Given their volunteer status and odd hours, disk jockeys at community radio stations can burn out quickly. A jaded disk jockey is liable to pop an anthology into the CD player and take a nap on the console or spend the show working on a crossword puzzle. Keeping a show fresh and interesting for weeks on end is a challenge, but imagine hosting the same show for the past twelve years.
The time slots have changed every few years, but once every week since 1987 Pablo Meshugi has begun No Time to Tarry Here on KDHX with the song that inspired the showís name. Beyond beginning with the same song, the host keeps the show fresh by offering an eclectic mix of folk music, mostly from America, but with forays into the British Isles and even as far away as Afghanistan.
Pablo Meshugi is the "nom díair," as he likes to call it, of Paul Stamler. The name came about because when No Time to Tarry Here began Stamler was already working for the local public television station and wanted to separate his radio and television personas. He took the first name from the Spanish name for Paul and the surname from the Yiddish word for nutty. The inspiration for the showís title came from a hymn sung in Missouri by the Church of the Brethren, a pacifist church.
The combination of meshugaas (nuttiness), hymns, and politics gives a sense of how Stamler keeps No Time to Tarry Here fresh through the breadth and depth of his interest in all aspects of folk music. A sense of political activism infuses the show on a number of levels, but Stamler is most concerned that his audience not forget the historical roots of American music and he fights every week against what he sees as the evils of niche marketing. He complains loudly that "our musical heritage has been stolen from us as music has gotten mass marketed. Country music doesnít sound like country music; itís soft rock. The regional style, the rural music, has disappeared from the country charts. Even someone as relatively modern as Johnny Cash isnít played on country stations and thatís a crime."
True to Stamlerís beliefs, No Time to Tarry Here perpetually explores the definition of American folk music and the show isnít just about music by dead white men. There are plenty of those, but Stamler works in a healthy chunk of black music as well. As he points out, "Anglo-American and African-American musical traditions are just wound around each other so tight we just canít unwind them."
While musicians know about the wide-spread roots of American folk music, the average person listening to a Geyer Street Sheiks CD may never realize they drew their name from the Mississippi Sheiks, a black band active in the 1930s and one of the best early string bands, black or white. The average listener may also assume that all early African-American music was a form of the blues. However, the country music of the Mississippi Sheiks and other African-American musicians like Lonnie Johnson makes regular appearances on No Time to Tarry Here as Stamler spreads the word about the importance of the history of folk culture.
Not only does Stamler fight against pigeonholing folk music by ethnicity, he also fights in another way against the image of music by dead white men. Stamler draws a distinction between source musicians like the Mississippi Sheiks, the Carolina Tar Heels, or Uncle Dave Macon and founders of folk revival like Jean Ritchie, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, or Carl Sandburg. Heís aware of the distinction, but as he puts it, "as far as Iím concerned I couldnít do a decent show in the long run without playing both."
Roughly one show in three focuses on new releases in folk music, and even here Stamler broadens the boundaries, including active artists such as the Ill-Mo Boys and recent reissues of 78 rpm recordings that may not have been heard on the air for the past sixty years.
Beyond new releases, the other two-thirds of Stamlerís programming for No Time to Tarry Here is divided between shows with a loose format ("I just let one song point me towards the next," he says) and shows with a theme. Thereís always a Christmas show, a separate Hanukah show, shows aimed at children, songs from the civil rights movement, or train songs. Stamler once programmed three hours of chicken songs. As he put it, "apparently chickens are up there with trains and sex as themes in traditional music." Stamler may plan a show for weeks ahead and sometimes gathers songs for months.
Stamler does make use of anthologies in his theme-based shows, but never relies on them too heavily, and certainly never seems to play tracks back to back. Some of his favorite anthologies are Negro Religious Songs and Services issued by the Library of Congress, Violin, Sing the Blues for Me on Old Hat, a range of collections by Alan Lomax, and especially the six CD Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith. According to Stamler, the Harry Smith anthology serves as the inspiration for No Time to Tarry Here in the way it mixes ethnic traditions in favor of a thematic organization.
Given the longevity of No Time to Tarry Here it comes as a surprise to learn that Stamler had to be talked into doing the show. When KDHX first went on the air in October 1987, Stamler was working as a producer and engineer. In an effort to expand their programming, the station managers coaxed Stamler into doing a program on folk music only one week after the station hit the airwaves.
Stamler has used his comfort with technology to improve No Time to Tarry Here, transferring old LPs or 78s onto CD, improving their sound quality with descratching programs and noise filters, and working them into his show. Stamler has also engineered a variety of recordings, including Jumpfingers, Face the Creek, and the Buckhannon Brothersí Little River Stomp.
The blend of modern technology and old time music epitomizes No Time to Tarry Here. As Stamler points out, "we think the musical world began when we were teenagers. One of the reasons this show is here is to remind people that the world has not always been the way it is now."
No Time to Tarry Here can be heard Sunday afternoons from noon until 2 p.m. on KDXH 88.1 FM. x
Geoff Seitz, fiddle; Jim Nelson, guitar; Curtis Buckhannon, mandolin-CD review by Deborah Hyland
Although the Ill-Mo Boys have been playing St. Louis dances for ages, Laugh and Grow Fat is surprisingly the band's first CD and their first recording since Fine as Frog's Hair was released almost ten years ago. They've all been busy on other recording projects up until now, but Laugh and Grow Fat is all the richer for the wait. Their musicianship has grown and they've had plenty of time to soak up more of the Illinois and Missouri traditional music that gave the band its name.
Laugh and Grow Fat contains a mix of old-time country vocals and dance tunes with about two dance tunes for every song. The band members take turns with the lead vocals, and the song "All Around the Mountain" where all three are singing is particularly strong. When Jim Nelson's takes the lead, his voice has a clarity and wonderfully emotional resonance on songs like "I'm Rolling On" and "Handsome Molly." On "Texas Ranger" Nelson tells the story of a young soldier's fears when faced with an Indian attack in a way that convincingly conveys the narrator's shame at his cowardice and his guilt at surviving.
The Ill-Mo Boys have been so talented for so long, it's not hard to talk about how good they are on this recording. Geoff's fiddle is as exciting as always, never too flashy, but infinitely varied. "Gone Indian," a tune they learned from the playing of the western swing fiddler Bob Wills, conveys the energy Geoff brings to the floor at a dance weekend.
Curtis usually follows Geoff closely on the mandolin, but occasionally takes over the lead. On the final track of the CD, Curtis plays harmonica on "Shoot That Turkey Buzzard," a tune which may seem a bit frenetic and affected at first, but recalls some of the comic radio performances of Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers.
In dance bands, it's the fiddler who gets all the attention, but the rock solid, tasty guitar of Jim Nelson comes through on this recording, not just on the songs, but providing the drive behind the old-time dance tunes.
As a 78 collector, Jim's influence can be seen in the pieces selected. Old 78 sources abound on this recording with labels like Bluebird, Victor, Perfect, and Gennett making prominent appearances. The 78 bug has also apparently bitten Geoff and Curtis, for several selections came from their own collections.
The Ill-Mo Boys don't limit themselves to dusty shellac, but have clearly spent a great deal of time learning from living musicians, searching out old-timers before it is too late. Tunes from Bob Holt, Erwin Thompson, Cyril Stinnett, Bob King, and Gene Goforth reflect the rich tradition of Illinois, Missouri, and especially the Ozarks.
Laugh and Grow Fat should make its way into plenty of CD collections. It provides a nice blend of tunes and songs, all with plenty of drive and energy. Let's not wait ten years for the next CD.
To order: Vigortone Records, c/o Jim Nelson, 5461 Lisette Ave., St. Louis, MO 63109