Peter Stampfel: I revered Pete Seeger. I liked Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe, who I fetched coffee for in Indiana where he was working. He yelled for a cup of coffee and I ran out, burning and scalding my hand- what a thrill! Super Fan Boy. I still am. I think I enjoy being a fan boy. Fan boys can be completely awful but there’s something about the fan-ish attitude which I enjoy having and which I think is basically good, despite how crazy fans can get.
Then I heard the Lost City Ramblers and I was very much impressed by the fact that there was stuff before bluegrass that was really interesting. When I got to New York in ’59, I heard the Smith anthology. That was the first time that anyone got the 78 RPM records in LP form. Harry Smith was an alcoholic genius, multi-talented sort of a renaissance person who amassed a collection.
He was in Seattle in 1943 and he was walking down the street and he heard an Uncle Dave Macon record. “What’s this, I never heard… what is this?” He followed the music and found this guy using this wind-up victrola and he was playing these records which he was melting down for shellac. The shellac supply was cut off by the Japanese during the war and he was playing the records and melting them down.
So Smith started listening to this stuff and collecting the records. In ’52 or ’53, the same year rock’n’roll got started coincidentally, he talked Folkways records into releasing a six album set. 84 different cuts where I and hundreds of other people first heard country blues, shape note singing, the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Poole, etc..
The records were from 1927 when electronic record recording was developed which made for a quantum leap in fidelty and sound. The records went up until 1933, when the record industry went into total collapse because of the depression. So these records comprised all these genres from this time period.
It devastated me, it totally wiped me out. Hearing all this amazing stuff, enthralled and captivated me and I decided that I had to recreate this music because all of the people who did it were dead or dying. Once there were gone, by God if I didn’t grab that torch, the flame would be extinguished forever! I needn’t have bothered because thousands of other kids had the same identical response. So instead of it dying, there was a huge resurgence.