Archive for the ‘Chris Strachwitz’ Category

An Introduction and Guide to the Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings (#3)

July 13, 2014


 The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings by Agustin Gurza (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, paperback)


“Invisible behind this large-format (8” x 11.5”) paperback is the reason for its existence: the archive described in its (also large-format) title. Nobody else in the roots music and collector world was interested in Mexican- American and Mexican music when Chris Strachwitz started acquiring all the discs – and photographs, posters, catalogues and other ephemera – he could lay his hands on.

Buying up radio station and distributor stock, and the inventory of record labels that went out of business, was usually more productive than junking; records that survived in private hands had often been played to death. The Strachwitz Frontera Collection comprises – deep breath – 33,472 performances on 78s, some 50,000 on 45s, 4,000 LPs and 650 cassettes, and is, needless to say, by far the largest archive of this music in existence.

Thanks to grants from various foundations, and notably to a share in $500,000 from regional superstars Los Tigres del Norte, by late 2010 all the 78s and about half the 45s had been digitised, and entered into a database at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. This is accessible via <>, although for copyright reasons only the first 50 seconds of each recording is available to computers off-campus.

The book under review explores some of the possibilities for research enabled by this resource. First, though, there are chapters about Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, and an account of how the Frontera Collection came into existence, through Chris’s encounters with the late Guillermo Hernández, a professor of literature who turned to studying border music and corridos after seeing Les Blank’s film, ‘Chulas Fronteras’, and learning of the existence of Strachwitz’s collection. Chris himself contributes a short history of the recording industry, with particular reference to Mexican music. (more…)

Chris Strachwitz (#3)

April 13, 2013

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 7.59.19 AM

excerpt of interview with The Arhoolie Foundation founder Chris Strachwitz from

The whole thing started when the late professor Guillermo Hernandez found out that I had this enormous Mexican record collection and most of it is from material recorded really on our border in San Antonio and El Paso and during the heyday of the early recording business in the late twenties and early thirties. That’s when so much of the most interesting corridos, which are narrative ballads that are generally true stories, were recorded about every kind of subject along the border.

When he found out I had that he one day came to me in more recent times and said, “Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” And I said, “Ever since the late Moses Asch of Folkways Records, he asked the same question to me – Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” I said, “I don’t know, I just love to hear it.”

Mo Asch told me, “This is really valuable cultural stuff and it’s got to be preserved somehow.” At that time it was just developing of the whole system of digitizing things. Computers were really in. So that possibility became really very real and so I said, “I don’t want to give this collection to UCLA so it will sit in a little corner someplace and nobody will ever hear it. Why don’t we try to digitize it.”

Guillermo and I were involved in these corrido conferences; he did them almost every year. They are conferences dealing with these wonderful narrative ballads and people gave papers and all that kind of stuff. But I had always paid to get some musicians to come to it. And he called me up and said, “Chris, I want to do a corrido concert here at UCLA in California. Who do you think I can get as musicians?”

I said, “Guillermo, you’re in the same state as the most famous conjunta, that means group, Los Tigres del Norte, and they live in San Jose. They are million sellers, as big as the Rolling Stones are in the gringo world. So he had them come over and play for his corrido concert and they got along really good. I think the leader of the Tigres realized that this institution is recognizing their music as cultural material that should be preserved and studied and analyzed and so on.

All of a sudden here were professors who were spending time researching these stories and finding out why they are singing these songs that are dealing with the daily problems of people, like immigration. So they agreed and their record label Fonovisa decided to get together with the Tigres and they gave $500,000 to UCLA as a gift to, first of all, digitize all of my 78 Mexican stuff. There are roughly 17,000 78s, so that’s two sides per record so that means 34,000 songs or tunes or whatever. So their money helped us get started.

The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings (#2)

December 16, 2012


The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings contains over 140,000 individual recordings on 78, 45, LP and cassette, over 2,000 photographs, posters, catalogs and other images, and a database of record company histories, musicians’ biographies and much more. It is without contest the largest collection of its kind on the planet.

Enter Agustin Gurza, the first writer to take a shot at wrestling this monster to the ground. His introduction and guide to the Frontera Collection (pictured above), recently published by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, offers a manageable look at a seemingly endless resource. His approach is to explore the Frontera Collection from different viewpoints, discussing genre, theme, and some of the thousands of composers and performers whose work is contained in the archive. Throughout, he examines the cultural significance of the recordings and relates the stories of those who have had a vital role in their production and preservation.

An essay by Chris Strachwitz traces the history of commercial recordings of Mexican music, and another by historian and mariachero Jonathan Clark tells the story of mariachi from its earliest days to the present. Also included are playlists of favorites chosen by Strachwitz and by the man who has personally digitized over 70,000 of these recordings, musician and Arhoolie Foundation Head Digitizing Technician Antonio Cuellar.
This fantastic book can be found at The Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito, CA.   8 1/2 x 11″, Paperback, 226 pages

Chris Strachwitz (#2)

June 15, 2012

edited from Joel Selvin  (

Chris Strachwitz, 76, is a tall, hulking man with graying, sandy-brown hair and a slight accent left over from a childhood spent in Germany. Although he holds no degree, he is America’s leading folklorist. He can’t speak Spanish, but he single-handedly rescued Mexican American folk music. He brought backwoods Louisiana music out of the swamps and he made hundreds of raw, real records with such great musicians as Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins, Delta blues singer Mississippi Fred McDowell, bayou zydeco king Clifton Chenier and Houston conjunto pioneer Flaco Jimenez.

Strachwitz started Arhoolie in 1960 – a German public school teacher lugging portable recording equipment around ghetto beer joints in Houston or farms in rural Texas – anywhere he could find people playing country blues or old-time hillbilly music. He was on a hunt for real American music.

He had first gone to Texas the year before, looking for Lightnin’ Hopkins. When the teenaged Strachwitz was first plopped down in Reno, Nev., straight from the carnage of World War II, he discovered the blues on late-night radio. Black bluesmen were as estranged from society in this country as Strachwitz felt he was. The blues became an all-consuming fascination for him, and after hearing Hopkins sing in those Houston beer joints, Strachwitz was determined to return the following year with his recording gear, on his first of many tours of the South scouting for the sound of America.

“I would drive sometimes all the way through Mississippi and Alabama and wouldn’t find anything,” he said. “I remember I was in Alabama one time, I don’t remember the name of the town anymore, but I was talking to some people in the plaza or the square shelling peas or some damn thing and asked them were there any musicians around who played some blues. They said ‘Well, there’s one guy, maybe if you come back after we finish.’ And the white guy comes and says, “What are you bothering my hands for? Go away. You got no right to bother my workers.’ Then he introduced me to some guy, but he was no damn good anyway.”

Although Strachwitz thinks the record business is just about through, he is still readying a few important releases. “Hear Me Howlin’: Berkeley in the ’60s” will be a four-disc boxed set of his private recordings, previously unissued performances that span a panoply of the Berkeley folk scene; aging country blues legends to incipient folk-rockers barely out of their teens (including the original recording of the Country Joe and the Fish anti-war anthem, “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” that Strachwitz recorded in his living room). He is also pulling together his extensive ’70s recordings of Austrian folk songs with liner notes in three languages (Austrian dialect, high German and English). (more…)

“No Mouse Music”: Chris Strachwitz

May 23, 2012

edited from
No Mouse Music! The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records.  A film by Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon

No Mouse Music! is a feature-length documentary about the life and vision of Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz and his adventures searching out America’s roots music. A displaced person from Germany after WWII, Strachwitz helped to bring Cajun music out of Louisiana, norteño music out of Texas and country blues out of the country and into the living rooms of middle America. Through one man’s amazing journey, we will experience the rich panorama of American regional music.  Watch this beautiful trailer.  They’re all here: Flaco Jimenez, Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb…  Where would we have been without Chris Strachwitz’ tireless promotion of this great music?

by Jeffrey St. Clair, Author Born Under a Bad Sky:

Chris Strachwitz is a detective of sounds, an archaeologist of the deep American music, music with roots that strike straight into the country’s heartland. He is the guiding force behind the legendary Arhoolie Records, producing albums that the Rolling Stones and many others played the grooves right off of. Since 1960, Strachwitz has been recording the authentic pulses of the great American music, throbbing away in the backwoods of the nation. His label offers an unparalleled catalogue of blues, Cajun, wild Hillbilly country, Tex-Mex and New Orleans R&B. These diverse musical strands seem to have grown right out of the ground they are played on. With tape-recorder in hand, Strachwitz traveled to plantations and prisons, roadhouses and whorehouses, churches and bayou juke joints. He returned with recordings that would revolutionize the sound of popular music.

In “No Mouse Music!,” their vivid portrait of an obsessive sonic sleuth, filmmakers Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling take a hip-shaking stroll from New Orleans to Appalachia and right into very the DNA of rock’n’roll. In this beautifully shot film, we come face to face with the creators of indigenous music, from the great Clifton Chenier to fiddler Michael Doucet, from Flaco Jimenez to the Pine Leaf Boys, playing songs that are endemic to their place and circumstance, to dialect and class, to climate and landscape. Their music is now highly endangered by the merciless steamroller of pop culture, assimilation and commercialism, which makes Strachwitz’s desperate pursuit to track down every last artist all the more urgent. But these songs aren’t meant to be locked away in a Smithsonian vault to be decoded by folklorists and musical anthropologists. This film is a living cultural history with a soundtrack that bites and kicks and screams. Even 50 years later, Arhoolie’s records remain alive, unruly and still so sharp that some songs can cut you right down to the soul.

The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings

September 28, 2011

The Arhoolie Foundation’s Strachwitz Frontera Collection of commercially produced Mexican and Mexican-American recordings (the Frontera Collection) is the largest repository of Mexican and Mexican-American vernacular recordings in existence. With funding from Los Tigres del Norte Foundation the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center has sponsored the digitization of the first section of the collection by the Arhoolie Foundation. These performances were recorded primarily in the United States and Mexico and issued on 78 rpm phonograph recordings during the first half of the twentieth century. This vast digitized collection of approximately 30,000 recordings is now available to researchers and the general public.

Search collection here: