Thursday, January 14, 2010

Raga Muffin

While looking into the influences that Dick Dale drew upon for his iconic Miserlou for the earlier surf music blog, I found the melody came from hearing his Greek uncle playing oud in Massachusetts cafes. Flashback time! Mention of the arabian lute brings to mind two players whose albums I had played constantly: Hamza el-Din of the Sudan and New Yorker Sandy Bull. World music was not available outside of bigger city record stores 45 years ago, but I was lucky to find these Vanguard treasures in D.C. (and of course I found out about Vanguard through Joan Baez, who was available at less obscure outlets). Very sadly, the original Vanguard label is gone, but these are available now on CD. Someone in Texas with (I think, anyway) good taste bought the Bull albums a while back, and I hope he is enjoying them as much as I did.
No stringed instrument was beyond Sandy's mastery: banjo, guitar, bass, oud, steel guitar, and probably several more. He started out as a folkie, but was absorbing classical Indian ragas, middle eastern modalities, and the Western classical canon early on. He joined that band of angels who loved blending exotic traditions and improvising dreamscapes in another dimension: John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Peter Walker, for example. All must have been made of sparkling cosmic dust left by a 100-year comet's passing...
Think what was on the radio in 1963, when Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, his first album, was released! Nothing like his no-egotistic-frills overdubbing, nothing like his version of Carmina Burana for banjo, no trips across the world and time like Blend.
Sandy died in 2001 of lung cancer, but had been a daring troubador for four decades.

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