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A Cabinet of Curiosities

Sam Litzinger's
Good Tunes

The Cowsills!

For a couple of years -- long, long ago -- I dressed like the males in this band. I also has a similar hairstyle.
Let us never speak of it again.

Actually, I once had a very interesting discussion with the great jazz sax player Scott Hamilton about The Cowsills, who came from the same part of the country he did. He recalled trying to learn the electric guitar as a young man, perhaps, I surmised, so he could jam with groups like The Cowsills. That didn't work out, however. During our chat, I was unable to convince Scott that he should do a CD of Cowsills tunes adapted for a jazz combo. He didn't seem all that enthusiastic, but he didn't give me a definitive no. So, if you see Scott, be sure to tell him you'd love to hear his versions of "The Rain, the Park and Other Things", "Captain Sad and his Ship of Fools" and, of course, "Love American Style". Tell him he also has to wear a leisure suit and a scarf.
He'll like that.
Excerpts from a few of my favorite interviews with musicians:

(Click here to explore B.B. King's music)
AUDIO: B.B. King on being an advocate for the blues

(Click here to explore Artie Shaw's music)
AUDIO: Artie Shaw on his philosophy of life 

(Click here to explore Oscar Peterson's music)
AUDIO: Oscar Peterson on being happy

(Click here to explore Les Paul's music)
 AUDIO: Les Paul on the art of tinkering

(Click here to explore Wanda Jackson's music)
AUDIO: Wanda Jackson on working with Elvis Presley and being self-sufficient

If I'm not reading or working (or sleeping or eating), I'm probably listening to music. There's some wonderful stuff out there, although it takes an effort to find it sometimes. I'm in complete agreement with Duke Ellington, who said there are two kinds of music: good and bad. I'm all over the place in terms of musical styles. I'm finding as radio programmers pare the playlists, I become ever more eclectic in my listening. Here are a few suggestions, which will be updated whenever I can pry the iPod earphones out of my head:

"Anthology of American Folk Music"

This is one of the great collections from one of the great musical institutions, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Director Dan Sheehy and his staff continue to gather material that's astonishing in both depth and breadth. At one point during a trip to the archive, Dan showed me a big old disc that was sitting on a shelf. It didn't look like anything special -- until he told me it was the master recording of "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie
In other words, it was a national treasure.

I'm excited to say that Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place and I are now going through the collections and producing a series of hour-long radio shows on some of the artists. Much of the material hasn't been heard publicly in decades. We've done programs on the archive itself, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Dock Boggs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Jean Ritchie, Lead Belly, the music and cultures of The Silk Road, English folk music, gospel music, the blues -- and we're continuing to work our way through the shelves. This should only take 50 or 60 years, but it's good to have a goal in life!

Jeff Place (right) and Sam Litzinger (center) talk with Alvin Singh II (left) of the Lead Belly Foundation (

Check out the project and listen to MP3 files of some shows at:

The programs -- "Sound Sessions from Smithsonian Folkways" -- is also heard on WAMU public radio here in Washington, DC, over the air, online and on one of WAMU's HD radio channels.
I hope you enjoy them. I'm having the time of my life going through this stuff and talking with the Smithsonian experts.  

Another of my musical faves:

Last Train Home
(Click here to explore the music of Last Train Home)

A terrific outfit that can play anything. Eric Brace is the brain behind the band. He's a former journalist (but don't hold that against him) who decided a few years ago that he loved music enough to make it his profession. Good choice. He and his bandmates do blues, country, folk, a little jazz -- I think they've even been working on a Black Sabbath medley that should temporarily confuse the roots fans who come to see them perform. One of my LTH favorites is "Gravedigger's Blues", which is bluesy, rocky, dark and cool. Eric's spending a lot of time in Nashville these days and it will be interesting to hear how that will influence future songs.

The Cowboy Junkies are always doing good things, whether it's their classic cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" or their new album "at the end of paths taken".

(Click here to explore the music of the Cowboy Junkies)

I also find myself returning to the Junkies' first album, "Whites Off Earth Now".
It's a collection of Delta blues songs that went up to Canada where they got chilly and a little homesick and have interesting tales to tell upon their return.

Roky Erickson.The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. I happened to hear "Slip Inside This House" the other day (on the radio, astonishingly enough!). I hadn't heard it in years. I promptly bought "I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology". I've been playing that so much Ella the Beagle can now sing along, which Roky might actually like. He, like Syd Barrett and Peter Green, are some of the damaged geniuses whose music I admire.

(Click here to explore the music of Roky Erickson) 
(Click here to explore the music of Syd Barrett) 
(Click here to explore the music of Peter Green)
Oh, and I must pay tribute to:

(Click here -- if you dare! -- to explore the music of Motorhead)

Lemmy. Motorhead. I love them dearly (in a decent, manly sort of way) which confuses many people who know me as a fairly subdued kind of guy. They don't understand why I care deeply, madly for a band that plays songs like "Eat the Rich", "Born to Raise Hell" and the classic, eternal "Ace of Spades" (which Lemmy must have been mighty sick of playing after all those years!). Well, for one thing, they're bone-rumbling LOUD, which holds great appeal. Plus, Lemmy was wildly amusing and smarter than you might guess (heck, he used the word "obsequious" in one of his songs. Beat that, John Mayer!). I interviewed him a few years ago. He remembered nothing of it, believe me. But the guy was as close as we're likely to get to a Nietzschean Overman. We lost an original when he died at 70 (although Lemmy dying at 70 is like an ordinary person dying at 175).
Thanks, Lemmy, you magnificent bastard!
("Bastards" was going to be the original name of Motorhead - but that's another story...)