Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sid Selvidge 1943-2013

I was deeply saddened this evening to learn that Sid Selvidge, the great Memphis folk and blues artist, passed away today after a battle with cancer.

Sid had an astounding knowledge of traditional and contemporary roots music. In addition to his solo work, he played in several bands and was the executive producer of the Beale Street Caravan radio program.

I first discovered Sid in 1993 when Sing Out! magazine asked me to review an album of Sid’s called Twice Told Tales. Although he was a veteran performer by then, it was the first time I heard of him. The album, now long out-of-print blew me away – the Sing Out review is below – and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. “Watch and Chain,” a song from Twice Told Tales was the first thing I played on the pilot edition of the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show on January 16, 1994 on CKUT in Montreal.

I met Sid and hung out with him some when I visited Memphis in 1998 for the Folk Alliance conference. And when Folk Alliance came to Montreal in 2005, I did an astounding program of all live-in-the-studio performances with a bunch of great guests: Full Frontal Folk, Andy Cohen & Ragtime Jack Radcliffe, Natalia Zukerman, The Kennedys, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Tracy Grammer & Jim Henry, Anne Hills & Michael Smith, and Sid Selvidge. Sid played great versions of “Long Black Veil,” “Buffalo Skinners” and “Judge Bouche.”

Sid was not a prolific recording artist and when his next album, A Little Bit of Rain, came out in 2003, I eagerly reviewed it for both Sing Out and the Montreal Gazette. The Sing Out review of that one is also below.

Twice Told Tales
Elektra Nonesuch 

(This review appeared in Sing Out! magazine in 1993.)

Because we hear so much dross, record reviewers are always delighted to come across a terrific album.  Doubly so when the album is by an artist that we're previously unfamiliar with.  This is one such album and Sid Selvidge is one such artist.

He's no Johnny-Come-Lately though.  It turns out that Selvidge, an anthropologist by vocation and musician by avocation, has had a long history on the Memphis music scene dating back to the early 1960s when he met, befriended and learned from such blues legends as Furry Lewis, Bukka White, and the "Mississippis": John Hurt and Fred McDowell.

On about half the album, Selvidge, who acknowledges his sources, plays solo with terrific interpretations of traditional blues and folk songs.  On the rest he delves into close-to-the-roots gospel, blues, swing and rock and roll with subdued backing by four or five other musicians.  Three of the 13 songs are from Selvidge's own pen.

On occasion, most notably on Mississipi Fred McDowell's version of "Watch and Chain" and on the traditional western ballad "Buffalo Skinners," Selvidge achieves a powerful intensity that is downright scary.  Elsewhere, he does a playful, swingtime version of the classic Hank Williams hit "Lovesick Blues," that sounds like he's having a lot of fun.  On "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt," Selvidge seems to have absorbed what made early-Sam Cooke such a great gospel singer and on "Since I Met You Baby," he shows his facility as a band leader on a more jazzy-than-delta kind of blues.  This album merits a strong recommendation. –Mike Regenstreif

A Little Bit of Rain

(This review appeared in Sing Out! magazine in 2003.)

A decade ago, Sing Out! asked me to review Twice Told Tales by Sid Selvidge, a Memphis-based artist that I was not previously familiar with.  It was a great album, one that I’ve returned to often over the years.  Finally, 10 years later, Selvidge, now the executive producer of the syndicated Beale Street Caravan radio program, has done a follow-up.  Beginning with a sweet version of Fred Neil’s title song, and ending with “Arkansas Girl,” a lovely country waltz and the only Selvidge original, the CD is a seamless blend of blues, traditional country, folk music, rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll in settings that range from solo voice and guitar to a cooking full band with horn section and backup vocalists.  There are few performers with the musical vocabulary to so convincingly sound like he’s at home with all of these different styles.

One of my favorite tracks is “Swannanoa Tunnel,” a haunting Appalachian song associated with traditional artists Roscoe Holcomb and Bascom Lamar Lunsford that Selvidge performs solo with just his guitar.  Interestingly, he points out that Lunsford is the great uncle of his daughter-in-law.  He also does a nice version of “Hobo Bill,” a song recorded more than 70 years ago by Jimmie Rodgers.  Selvidge is particularly adept at the blues and offers a fine arrangement of “Mama You Don’t Mean Me No Good,” that’s halfway between urban sophisticate and down home jug band.  His version of “Long Tall Mama” recalls Big Bill Broonzy’s early Chicago period.  Lets hope that Selvidge’s next record won’t take another decade.  Mike Regenstreif

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--Mike Regenstreif

1 comment:

  1. They have one copy of Twice Told Tales at Vanderbilt CA.

    I bought the second last copy.