Our Song of the Day comes from Karen Dalton, but before you play it I need to set the scene as there’s a story I want to share about a coffee house called The Attic where the track was recorded.
The track is from one of my favourite albums called Cotton Eye Joe: The Loop Tapes Live in Boulder 1962. It’s still available on CD, the CD/DVD version has since gone out of print. The story behind the small coffee house called The Attic which was opposite the University of Colorado where the tracks on the CD were recorded is a fascinating one.
Joe Loop tells the story in the line notes of the album how after reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ he was inspired to see more of the US. In 1961 he headed out with his sights on San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore was no doubt on his bucketlist. Things didn’t work out as planned however and after stopping at Boulder, Colorado to visit a friend he ended up staying. He fell in love with the “jewel of a small town nestled at the bottom mountains…”.
He got a job with a publishing company but whilst waiting to start took on a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour at a coffeehouse called ‘The Ten O’clock Scholar’. The owner hired Doug Meyer, a singer, to run the place. He changed it to ‘The Attic’ and began putting on live music. The Attic, despite the name, was a small room in a basement, it was intimate with enough seating for about 50 people. A bit like singing in your living room.
Doug who was doing well at bringing in a crowd asked the owner to split the take on the night with him, when the reply was a ‘no’, he left. Joe then took it over…still being paid 50 cents per hour. To cut a long story short the owner wanted to sell the business and Joe and a few friends put in an offer out of fear of losing what was becoming a central hive of musical activity. Although it meant there would be no profit for a long while Joe and Gene Fine kept it on. Around the same time a man by the name of Harry Tuft opened The Denver Folklore Centre and together they created a symbiotic relationship. Harry would sell instruments once a week at The Attic to the growing number of musicians in Boulder and when back in Denver he would send traveling folksingers to The Attic. Amongst them was Artie Traum and David Crosby.
The one day, in walked a tall attractive girl with long dark hair carrying a guitar case looking for work as a singer. Joe asked her to audition there and then. “She opened her guitar case and pulled out this big red Gibson 12 string guitar, she seemed confident, but reluctant at the same time. When she played and sang it was beautiful.” Her guitar playing, as Joe puts it, was “more advanced than other players at the time’. Her soft phrasing and timing made an instant impact. “She liked to have plenty of space in the music to have room for subtle, intricate harmonies unlike anyone I’d heard before.”
Red Are The Flowers
The are many great songs on the album but the sorrowful Red Are The Flowers always draws me back. It’s an anti-war song by Fred Neil which was written after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The red canna flowers were the first flowers to bloom in the charred rubble, they became a symbol of courage and hope to the survivors.
For the curious here’s Fred Neil’s version, sung with Vince Martin