March 2, 2018 Grosswendt and Salem-Schatz to bring pre-war blues/country music to Harrisburg

Martin Grosswendt and Susanne Salem-Schatz bring their compelling voices, uncanny sense of harmony, and deep grounding in traditional country blues and old-time to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Friday, March 2, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg.

Grosswendt is internationally known as an interpreter of prewar blues and other roots music, while Salem-Schatz slips into any genre and makes it her own, appearing as soulful blues singer one minute and sassy honky-tonk gal the next. Their performances strike a deep emotional chord as they share their deep love of and respect for the roots of classic blues, old time, and early country, making the music their own and presenting it with style, grace, and wit.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $22 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.

I was able to have a delightful conversation with multi-instrumentalist Martin Grosswendt. Just by talking to him I can tell that his and Suzanne’s concert is sure to be filled with lots of warmth, great music, and laughs!

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about your background. How did you come to love traditional music from the South?

GROSSWENDT: I’ve always loved singing, for as long as I could remember, but I just kind of fell into the music when I was about 12 or 13 when I got hooked on a Jim Kweskin Jugband album and just about wore it out!  And then a couple of years later I started playing guitar and I discovered that I could learn to copy the noises that I heard on records and so Mississippi John Hurt’s album on Vanguard Today was just a tremendous, tremendous influence on me when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I learned a lot of guitar playing just from that album.

I’ve never taken formal lessons, I was just in a situation where I was lucky enough to hear a lot of great people play. I went to Tryworks Coffeehouse in New Bedford, which is sort of legendary, starting in 1968. And Maggi Peirce, who is a great singer from Belfast and has become a great storyteller, ran that. Most weeks it was just local acts, kids playing, but she started to bring in some wonderful traditional singers; Lou Killian, Norman Kennedy, and Helen Schneyer.

The last year I attending high school, in tenth grade, I was in DC at that point and I got to hear John Jackson several times, who was just a remarkable Piedmont Blues guitar player, from Virginia. And I also got to know this banjo player, Reed Martin, and I learned a lot of stuff from watching him play. He was kind enough to make me a reel to reel tape recording of a whole lot of tunes which became my bible for old-time banjo. But he also turned me on to Robert Johnson and around the same time I discovered Son House and Blind Blake, a great east coast guitar player, and a bunch of other Delta players including Charlie Patton who just was amazing.

So that was all in my teens and from there I was just lucky enough to be around people who took me seriously and I was precocious enough on my instruments and I had a good enough sense of humor so that people took me under their wing.

FOLKMAMA: When you started touring, did you play mostly on your own?

GROSSWENDT For the first part of my career I was usually by myself, but I toured with Utah Phillips and I played with Mary McCaslin and Jim Ringer when they were on the east coast. For awhile I lived in Saratoga and of course I washed dishes at Café Lena and I got to see a lot of fantastic people play there. I lived in Vermont in the 70s and I got to do a lot of session work at Philo Records with Bruce Phillips, Mary McCaslin and Jim Ringer, and I believe I got to play on one of Jay Unger and Lynn Hardy’s records too.

FOLKMAMA: How would you describe your style?

GROSSWENDT: I self identify as “a working guitar player with a short attention span”. So I’ve always heard these noises that I’ve wanted to make. And it’s been five string banjo and guitar and mandolin and some fiddle and dobro and pedal steel guitar and just a bunch of different things. Guitar and five string banjo are probably what I have been most consistent at.

FOLKMAMA: What are you most passionate about?

GROSSWENDT: I just love a lot of Southern music from before World War Two. Part of what fascinates me is the interface between the back and white traditions. So I switch back and forth a lot. I love old time music, I really like old time country music, and I love Delta and East Coast blues. There are just so many good types of music to play that I’ve just sort of followed my nose.

And I think that’s what the culture was like down there as well. Black and white musicians lived cheek by jowl and I’m sure that they played together at times, and the repertoire went back and forth. There were always songs and licks and techniques going back and forth between the races.

FOLKMAMA: When musicians were playing during that time period, do you think they thought much about distinctions between what the different races were playing?

GROSSWENDT: The taxonomy and classification of music being “black” or “white” really occurred when the record companies (all these small record companies owned mostly by people who made Victrolas) went in to record artists. They essentially invented these categories. They invented the category of the “Race Record” which was for black audiences, and “Hillybilly” music which was for working class white people in the south, regardless of whether they were in the hills or not.

The “Race Records” were usually blues because that’s all that the record companies let itinerant or community musicians from down there record. Charlie Patton, one of the great Delta Blues singers who was the first guy from the Mississippi Delta to record extensively, did all kinds of music. He did country songs, he played party songs, he did blues, he did standards, he did whatever his audience wanted to hear, whether that audience was black or white.

FOLKMAMA: So tell us a little more about what we’ll hear during Friday’s show. What instruments will you be playing?

GROSSWENDT I’ll play guitar and a little mandolin and I’ll play some banjo. The repertoire won’t be strictly blues. We do some classic blues, we do some old time music, what they call hillbilly music, we do some standards, and we do a few contemporary things. We do some old time music by Doc Bogs, and we can’t seem to make it through the night without doing at least one George Jones tune.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about Susanne Salem-Schatz.

GROSSWENDT: She’s just a phenomenal singer. I’m really lucky to be touring with her. I’ll tell you how we met. I used to play rhythm guitar for an old-time jam in an Irish pub every Sunday night for about 12 years. One night I was singing something and it came to the chorus and I heard this voice immediately behind me start in with this really terrific, compelling harmony. And it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And I guess it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up too and several of the people around us and I couldn’t believe it and I turned around and saw her and that’s how we met. About three and a half years ago we started touring together as a duo.

We try to only play at places where people will like the music and will listen. We are looking forward to playing for the Central Pennsylvania audience at Fort Hunter!

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