November 2017:


Today I got to be Facebook friends with Alex Hassilev, who was for years the banjoist/guitarist/singer with The Limeliters, who were a major folk trio during that limited time in the late fifties and early sixties that there were major folk groups. The Limeliters were known for sophisticated arrangements that might involve a fair amount of shifting keys and tempos, and vocal harmonies that were decidedly less bucolic than, say, The Kingston Trio (hit song "Tom Dooley") who started the folk group moment for most people.

The Weavers came before everybody else but had a kind of truncated success because the US government got nervous about socialists singing us into some unauthorized and premature peace, etc. So you really had to be into folk music already (or be a socialist) before you knew of the Weavers. But when the Kingstons broke, the commercial door opened to folksingers there for a while. And pretty much next in line were The Limeliters. I had a bunch of their recordings and loved them. They were very impressive, and kind of continental.

I was always caught up by The Limeliters' abilities and the obvious care they took with their arrangements...I would hear harmonies I didn't hear other places, and the songs were unusual and sometimes in exotic languages, sounding as authentic as my twenty-year-old ears could discern.

From YouTube: Limeliters - Zhankoye (USA)

I was in various folk groups then, and in 62/63 worked on the road with a tenor from Ontario. We started in Fort Lauderdale (don't ask) and travelled mostly through Florida and up around the Midwest, playing coffeehouses, in Omaha, in Kent, Ohio, various places in Michigan and Illinois. My partner was a pretty decent singer and we had some modest, believe me, success and wound up in New York City, out of bread, and looking for a recording contract with anybody who'd have us. I was young and even more naive than I am now, and thought that any idiot connected to any recording company could, with a word, transform our lives. I won't bore you with the odd assortment of people we encountered who we hoped would set us on the path to fame and acoustic fortune. God knows they all had their ideas. But it's too late baby, now, it's too late, though we really did try to make it.

For right about then The Beatles (also) came to NYC. And that was pretty much the end of big-time folk music for most people.

But, very shortly partner and I were looking for work, at some open mike in Greenwich Village, waiting to play, sitting in the audience, commenting to each other (sotto voce, we thought) on the other acts. And this guy behind leans forward between us and he says: Are you folks going to go on soon? And, oh wow, the guy is Alex Hassilev, whom I recognized right away from the album covers. And I'm like, oh man, this is so cool, this is Alex Hassilev and he obviously can tell (just by looking at us!) that we've got some kind of really intriguing act, and clearly he just can't wait to hear us. And we go, we're on in about twenty minutes, and he says: Great, so in the meantime, could you keep quiet?

One thing about famous people: if they ever actually speak to you, you'll never forget what they say.

OK, bye.

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