Friday, July 6, 2012

The Sour Owl

This is a bit out of the purview of our regular postings, but, recently, I was reminded by an old friend of the Sour Owl.  It was a coffeehouse which predated the Ten O'clock Scholar in Dinkytown where, back in the early 60's, Bob Dylan and the rest of us lesser known musicians got our start.

I was not in this group, as I was between living in Alaska, and West Africa, as the following e mail will explain. But Steve Oleson, a gifted young flamenco guitarist was present, and after all these years, his name has come back into my life.  This is about flamenco, not birds, so you can cut out at any time.

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I graduated from the School of Forestry at the U of M in 1960, and took a six month job in Alaska.  When I came home, unsure of what lie ahead of me, I signed a contract to go to Liberia, West Africa to be the superintendent of a rubber plantation (Fireststone Tire & Rubber), where I was to remain for two years until I realized my dream of going to Spain to study flamenco.

Much like Steve, up to that point I had taught myself -- lugging my axe all the way up to Alaska to drive my bunk mates nuts.  Upon my return home, I'd have six months before leaving for Africa.  It was during this period that I discovered Steve, whose brain I picked relentlessly in pursuit of knowledge.

He was a gifted musician, and a gracious teacher.  We became good friends...and then I left for Liberia.

While I was gone, Steve was killed in an auto accident.  His wife, Ann Mossman who danced with my mother as part of the Nancy Hauser Dance company, followed through on the gypsy tradition of having his marvelous Ramirez guitar smashed and put into the grave with him.  Had I been around, I would have convinced her to give it to me!!

Tony and I appreciate Billy's accolades on our behalf, but given  lives in music, as we have been blessed with , I know Steve would have continued growing as an artist and a musician, and would have achieved great acclaim.  He never got go to Spain (as I have had the good fortune to do) and to learn the full dimensions of the craft of playing flamenco... learning to accompany dancing and singing and everything that goes with a centuries-old folk art form.   That would have been his next step.

His life was cut short, or he would have emerged as I have, now at the age of 74, as one of the few representatives of the first generation of Americans to travel to Spain to study this deceivingly complex, difficult and poorly unappreciated and misunderstood form of guitar playing.

If I had stayed in forestry, I could have retired 20 years ago!

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