It’s always best when things are done out of Love. It is a little dust of that type of Love that drives me to point out “Down Home Music” each time I take a visitor through my adopted home town of El Cerrito, California.
“That’s the most important record store in the world.” I say bluntly.
“What?”! is invariably the responsibility as those that know me understand each of the thousands of recordings I have collected over the decades are strictly KEEPERS. Yeah, Down Home Music is THAT important.
Its history is very storied, and you can look all that up here on the intrawebz, and see everyone wedge their noses up Chris Strachwitz’s ass rightfully. He’ the kind of dude a lot of people like to act as if they had actually lived a life like his. You see em, glad-handing, acting like they know cultural icons personally (always name-dropping and kissing ass. Nah, I don’t care for building people up); so, Chrissy-Baby your rep will speak for itself here. Suffice to say, he’s brought a lot of music to the world. You really should read up on it if you don’t know the Arhoolie Records story.
Now, why I bring Chris up is, he owns the building that houses Down Home and some other cool folks, Flower Films. If you aren’t familiar with Flower Films, you should just do yourself that favor now and get acquainted with Les Blank and his work. He was a great inspiration to me as a filmmaker. Les came into my tattoo shop in El Cerrito 15 years ago, back when a tattoo shop in one’s hometown was an oddity. They weren’t the new nail salon they are today. He laid a couple of his films on me in VHS. The great “Stoney Knows How” about legendary tattooer Stoney St.Clair he made with help from Ed Hardy and Alan Govenar, the man who also wrote the great small book of the same name. I didn’t know Les history at that point. I was unaware that I was a fan of his work. I thought maybe I could get the word out about some of his films, like he needed me in some capacity, “Hey man, if there is anything I can do to help you with just let me know, buddy”.
He didn’t give me the “Hey, I ain’t rich, but I AM world fucking renowned as a filmmaker, pal, I have made it this sixty plus years without your sorry ass, so save it, sonny!” He just thanked me with a very slight eye-roll. Once I did my homework, and realized the depth and breadth of his footprint, well, I was a bit sheepish around him.
So, I became friendly with all of these folks hanging around Down Home. I cannot begin to explain all of the great paths that have crossed for me there in the past twenty years. Friendships struck, deaths announced, musical followings established, soundtracks fulfilled, musicians experienced live before their journey into the afterworld, you name it. It’s a really special place. Yeah, it chaps me a little to spend full pop on a Merle Haggard box set I can get for half price on Amazon. But, let’s remember now, I don’t know anyone at Amazon personally, and they really haven’t done much for me or anyone I know in the music business. So, I dig deep. Real deep when I can. Because I can’t describe the anguish losing this great outpost of culture would bring to me and countless others around the world. You MUST SUPPORT what you Love. I have been careful with my CD/Record buying the past couple of years, as we have a custom room in our house that is pretty much at critical mass. It pains me to not be buying more, and keeping the Down Home Music’s (steel drivin’, movin along at a stronger pace)
Down Home is the John Henry of my time. I need to hear that cold steel ring; Lord, Lord. I hope you do to, and that you will find your way to Down Home, and meet my friends J.C., Layuba, and when he’s available, the owner, John. They are doing the entire community a huge favor by swinging that old hammer day after day. So, don’t wait for Polly Ann to step-up for you to grab your own hammer and take a few swings before all that’s left is a steam drill, a digital download, and a whole lot of destitute musicians
Encourage your kids to stop stealing via illegal downloading from the artists they admire, and do the right thing, take a little ride in person, or give Down Home a call. You will be doing yourself a solid.
“John Henry was about three days old, sittin’ on his papa’s knee. He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel; said, “Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord. Hammer’s gonna be the death of me. The captain said to John Henry “Gonna bring that steam drill ’round”. Gonna bring that steam drill out on the job. Gonna whop that steel on down. Down, Whop that steel on down. A man ain’t nothin’ but a man, But before I let your steam drill beat me down, I’d die with a hammer in my hand. Lord, Lord. I’d dies with a hammer in my hand.” John Henry said to his shaker, “Shaker, why don’t you sing? ‘m throwin’ thirty pounds from my hips on down.Just listen to that cold steel ring. Lord, Lord.
Listen to that cold steel ring.
The man that invented the stream drill Thought he was mighty fine, But John Henry made fifteen feet, The steam drill only made nine. Lord, Lord. The steam drill only made nine. John Henry hammered in the mountain. His hammer was striking fire. But he worked so hard, he broke his poor heart. He laid down his hammer and he died. Lord, Lord. He laid down his hammer and he died. John Henry had a little woman. Her name was Polly Ann. John Henry took sick and went to his bed. Polly Ann drove steel like a man. Lord, Lord. Polly Ann drove steel like a man. John Henry had a little baby. You could hold him in the palm of your hand. The last words I heard that poor boy say, “My daddy was steel-driving man. Lord, Lord. My daddy was a steel-driving. “Well, every Monday morning when the bluebirds begin to sing. You can hear John Henry a mile or more.You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring.Lord, Lord. You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring.”
John Henry…a bad ass jam, son.