Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl & Parnassus Streets in San Francisco. Singing and jamming in three separate rooms start at 8:00 p.m. Snacks are provided through $1 food kitty donations or finger food contributions. Guests are always welcome, no one is expected to “perform” and there is no charge.

“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.”
—William James, psychologist

Date November 4 November 18 December 2 December 16 December 30
Setup Joel Rutledge Debbie Klein Bob Allen Forest MacDonald Bob Allen
Bulletin Board Estelle Freedman Rick Myers Debbie Klein Melissa Sarenac Marisa Malvino
Host/ess Estelle Freedman Melissa Sarenac Jean Oggins Raepnon Tsany Tes Welborn
Host/ess Jo D’Anna Bill Kueppers Al Goodwin Dave Sahn Forest MacDonald
Singing Room Melissa Sarenac Lyla Menzel Dave Sahn Debbie Klein Harmonica Dave
Theme Thanks and Praise Professions Time & Space Holiday Songs Songs of the Season
Cleanup Ken Hayes Kim Probst Al Goodwin Kim Probst Forest McDonald

Board Meetings

The SFFMC board meets on the second Tuesday of each month — potluck at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 8:00 p.m. All Club members are welcome to attend the potluck dinner and the Board meeting.

NEXT FOLKNIK FOLD-IN/FOLK SING: Saturday, December 10 at home of Joan Hall and Abe Feinberg,

Club News

Deidre and Duncan MacLennan wrote: “Some time ago I received a card about the folknik. We have decided not to have it sent to us, mainly because we very rarely see familiar names in it any more. Could you please thank the people who sent it to us during all these years? It has been greatly appreciated by us.”

Ted Clark wrote: “It was really great to meet you and the SFFMC members at your home last Friday. I had such a great time singing and playing with everyone there. Marisa and Dee were so gracious. Hearing all the great music was heartwarming. My feet hardly touched the sidewalk as I left. You’ll have to teach me the third verse to that song we sang by Ed McCurdy. I’d never heard the verse you sang. I am excited to have become a member of SFFMC. I hope to attend another Friday gathering at 885 Clayton in the future for another wonderful evening of music.” Ted Clark, Tigard, Oregon.

Yorkman Lowe wrote: “The true story of John Luther ‘Casey’ Jones was told in an article in the National Railway Bulletin, publication of the National Railway Historical Society, vol. 65, no. 1 (2000). I can provide a copy of the article upon request.” Yorkman Lowe,

Ed Hilton, president of the folk club, has had some good news. During the past three years, due to cutbacks in education funding, he had been laid off at the end of each year, then hired back by the same school district. Last year and the year before the situation into which he was hired back was less than desirable. This year, however, he was hired back into a school that he really likes as a kindergarten teacher, and his “permanent” status (think of it as tenure) has been reinstated. Not only is he unlikely to be laid off at the end of this school year, but he is also likely to remain at this school. And when a position opens up in the music department that is right for him, he has the option of going back to teaching music. That may be as soon as next year.

Shoshanna Schwimmer wrote: “Hi folks, thanks so much to Katie and everyone else making Camp New Harmony happen! I’m really looking forward to it! On April 4, amidst lightning and windstorm, my beautiful studio burned up, and with it most everything I held precious, including artwork and instruments, except the concertina and 10-string mandolin. Thankfully no one was hurt, we’re both healthy, and insurance paid for rebuilding, which they’re working on now. Meanwhile, I’m learning tenor banjo and practicing every day, with camp in mind. Thanks also to the folknik editors! for keeping us in touch, even though far away (WV). And to those who worked on the new directory! Some of my info in it is outdated, so here’s how to reach me: See you soon!”

Ballads, Ballads, So Many Ballads

by Robert Rodriquez

Someone once said that wanting something is more pleasing than having it. Perhaps that is true in a universe where emotional mortals live side by side with Klingons, logical or otherwise. But for the rest of us, when something is very special, and has been a decade in the making, its final attainment is well worth the wait.

Enter Mark and Laura Heiman, also known as Loomis House Publications out of Northfield, Minnesota. It has indeed taken ten years, but voilà, ballad lovers everywhere, the final volume of the new and very improved edition of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, from the great and immortal Professor Francis James Child is now complete. Volume Five is indeed just out, so a project begun back in 2001 has finally come to a successful fruition. A grateful ballad community owes many thanks to the Heimans, for they have given us a true treasure. As the old Turkish proverb says, “The only thing better than finding a treasure is to share it with others.”

Mark Heiman is quite familiar with Child ballads as both a scholar of these literary gems and as a ballad singer since the 1970s. Coincidentally, that is when the 1960s Dover edition went out of print.

Someone once remarked that too many stories are ruined through over-verification. Or, as someone else once remarked, even if it never happened, it’s all true. There were folks who swore that a complete set of the Dover Edition would cost a great deal of money, in the neighborhood of $1,200, even if one could locate it. Be that true or not, Mark Heiman decided that he would help reissue Child in a new and improved format, for the benefit of researchers and scholars as well as those who love to sing ballads. (There are more than a few of us in folkie-land.) With this determination strong in his heart and mind, Mark Heiman set out to do just that—give us a new and updated edition of the work that the great Harvard scholar spent many years producing at the end of the 19th century. And the result is wonderful.

This latest edition succeeds on several important levels. First, many more tunes have been included than in Child’s original or in the subsequent editions up to and including the Dover volumes. And each tune is quite nicely placed with the particular ballad to which it applies. So for those of us who are both ballad scholars and singers as well, and this of course is not mutually exclusive by any means, the new edition’s importance is even more amplified.

Second, all the additions and corrections originally included by Child at the end of each volume have been placed quite skillfully within the body of the text, thus making the whole collection more cohesive, up-to-date, and suitable for a collection of traditional ballads presented to a twenty-first century readership.

Now this leads to a question. Why do we continue to sing these old story songs, some of them centuries old, even in today’s world of high-speed Internet and other examples of contemporary technology? For yours truly, the answer is quite simple: because they are grand and timeless stories. And a good story never dies, after all. It gets told and retold, shared and circulated for others to hear and enjoy. And a further thought: a service has been done not only for the folk music community, but also for the storytelling community as well.

Listen to some of the finest of ballad singers today, and one can understand why they are also great storytellers. I mean ballad singers like Frankie Armstrong, Anita Best, Dan Kedding, Brian Peters, Sheila K. Adams, Moira Cameron, Lorne Brown, Martin Carthy, Tony Barrand, Sylvia Herold, Skip Gorman, Jeff Davis, and many others. To hear these wonderful and grand musical narratives yet once again is a joy beyond good fortune.

With this newest edition of Professor Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads, available in both hardcover and paperback, Mark and Laura Heiman have done an extraordinary and priceless service for not one, but two communities, which are more related than one might imagine. Ballad lovers of the world, unite! All you have to gain are more versions of beloved favorites as well as more unusual story songs. A good ballad, like a good tale, will never die. It continues to survive and grow and flourish. The musical fruits of these seeds will continue to blossom, and for this we have the Heimans to thank.

They have given us a musical treasure. Now, as the old Turkish saying goes, let’s go share it with others—today, tomorrow, and for a very long time to come.

Music is Good Medicine

by Ellen Eagan

I work at UCSF and would like to put out information about the “Music is Good Medicine” program at UCSF. Perhaps some of you will be interested in volunteering for it. Musicians are asked to play 1-2 hours in patients’ rooms at UCSF. The musicians are accompanied by someone associated with the program. You can play as often as you like—as little as once a month or as much as once a week. They’re looking for solo players. Because of space constraints, having more than one musician in the room would be difficult. Also, they would prefer instruments that are easy to carry around and can be played softly. Booming instruments like tubas and trombones wouldn’t work so well. The contact person is Mark Hauber. He can be reached at or

Do You Sing “I’m My Own Grampa”?

Robert Rodriquez will be doing a two-hour workshop at upcoming Camp New Harmony entitled “All in the Family: Songs and Stories about Matters Familial, Functional and Otherwise.” He’d like to know if anyone coming to camp knows the song “I’m My Own Grandpa.” It’s a bit hilarious and would fit in very nicely because it is an ancient tale that is in many respects its narrative ancestor. He hopes somebody at Camp knows it and will do it at the workshop.

Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch, influential guitarist and founding member of the folk band Pentangle, died on October 5th of lung cancer, at age 67, in London.

He was a mostly self-taught musician. His idiosyncratic style, with intricate finger work and bent notes, along with his reinterpretations of traditional material, influenced a generation of ’60s-’70s guitarists, including Donovan, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, and Paul Simon.

Bert grew up in Edinburgh, and left school at age 15 after buying a guitar. He began listening to records by Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, and Lead Belly. He became a fixture at the Howff, a local folk club. Encouraged by two of the club’s regulars, Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson, future members of the Incredible String Band, to break out of the narrow Edinburgh scene, he went to London, busked on the streets and performed in small clubs.

His first album, Bert Jansch, caused an immediate sensation. Johnny Marr, former guitarist for the Smiths, wrote “With the release of his first album in 1965, he completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequaled today.”

Bert teamed up with singer and guitarist John Renbourn on It Don’t Bother Me, Jack Orion and the influential 1966 album Bert and John. The two began performing at the Horseshoe Hotel with future members of Pentangle: singer Jacqui McShee, acoustic bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox.

Pentangle debuted in 1967, and became one of the dominant folk groups in Britain, known for its innovative style, marked jazz influence, and complex intertwined guitar parts in the “folk baroque” style. The group’s first album, Pentangle, was released in 1968, followed by Sweet Child, Basket of Light, Cruel Sister, Reflection and Solomon’s Seal.

On New Year’s Day 1973, Mr. Jansch left the group, whose members were buckling under the strain of five world tours. He returned to a solo career and recorded A Rare Conundrum. In the late ’70s he joined fiddler Martin Jenkins to form a duo, Jansch and Jenkins, which became Conundrum after adding the bassist Nigel Smith. For a time Mr. Jansch performed and recorded with various revived versions of Pentangle.

Ray Fisher

Ray Fisher, one of Britain’s great interpreters of traditional song, died on August 31, of cancer, at age 70.

Martin Carthy, another widely known folk musician, once referred to her and Norma Waterson as the country’s leading performers in their field.

Ray was born in Glasgow into a musical family of seven children in which everyone sang. Initially, Ray and her brother Archie played skiffle, but then took up traditional American songs. While in her teens, Ray was greatly impressed by the singing of Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers, a woman with a big voice, unlike the reedy sopranos that were expected at that time.

In the late 1950s, Norman Buchan, a teacher and folklorist who later became a Labour MP, started the Ballads Club in Glasgow, attracting many young singers and musicians who were eager to learn more about traditional songs, among them Ray and Archie. Through him and his wife Janie, Ray met the great Scots traditional singer Jeannie Robertson, who, after hearing her sing, invited Ray to stay with her in Aberdeen for six weeks to learn about her songs.

While at Jordanhill teacher-training college in the late 1950s, Ray started a folk club and joined her brother and Bobby Campbell, a singer and fiddler, in a trio called the Wayfarers. Ray and Archie were then asked to make regular appearances on Here and Now, an early-evening magazine programme on Scottish television.

Ray was now being booked to sing all over Britain. On one trip, to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she met fiddler and piper Colin Ross, whom she married in 1962. That year, she was also part of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 project, touring the country with other singers, and was subsequently asked by A.L. Lloyd to sing on his album of industrial folk songs, The Iron Muse (1963).

She moved to Tyneside, and began to give more solo performances, concentrating in particular on the big, traditional ballads. She loved finding different versions of those songs and, where necessary, reconstructing the stories, making versions that were entirely her own.

Ray made several albums, though fewer than would be expected of a singer so widely admired. She said in one interview: “I don’t feel the urge to record anything … I’m not interested in what posterity has to say about what contribution I’ve made to folk music.”

She fell ill in 2005 but was eventually able to resume her singing, and was greeted warmly at festivals and clubs. In 2008, the English Folk Dance and Song Society awarded Ray its gold badge, its highest honor, for her services to traditional song.