Del Goldfarb, Blues Musician

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Recalling Blues Heroes

by Del Goldfarb

I had been looking down at Albert King laying peacefully in his box. Hair combed, moustach trimmed, little plugs in his nostrils, eyes sealed shut. Dead a few days now, we were alone in the visitation room at the funeral home, early evening when I stopped by after work. As I dwelled upon the silence of the big man and how less imposing he looked, sort of deflated and there was no pipe clenched in his jaw, I heard several people enter the room behind me. Rufus Thomas, a fellow Stax alumnus, came in with a few companions. I stepped back from Albert’s coffin while Rufus stepped up to it. He looked down at Albert and placed a hand flat against the dead man’s stilled chest. After holding that pose for an extended moment, Rufus spun around bug-eyed and blew out a “lucky-that’s-not-me” whooshing of breath.

Rufus sang at Albert King’s funeral service after Joe Walsh played a slide version of “Amazing Grace.” It was the greatest of honors to know Rufus Thomas and to hang with him.

He was known for his quote “Once you’ve been black on Beale Street, you’ll never want to go back to being white.”
 

Portable Man

Del Goldfarb

Born in Buffalo, NY 1950. My history begins with the five-string banjo and Pete Seeger’s red Oak Publications book (aquired with Bar Mitzvah gift money). Pete's voice and advice sank into my head like no adult's advice had ever previously done. He talked about not being materialistic and collecting stuff, and how important it was for everybody to all join together and help each other. My Bar Mitzvah year began after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy spoke on television in the fall and warned Fidel Castro against escalating the tension. We had all been practicing air raid drills regularly at school and people were building fallout shelters. My mother was crying after Kennedy spoke: "This is the end, this is the end." Well, the missile boats turned back and we didn't have to die. I turned twelve and started exploring book stores and finding out about Beatniks, the Village Voice, the Realist, Allen Ginsberg...

That January, something special came out of my little transistor radio. A tune called "Walk Right In" came on with a distinctly non-"Four Seasons", non-"Beach Boys" sound. ’Totally gave me shelter from the storm, telling me to relax, be myself, everything's cool, make yourself at home. Not the typical message to hear from a song in those days.

I Graduated from Amherst High School in 1968, a few years after school mates Andy Kulberg (of the Blues Project) and Eric Anderson had graduated from the same place. Shortly after bar mitzvah age (October 63, right before JFK shooting), I started hanging on weekends in the Village. The speed limit on the NY State Thruway back then was 80 mph. There werealways rides available with University of Buffalo people going back and forth to the Big Apple. Great ride message board at the student union. I was touring with mandolinist Frank Wakefield while still in high school. I was actually in Alabama when Dr. (Martin Luther) King was assasinated, and I marched in the funeral procession in Atlanta. I came to Oregon from Memphis in 1977 but started going back and forth five years later. Pretty much have residency in both places ever since. The Great Hoboes tagged me with my NYC upbringing. I actually told them that I launched my journey from there.

Over the years, I’ve heard billions of arguments regarding what is and what is not the blues. As far as I’m concerned, it the words. Any type of tune or rhythm can work. Furthermore, as a blue-collar worker, a person has other certain advantages. It began for me when I memorized lyrics and played them back in my head in cadence with hikes and marching in the USMC. Later on in the work force, I found myself side by side for hours with either a printing press or a donut machine. Lots of clickety-clack assembly line sounds provided a back drop to my inner-head tunesmithing. For my blues history class, I demonstrated this idea by showing a clip from the film “Blue Collar”, which opens with a massive steel press pounding interspersed with a ripping blues riff...

I would say that music, and blues music in particular, did "save" me in many ways, similar to what the author of "Vietnam Blues" (J.B. Lenoir) described. I've spent lots of time trying to examine where I'm going and where I've been, so I'll try to pinpoint some of the moments as best as I can.

My song "Portable Man" is quite true to life. I've added an opening verse since recording it that is quite chilling. The title came from an exchange between myself and my then four year old daughter. We were driving past some people sleeping on benches next to shopping carts and she asked about them. I told her that the only difference between them and us was that they didn't sleep in houses, they were "portable". So as of late, my first ritual of the day is to figure out where the hell I am... and I know that age is helping to kick in the confusion a bit.

I recall a moment a few years ago when I went to visit Napolean Strickland in a Hernando, Mississippi hospital. He'd been in a car wreck, his cousin Jessie Mae (Hemphill) had turned me on to him. I introduced (film director) Robert Mugge to Napolean, a fife player, and he used Napolean to open the film "Deep Blues." Jessie Mae called him "Po-Lene". He'd been in a car accident and was laying in bed. Even in the best of times, I never could figure out what he was saying, and I don't think he always knew what the hell I was all about. But we always had a lot of laughs for some reason, and he was going to teach me how to burn fifes out of a piece of cane with a red-hot iron rod. I don't think he could read or write, but he could punch a few smoking holes right where they're supposed to be and then just start playing the darn thing. He caused me to think with the simplest of questions. This time at the hospital was a long quiet moment. We never really yakked, mostly goofed around, so what was there to talk about? The guy was ancient. Napolean asked me, "Where you from?" and that got my brain going. New York to Tennessee to Oregon had become a blurry cycle, but actually to Napolean anything outside of Senatobia or Como was all the same. I'd just come down from Memphis.

Now when people ask me where I'm from, I tell them I'm from whatever's just behind me. I'm from whatever is the opposite of where I'm headed. Because if I look back to find any semblence of a launching pad or home turf, there's nothing there.

Del Goldfarb

Among his accomlishments, and in addition to his role as an active Folk and Blues musician, Del Goldfarb has acted as a Blues historian over the years, here are some highlights:

Founded the first Waterfront Blues Festival (originally Rose City Blues Festival) in 1987, produced first five festivals presenting artists such as James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Johnnie Shines, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, John Mayall, Frank Frost and many others.

Submitted presentation of the washtub bass (on behalf of Fritz Richmond) to the Smithsonian Institute. Received letter acknowledging my contribution in helping to preserve “this key chapter in popular music history.” (1988)

Discovered the grave of Gus Cannon nearly buried in overgrown weeds in N.Mississippi. With the Beale Street Blues Society (particularly Dennis Brooks), raised funds for the tombstone and coordinated efforts of John Sebastian and Eric von Schmidt in the design with a Memphis stone-carver.

Assistant to curator Richard Hite (Canned Heat bassist) Memphis Music Hall of Fame and Beale Street Blues Museum, (1992-1994). Worked with Stax and Sun artists cataloging their items, Isaac Hayes, belongings of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash.

See Del’s gallery of photo's & Blues memories at http://www.DelGoldfarb.com.

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from the bookTouched By the Blues

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