ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD
It’s Saturday, June 5th, 1993. Hillbilly at Harvard had been preempted for a couple of weeks (probably by Orgies®) and was limited, we were told, to three hours that day. But Iris DeMent was in town, for a solo ‘Evening with Iris DeMent’ concert in Sanders Theater that evening, thanks to impresario Harry Lipson and his Folkway Productions. Harry usually featured bigger names in the folk- and acoustic-music world, like Odetta, Pete Seeger, or John Hartford, but with the sudden success of her first album, Infamous Angel, Iris was hot, and deservedly so. The album on Philo/Rounder had been produced by Jim Rooney; the songs were stunning in lucidity, with inspired writing and Iris’s clear, affecting but innocent singing. Somehow or other it emerged on Warner Brothers, which gave it new impetus on a major label.
Fortunately, we were able to continue until our regular time at 1 PM, which enabled Iris to spend about 45 minutes with us. Jim Rooney, our friend of many years, who was now a Grammy-award-winning producer, sat in and traded old-home comments with Sinc. I was impressed, listening as I transferred the DAT recording made at home to the computer, how beautifully Iris’s singing survived the 20-mile journey from the FM transmitter atop Holyoke Center in Harvard Square out to “the far ‘burbs” (as Sinc called them) of Framingham. I expect our vintage RCA 77D microphones had something to do with it, but mainly it was the remarkable, bell-like quality of Iris’s voice.
The WHRB studios were full of Hillbillies that morning: John Lincoln Wright of course, plus Scott Alarik of The Boston Globe; Grace Furnari (‘Cousin Gracie’); then of Tower Records; and others, including ‘Cuzin Isaac’ Page, from New Hampshire, who was in town to host a segment of the WGBH Auction, and came by to plug his Bluegrass Festival Guide. We spent about eight minutes chatting with Isaac, which I had to cut out—but if you remember him and want to hear it, let me know. [Oops! See UPDATE below!]
This was the second time Iris DeMent had appeared on Hillbilly at Harvard. I haven’t come across a recording from the first, or any subsequent visits, but I’ll keep looking. Iris is still performing and recording; go to her website for updates. As for Rooney, one of these days I’ll have to pull out the show we did after his autobiography, In It for the Long Run, came out. You can find the book and much more on his website. /CL
[UPDATE: Looks like I picked the working version with the Cuzin Isaac interview! Oops! Well, you got the chance to meet this interesting fellow. Hope you enjoyed it! /CL]