Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Jonathan Allan Stecher, 1 June '46, Brooklyn NY) Eclectic multi-instrumentalist: folk, bluegrass, country, blues, Cajun, Irish, Scottish music of the Cape Breton variety; especially known for guitar, both solo and as accompanist, described by the Vancouver Folk Festival '89 as 'the Leonardo Da Vinci of old-timey American music'. Following Sam Charters, who had recorded Bahamian folk music for Folkways '58, Stecher and Peter K. Siegel travelled to the Bahamas '65 to make further field recordings; Stecher later said, 'I came along because I was the only person he knew who was interested. It never would have happened without Peter.' The results appeared in the Nonesuch Explorer series, other takes and performances later on Rounder. The Real Bahamas '65 (on Polydor Special '69 UK) numbered performances by Frederick McQueen, the Pinder Family, Louise and Joseph Spence and Sheldon Swin among others; The Real Bahamas Volume II '78 drew from the same well (combined on a Nonesuch CD '97). The first volume incl. hymn 'I Bid You Goodnight' sung by the Pinder Family, bringing it more attention than most 'international folk' albums. Miscredited to 'the Pindar Family' on the sleeve, it was described by Stecher as 'one of the most beautiful songs in the English language', later covered by the Grateful Dead, Incredible String Band, Any Old Time String Band, Happy Traum and Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers.

Stecher went on to become one of the leading figures in US folk, bluegrass and old-time music; performed with musicians incl. Jerry Garcia (later of the Grateful Dead), David Grisman and Eric Thompson. Studied Indian instruments at Ali Akbar School of Music in California '68--70 and later with the great rudra veena player and teacher Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (b '28, Udaipur; d 28 Sep. '90, Bombay). Snake Baked A Hoecake '74 and the still finer Going Up On The Mountain '77 both on Bay were plundered by other performers in search of material. Performed occasionally with singer and guitarist Larry Hanks (whose Tying A Knot In The Devil's Tail on Long Sleeve '83 also showcased Hanks on Jew's harp) and regularly with Hank Bradley. Rasa, an Indo-American fusion album on Claddagh in Eire/Rooster USA, paired him with the Krishna Bhatt (see also entry for Terry Riley), mixing Stecher's guitar and vocal with Bhatt's sitar, tabla and vocals, an important East--West fusion album. He made The Driven Bow '88 on Culburnie with Scots fiddler Alasdair Fraser. A Song That Will Linger '89 on Rounder with Kate Brislin was one of the finest country duet albums of the decade: Brislin (b Kathryn Ann Young, 19 Feb. '46, Portsmouth OH) had formerly played in the Arkansas Sheiks, the all-female Any Old Time (albums Any Old Time String Band on Arhoolie '78 and Ladies' Choice on Bay '80 combined as I Bid You Goodnight on Arhoolie CD '96) and the Blue Flame String Band (eponymous album on Flying Fish '83); she sang lead on the heartbreaking 'What Was I Supposed to Do' single on 14 Carrot Records, reprised on Blue Flame String Band. She had already guested vocals on Going Up On The Mountain and Rasa but a proper partnership began '85, and he remains one of the genre's finest accompanists. Their Blue Lightning on Rounder '91 was another success, Our Town '93 regarded as a slight falling off, but was nom. for a Grammy; Stay Awhile '95 a return to form. Stecher and Brislin with Larry Hanks contributed 'Only Remembered' to Mike Seeger's Third Annual Farewell Reunion '94 on Rounder; Brislin and Katy Moffat made Sleepless Nights '96 on Rounder, a matchless set of close-harmony songs about good love gone bad (incl. Genny Haley's 'Sad But True', Louvin Bros' 'Childish Love', Everly Bros' 'So Sad'). Heart Songs '97 was a new milestone in the folk genre: 13 largely unknown songs (though 'Rock Salt And Nails' had been covered by Joan Baez) by Bruce Utah Phillips (b 15 May '35, Cleveland OH) dealing with forgotten or overlooked aspects of American history: 'Orphan Train', about the shipment of orphans west to new homes; 'The Jury Set Him Free', recounting the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in Mississippi; 'Miner's Lullaby', Catholic miners carrying morphine capsules in case of disaster underground.