus, I got to perform with a large variety of amazing performers, some of which were my musical idols. One year I found myself onstage with the incomparable picker Mike Marshall and fiddle player Daryl Anger, and there were so many notes flying around on stage it was mind-boggling. Another year I started to play a tune and this amazing bass kicked in and I turned to see Michael Manring sitting in. Yet another year blues musician Brownie McGee came to ask for my autograph as he collected everybody’s for his nephew, I was in shock as Brownie was one of my all time heroes. It should be noted that I think I was only asked for my autograph three or four times so far in my whole career!

One of the highlights for me was a concert I did at Edmonton Folk Festival in 1985 with fellow multi-instrumentalists Ken Bloom and David Amram. We each had brought a trunk full of instruments. We didn’t discuss at all what we were going to play, we just all sat on stage, opened the trunks at the same time, reached in without looking and started to play together with whatever we had in our hands. We played one piece that lasted the whole workshop switching instruments often. There must have been at least 100 instruments in total and we played all except one.

David Amram was around a lot in those days and after a fest he did a small club date and called about 20 of the top jazz, folk and world musicians in town to play with him. There was virtually no room on stage, and only one microphone was working so David put it on a boom stand and loosened the base so it could swing back and forth. He indicated two positions, one on each side of the mic stand. We started to play and David would point to a spot, and then one of us. We would stand on the spot, solo, and then swing the mic to the other spot for the next musician to solo. We played all night like that and it was amazing.

huun-huur-tuFestival musicians became like a family as we often toured from fest to fest across the country, seeing each other in another town a week later. For a number of years I held post festival parties at my house for all the world music musicians that were in staying in town for a few days before travelling to the next festival city. I would also invite world music musicians from around town. A typical party might include Tuvan throat singers, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish and African musicians, all jamming together. Twenty years later I was onstage with Huun Huur Tu, and the leader looked at me and said, “I know you, I was at a party at your house!” These parties were part of the genesis of the Vancouver World Music scene.

JhammondAt one fest I saw blues musician John Hammond eating at a table by himself. There were a lot of people at the other tables, so the emptiness of this table stood out. I went over and asked if I could join him and we started a long conversation. Hammond had a stutter still in those days, which unfortunately added to the reason no one talked to him. Anyone who has heard Hammond in concert knows that he has hundreds of amazing stories, and he told a few that day. We developed a “festival friendship” which meant we saw each other at other fests, be it a week or a few years in between. I saw Hammond again a few years later at a concert and his national steel guitar was broken by the airline. Hammond said a man came up after the show and asked to look at the instrument. After looking at the damage he told Hammond that he could fix it for him. Hammond declined as he had a trusted repairperson at home. And the man said, ‘Are you sure, because I made this instrument?” It was one of the Dopyera Brothers who invented the resonator guitar and started the National String Instrument Company!

One year I was flying home from a festival with Roy Forbes (a.k.a. Bim) and a few other prominent artists. We got to the ticket agent and were told we would get our seating assignments at the gate. When we got to the waiting room, it was full of crew from a big rock tour featuring the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and The Tubes. As the flight was full, we were upgraded to first class, and watched as the rock tour folks walked past us to economy. A stewardess (now called a flight attendant) was standing across from us and was noticeably excited by the rockers. She was exclaiming, “Wow, so many Rolling Stones T-shirts.” Asking the Stones’ tech crew if any of them were in the band (the Stones had travelled earlier). Next she saw some guys with Peter Gabriel T-shirts, and asked one, “are you with Peter Gabriel?” The guy behind him said in a bit of a dismissive tome, ‘Ma’am, this IS peter Gabriel!” All this time Bim was getting more and more restless, and when there was a lull in the passing passengers, he looked at the stewardess, stretched out the Folk Festival T-shirt he was wearing and exclaimed loudly, “This is not a rock and roll T-shirt!” She looked at him in shock and almost screamed, ‘You’re Bim!” The stewardess gave us a bottle of Champagne, which we all had a bit of and then sent the rest back to Peter Gabriel, courtesy of the folk musicians in First class.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan

My grade 11 high school teacher, the older sister of a good friend of mine, dated jazz saxophonist John Handy, famous at that time for his Live at Monterey album, which only featured two pieces, one on each side of the record. Through her I got to know Handy and met him whenever he came to Vancouver, which was surprisingly often. In the late 70s, I went to San Francisco to visit him and stayed at his house in the Mission District for a couple of days. Amidst the constant flow of visitors to his house we managed to talk a lot about music, and even played together a bit.

KArunaOne day Handy took me to the Ali Akbar College of Music. Ali Akbar Khan was the world’s foremost sarod player who had set up this school in 1965 and taught there every week except when he went on tour. We sat in on one of his vocal classes, and spent time talking with him after the class. The class was quite intense, but thoroughly fascinating. He was teaching the small divisions of a note and the associated ornamentations that are essential to Indian music. To be able to play an Indian instrument, a student needed to know all these nuances, and singing them was the best way to learn. I learned so much just in that one class that I really wanted to enroll in this school. Unfortunately I just couldn’t afford it, as money was extremely elusive for me in those days. However, meeting Ali Akbar Khan was amazing, as many people, including myself, consider Khan the world’s greatest musician at that time.

Handy came to Vancouver a few more time after that and I always went to say hi and hear him play. I often wondered why Rainbowmore people didn’t pay attention to him, as the sound of his horn was very special I thought. Karuna Supreme, the album that Handy and Ali Akbar Khan recorded together is still one of my favourites, because of the extreme beauty of Handy’s tone mixed with the sarod. Handy and Khan also recorded another album entitled Rainbow with Dr. L. Subramaniam in 1981.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Creative Music Studio, Collin Walcott

In the mid 70s, I saved just enough money to go to the Creative Music Studio in Mt. Tremper, New York, just out side of Woodstock. This was a school formed by Karl Berger that brought amazing creative musicians together to teach what became the world’s next group of amazing creative musicians. The list of those that taught and attended are a who’s who of contemporary Jazz and new music.

The school had just moved to a massive building with dorm rooms, a giant kitchen, a huge hall, and a number of smaller rooms good for classrooms. I had just enough money for food and didn’t know where I was going to live, so Karl said I could have free housing if I cleaned the whole building daily. This was a huge job, but he also gave me a small discount on my registration fee, so I agreed.

There were only just over 20 students in attendance, and literally 10 of them were kit drummers. One of our first lessons was either with Leroy Jenkins or Roscoe Mitchell (don’t remember which as they were both around). We did a group improv and the sax players went crazy screaming well over the 10 drummers. At the end of the improv the group was asked who had heard me. I was playing my acoustic mountain dulcimer, so of course no one heard me, including myself. We were told that listening was as important as playing and you always needed to hear everyone, including the quietest instrument. A great lesson, but this made me not very popular. The other students looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I at this school when I played a diatonic folk instrument? Even the guitar instructor treated me as an outsider and had nothing to do with me. Fortunately all the other teachers took me seriously. However, halfway through the course I went to New York City and bought a pickup and a couple of used pedals and soon was doing lightening speed duets with one of the guitarists, a la John McLaughlin. Attitudes towards me changed, and even the guitar instructor apologized.

walcottKarl asked me to play in his orchestra and gave me a chromatic score to play, which was a huge challenge for a diatonic fretted instrument. I spent the whole evening figuring out a tuning to play chromatically and to learn the part to play the next day. Everyone was pushed to go beyond all our biases, habits, and paradigms. But our instructors were amazing: Jack Dejohnette, Dave Holland, Fred Rzewski, members of the Chicago Art Ensemble, Stu Martin and a host of others. I spent a lot of time with Stu Martin, and got to know Jack Dejohnette and Dave Holland at a time when they were huge stars. But they were really personable and open; they would stop to talk and took an interest in who you were and what your music was.

collin
Ravi Shankar and Collin Walcott

This was common in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This was an amazing time for music. There were a lot of folks breaking new ground musically. Artists like Oregon, Don Cherry, Glenn Velez, Nana Vasconcelos, Jon Hassell, and Steve Lacey came to town regularly, and were so approachable that many of the local musicians got to know all of them. Collin Walcott, the percussionist of Oregon, invited me to his studio in New York to look at instruments, and he barely knew me. We hung out and I got to play a bunch of his instrument including an amazing huge udu that was the size of an exercise ball and had the deepest sound I had ever heard. It had been made especially for him, but was far too big to take on tour, so I was one of the few folks that got to hear it, let alone play it. Collin was an amazing guy and it was a huge loss when he passed away on tour. Through Collin I got to know Ralph Towner also of Oregon, and we kept in touch for a few years.

As with Towner my friendships with these artists kept growing, and even though I was just beginning to perform at events they were headlining, they treated me as an equal. This was a time that artists were more concerned with moving music forward than they were about their careers. The feeling was that we were all in this together and all had something to contribute. I miss those days.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Fahey and Robbie Basho

Robbie BashoIn the mid 1970s I was a big fan of guitarist John Fahey and Robbie Basho. I had written to Basho and asked to visit him and we set a date. In those days hitchhiking down from Vancouver to Berkeley was pretty easy. He lived in a rather suburban part of Berkeley in a lovely old house full of Asian knick-knacks. We spent a day together talking about music and he sang and played for me. I can’t remember if I played for him, but probably did as I had my dulcimer with me. We had quite an intense deep conversation about music and the business of music. He was not happy that people didn’t accept his singing as much as he wanted. Yet, he was a delightful person, very warm and welcoming. The heart that is heard in his music was definitely a large part of him.

Both Fahey and Basho were leading proponents of the American guitar raga style, which later became to be known as American Primitivism. Leo Kottke and Sandy Bull were well known names of this style. Basho was perhaps the most influenced by Indian raga, whereas Fahey embraced more Old Timey and Bluegrass elements into his long rambling pieces.

Basho mentioned that Fahey was performing in a small theatre in a town close to San Francisco, so I decided to catch the show. I arrived at a funky theatre out in the middle of nowhere quite early and there was no one there, but a poster told me I was in the right place. I remember sitting in the sun eating a fresh avocado with fresh lemon on it, thinking how wonderful California was. I found a place to store my pack, but kept my dulcimer with me.

After awhile the audience started to arrive and the doors opened, I got my ticket in the front row and was pretty excited. The show was a bit delayed, and then a cartoon came on and then another and the crowd was getting a bit restless. I saw what I thought was the organizer in the wings in a panic. I went by the side of the stage and heard that Fahey had not arrived yet, that he had gone to the wrong airport and he wouldn’t arrive for another 50 minutes or so. So I went up to the organizer and asked if I could help as I had my instrument. He looked at me in surprise and said, “I don’t know who the hell you are or what the freak that instrument is, but get onstage now!”

So I opened for Fahey. I played for almost an hour and as my style on the dulcimer was not that different to what Fahey did on the guitar, the audience ate it up. I had a huge standing ovation. Coming off stage the organizer asked me what I wanted for saving his butt. I simply asked to meet Fahey. So after the show he took me up to the dressing room. Fahey was in the middle of a heated discussion with another guy, who was arguing that that Basho was playing American Indian modes. Fahey was saying that there were no such thing as proper modes in American Indian music, and asked me what I thought. Answering carefully, I told him that as far as I knew, American Indians didn’t play Greek Modes. Fahey interpreted that as confirmation of his argument, and we became instant friends. We talked for a while and he invited my down to stay at his house in Santa Monica a week later. I went down and we spent about three days mostly talking and eating.

John FaheyI kept in regular touch with Fahey and a few years later he came to Vancouver for a fundraiser, playing the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the largest theatre in town. I went to meet him first at his hotel room and then to dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. The charity had provided a stretch limo for him, so we rode in style. Arriving at the restaurant, the owners looked at my long hair and Fahey’s ragged blue jeans and put us at a table away from the other customers. We ordered and they served us in the worst of the abrupt Chinese manner. But the food was good and we didn’t care. Because of the service we didn’t tip as we left and climbed back into our limo. As we were leaving I drew everyone’s attention to the window of the restaurant where the whole staff were lined up staring at us in obvious shock, probably horrified that they didn’t treat us well enough to get a big tip.

Arriving at the theatre, Fahey asked me to join him backstage, and watch the show from the wings. He pulled out his guitars and then cut the strings off with wire clippers, put new strings on and played for about an hour to warm up the strings. We talked very little, and I sat listening to the most amazing music I had ever heard him play. It was pure improvisation and he flew across the fretboard, just doing amazing things. I was in a state of bliss and awe by the time he was ready to walk on stage.. It was a good concert, but lacked to brilliance I had just heard, as he played all the pieces on his albums almost note for note.

After the show he complained about the audience, saying that they wouldn’t let him improvise, that all they wanted to hear were his hits. He said this was old music and he wanted to show them new material, but his audiences just weren’t open to that. In some shows he had started to curse and insult his audiences for shouting out names of old pieces, as he was deeply frustrated. Over the years he struggled with his audiences, his music, his relationship and with life in general. Yet, I knew a deeply passionate, warm-hearted man who bordered on genius and just wanted to be supported to fly.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bai Konte and John Jacob Niles

In the Mid 70s, I was finishing college in Toronto, and was wondering what to do with the approaching summer when I happened on an article in a 1968 National Geographic magazine on the American singer, composer and ballad collector John Jacob Niles. I had been playing Appalachian dulcimer for a number of years and when I saw a picture of Niles playing a dulcimer made from a cello body, I was fascinated. The article mentioned that he lived in Louisville Kentucky, not a far bus ride from Toronto. So I called Louisville directory assistance (for the young folks reading this, this was an operator that would find any number for you) and got his phone number. I promptly called him, and asked if I could come visit, as I was a dulcimer player. Surprisingly he said yes. Corresponding with his wife by mail we set up the date and time a few weeks after I finished my courses.

KonteAs school finished, I went to the Mariposa Folk Festival on Centre Island, which was featuring Pete Seeger, kora player Bai Konte, dulcimer legend Jean Ritchie, eclectic multi-instrumentalist Ken Bloom (whom I later played with on other festival stages). I spent most of one day just hanging out with Bai Konte. He played an early set and then simply walked off stage to a nice spot under the trees and continued to play his kora. I followed him and sat listening to him play and tell stories till dusk. Konte was the first kora player to tour the west and he already had a huge reputation, yet he was a very approachable man that had the time for anyone that had the time to sit with him.

The next day I quickly met Jean Ritchie and told her I was going to meet John Jacob and a young woman overheard our conversation and inquired when and how I was going to do that. It turned out she was a Doctor living in Louisville and had a big house and offered me a place to stay and a ride out to John Jacob’s farm as it was quite far out of town. A couple of weeks later I took a bus to Louisville and a cab to her house. I arrived a few days early and spent most of my time sitting on her beautiful covered porch playing my dulcimer and talking to people that stopped to listen. The weather was warm, the birds and insects sang with my music, and I could see myself sitting on this porch for the rest of my life without a care in the world.

I was glad for the ride on the day we went to see John Jacob, as his house was down a long twisted road past tobacco fields and stone fences. Life was slow there; we drove past an old man sitting on a fence on the way down and he was still there many hours later as we drove back.

NilesWe arrived at John Jacob’s and he welcomed us in and showed me his instruments, which were just astounding. You can see pictures of them here. He was very polite to me, but he clearly was more interested in my companion. He then spent about two hours singing song after song to her, and telling her stories of his life. I didn’t mind to be a fly on the wall, as his voice was beautiful and it was a magical moment. Unfortunately I found it somewhat tricky to play his dulcimers, as they were only fretted for the chords he played, and I was more of a melodic player. But to see and hold them was a great experience, as each was unique.

We left feeling pretty honoured to have a private concert. We decided to press our luck and also seek out Homer Ledford, a well-known dulcimer maker in the region, and after a bit of driving around found his farm, talked to him a bit and had him play for us, and I played for him. But John Jacob’s music was still in our ears.

Arriving back at my hosts home, she told me that as a modern professional woman she rejected the “Southern Gentleman’s” methods of treating women, which John Jacob embodied earlier that day, but as he was a senior and such a great singer, she suspended her judgment and enjoyed the experience.

I kept in touch with John Jacob by mail over the years, but was never able to return. I can hear him still.

A review of a book on Niles

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Glenn – Astronaut

When I was about 8 both my mother and father were in the car business, but in different lots in Vancouver, Canada.  My mum worked mainly as a bookkeeper at an exclusive lot that specialized in the NSU Prinz and a couple of other rare cars.  The Prinz was a small German built car that had great gas mileage. They could float as well.

glennOne day an American came in to buy a car and all the salesmen were busy so my mum took care of him. He was interested in the Prinz, This was in 1959 or 60, my mother was perplexed why he wanted a small car when there were a lot of big cars on the market. She quickly found out that the man was Friendship 7 astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth (1962), so he was quite used to small spaces.

prinz
Betty Reusch driving an NSU Prinz

Glenn loved his Prinz, but he received a lot of verbal jabs from the other American muscle car driving astronauts. He became a family friend, and I remember meeting him a couple of times.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014