Photo by Chris Collins
David Lightbourne, 1942-2010, was an American folk musician and sometime-writer who, together with other counterculture mystagogues, was part of a scene coalescing in Portland in the 1970s. Using elements of their country's traditional music, they concocted their own strange breakthrough brew. David died on April 29th. This is his story and their story.
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
In Cambridge, Mass. 1969
by Jane Stokes
I started with David in 1968. We lived in Cambridge, 134½ Hampshire Street, one flight above Joe Silva’s bar. We often had no gas, no electric, had mice constantly scampering around and didn’t have a phone. This was not what my parents had in mind for their marriageable daughter. No phone was David’s choice, a protest against being charged money for engaging in communication. But it was also because we were always hiding - David wasn’t David. He was Frank Stokes (father of Memphis blues, 1888 - 1955). No mail ever came in David’s name.
The routine was the doorbell would ring. David would screen out the landlady or bill collectors or any assorted drug-related enemies from the upstairs window. If you passed, you would shortly hear the clunk of the key ring on the sidewalk, step past a drunk or two on the front stoop, up the creaking stairs, onto the landing where -- it should be noted -- stood my potter’s wheel, a 100lb kick wheel which David bought, built, and paid homage to every pot that it produced. From the landing you entered our house directly into the kitchen where you would stop because of the couch. Ever since the day David carried the red velvet art deco cushiony construction home with Johnny and didn’t take it any farther, the kitchen became the first and last stop in the house.
We weren’t political, as David reminded me later; from the different themes of the sixties -- political, music, black, drugs -- we were black and drugs. Johnny was black -- tall, thin with very black dark skin. He was always moving around quiet and graceful, finding small treasures with his eagle eyes. He and his cousins, who were never far behind, came from nearby Medford. By profession, Johnny was a silversmith. The exquisite hash pipe he made for David never left David’s hands. David called Johnny a true prince. Even after Johnny died a decade later, David continued to find new adjectives for him -- regal, judicious, wise. If you didn’t know Johnny, you would still want to luxuriate in David’s description of him.
Johnny and David could talk forever-- fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that -- twenty times a fuckin’ sentence. David would gradually bring out his blues collection as the night went on, and they would comment together about back fuckin’ then in the 19 fucking 20s and it would go on all night from Robert Johnson to B.B. King. I would fall asleep in the hallway room where our mattress was, listening to their melodious circumlocutions all fuckin’ nightlong.
I was usually at the window in the morning, the sun streaming in, overlooking the back alley. I sat at the kitchen table, a huge plywood board that we lined with wine bottles filled with dried beans. Later, after I got my job at the Indian restaurant, we funneled color into the bottles -- coriander seeds, cardamom, turmeric. One day in a sudden burst of pre-Frank Lloyd Wright inspiration, David sawed off the corner of the table so I could sit at the window and read and write there -- which is where I stayed thereafter. David would be in the kitchen, always quiet with me even though he would talk away with everyone else. I had my exercise rope, David invented hanging it from the ceiling, and I would stretch and comment occasionally, but mostly we were quiet, not wanting to go anywhere, just be sitting in the kitchen, quiet except for his guitar.
“Then why am I paranoid?” I would ask him. That’s when the bell would ring and it would be Wood carrying several kilos of grass from some round-trip to Mexico. Wood was serious and his business was serious. Wood (whose name I was trained never to say) was his good friend from Grinnell. He had dodged the draft and had to “therefore” survive in this way. (David was exempted from the draft because his father died in WWII.)
David would lovingly smell and sample the weed. “Let’s go,” Wood said. He spoke in simple direct Midwest sentences. Wood would never wait. He always had to do something with a reason. But women loved him. Even my best friend from childhood, straight-A Radcliffe student and definitely straight -- even she was taken with him.
We would proceed in Wood’s VW van -- probably to be dropped off at the Harvard bookstore where David worked. He went there off-hours too, when he wasn’t working, always checking out something new.
In the hot days of summer ‘69 when our gas was off, you would go directly from the kitchen to the roof where you’d find David, myself and Jane -- Jane who lived on the other side of the staircase and with whom we shared the roof. I would probably be there from early morning with Jane waiting for our morning coffee as we watched the water boil slowly in the hibachi -- ranch coffee is what Johnny called it. Eventually David moved his speakers upstairs or Jane would start to sing -- David judged, “better than Maria Muldaur.” I don’t remember when Jane first brought Arthur over, her childhood friend from Newton, but that night on the roof when he appeared, she predicted they would be friends forever. They talked about everything from the geography of back alleys to the idiosyncrasies of the blues, playing autoharp and guitar under the night sky of Cambridge.
I remember a fish dinner on the roof. Johnny brought the fish fresh from a trip with his cousins. David was singing the fish cutting song, Johnny getting it ready with his knife for Jane and I to grill. When the doorbell rang we didn’t doubt it was Johnny’s cousins, Vernie, Richie, and Ponche, already drunk from the day’s outing. By the end of the night Vernie was crying and pleading with Johnny. He started like James Brown, soulful, natural, but could sing deeper, could make you want to cry -- but then he would break down -- moaning to Johnny, “Why don’t they understand? Why don’t you understand?” Richie had done something to him and now he was drunker than Vernie. Ponche was laughing, always the shrewd one. But Johnny was just looking down saying to them, “Nah it’s funkin’ not funkin’ worth it.” Richie was hanging one foot over the roof threatening to jump but nobody worried about his balance since he was a tree climber and tree-cutter. I was sure it would be Richie who would be gone within a year -- dead or in jail -- but it was Vernie who ended up in jail as an accomplice for armed robbery -- some gun went off.
That summer was the moon-landing. David and I spent the afternoon in our hallway bedroom -- no breeze -- glued to our black and white TV, constantly fooling around with the antenna. David was pointing to the image, under the astronauts the “Live on TV” message -- “You see, the medium is the message,” he said, always proving it true wherever it was happening.
Gradually, the kitchen table would fill up with the cabal, David would disappear into his “temple room” as Schiff named it, the small bedroom at the back converted to the hi-fi record room. An Otis Redding trumpet had sent David searching in his archives. Jane is rattling a bottle of navy beans as a musical accompaniment. Before the night was over, Staley, Eileen, and Emily roll around. Someone was going to get moon dust from a Harvard scientist. Staley is reading a poem about the acid trip in New Hampshire, and the velvet soil running through his fingers - moon dust someone said. I might be discussing with Jane or Emily and Eileen how the guys are brainwashed as we are clearing the dishes and they are playing chess at the corner of the table. David is changing the record again, Johnny is pointing out a man on a steeple a block away, the candle is relit, time stopped, my chair is on tilt.
But then there would be the other days -- the plates would crash, the doors slam, the clothes thrown down the staircase or out the window. But this was always followed by some reason to come back, a scarf caught on the telephone pole or the scratchy voice heard down the street from some old scratchy recording, “I would, I would lay my head on the railroad track.” David would reassure me, “It's the unconscious.” (He had just finished reading Freud and was going on to R.D. Laing.) But we were always aware of the revolution underfoot -- Staley would bring us the latest news from Harvard -- SDS sit-ins and draft-card burnings. We were on edge. But David insisted it was ontological insecurity, “It's civilization, that’s what we’re on the edge of.”
Inevitably, Johnny would come up the stairs laughing, clued-in immediately to our mood. But that was the time he came wearing his Panama hat cut over his eyes, announcing he was going to move to California. He wanted us to go too. It was time, he said, to move our quarters elsewhere, and to “love our fuckin’ couch to fuckin’ death and kiss it fuckin’ goodbye.” There was a movement West. Johnny’s cousins were going. Jane was going. Everyone had someone out there.
The next day we went out together, as though nothing had happened -- looking for the new Dylan album, then maybe to the Square, to the Mexican restaurant or the Charity Ward to hear music with Gallway -- or maybe to the Arc to hear Taj Mahal. Ponche had just become Taj Mahal’s manager and could get us in free. We stop at the A&P on the way home. I take out a 9 lb. turkey smiling past the checkout clerk. “It’s to cook and carve and spread the wealth around,” I remind David. We are laughing, my Mexican weave shoulder bag dripping a trail of blood. We got back and turned the light on in the kitchen and heard a thump and saw a vision of Jane’s cat hanging by all fours on the outside screen of my window -- and then he was gone as sudden as an omen. Staley’s house was under surveillance. Wood was splitting.
We decided I would go to San Francisco, David would go to Eugene to visit Tom and Judy Newman, and I would meet him there soon after. But when I did get to Eugene, that was the end. It was decided. He went with them, and I went back to California -- a decision for which there were fortunately many decades ahead for me to blame him.
David always reminded me how lucky we were that we fell into the sixties which had made it all right to be an artist. We didn’t market our ideas although we thought of it -- but that was for the future. We weren’t ambitious. You could just be an artist back then. You could take yourself seriously. “That’s why Wood didn’t make it,” David would say. It wasn’t because they shot him, which they did right there at the border, “The real reason was he didn’t have a guitar or a notebook or a paintbrush.”
David through the decades, always reminding me who I am, where I’m going -- traveling cross-country Wyoming, New York, back and forth, some new route, some new place to get lost. “It’s the space-time continuum,” David would say, the self-anointed “travel professional.” “It really means we never were and never will be separated.”
David Loe Lightbourne: Folk Musicologist
by Shaun Kelley
I met David Lightbourne in the late nineties, shortly after he and Joe Carducci opened the Provisional Café on 1st St. in Laramie. He was already playing with John Martz, who was only an occasional musical acquaintance of mine to that point. I think this was shortly before the “Monkey Junk” sessions, so I played on several tracks of that record as my initiation to David Lightbourne and being in the Stop and Listen Boys.
Although I had been a musician for years, I was a total newbie to old-time music. I had run away from a bachelor’s degree in double bass performance in my junior year to join a touring rock band, and had just left that scene when I met Dave. I was looking for something completely different. Sleepy Dave and his Jazz Horn delivered.
Between The Stop and Listen Boys’ tours to Manhattan and sometimes even Ft. Collins, I returned to music school, finished my performance undergrad, and added an MA in music history and literature. I reference my training because Carducci wants me to write this little memoir about what I understood to be Dave’s musical point of view while working with him. Joe encouraged me to be “fairly technical”, but have no fear…
Instead of music theory, when I think of David’s interface with music, I tend to go more to the anthropological side of things. David was in my opinion essentially a pure folk musician, placed in a post-recording-and-broadcast-technology world. His family upbringing in music was fairly traditional, and he was aware of musical terms and the names of most of the chords he played on guitar. But his musical identity was primarily shaped by pure “immersion in the re-tribalized sonic milieu of the electric media” as Marshall McLuhan -- one of Dave’s gurus -- put it.
His formal expressions had the innocent yet deft touch of a Rev. Howard Finster painting as, in a quasi-savant manner, he delivered songs by rote, note-for-note, with the same arrangement of the same length *every* time he played them: David played his repertoire as a through-composed “mental recording”. These were learned no doubt by listening repeatedly to the songs in his immense LP collection. This rigidity sometimes confused and frustrated musicians “sitting in” looking for a chance to solo. Dave would just pick away and grin his famous grin at them, blissfully unaware that they were awaiting his cue to “take it”, which of course never came.
Dave’s folk persona and performance practice is what really animated his encyclopedic knowledge of the human history of American music. David probably did not recognize “Rhapsody in Blue” as a “through composed fantasia”, but he probably *did* know that in the early 20th century, classical orchestras often had to “go ‘way downtown” to find a jazz clarinetist able to play the greasy glissando at the very beginning of the piece.
But country blues was where Dave’s heart and soul lived. It was the bedrock of his musical world. The blues inspired what David did in live performances and also his most impassioned collecting and listening. Dave completely re-shaped my taste for the blues, and as with him, recordings newer than the early 1940s now mostly underwhelm me. Actually, from Dave I learned that saying merely “the blues” is simplistic. Mr. Lightbourne revealed to me the fact that the American folk music experience over the past 150 years was simultaneously homogenous in style and complex in racial makeup; the performance forces of the nineteenth century were probably much different racially than our assumptions. “The blues” just happen to be what African Americans were playing in the south during the early twentieth century when the first microphone and recording media were invented and put in front of them. However, listening to groups like the Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2010, one realizes that bluegrass and old-time might not be as white in origin as we now assume.
The point of this is, my access to the depth of David’s historical knowledge allowed me to comprehend the far deeper context of American folk music than is discernable by merely skipping around the stilted, generic channels of satellite radio these days. A lot of that knowledge has influenced my graduate work, and so I owe David Lightbourne, the Grinnell dropout, a large debt of gratitude.
The most astonishing feat of Dave’s historic knowledge I witnessed happened pursuant to my description to him of a memory from my upbringing in Macon, Georgia. I think we got on the topic because we were playing “Put Your Habit in Your Hand” by Blind Willie McTell. Macon was the home of the Georgia School for the Blind and as a result had an above-average population of blind people. McTell was apparently one of them since he is often associated with my hometown, although he was actually from Thomson, about 90 miles away. The childhood memory that fascinated me was of a blind black man wandering the streets of Macon, playing his songs with a giant grin on his face, a tin cup tied to the headstock of an ancient guitar. He usually lead his dog around instead of the opposite, so of course in the racial atmosphere of the day people used to joke that he was faking.
I wondered initially if this could have been McTell, who died when I was four years old, so it was at least possible. “What kind of songs were they?” asked Dave. I of course was attempting to dredge up really old impressions, but I managed: “Uh, all I come up with is kind of, um, religious?” Dave put down the Martin and went into the room where his 3000 LPs covered the floor, emerging not one minute later holding up an album. Of course, the Reverend Pearly Brown!
[The Stop & Listen Boys (l-r: David Lightbourne, Shaun Kelley, John Martz), Old Centennial Cafe 2001, photograph by Joe Carducci. Jane's apt. (l-r: DL, John Martz, Arthur Krim, Shaun Kelley, Spot, Jane), circa 2003, photograph by Joe Carducci. Reverend Pearly Brown LP cover]
High Country Nail Puller
by Mike Safran
Besides Dave's musical skills, encyclopedic knowledge of ancient modern times and current events, he was also a working man. Since I got to know him back in 2003 and well before that he took odd job after odd job doing just about whatever for whatever pay he could get. Nothing was beneath him or above him. He could put on a nice shirt or he could get his hands dirty and wasn't afraid to step on a few nails. Sometimes you’d see him walking across town in sub zero-temps to get to wherever he had to go.
Dave was well known and liked here in Laramie and not just by the folks he intellectualized with and played music with, but by some of the common and eclectic folk he worked with. Even the ones who didn't know the difference between blues and bluegrass, Big Bill Broonzy and a shot of booze. But no doubt, they'd learn something by the time the gig was up.
I had the privilege of working with Dave on one such job. It started as a mission to completely gut and demolish the inside of the former Swenson Lumberyard -- a rather large, old warehouse building on N. 3rd Street -- for High Country Stoves where Dave had started as a temp. It's next to a junkyard and not far from the railroad tracks. The place was a mess and dirty as hell when I first walked in. Years of what must’ve been old steam-engine soot seemed to have collected inside the walls and ceilings. The task seemed daunting, but Dave was determined.
I'd pick Dave up about 8:30am so we could take our time and be there by 9. From 9 until noon we'd just go at it with our hammers, crowbars and whatever else necessary, taking trashcan after trashcan to dumpster after dumpster. Dave could focus, listen to some NPR news talk and music while being his usual self. We both got into pretty good physical shape doing that. At noon it was time to take a break and go downtown to the local soup kitchen where we could grab free eats, and say hello to some of the local color and discuss whatever topic was in the air that day.
After lunch we'd go back and work until around 3. It wasn't the kind of job you could really do for more than 5 hours if you still wanted to have a life and some energy after you got home. A simple philosophy of work, Don't work too hard or break your back while you're at it, seemed to make sense. We weren't there to kill ourselves, or overdose on dust and dirt. But we worked.
Soon a couple new hands were hired, and Dave's new job became 'nail puller'. Hour upon hour day after day he'd meticulously pull out all the bent nails from all the old 2x4's, 6’s, 10’s, 12’s, etc... as they came down. They were the old thick and dense, real measures of lumber so it was certainly worth the effort to save it. After de-nailing a stack of wood, he would then carry it back to the designated wood room, whereby it could all be organized according to length, size and usability.
It was through doing this that I think Dave really developed some uncanny strength in his hands and forearms and his guitar playing began to 'spike' as he would say. I think he developed a stronger thumb as his technique began to cut more. There is also a certain rhythm to this kind of work. Dave always mentioned that musicians are good at counting and being redundant. Pulling nails all day didn't seem to phase him. In fact, it seemed exactly what he wanted to be doing.
The job continued for months and into the next phase of construction, yet Dave continued just pulling nails, moving and stacking wood. He became sort of the watcher's watcher, watching all day with his hammer, crowbar, and Leatherman tool, which he would sometimes lose or misplace and spend half the day looking for. But that was part of the job too. He could walk around searching for it and see the progress as it was being made.
Eventually there were no more nails to pull. But Dave stayed and continued to find things to do in the newly constructed woodstove showroom and warehouse. He moved into his own specially-made on-site apartment assuming his new night-watchman duty which seemed to suit him just fine once again.
A jack of all trades.
A master of a few.
[David Lightbourne, Mike Safran, photograph by Tillie Whitt. Exterior: David and Mike, photograph by Joe Carducci. Interior: Mike, photograph by Joe Carducci]
by Michael Hurley
(excerpt from "Fine Horses and Thirsty Trees" by Michael Hurley & Amy Annelle, Blue Navigator 10)
Dave Lightbourne, AKA The InformaTon, lives in a loft he built above a woodstove factory warehouse. He sleeps on his sofa. And when he gets up, he clears off his blanket and pillow and the people who come to visit sit on the sofa and the InformaTon sits in his seat of the scornful. From this position he sounds off. In the blues it seems routine for the narrator to list negative points. If you listen long enough it might awaken your need to cry. So that may be a function of the blues: to bring forth those hidden weeps.
we still roll smokes and tell old jokes
and we bowl and split some strikes
& Bo Diddley playin' on the jukebox Friday nights.
Photo by Chris Collins
David Lightbourne and Outlaw Folk in Seventies’ Oregon - Revised & Extended
by Joe Carducci
Portland was once a nice, unpretentious, not to say sleepy, port town on the Columbia River that had had its great big rock and roll moment when The Wailers, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Sonics and others jumped from the Northwest’s vibrant dancehall circuit to the national charts beginning in 1959 and lasting most of the sixties. That circuit started with Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver but for some bands included Spokane, Boise, and Reno. Important college towns included Eugene and Olympia. But as a whole the scene was isolated and often left off of national tours, which turned out an aesthetic advantage but a business handicap. The book that covers the fifties/sixties era in the Northwest in all its richness unknown to the Billboard charts or official oldies radio/Rolling Stone posterity is Dance Halls, Armories and Teen Fairs, by Don Rogers.
But whereas Portland and the Northwest helped lead the way post-Elvis/pre-Beatles, it began following the rest of the country, primarily San Francisco, by the end of the sixties, “In 1968... rumors spread that between 8,000 and 50,000 hippies were headed to the city” from suddenly drug-desiccated San Francisco, according to Valerie Brown (Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2007). These thousands didn’t show but the city did generate and collect a music scene that featured all the influences of the period -- blues, psychedelia, and folk. Touring bands that had special impact in the late 1960s included The Grateful Dead, and Dan Hicks. It wouldn’t have been too unusual for these influences to be politely discrete in local bands such as The PH Phactor Jug Band, Melodious Funk, The Nazzare Blues Band, Portland Zoo, The Sodgimoli Jug Band and others. If so, that surely changed when a small invasion of musicians a couple years older than the hippies began to show up from points east.
David Lightbourne had performed with friends and classmates in Iowa while he attended Grinnell; these included Tom Newman, Clark Dimond, Ellis Simberloff, and Peter Cohon (later Coyote). An April 21, 1962 Grinnell Folk Club concert saw a double-album private release and features David performing two songs before an auditorium full of enthusiastic and knowledgeable music fans. This generation of student had followed rock and roll in junior high, and then found in 1958 that the record industry had tamed it and as David would say, “Dick Clark took it over.” The music obsessives in high school then discovered a truer folk music underneath the bogus pop-folk, or folkum as The Little Sandy Review might call The Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, Harry Belafonte, etc. David at 19 sounds influenced by Dave Van Ronk, and The New Lost City Ramblers; he was discovering the blues but hadn’t worked much of that into his sound yet, though he is already playing finger-pick style. And it’s clear by the audience reaction as David is introduced as “a performer of social import” that he is cutting a figure on campus where he also wrote a column in the paper. Clark Dimond, also on the album, writes,
“We shared our knowledge and our repertoire at Uno’s coffeehouse, which was run by Zal Lefkowicz, later to become actor and producer Zalman King. Mescaline was available by mail from Texas. I remember the police doing an ashtray sweep looking for evidence of marijuana. David was playing onstage at the time they came in. Next to his foot was an open quart bottle of mescaline, and David just kept on playing and the cops left.” (CD, July 16, 2010)
David grew up in several places as a young child due to his father’s death in WWII when he was one. I figured Dave probably had a memory of a brief idyll with his mother and her family before she remarried when he was about four. His sister Priscilla writes:
“My maternal grandparents, Isaac and Emma, were from southern Indiana and Kentucky. My mother used to tell many stories of how much music there was in the house. They were tenant farmers, so incredibly poor, but each evening they would either sit on the porch or in the living room and sing, one harmonizing, one on lead. This was the house that David grew up in, at least until he was four, and then visited often after that. In someone else I might say they were too young to soak up the atmosphere, but I wouldn’t say that about David.” (PL, July 20, 2010)
The new family moved near Elmhurst outside Chicago and David was preternaturally media-wise when it came to radio drama, comics, movies, and early television. His stepfather had played trumpet for the Dorseys and Paul Whiteman and left the road to sell instruments to kids and schools. The Lightbourne family’s daily radio program featured the kids; David said they had radio equipment under their kitchen table and a special phone line to send the show live to the station; he was eight and playing accordion. The show ran in 1950-51. David saw Elvis Presley in 1957 at the International Amphitheater, the first Presley performance up North. David switched to guitar; he saw Mike Seeger in 1958, Rev. Gary Davis, Mike Bloomfield, and Elizabeth Cotton in 1961, Ramblin’ Jack in 1962, and in 1963 he worked for Bob Koester at Jazz Record Mart and roamed southside blues clubs with him to see J.B. Hutto, Junior Wells and others; he got to know Bloomfield and saw Skip James, Son House and Howlin’ Wolf, and was a charter subscriber to Minneapolis’ The Little Sandy Review. He was to record a folk album for Koester’s Delmark label but the British invaded, Dylan plugged in, and the folkies surrendered.
Here’s something David wrote for himself, setting the early scene for his high school cohort in 1958 with Elvis in the Army and rock and roll on the ropes:
“We had spent four full years up to ’61 largely listening to music, frequently driving distances to see it live, when no one our age did that. By 10th grade… I had started my lifelong ransacking of American roots music record catalogs and made no apologies for any lack of savvy. I knew that older hipsters knew more about political folk music, and bluegrass, and blues. But I prided myself in also keeping AM Top 40 in my cross-hairs as well, and older music freaks despised that stuff on principle to their loss. I’m trying to remember 10th grade now: Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Pete Seeger, Brownie & Sonny, Bob Gibson, Odetta, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Josh White….” (DL circa 2000s)
David enjoyed Grinnell and talked about his music-minded classmates and friends often. He took the third year off and spent a year in Cedar Falls/Waterloo where he made some friends he’d need in 1967 when he had enough of his first job in the straight world at R.R. Donnelly in Chicago. He was on a white-collar career ladder and somewhere between his older uptight co-workers sniggering about co-eds or the blacks, he balked, returned to his Waterloo friends and drifted into their drug-smuggling enterprise, dubbed The Company. He writes,
“I was only twenty-four in 1967, but already like a lot of other people in America, somewhat desperate to cling to the visions of unfulfilled action that had been promised earlier in my life. Action, drama and incident… Accident and movement… In some weird way possible, yet in the civilization of depressed content -- the sublimation of sexuality sideways -- the opportunity to be aggressive, still something to snatch and grab….
The deal was to pay the expenses of the trip, a quickie, from a small town in the hinterlands of the remote Midwest, quickly to Chicago and thence to Mexico City. We were going to bring back as much as $500 would bring in the best available Acapulco Gold, which used to be available on the farm for prices around $6.00 a kilo…. The last time friends of mine had done it, their interpreter had taken along a pistol. This was sheer madness in the hallucinatory glitter of our truly psychedelic childhoods.” (DL, circa 1990s)
In this peripatetic pre-Portland period, Lightbourne was probably trying to figure out how his interest in writing and music could be applied without winding up a hollow careerist who might as well be pulling down a salary at Donnelly for all the good it would do the culture. If he wrote he’d want to write as Miller or Genet wrote; if he played music he’d want it to be as true as Koerner Ray & Glover, or Mike Seeger. Dave spent a long week on the Strip in Los Angeles catching Albert King, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat, and others before settling into Cambridge, Mass. for a year (see Jane’s piece above). He doesn’t appear to have performed while in Boston though he followed the vital music there -- The Remains, Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band, Taj Mahal…. In Fall 1969 he moved to Eugene, Oregon. David lived with his Iowa friend Warren and their girlfriends while Warren ran what Tom Newman calls “a hippie hangout” called Alice’s Restaurant. Tom writes, “Wherever Warren lived was always the center of activity for everyone he knew.” In a fictionalized version of these days Dave describes a certain character as “being Pisces, active, restless, impatient with the stasis in things, with perpetual momentum for stirring up, shaking down, bilking the town in the only really effective way possible, the corruption of its youth however such may be accomplished.” Did I mention Dave said these instant “youth-culture food parlors” Warren set up wherever he went in Iowa and Oregon were inevitably crawling with runaway girls?
In Eugene they also found Al Malam, another former Iowan, who David thought had the best singing voice on a white boy. Still does, though he’s gone by the name Al Rivers for decades now. In early 1971 David and Warren moved to Portland. They and Tom Wood, also from Iowa and who’d been in Cambridge as well, now set up to run their Mexican loads up to the rather dry environs of rain city. In a cassette tape dated November 1972 that David made in a Cuernavaca hotel room, he, Colleen, Tom and Warren mostly swat cockroaches and laugh about David’s attempts at emergency Spanish when they were evicted the day before at gunpoint from another hotel.
Portland liberalized its restrictive licensing of bars for live music presentation in 1973 and Portland stages quickly filled up with acoustic country-blues specialists as Manhattan, Bucks County, Vermont, and other formerly happening scenes emptied out of talent such as Steve Weber, Robin Remaily, Dave Reisch, Jeffrey Frederick, Jill Gross, Peter Langston, Fritz Richmond, Gary Sisco, and others. They were liking what they were hearing and seeing in Portland. Bars like The Inferno, The Euphoria, The Earth Tavern, The White Eagle, The Leaky Roof, Key Largo, The Grog House, The Dandelion, and Sweet Revenge were soon showcasing The Holy Modal Rounders, The Clamtones, Michael Hurley, The Metropolitan Jug Band, The Fly By Night Jass Band, Puddle City Bluegrass Band, Al Rivers and others. Lightbourne was quoted in the Oregon Journal, “Portland is sort of a refuge for ’60s folk musicians” (2.4.1980), and he looked forward to luring Dave Van Ronk next. These guys were just hitting their stride too. They’d been perhaps a bit too green in their first attempts to sound blue or old-timey. Now they were ten-plus years into their music-making. They had all manner of criminal sidelines (drug-use of course, but also smuggling, shoplifting, drug-store raiding, arson, and maybe even a crime or two against nature), they had hip young women to inspire them now whose own estate-sale obsessions guaranteed the apartments and houses where they lived or passed-out in were furnished with the finest in old-growth wood craftsmanship and twenties accoutrements. They really were off-the-rails and out-of-hand in formerly tidy, rain-scrubbed backwater Portland.
The Holy Modal Rounders came through Portland in 1971 and except for Peter Stampfel, they decided to stay. The were instantly a big attraction in their new town and though the lineup always did go through its changes the band was stabilized when Jeffrey Frederick’s Clamtones moved to town from Vermont in 1975. Lightbourne dashed off this bit about local color on a large pharmaceutical post-it pad:
“In those days, not quite the mid-70’s, high times came with seemingly no effort, a serendipity of sex, drugs, and rock and roll spurred by hip capitalism and an explosion in entertainment options. When the magnum rock quintet (version of the) Holy Modal Rounders hit Portland in 1973, we all rolled over onto our opposite hip, blinked groggily, and whispered, ‘No shit?’ excitedly. PDX already had a rich local rock band culture going back before ‘Louie Louie’ to the 50’s. Folk rock had seen a great new generation emerge, while Melodious Funk, (and the) PH Phactor Jug Band, had opened for the Dead in the early years in a nod to their own jug-nik origins. The Rounders conquered (like a Roman company).” (DL, circa 2000s)
The Seventies serendipity happened differently around the country. The common ingredients led usually to an egalitarian suburbanized arena rock FM youth culture which didn’t last too long, but which pushed its boomer elders into a politicized adulthood of singer-songwriters or bluegrass. It was different in Portland: smarter, more sophisticated, almost as if the promise of that most vital thread of the folk & roots movement had somehow survived there alone to incubate into its own rock and roll culmination -- one knowing but natural, deduced from music recorded in the twenties, re-discovered in the fifties, and here delivered in the seventies. The music took off locally on its own power. Nick Hill calls the Rounders of this period “the hottest touring dance band in the Northwest”. The regularly packed the Rainbow and the Central in Seattle as well. But the drugs came with the musicians. Tom Wood left Portland when the high times spooked him, but he did not leave drug-smuggling. Warren stopped going to Mexico; David made one more trip, but then Wood, alone, was killed outside Acapulco in fall 1977. The business of maintaining the high had got big and violent.
[Photos: Al Rivers. David, 1971 Lair Hill, Portland. Tom Wood, Grinnell 1964 yearbook.]
I was part of a punk recalibration which in its early years was often puritanical in its determination not to be drunk or stoned or wired like the rockers, the hippies, or the disco crowd. And as the punks, unbeknownst to them at first, were going to have to reinvent their own radio and record industries it was just as well to be sober. And further, given that punk would be music with “whiter”, more forced rhythm, pot’s vaunted musicological aid was initially dispensable.
What is striking to me about this Portland scene was how dance-oriented their bluesy psychedelic rock and roll was, even when acoustic. In the sixties I was too young to do anything but listen to the radio, and later too disaffected to go to high school dances in the early seventies, and by then hard rock and punk rock weren’t for dancing, thanks largely to the influence of the British Invasion. The laid-back singer-songwriter bunk made sure that one of punk’s initial demands would be that you at least stand up in the presence of live music. But David always talked about dancing, its presence or its absence, and how in his ideal music, a band performance was responsive in the live moment to the best dancers on the floor. This certainty of David’s and Jeffrey Frederick’s especially, brought women into the Portland audience, whereas they were drifting away from commercial rock audiences elsewhere for disco.
Colorado writer Elliott Johnston interviewed Lightbourne in 2008 and asked him about his role in the mid-seventies Holy Modal Rounders:
“All I did was occasionally get onstage and sing the Stampfel parts when Weber would do a song and it desperately called for a higher voice. Then they’d just tell me to play lead electric guitar. The real relationship was, everybody in Portland could rent a Victorian mansion for $125 a month… The one I rented, I lived with Marcus and Weber. So in other words there were like seven people dividing $125 a month rent… But what Weber finally told me to do was, ‘Why don’t you start your own band?’ And I think he was tired of me getting onstage with him. ‘Why don’t you start your own fucking band?’ So I did.” (DL, Oct. 12, 2008)
I imagine The Metropolitan Jug Band would have come together anyway, despite the impression David leaves. In fact, unlike his friends, he managed to get out of a scrape with time-served in early 1978 so I’m guessing that forming The Stumptown Slickers, which evolved into the MJB, as well as his KBOO radio program which also began that year were part of his attempt to move himself past the harder, heavier drugging that had begun four years earlier. He was back in jail in fall 1979 while I was staying at his apt to save money for a November trip to London to meet the Rough Trade folks (we were moving Systematic down to Berkeley to help them set up in America). Christine, another Company turista was also in the place. David wrote from jail, “In this situation depression is too dangerous to cultivate, and discipline works quite well. Little things mean a lot: I’m doing exercises, taking showers, brushing after every meal -- it’s literally amazing!” It took the slammer to get Dave to brush his teeth. He also writes that his bandmates were a blessing and thanks me for doing his Fifties show for him. I remember KBOO’s blues host Tom Wendt being down there in case Dave hadn’t made any arrangements. Tom was another music-first Portland fixture; Dave told me Tom sold his blood so he could buy blues records. Those were the days…
But as regards the Metropolitan Jug Band, you don’t get a Fritz Richmond joining your band unless it's his best option. Fritz was a star in the early 1960s Boston folk scene with Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band and a noted recording engineer as well as a friend of John Sebastian -- he named The Lovin’ Spoonful. In the 1990s and thereafter Fritz played in Sebastian’s The J Band, and also in ex-Kweskin band-mate Geoff Muldaur’s Jug Band (as well as a last Portland outfit called Barbecue Orchestra). Fritz was the foremost jug and washtub bass player of the revival years. He’d been on the Vanguard and Reprise labels, and Fritz had engineered albums for Elektra’s Paul Rothchild and others in Los Angeles (The Doors, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Lonnie Mack, The Everly Brothers…). Tom Fitting describes the beginnings of the MJB as he and Kevin Robinson playing guitars together and Kevin bringing in Hugh Frederick on harp and Dan Lissy joining quickly, singing and blowing jug. “Hugh or Lissy introduced David Lightbourne to the trio in late 1978, and the foursome started playing as The Stumptown Slickers. It was clear that David was a powerful presence in the musical direction….”
Dan Lissy told the Blues Notes paper in 2004 that The Stumptown Slickers included Billy Hults as well and lasted a year with a regular gig at The Long Goodbye and opening slots for John Mayall and John Lee Hooker. Lissy left and David sang and they played as a trio for a bit in early 1979 as The New Stop & Listen Boys. Hugh brought in David Dearborn on washboard and they became The Metropolitan Jug Band by spring, playing Fridays at the Leaky Roof Tavern. Tom Fitting writes:
“From my tapes, it looks like Fritz Richmond approached the band on 7/13/79 and sat in then for the first time, and I recall he was there every time we played thereafter… [W]hen Fritz asked if he could sit in… Hugh was coy but let Fritz come on stage, although he told me later that he recognized Fritz… and was fully aware of Fritz's pedigree.” (TF, July 15, 2010)
The MJB represented David’s musical vision, but that’s not to say he lead the band otherwise. The Kweskin band often tilted away from blues and jug band styles toward vaudeville-style jazz and kitsch. There was zero kitsch in David’s bands. He knew the best songs, the best players, the best playing so he never shrank from hating or just ignoring lesser stuff. And he knew that rock and roll was acoustic music first, as it was as late as Elvis on Sun. And he further knew that if rock and roll was radical it was also of a tradition. It was not progressive, but rather regressive. Lightbourne wrote recently: “We regress to do battle, we regress to make love, we regress to dream.”
But this did not get the band recorded. Tom writes, “Fritz was very clear about recording. He insisted on professional recording using the record label’s support, nothing less, and we did not have a label. We had several different discussions about it, and he would not budge.” Dave never regretted that to my knowledge -- there’s loads of tapes and he could always pull out his guitar and go to work on anything he wanted to hear -- but once I thought about it after he joined me in Chicago in 1995 it annoyed me. I wasn’t having a good enough time at SST once we were solvent to have thought of recording the MJB for SST. I should’ve done it regardless. Fritz didn’t realize that the record business was ending even then as the easy money and access he’d known evaporated. And maybe, with what he enjoyed about Portland life, he was lulled out of awareness that he was no longer in the record industry loop. What I think he feared happening was the band recording itself with local resources and having some substandard product marketed on his reputation. Big mistake.
[Photos: David and Steve Weber, circa 1977. Billy Hults, Kevin Robinson, David of The Stumptown Slickers, Earth Tavern, 1978. The Metropolitan Jug Band, Port of Portland Paddlewheel Boat tour, Oct. 31, 1981, by Liz Fitting.]
One of the great things about the early rock and roll era was that musicians were all coming from an organic folk culture that, though it took advantage of the electronic media, was not yet altered by that media. Musicians could sit in with players they did not know and find their way to sync up. So lineups were more fluid. Still it could take an hour to sync up; David often mentioned seeing Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago and being surprised at the shambling versions they were putting out until about forty minute in. David often talked about the rhythmic sense of his generation of players versus some player who might be deep into the same blues canon but being younger couldn’t quite settle into the same wavelength; he even marveled that he and Steve Weber didn’t really have it together together. When I saw the Metropolitan Jug Band at the Leaky Roof in 1979 Billy Hults was subbing for Dearborn. Billy played with everyone sooner or later in the Portland scene. His bands (The Fly By Night Jass Band, and Billy Foodstamp & the Welfare Ranch Rodeo) had more fluid lineups than most but he got good results. This clip of Fly By Night doing The Memphis Jug Band’s “She Done Sold It Out” is the single best video representation of the Portland scene that I’m aware of. Let us pause now and watch…
This taping features:
John Ward - vocals, harp
Billy Hults - washboard
Kenneth Turtle Vandemar - guitar, kazoo
Stu Dodge - fiddle
John Dominegoni - bass
Robin Remaily - fiddle
Richard Tyler - piano
Peter Langston - mandolin
Nick Hill guesses its an outtake from sessions that yielded a six song EP around 1974, and he thinks he recognizes Mike Lastra and David Lightbourne on the floor towards the end; I can’t tell but I didn’t know David that early. Peter Langston who had been in Portland Zoo, writes, “I believe that was filmed at Rex Recording where we had just finished mixing some recordings of our bluegrass band, Puddle City. As we were leaving we ran into our Fly By Nite Jass Band friends rehearsing and they invited me to join in.” (PL, July 14, 2010)
Remaily and Tyler were then in The Holy Modal Rounders, though when the now Portland-based Rounders-Clamtones toured to the east coast to record the “Have Moicy!” album with Peter Stampfel and Michael Hurley, Weber dropped off the tour long enough to miss the recording session. Lightbourne thought “Have Moicy!”, credited to Michael Hurley/The Unholy Modal Rounders/Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones, was the masterpiece of their scene, though it was recorded on the east coast and Stampfel rather than Weber held down the Rounders franchise. It was recorded in two days in July 1975, mixed in three. Hurley told PopWatch, “You probably just don't have the software to know how good I feel about the ‘Have Moicy!’ release. So many people have told me that they love it, it changed their life, it turned them on to old-time asskickin' hillbilly, it lead them to a superior love life, it brought them much wealth and still remains a favorite after 20 years or 10. Everytime I listen to it, it sounds more together; it sounds like a bunch of loonies too.”
Thereafter, some of Hurley’s mob, David Reisch and Gary Sisco, threw in with the Portland crew and Michael himself was pulled inevitably to Oregon. One could find different combinations of all these players in any of a number of bands. Lightbourne and Richmond also played 1984 gigs as The Justin Other Jug Band with Mark Goldfarb on guitar and vocals, and Randy Griffin on harp. And Earth Tavern fixture and music-writer Dan Lissy who’d been in The Stumptown Slickers continued to play with David and others.
Another one-page essay I found in David’s effects, tells of yet one more wayward folk musician on the scene in 1973 playing his own depressive low-key ballads:
“At the time we all lived, four or five of us, in a little one-bedroom house down by the freeway at the very edge of the black and hippie enclave in Portland called Dogpatch. Colleen, Weber’s girlfriend at the time, came calling at ten o’clock one morning, way too early, and I woke up in my loft in the utility room cursing the daylight. Somebody in the front room had taken down the little 1868 Martin parlor guitar, D-8 or something, with a great-looking dark spruce top, and the music sounded like jazzed folk, or folk swing or folk soul.
By the time I got up and down and out this geeky little guy with a Jimmy Durante hat and Ray Charles sunglasses had played a real sweet set and Colleen introduced me to Tansy Ragwort. (We got to the west coast in the late sixties, and one of the first topics they got your attention with in the regional media had to do with cattle dying all over eastern Oregon from eating Tansy Ragwort. At the time it sounded like this was the deep down hard-core uniquely Oregonesque local exotic lore.)
The real Tansy Ragwort wrote really pretty love songs with simple folkish tunes using jazz-substitution chords on acoustic guitar with classic 1930s changes. He’d been opening for the Holy Modal Rounders that week in Seattle at several venues and grabbed the ride south as a great chance to check Portland, Modal Rounder World Headquarters.”
Tansy’s actual name was Steven Bernstein, as he was known later for his poetry; he died by his own hand in 1991.
There’s been revolutions in American music all along of course, but in Portland this backwater mix by postwar pop culture radicals seemed to start with fifties rock and roll and then retreat into the past. Often acoustic or half-acoustic, it was metaphysically, if not always musically, a blues-style revolution. It was not dreamy and righteous as in the former folk-style, or self-absorbed and mercenary as in the singer-songwriter mode then current. As Jane writes above about her time with David in Cambridge, “From the different sixties’ themes -- political, music, black, drugs -- we were black and drugs.”
David printed out a post to the “Have Moicy group” by Nick, maybe the only member who insists on the importance of the west coast Rounders against the general indifference. In his post Nick writes about a Portland classmate, also a musician, just then deceased:
“I am reminded of a day I spent at Weber’s house in Portland when he was living with Colleen on SW 1st St. I was all of 15 at the time, and Craig would have been about 18. I had just stopped by to visit and was surprised to see Craig Mayther there, tripping out of his mind. Obviously he had taken heroic doses of acid, and maybe something more ferocious. He was large, and out of control, foaming at the mouth. Doctor Steven Weber was in. Attending to this LSD overdose with all the bedside manner of a saint. Administering B-12, and generous doses of gentle old guitar ballads to cool the huge man‘s disturbed sense of being.” (NH, June 6, 2005)
David may have performed similar ministrations but I remember most his story of his first heroin customer who received rather more cursory treatment when David found him turning blue on the floor of his bathroom. He managed to save the guy’s life and send him on his way, but that was how he learned that you never let a customer use your bathroom on the way out.
I found this short note, which by the looks of it was written by David in the last five years or so:
“I’m inclined to a totally apologetic attitude about the Great Portland Oregon Heroin Plague, roughly 1974-1994. Fucked up the very best and brightest, the talented and everyone else. Weber played his central flashpoint position to get the ball rolling. Ricardo, Dolores, Fat Freddy, Shade Tree, at one point Rube & Pam the Gorgeous. The listed would fill a damn data-base, and Oregon bureaucrats probably have a good one, hard to access. Start at the easy end with the clockwork thud of obituaries, Here an O.D., there an O.D., everywhere a-, not to mention a few suicides.
One of my road buddies from Iowa, running to dodge the draft as well as to escape an FBI dragnet for a failed Florida Panama Red load, set up shop with a mixture tested at 80% opiates coming down from Vancouver. He cleared a hundred grand a month for a spell. We played our part, and probably a dozen younger kids did too much. Not a good way to begin, self-indulgent, spoiled and bored. Things were way better when Steve just hit me from his cotton for driving him to cop. I could take it or leave it.
I personally don’t care for the shit. I quickly learned how a whole other kind of normal fellow, the ambulatory depressed, could and would soon commit any and every imaginable desperate act to assure the sustenance of life itself. I’m sure it beats all the anti-depressants by a mile, with the only downside lifelong constipation. Not at all like these pills that make you go postal. But I only liked it because I needed it. Getting it often proved an unbelievable adventure, and man did it feel wonderful suddenly getting well. I way prefer pot.
The Greeks said everything in moderation and about the best time I ever had took place the afternoon Jeffrey and I went over to Danielle’s to do some good white. We had two guitars. That’s really all I remember. As soon as we realized how amazingly well we clicked we never looked back. The one day in my life I could never begrudge a tip of the top hat to King Dope, shit, smack, dog, do, H, beige, boy, etc.” (DL, circa 2000s)
I got to Portland from Hollywood in fall 1977 and got to know Dave because we both worked at the Cinema 21. I was the janitor and would clean the theater after the last show cleared out around midnight. Sometimes he’d hang around the theater but usually I’d do the job alone with a small radio on which filled the big empty theater space nicely. (One night I was mesmerized by a piece of contemporary classical music and got a pencil to write down what the announcer said; it was the 1978 debut recording Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 and I never found a copy until a lesser British version came out twenty years later and went platinum.) I might get done about 3am and I’d check to see if Dave’s apartment light was on. It usually was and we’d talk in his place, or go to the QP diner a few blocks away. I didn’t know anything about drugs I didn’t hear from him. In his place he’d be dabbing the tracks on his arms with some skin restorative while we talked. He was off heroin then and had never liked cocaine, LSD, or alcohol. I met Weber once at Dave’s apartment but had no idea who he was. I left Portland when we moved Systematic Record Distribution to Berkeley at the end of 1979 and soon enough it was clear by his letters that he was back on it, plus he was starting to mention some of the Portland punks I’d known who were now crossing paths with the older scene.
[Photos: Jeffrey Frederick. Cinema 21, in distance Dave's apt building, The Earth Tavern immediate left, behind was the 2nd Music Millenium 1979, by Joe Carducci.]
I found a cassette in David’s collection that records a quiet late-night fifty minutes or so of Steve Weber in 1977 moving through one tune after another, singing and playing guitar for Dan Lissy, Pamela Boswell Marcus, and Christine Van Kamen. It begins with David reading discographical information about Frank Stokes and adding to that what he knows about how the metal masters were found near Grafton, Wisconsin nailed to chicken coops as roofing shingles. Then David is either unusually quiet or has left. Lissy is still recording and to prompt a version of “Cocaine Blues” out of Steve, he asks him what he knows about cocaine. Steve answers, “Well you take some cocaine you feel like a new man, and next thing you know the new man wants some too.” Steve plays it and another dozen songs, four of which he reprised the next year in New York with Peter Stampfel as part of the “Going Nowhere Fast” album. Weber sounds far less comfortable in the New York recordings and so the tunes are as a consequence not as delicate and beautiful, or in the case of “Junker’s Blues”, not as perverse as the Portland home recordings. And yet the album’s liner-notes by John Swenson are at pains to dismiss rumored Portland recordings of Peter and Steve and cheer on the abuse his co-producer lays on Steve, “working at a breakneck pace by haranguing him constantly during breaks until Weber retreated behind the microphone for solace.” New York for ya…
The women of the Portland scene shopped resale, wearing what twenties dresses could bear up under the crush in these bars and the wear-and-tear of the strange new sexual customs still then unfolding. The protest flyer nearby concerns Jeffrey Frederick’s apparently routine exclusive use of the women’s johns at bars. The flyer’s protest features already routine feminist attitudes with descriptions of behavior somewhat more in the true spirit of the times. Here’s David again, writing decades later about this flyer and that night. (A Warning: David wrote this for himself with perhaps no editor or reader in mind…)
“The flyer makes the big dustup unnecessarily complicated and confusing. It vanished overnight so this might be the only surviving copy. No one took it seriously just like no one took the cat fight seriously from the get go. Needless to say, anywhere Fat Freddy had a gig, he only pissed in the women’s shitter. Supposedly men’s cans turned his stomach. In truth, many women swear it’s the opposite -- Hey, gals, come on in!
Either Jeffrey walked in on Hannah or she walked in on him. Probably told him to get the fuck out of there. But then she made the fatal, suicidal mistake of flinging his hat into a toilet bowl.
The poor dumb cunt had no possible way of knowing that a bindle of heroin lay tucked inside the hat’s sweatband. She thought in all honesty she was just being a righteous bitch. No damn harm, No damn foul. Fuck the hat you fat fucking fuck! Dear sweet Jesus.
A cross-cultural misunderstanding of tectonic proportions: Put a twenty dollar match-head of Persian beige inside a hundred dollar hat. The hat would maybe be the real deal in price for vanity stage drag. But Jeffrey would happily pawn a pair of Stetsons, even trade ’em, for one good hit.
How in holy hell could poor Hannah possibly comprehend this alien universe she had stumbled into -- where the men all shit in the women’s, which sees no room, no rest.” (DL, circa 2000s)
I should explain here several of David’s unique circumlocutionary habits. He often paired the euphemism “freakin’” with the very word it was meant to take the edge off of, namely the F-word; hence, a likely sentence: “If he wants to go out of business I’d be glad to burn the freakin’ fuckin’ place to the ground for him.” Another strange tic of his involved how someone, anyone, might edit themselves in conversation by ending a sentence with “blah, blah, blah…”; but Dave was moving much to quickly to make do with just three “blahs” so he’d use freakin’ fuckin’ five of ’em! Dave was a great editor and proof reader, but I’d say his verbal editing needed editing.
David’s girlfriends were often buyers and sellers of vintage threads re-released on post-Carnaby street, post-earth-mother fashion via former timber-baron estate-sales and auctions so these mogul’s dissolute scions could buy heroin from David. He was in the used records stores and his girlfriend was in the resale clothing shops. It was a division of postwar post-labor, an archeology of one postwar golden age so as to prolong the last bit of a second postwar golden age. One thing that bears mentioning is that the earliest of our postwar bohemia spun from homosexual men born between the wars. Bohemia after the Beats was generally hetero but at first shaped by the pre-birth-control Pill years when women, pairing up, children and/or marriage were the threat to their plans to avoid the straight work-a-day world. So those born during WWII were often misogynists going into the sixties sexual revolution, and they could be lets say a handful during it. Their girlfriends were of necessity quite their match.
[Photos: David, Seattle Folklife Festival, May 25, 1979, by Liz Fitting. David, Hugh Frederick, Tom Fitting of the MJB, Burnside Bridge Saturday Market, circa July 1979, by Liz Fitting.]
In Boston and Chicago and elsewhere acoustic/delta/Piedmont/blues/etc. was already being presented as if behind glass in a museum for the progressive delectation of that element of the sixties generation which wished to retire into a lifestyle. But in Portland Oregon, these musician-criminals couldn’t help but make that music live again as twenties-style rock and roll in something like the manner of the great jug bands of Memphis. I mostly missed it as I wasn’t looking for that. Lightbourne’s fifties’ rock and roll knowledge seemed more relevant to me and the punk rock I was beginning to deal in. Thank God I did go and see his band a couple times, once at the Leaky Roof and once at a practice at either Hugh Frederick’s or David Dearborn’s house.
The hip tavern culture of Portland peaked in the eighties, probably with the election of bar-owner Bud Clark as mayor in 1984. He claimed his bar crowded “butt-to-belly”, the Goose Hollow Inn, served 200 kegs of beer a month. The movie Drugstore Cowboy (1989) may be the nadir; it is based on events committed by friends of these musicians only subtracting all of their style and wit and taste. Lightbourne’s friends were co-stars in the actual nonfiction newspaper coverage; I found a set of clippings in his things of the arrests and the sentencings, and also a newspaper photo of a pharmacist with a framed photo of Matt Damon on the wall behind him. Dave would tell some insane Portland-era story and I’d again remind him that we needed to re-write that truth-never-told and make Danielle in that small house in the shade of the sheer back wall of Fred Meyer's the star of the show. Her front room was a Marx Brothers' state-room scene waiting to happen with all the human traffic, the antique bric-a-brac and David's complete run of Rolling Stones lining the walls floor-to-ceiling. The pitch would’ve been: Maisie in the crack-den, call it Superheroine.
In one of David’s many semi-filled journals-diaries-notebooks there is this, immediately following a short note dated Feb. 16, 1983 on basketball dynasties:
“It was all quite predictably freaky. I burst into Warren’s without knocking last Sunday, the 7th, and got three sawed-off shotguns pointed at me. Narcs as thugs; at first I thought ‘bikers’ before things slowed enough to notice the down vests and hiking shoes. They almost blew my ass out of the universe nose-first, perhaps to a parallel realm where mu-mesons reverse/implode in time. After holding me face down on the floor and kicking me a lot I talked my head off and they found a hundred dollar paper in a wallet next to where I’d been on the floor, pocketed the heroin, wallet and all, and said why don’t you split. So I did….” (DL, circa 1983)
David was then the star of the top tavern attraction in town, playing four nights a week.
It couldn’t last. They each on their own schedule stopped their drinking or drugging, or they died. Some spent time in jail, Dave among them. He almost never drank anything other than Coca Cola but he gave up heroin a second time in the mid-eighties, though he continued to recommend it for depression; he considered all of Big Pharma’s search for the perfect anti-depressant utterly redundant and hypocritical. Until I read Sisco’s blog I didn’t appreciate what an a-hole I was drinking a beer in front of Michael Hurley, who does a manful job pretending to love his cup of tea while his Boone & Jocko cartoons tell you what’s really on his mind. David had a number of friends who disappeared late in life into relationships with women that seemed combination rehab-matrimonies. He referred to these lost souls in the past tense, and described them as having married dominatrices. Dave’s girlfriends over the years were all good-looking, hip and smart but his own troubled childhood meant that he was pitched mightily against fatherhood and so these women left him to pair off with more user-friendly men, though many stayed in touch with him and counted on him for occasional blasts of information from out beyond their new normal.
[Photo: Danielle at 22]
Dave left Portland gradually, spending the late eighties in Phoenix with his mother and stepfather, actually taking law classes to assure her that he’d be able to provide for himself. He then went on the road as the audio-video tech for his brother Michael who was conducting sales seminars in the Rentrak video rental system. During these tours Dave hit every used record store in the country and re-connected with everyone he ever knew and respected as he went, and he would tell you all kinds of stuff, like what he found when he went looking for the Augusta house where Blind Willie McTell was born.
David’s brother Michael told me two very interesting things while here to move his brother’s effects, both about Michael and Priscilla’s father Kirk Lightbourne -- David’s step-father (his father, Kermit Loe, was killed in WWII when David was two). Kirk, who’d played trumpet in big bands until he got his front teeth knocked out in a drunken brawl while on tour. (Paul Whiteman Violence Must Stop!) Just before David went off to college in Iowa he had a big argument with Kirk who perhaps resented paying for it. Michael who was thirteen didn’t understand the argument except that it was scaring him because David was getting the better of his father until, as Michael tells it, Kirk picked David up and set him in the trash saying, “You are garbage.” David never went back home after that. In retirement in Phoenix, Kirk was an in-demand piano-tuner and he got to know Alice Cooper, Glen Campbell and other notable musicians in the area. Michael believes that his father began to soften on David as he recognized that what I’ll call the rockstar traits of Alice and Glen were the same things he’d been seeing in David since he barged in on young David’s idyll. But as a former big-band musician he had no respect for folk music per se, whether it was stepson David’s or his own son Michael’s, who on the face of it was quite successful himself in the pop end of early sixties folk music. As Michael puts it, his father though quite rowdy in his big band days, played ballrooms in tuxedos and “never saw the musical merit of this genre of music.”
[Photo: Stop & Listen Boys, w/ Trip Henderson, Lakeside Lounge, NYC, 2001, by Joe Carducci.]
In January 2007 Dave was at Jane’s in New York and The Holy Modal Rounders and Michael Hurley were in Portland doing gigs around the release of a documentary film called Bound to Lose. The film’s makers knew it was important to present in Portland, though the film does not cover the band’s Portland years. Dave wrote an email on the details of his impending return to Wyoming, and filled me in on what he heard about how things went back in his own stomping grounds:
“They took some good photos at the PDX bash, one in particular of Hurley & Reisch. Hurley looks like he's on a roll. Reisch had the sound-guy do digital 32 tracks off the board but noted that, often, one side of the stage had no idea what the other side was playing. His admonition: ‘Tapes don't lie’. Four fiddles, three washboards, two saxophones.... equals Tennessee Klezmer. Still being billed as Weber's one last chance to resurrect, apotheosize, or take petulance to the mountaintop. Nobody even remembers that he was virtually run out of town as corpses fell on every side. Nor do any of these morons remember Martin & Lewis, Laurel & Hardy.... or even Dan & Connie. Stampfel, meanwhile, has made a bigtime outback comeback.” (DL, Jan. 10, 2007)
David could be impatient with writers or filmmakers when they didn’t seem to know what they were talking about. He smiled when he told me the filmmakers had said they hoped to portray “the love between Peter and Steve”. Dave didn’t exactly mean to imply they hated each other, but he meant that the self-esteem generation might never figure out that once the focus had been on music first, and then drugs, girls, and life in America, and only after that maybe camaraderie, perhaps touched with something resembling love. The literature on bands like The Minutemen or Dinosaur Jr hinge on the ability of Music itself to bring together the nerds with the jocks -- nerds do not make good drummers and only genius-grade music can lure some happening high school dude to associate with his weirdest classmates -- it may be touching, but it isn’t love. How much more likely necessary was it in 1963 that music brought the two pathfinders of The Holy Modal Rounders together? (Peter began hearing horror-stories about Steve from Antonia as early as 1962; Steve was in Bucks County down the street from Hurley.)
To be fair Dave himself should have written these books and films on the blues, or Dylan, or The Rounders, or Mike Seeger, Mike Bloomfield, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marshall McLuhan, Elvis Presley…. It’s hardly their authors’ fault he didn’t. What is their fault is that they somehow didn’t locate him during their inadequate research phase. Dave was nothing if not the world’s premiere expert talking head. When Weber heard of David’s death I’m told he said, “There’s a lot of people who talk a lot, but David always had something to say.” Only a rank amateur filmmaker by the name of Elwood Snock ever knew enough to point a camera at video-camera at David. We look forward to seeing some of that footage at the White Eagle on August 7.
[Photos: Stop & Listen Boys, w/ Jane Pellouchoud, John Kidwell, Upland Breakdown 2006, by Lindsay Olson. Upland Breakdown 2004 jam, w/ Safran, Hurley, Hurwitz, Spot, Lightbourne.]
There aren’t too many gaps in my book, Rock and the Pop Narcotic, of a size sufficient to embarrass me but my missing that Oregon scene is surely the principle one. And I was so close to it! Dave might have recorded for Delmark in the mid-sixties when he worked at Bob Koester’s Jazz Record Mart; he might have recorded for Adelphi in 1970; nothing panned out until we got The Stop & Listen Boys album together in 2000 for a label I put together with Bill Stevenson of The Descendents and Black Flag -- bands that were among the reasons I left Portland and Berkeley for Los Angeles. Fortunately there is a ton of additional recordings of David and his bands from both the Wyoming era and the Portland era, and perhaps we’ll find material from the sixties as well in this crate of ancient reel-to-reel tapes he’d been toting around for years. We’ll know soon.
[Drawing by Maya Carducci.]
I had a vague idea that aside from what Coca-Cola did to his teeth, that drinking it all day long might presage some kind of nightmare diabetic finger-failure that you hear about in the pages of blues history. But Dave got stronger on the guitar in his sixties. Laramie of all places offered him both weekly solo venues (at Provisional Café, Cowboy Coffee, The Fireside, Muddy Waters Coffeehouse, The Buckhorn Bar) and places to play with his band The Stop & Listen Boys (The Old Centennial Café-Beartree Tavern, The Trading Post, KUWR, KRFC, and many one-offs). We talked through each Upland Breakdown since 2000, trying to bring out the best players he and I had known around a loose idea of acoustic blues. He was thrilled and even a touch nervous when he could bring out to our centrally-located middle-of-nowhere another of his old music compatriots: Michael Hurley, Gary Sisco, Al Rivers, Jane Cohen-Pellouchoud…. Every few years I’d ask him if he thought there’d be any chance of bringing out Peter Stampfel & Steve Weber, or at least Weber. He was sure it couldn’t be done and I figured he knew. But that would’ve been something. Something for Wyoming to fear.
David’s theory on health issues was to avoid doctors and hospitals because they’d insure that you’d have a lengthy twilight of failing abilities and mobility. He didn’t want that and didn’t let on when he was in pain, mostly because a childhood bout with rheumatic fever meant that he had often had pain; he apparently learned to just ignore it. I found his stray reference to insomnia due to “phantom chest pains” in a diary entry on a run to Mexico, and that was 1972. So I suspect he didn’t have any expectation that death was approaching. He was on the phone until about 11pm Mountain time to his old Portland pal Kevin Robinson the night of Thursday April 29th talking about a song lyric he was working on, and the coroner had his death come between 10pm and midnight. I found him at 9:30 the next morning sitting on the floor wrapped in his blanket, as if during the heart attack he tried to get up off the sofa. But this time it was more than pain.
Postscript by Al Rivers:
“Out of all the years I knew David and the crazy good times and bad, I keep coming back to this: David befriended me when I was just a lost, bewildered and very clueless 19-yr. old from the cornfields of Iowa just arrived in Portland, Oregon. I was lucky, he liked my singing and I was a rapt audience for his sarcastic comic hyperbole, and knowledge of old-time music. For over forty years David was tolerant, patient, and supportive of me. I loved him for that! I miss him now very much.” (AR July 18, 2010)
[Photo: David at Wright's Seth Peterson Cottage, Wisconsin 2007, by Joe Carducci]
• The Stop & Listen Boys, “Beedle Um Bum” Upland Breakdown, Centennial, Wyoming, 2008.
• “The Shortwave Stall”, Michael Hurley’s short film features Michael, David, Al Rivers, and a few other ex-Portlanders.
• The Metropolitan Jug Band, Coos Bay, Oregon, June 1980.
• The Holy Modal Rounders, live 1965.
• The Holy Modal Rounders - Bound to Lose… trailer.
• Jeffrey Frederick and The Clamtones.
• Michael Hurley.
• Dave Reisch.
• Al Rivers.
• Gary Sisco.
• John Fahey 1996 in studio.
• Portland Zoo, 2008 fortieth anniversary; Peter Langston also appears in the Fly By Night Jass Band clip above.
• PH Phactor Jug Band, 2001 Octoberfest.
• Freak Mountain Ramblers, at Laurelthirst, Oct. 4, 2009.
• Puddle City Bluegrass Band.
And again, in case you skipped it:
• The Fly By Night Jass Band, circa 1974.
Thanks to the contributors, and the following for information and materials: Michael Lightbourne, Priscilla Lightbourne, Kathryn Frederick, Nick Hill, Colleen, Clark Dimond, Tom Fitting, Tom Newman, Al Rivers, Mark Carducci, Maya Carducci, Ben Slater, Sam Trautman, Michael Hurley, Peter Langston, and Mike Vann Gray.
New Vulgate No. 44, May 3, 2010 on Lightbourne’s death four days earlier, with links to his writing at the Vulgate and elsewhere. There’s more material in issue No. 45 as well. I think if David had been more interested in computers he would’ve written more for the Vulgate because he would have seen it. He managed to print out his Elvis piece or the LSR piece and he’d mail color copies to his best friends. We had an earlier idea for a weblog connected to the Upland-O&O Record label website but that didn’t survive the end of the label. But it would have been called The Antagonist -- that was pure David.
The Friends of David Lightbourne page is filling up with great photos of David from childhood and links to some video and articles about him or by him.
The Stop & Listen Boys live on Meredith Ochs’ WFMU program, June 6, 2001 -- the 2nd of 3 appearances. Scroll down; the band comes on at the 1 hour mark of this one.
Tribute to David Lightbourne, Sat. Aug 7, White Eagle Saloon, Portland Oregon.
And here’s a page from The Stop & Listen Boys presskit that went out with the “Monkey Junk” release in 2000. The idea was for David to assume the old formal pr hokum rather than his actual voice:
A personal note from David Lightbourne -
“I’d just like to say it’s a blessing to be able to present the folks that have enjoyed my music over the years with a real record. I mean compact disc, of my music. I have my accompanists John Martz and Shaun Kelley to thank for how well the CD, as they call it, turned out, as well as all the good folks at Upland Records. I’d also like to thank my family for getting started in music all those years ago, plus the many fine musicians I’ve played with since then in the bands Powesheik County Jug Band, Bedrock Blues Band, Stumptown Slickers, Metropolitan Jug Band, The Clamtones, Vinyl Ethnic, Barbeque Orchestra, and now The Stop & Listen Boys. Finally, I feel I should thank the many great musical inspirations I and perhaps you have been privileged to hear over the years. Here is a list of some of those whose energy I witnessed up close and meant so much to me:
*1950 - Eddie Arnold
*1957 - Elvis Presley
*1958 - Bob Gibson / Odetta / Mike Seeger
*1961 - Rev. Gary Davis / Big Joe Williams / Sleepy John Estes / Elizabeth Cotton / Michael Bloomfield / Pete Cohon
*1962 - Staples Singers / Doc Watson / Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
*1963 - Kingsmen / Bob Dylan
*1964 - B.B. King / Robert Pete Williams
*1965 - Koerner Ray & Glover / Smokey & The Miracles / J.B. Hutto / Merle Travis / Son House / Rolling Stones / Bob Dylan & The Hawks / Butterfield Blues Band
*1966 - Howlin’ Wolf-Hubert Sumlin / Arlo Guthrie / James Cotton-Luther Tucker / Jefferson Airplane / Muddy Waters / Lovin’ Spoonful
*1967 - Skip James / Flatt & Scruggs / Jim Kweskin Jug Band
*1968 - Albert King / Steppenwolf / Taj Mahal / Bobby Blue Bland / Nina Simone / Big Brother & the Holding Company / Canned Heat / The Remains / J. Geils Band
*1971 - Neil Young
*1972 - The Holy Modal Rounders
*1973 - Steven Bernstein
*1974 - Michael Hurley
*1975 - Leo Kottke / Leon Redbone
*1978 - The Wipers / Television
*1979 - Elvis Costello / Robert Cray / Dead Kennedys
*1983 - Black Flag / Meat Puppets
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer