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Documentary on Arhoolie legend Chris Strachwitz “close to a rough cut “

He’s produced albums that inspired The Rolling Stones. The 50th anniversary of his Arhoolie Records label was noted by The New York Times. His voice has regaled public radio listeners about “down home” music for decades, especially at KPFA in Berkeley. Generations of Blues, Cajun, Tejano, Gospel, Polka, and Bluegrass legends have graced his studios.

Frankly, it surprises me that nobody has made a public television documentary about Chris Strachwitz yet. Kudos to Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling for getting the job done.

No Mouse Music is the name of the film-in-progress. Doubtless you are wondering what the phrase means.

“If Strachwitz doesn’t like a music (and there are MANY types he doesn’t) he calls it ‘mouse music’,” Simon explained to me—an old jazzman’s term for pop, elevator music.

As for the Arhoolie word, here’s the Arhoolie Foundation’s etiology for that.

When Mack McCormick suggested ARWHOOLIE as the name for Chris Strachwitz’s fledgling record label in 1960, Chris’ initial response was, “AR-what?” The name comes from a word for a field holler, a song sung by laborers to accompany their work. The word, spelled as above by the recordist, appeared on a Library of Congress recording made in Mississippi and apparently was the response of the singer when asked what he called the selection just recorded. Chris says: “I have since heard the word ‘hoolie’ in reference to a field holler, but I think the ‘ar’ in front of it was simply the man stuttering a bit in Mississippi fashion when somewhat nervous!”

I had a few more questions for the filmmakers.

Q. What inspired you to make a film about Chris Strachwitz?

Chris Simon: Chris is an icon to so many in the roots music world, and a film is long overdue. Maureen And I are fortunate to have him as a long-time friend and colleague. We know his quirky personality, and the music scene which revolves around him intimately. Arhoolie Records have influenced so many, but Chris himself and his motivations for bringing these musics to a larger world is known only to a few. We think Chris’ story is a wonderful example of how following ones own vision can, literally, change the world.

Q. What do you think is the significance of Chris’ work?

Simon: Chris brought music centered in communities out to the general public. The music, playing in living rooms through out America, helped reshape America’s vision of itself into the multi-cultural reality we share today.

Q. How far along is the film so far?

Simon: We have shot the project and are currently editing. We close to a rough cut. Finishing will depend on fundraising. We are actively looking for donations!!

You can help with that last part by making a tax deductible contribution to the project via the San Francisco Film Society. Here is the link.


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