Lords Of The Belt

R.Remaily, M. Hurley, M. Martineau, Sisco, Fiddlin' Slim

Sisco & Pals the End of the Trail

Sisco's Liner notes... cd

Tracks 1,6,8, and 12 were recorded at Philo Studio, N. Ferrisburg, VT, 1982. These tracks are drawn from sessions that produced the legendary but aborted record "Lords Of The Belt," featuring Michael Hurley, Robin Remaily, the late Fiddlin' Slim Baker, Michael Martineau, and myself, in a group effort. Many thanks to Michael Martineau, who paid for the sessions, along with rooms, meals, and many cases of beer, both dark and light, for the lot of us, over four or five days during the dread winter of '82-'83, which was otherwise noteworthy only for its deep blues, mad over-indulgence, wrecked marriages, and near complete financial ruin. The late Dave Van Ronk was recording at night in the same studio over those same days. We'd arrive late in the morning for another day's fun and nonprofit, to find an empty sour-mash bottle or two, and a filled-to-overflowing ashtray the size of a Buick hubcap, on the floor next to Van Ronk's chair. Of all the tracks on this record, only tracks 1 and 12 were ever at the time of recording considered finished products intended for release. Who knew? "The Belt" we lorded over was a strip of central Vermont running, roughly, west to east from Montpelier to Bradford on the north and Strafford on the south, where, at the time, there were likely more hipsters and ZZC's per square inch than anywhere else on the planet. Tracks 2,3,9 were recorded at Rabbit Records, N. Wolcott, VT, 1981. The version of "Release Me" heard here is actually a ghost track originally intended to be a guide the musicians would hear over headphones, while multitracking with a four-track machine using an archaic process known as "bouncing" in the days. The finished version featured a different vocal and an additional acoustic guitar, along with the late, great Big Joe Burrell on tenor saxophone; Will Patton on bass, piano and guitar; Debby Toan Patton, Marsha Brewster, and Pat Austin -- The Original Spiders -- singing vocal harmonies. I also planned to play drums on it but never got that far. The (nearly) finished version was tragically destroyed by the technician, who mistakenly recorded over the first 13 seconds of the piano track, which would have required starting the whole, long, "bouncing" process over again on another day that never came, with money that didn't exist. I say tragically because the finished project would have been a personal dream come true, having Big Joe Burrell on one of my recordings. Suffice it to say that Big Joe nailed it and nailed it true, first take, which should surprise no one. Big Joe never forgot that day and told the story many times in years to come. I'd arranged for Big Joe to meet me in a restaurant parking lot on the highway, so he could follow my car out on the six or seven miles of dirt road to the studio, which was to hell and gone in the boondocks. Big Joe arrived in an enormous, shiny-clean Cadillac, and dressed to kill, as he always was. He liked to tell people in later years that "It looked like Li'l Abner out there. Hippies all barefoot, wearing overalls, no shirts -- and smoking more reefer than the law allows!" Big Joe was a master of the tenor saxophone, who made his way with his horn for more than six dedades, n the process playing with just about everybody worth talking about in the r&b and blues world, including several years on the bus with the B.B. King Orchestra, mainly in what was then the Jim Crow South, which meant more often than not, that the cats literally lived on the bus, almost all of the time. That's some blues. Not to mention some hard traveling. His organ trio was hired by Count Basie to be the house band at Basie's Place in Harlem. Big Joe had a big, fat tone, reflecting his mid-western roots, that could still fill a room without a microphone, even in his elderly years. He died this past winter, in 2005, age 80, in Burlington, VT -- the little city he loved and which loved him back, for 30 years. He was the most decent, human man I've ever had the privilege to know. Tracks 4,5,7 are home recordings made at Will Patton's house, Bakersfield, VT, 1979. Billy, or Will as he likes to be known today, and I made a whole lot of music together in the '70s. A master of the mandolin, I'd wager he was the first to play real bebop on one. I know I was hearing him do it long before I ever heard more famous names for whom the claim has been made. That year, Michael Hurley, Samuella The Fortune Teller, Dave Reisch, Boozin' Susan, their infant daughter Emma, and I all shared
a summer and fall of rockin' good times at John and Becky Cassel's estate in Lost Nation Valley, East Fairfield, VT, where the outfit known to history as Doc Snock And The Amazing Sensitivos was born. In the mornings, I'd sit outside drinking coffee while listening to the strains of Elwood's fiddle drift down the valley. At night, a whip-poor-will sang in the woods across the road. There was a bumper crop of burdock that summer and one day Elwood arrived with a shovel and started digging up burdock. Whatcha doing, Elwood, I asked. Digging burdock root, he replied. What for, says I. To eat, says he. Being still a carnivore in those days, and very far from macropsychotic, I'd never encountered the idea of eating burdock root before that, but there were many ideas I'd never encountered before that -- among them, making burdock beer. Elwood brewed up a batch he called Old Stumpblower that was black ale, indeed. Black as ink. But it went down pretty good -- good enough so that one night we got into a burdock blackout and listened to the same side of a Johnny Lee Wills record again and again, all night, just so we could hear him sing "Riding Down The Canyon" one more time. We had lots of other blackouts that summer, too, but that's the way it goes, sometimes. Life, I mean. That's the way it goes, at least, until it doesn't anymore -- in which case you're dead and nothing goes anymore. "Yes, yes, that's how it is." Elwood's record "Snockgrass" (Rounder 3043) was recorded that summer at a studio in Northfield, VT., where the owner and technician, Robert Hurley (unrelated) bestowed upon me the handle "Crispo" that's stuck for years. I always thought Elwood layed that handle on me, 'cause he's famous for laying handles that stick on people, coast to coast, and across the seas. But he tells me, no, it was Robert Hurley, and further, that had it not been for his acute ear and attention to detail, the appelation would have been used that once and once only -- instantly forgotten, to disappear into the long stream of anonymous human history. Those who missed The Sensitivos in their day can still hear them in full swing on several "Snockgrass" tracks, and if you place your spy eye on the cover of that record, you'll get a good glimpse of what Paradise looks like to Doc Snock and The Amazing Sensitivos, then and still today. The Sensitivos would go on to follow their daddy, their hero -- perhaps more accurately, drag him along -- for thousands of miles on the Beer And Beans Tour, which took them from that lush valley in East Fairfield, where the living was good, with pals Wax and Michelle providing a weekly seafood feast, and hardly anyone ever bothering us, to the desert rock and sands of northern Nevada around Dayton and Silver City, where we met up again and played a bunch of music with pals Jeffrey Frederick, Morgan Huber, the great Lonesome Wayne Thomas, and lots of other friends; to the rain forests and exploding volcanos of Oregon and Washington, where we once again met with hunger and financial ruin, but managed to make some music and have some good times, regardless, if only because my brother John (The Other Sisco) had hopped on the Sensitivo wagon in Silver City at the last minute, along with Lonesome Wayne, and old pal Robin Remaily, too, after the wagon passed through his joint of the time in northern California. John was the only one of us with sense enough to get a job when the bottom fell out, as it always, eventually, did. He lied his way into a solo shift at a House Of Pancakes in SE Portland, where many a Sensitivo would panhandle eggs and flapjacks late at night, and also where, on paydays, he could always count on his rock-star brother showing up just in time for a night on Portland -- on him. Many thanks to John for all his hard work, and also to old friend David Lightbourne for unlimited access to his fantabulous record collection -- the best I've ever seen, apart from Elwood's -- and for the many miles I put on David's couch in that period, after Steve Weber, in whose spare room I'd been lodging, tossed my ass into the street, likely with good cause, but that's another tale for someone else's notes. What's a little homelessness amongst friends, anyway? Thanks to Weber and to Essie, too, for having put up with me at all. I wasn't always the charming motherfucker I am today. Tracks 10 and 11 are the roughest of the lot fidelity-wise, but also my favorites -- an audience recording, made by

someone unknown to me, apparently with one microphone, at a Green Mountain College beer bash, Poultney, VT, October 13, 1978. These tracks are taken from the last set, late at night, with various pills and lots of alcohol and hootie weed on board. The break in recording on track 11 was caused by the tape having run out and been turned over, mid-song. We learned to live with those things in analogue days; now you can, too, in digital days. Both are excerpted from what was actually a Clamtones gig (that summer's East Coast version) -- and, as it turned out, Jeffrey's last-ever Vermont gig. It's also the only known recording featuring Jeffrey and Sisco together. Both lit out from Vermont shortly thereafter, after a glorious summer and fall of fun and misadventure around Franklin and Lamoille counties, to rendezvous at The End Of The Trail Saloon in Dayton, Nevada. The rest is history. Of the too-many dead friends in my life, I can't honestly say I've regretted anyone's dying as much as I have Jeffrey's. He was, with Michael Hurley, one of the heroes of my youth (and still today). I've always considered him the best barroom rocker, and certainly the best crooner, ever. In those days, I was in love with him, as were many. I miss him a lot, but I'm happy to see him (and Michael, too) finally receiving some of the props he's long deserved, from what is, now, a third generation of fans. Our muses led us in different directions after late 1980, when I returned to Vermont from the West -- a long, nonstop drive on which money was measured in pennies instead of dollars, and fueled in large part by a black beauty Jeffrey dropped in my shirt pocket as a going-away present, out on the porch of The End Of The Trail, just before I fired up the '63 for its final transcontinental cruise. That was the last I ever saw of Jeff, as it turned out, but he was never far from my thoughts, for all that, and still occupies his permanent place in my heart. In all of these years, I don't think a day's gone by where I haven't harangued someone with a story about Jeffrey and his many, often crazed but always hysterical, if sometimes tragic, even criminal, antics. The world's a lesser place without him. We had an awful lot of fun, riding point and leaving many "wakes of hate and discontent" behind us, as Jeffrey liked to say, often with great accuracy. Jeffrey was a tall, handsome man, always dressed, neat and clean and looking good, despite having, normally, a huge load on. It was impossible to gauge, actually, unless you'd been with him all day, just how much of a load he did have on -- until, faster than I can say it, the gears would suddenly shift from lazily telling lies over a cocktail to fleeing yet another disastrous, cop-courting event when you'd been least expecting one. "Like robbers, we'd make a getaway" -- cursing Jeffrey to the ends of the earth but laughing enough to piss yourself just the same. He was like that mad but super-cool delinquent on the corner every parent rails against, only grown to manhood and taken to the tenth degree. But when Jeff took to the stage, at minimum you knew right away that major good times were the order of the day. And on his best nights, the music and his songs became transcendent, obliterating labels like "country" or "rock and roll." It became, then, just Jeffrey Frederick's music, and, on those great nights, when Jeff had 'em dancing, the whole world knew there was a party going on. No one I've heard in my more than half a century could rock a house like Jeffrey could, on nights when all the stars were properly aligned. If there's not a place in the universe where he's still carrying on, there damned well ought to be. I hope you like my record. It's an honest document, I think, of the small musical part -- a footnote, really -- that I played long ago in the hugely creative tribe of musicians, clowns, cowboys, hobos, hipsters, and star-cruisers that's been orbitting and sometimes colliding around Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick, The Holy Modal Rounders, and, now, The Freak Mountain Ramblers and allied bands, for more than than forty years.  Long may it orb.

 

 

Tune: End Of The Trail from Sisco & Pals

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