"Chicago Folk" Collects More Great Photos by Raeburn Flerlage | Bleader

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Chicago Folk" Collects More Great Photos by Raeburn Flerlage

Posted By on 12.09.09 at 02:42 PM

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Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene
  • Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene
I’ve never looked through Chicago Blues, a book of blues photographs shot in Chicago by Raeburn Flerlage (who died in 2002 at age 87) and published in 2000. But after spending some time with a new volume of his gorgeous black-and-white photography I realized that I’ve seen plenty of his work without knowing it. Back in the 60s he shot album photos for labels like Chess, Delmark, Testament, Folkways, and Prestige. And the terrific new book Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene (ECW Press) collects his photographs of the folk-music revival, particularly of concerts at the University of Chicago Folk Festival during the 60s.

Other photo books have already documented this scene, including one by John Cohen (who appears in Chicago Folk as a member of the Red Clay Ramblers Lost City Ramblers) and The Face of Folk Music by Dave Gahr, but it’s awfully nice to have another, especially of pictures all taken in Chicago. In addition to the U. of C. Folk Festival, Flerlage shot at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Orchestra Hall (the book includes some Bob Dylan pics from 1963), the old Kroch & Brentano’s bookshop, and folk clubs like Gate of Horn, Fickle Pickle, and Mother Blues. Flerlage took performance photos and casual candids of the usual suspects—Big Joe Williams, Roscoe Holcomb, Odetta, Bill Monroe (whose band at the time included Jack Cooke and Del McCoury), Hobart Smith, Son House—but though his subjects were familiar he usually captured something riveting if not revelatory about them.

The book includes more than 200 photos, most have which haven’t been previously published. A fascinating introductory essay by Ronald D. Cohen, a history professor at Indiana University Northwest, details Flerlage’s obsession with folk music—he discovered early on that he could score free records if he wrote about them—and with racial equality. He eked out a meager living while doing everything he could to promote the music and the musicians. He was an early supporter of Pete Seeger’s People’s Songs movement and spent much of the 50s and 60s working as a midwest distributor for Folkways, the legendary label owned by Moses Asch. Flerlage comes off as a guy who felt that he couldn’t get close enough to the music he loved, but Chicago Folk proves that he found just the right place from which to capture it.

Today’s playlist:

Diego El Cigala, Corren Tiempos de Alegría (Ariola)
Spellbinders, Chain Reaction (Shout!)
Emeralds, What Happened (No Fun)
Caetano Veloso, Zii e Zie (Universal, Brasil)
Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, and Craig Taborn, Farmers by Nature (Aum Fidelity)

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