Mike Seeger dead at 75

I heard the news this morning on NPR affiliate KWMU. Mike Seeger, blogged about five previous times, died just 8 days shy of his 76th birthday. I brought him up just the other day when discussing bluegrass, old-time music and their differences. He had an extended illness, but I had not heard about it. He did a great amount of picking, spending time with pickers and teaching new pickers.

Fishing for more information, I came across this post of an interview with Seeger at Down Home Radio. At 59:35, interviewer Eli Smith said, “Dock said that if he could have started again, he might have liked to play guitar like John Hurt.” Mike Seeger replied that Dock Boggs and beloved Mississippi John Hurt both came and stayed with him. He said that the two played some shows together. The statement by Boggs actually came via Seeger, and in the interview, Seeger recalled hearing Boggs make it. It is documented, too, in a couple of reviews at Amazon, one by Tony Thomas.

W. E. Myers of Richlands, Virginia is an earlier link between Hurt and Boggs, also covered in this comment on this MetaFilter post. Myers recorded Dock Boggs on his Lonesome Ace record label. He wanted to record Hurt, but it never worked out. He did send Hurt two songs, “Richlands Women Blues” and “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” in the mail. Years later during Hurt’s rediscovery, he was still playing both of them.

According to the Down Home post, Thomas Hart Benton introduced the Seeger family to the music of Dock Boggs. The Bentons were prominent in Missouri. Thomas Hart Benton painted a mural in the state capitol. When I visited several years ago, I could not get into the room to my sustained disappointment. This post at Word on the Street has photographs with a comment by me at the end. I did spot a wonderful ivory-billed woodpecker, a three time subject, in this exhibition at the Missouri State Museum. I used to enjoy seeing all the Benton paintings at the twice mentioned Whitney Museum. When I moved from New York to Missouri, I was excited by the prospect of seeing more Benton paintings. I have found few in Saint Louis, though.

The post documenting the Dock Boggs statement about John Hurt also links to this post about Boggs and this post about Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (On Which Our Lord Was Laid)” is on the record bolted to the Voyager space probes. I blogged about that record two times. The same blog also has this post from soon after the news of Seeger’s terminal illness. With extreme appropriateness, the four posts are part of The Celestial Monochord: Journal of the Society for Astrophysics and the Hillbilly Blues.

By chance, I am listening to American Routes. The episode tonight is about recently mentioned Newport. Hurt’s “Make Me a Pallet” just finished.

Update August 12, 2009: Two blogs I track also marked Seeger’s death. Highway 61 Radio posted about the obituary in The New York Times. NMissCommentor‘s entry links to it and to this one in the Guardian by three times blogged English expert on American music Tony Russell.

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Michael M. on August 8th 2009 in General, Music

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