Capturing history, note for note
Hank Harris to release 'Deadwood Songbook II' at concert on June 14
Hank Harris is making musical history - again.
Harris, a longtime South Dakota musician who's perhaps best known as a member of the legendary country-bluegrass-rock group The Red Willow Band, has produced and recorded a second CD of music that was popular in the early days of Deadwood.
"Deadwood Songbook II" will be unveiled at a free release party and concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at the Adams Museum, 54 Sherman St. in Deadwood.
Harris and his friends and fellow musicians Kenny Putnam (another Red Willow veteran) and Rick Jacobsen will perform that night and again on the big stage on Main Street in Deadwood at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 17, as part of Wild Bill Days.
Putnam plays fiddle, mandolin, bandolin, spoons and hambone on the CD and Jacobson plays accordion and piano. Harris said he plays acoustic guitar, sings "and blabbers."
The CD is a follow-up to Harris' successful "Deadwood Songbook," which was released last year.
The CDs capture show tunes, folk songs, ethnic music and other music that were enjoyed in Deadwood's opera houses, bars, brothels, churches and homes from 1875-1910. Harris has received funding and encouragement from the Adams Museum, the South Dakota Arts Council and the Deadwood Historical Preservation Commission to research, record and organize the songs and CDs.
Mary Kopco, the director of both the Adams Museum and the Adams House, has been a tremendous supporter of the research project, Harris said.
"As they say on Broadway, she's my angel. She believed in me to do it and I really appreciate it," he said. "The Adams Museum is very important in this. I wouldn't be doing this without them."
He enjoys time spent at the museum and said he was captivated by the joy of the people who work there when he went there to hang a show of his artwork. "I remembered how everyone there seemed to love their job," said Harris, who took Kopco to lunch and asked her if he could play a role at the museum.
That led to Kopco helping him obtain grants to research the music and begin the process of recording the first CD. It was released in 2006 to statewide acclaim. Sales have been strong, he said.
The goal with the new record was to capture the ethnic diversity that existed in Deadwood in those pioneer days, Harris said, and to collect the music that was a major part of life in the frontier town.
"There was no TV, no radio back then," said Kate Bentham, the Adam's Museum communications director. "Live music was very, very important for people's recreation."
The new CD has 17 songs on it, including "Days of '49," a song about the California Gold Rush that was popular as South Dakota experienced its own case of gold fever.
"We play them true to the song," Putnam said. "You put those songs with old instruments and it just sounds like a different time."
Harris found an old set list from Potato Creek Johnny, the Deadwood pioneer who was a fiddle player who performed many shows and at numerous events in the pioneer days, and added a song to the collection.
Gao Hong, a Minneapolis musician who performs traditional Chinese music, provided a song played on a pipa, a Chinese lute. The song, "Wild Geese Ascending Upon a Sandbank," was almost assuredly played in Deadwood in the late 19th century, Harris said.
"It's one of the most popular songs from the Qin Dynasty," he said.
Harris and his fellow musicians also recorded a klezmer, a Jewish folk song usually played while people perform a circular dance. "So that was a trip for a bunch of white boys," he said as he demonstrates some of the steps.
A Native American buffalo song is also included on the CD.
His friend Jeremy Hegg of the Sioux Falls band Spooncat teamed with his brother Jonathon and their parents to play "Wondrous Love," "Abide With Me" and "Midnight Cry." Some of the instruments played on those songs are period pieces, used in an effort to capture the sound of early Deadwood.
Harris, a Florida native who bounced around the country as a member an Air Force family, came to South Dakota in the early 1970s. He recalls learning some old songs from players in and around Vermillion.
When he joined Red Willow, the other band members were amazed this southern boy knew so many songs from the Midwest.
Now, Harris said with a smile, he's working with many of those same songs again.
"Now I'm a, quote, historian, a musicologist," he said. "It's one rung above bar musician. Actually it's more than one rung. And I'm happy about it."
Harris, who lives in Johnson Siding, stays active on local stages when he's not working as a "musicologist." He plays with his own band, The Shades, is the bassist for DD and The Fayrohs and does solo and duo work in the state and region as well. Harris also occasionally shows his artwork (photography and multimedia).
He said he has enjoyed working with his old friend Putnam again and the world-class fiddle player agreed with that sentiment. "It's been a great project because I've gotten to work with Hank again," Putnam said.
Both Deadwood CDs sell for $16. They're available at Borders, at the Adams Museum, the museum Web site or from the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce.
Harris said there may be another "Deadwood" CD.
"Hopefully there will be a number three," he said. "It's a good project. I'm just learning how to be a historian and a researcher."
front page bio written by Keith Hanaleck www.muzikman.com
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