The Ash Grove Archive
There are powerful places in our shared musical heritage that exert an influence far out of proportion to their size or location or duration. The Fillmores were such places. Ash Grove was another. Now, after preserving and presenting Bill Graham’s collection of live performances recorded at rock’s high noon, Wolfgang’s Vault reveals an archive that captures the music’s dawning. The Ash Grove was LA’s crossroads from the late 50s until the early 70s, where the masters of blues, folk, bluegrass, country and several world traditions performed for audiences that inevitably included future luminaries. This month, Wolfgang’s released the first restored, remastered recordings for free streaming, and for download as mp3 and FLAC files. Fans of 60s and 70s rock have been spreading the word on Wolfgang’s; a recent redesign makes the site easier to navigate and more informative. The Ash Grove concerts make Wolfgang’s an essential visit.
This first release includes performances by blues guitarist Bukka White (a cousin of B.B King); the White Brothers in 1967 just after brother Clarence’s first sessions with The Byrds; a Maybelle Carter show from 1963; two Lightnin’ Hopkins sets, one from 1964, another from 1966; Doc and Merle Watson; a Mance Lipscomb set from a double bill with Lightnin’ Hopkins that illustrates Lipscomb’s links to the earliest forms of the blues; an uplifting set of spirituals by Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers; and even Nubian oud master Hamza el Din from 1970, long before he was opening arena shows for the Grateful Dead. There are 21 sets in this first collection, all worthy of your attention, and a good indication of the scope of the archive and future releases (Kentucky Colonels, please!). The sound is remarkably lively, a credit to Grammy-winning co-producer Steve Rosenthal and engineer Warren Russell-Smith. Information on the archive and the process of preserving it can be found here. The first collection also includes an interview that Rosenthal taped with founder Ed Pearl in late 2008.
Pearl founded Ash Grove in 1958, and it quickly became a haven and de facto classroom for young musicians exploring traditional sounds and shaping those traditions into the rock music that fills the main Wolfgang’s site. The list of Ash Grove performers is breathtaking in its volume and diversity, and makes clear why musicians such as Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, New Lost City Ramblers, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash gravitated there for inspiration and education. One listen to Bessie Jones and you’ll feel the inspiration, too.