The repackaging of the history of recorded music in the CD era has had the great side benefit of resurrecting forgotten or underappreciated work and some of the musicians who made them. Do you remember this story from last year?
James Carter recorded a version of “Po Lazarus” for rambling folklorist/producer Alan Lomax in 1959 as an inmate in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. He forgot about it. 42 years later the song appeared on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and now Carter, 76, shares a Grammy for album of the year, has a $20,000 check as a down payment for what could turn out to be hundreds of thousands in royalties (the album has sold over 5 million copies so far and was the No. 2 country album for 2001, according to Billboard), and enjoys a bizarre twist of fate late in his life.
The heroes of the story are album producer T-Bone Burnett; Don Fleming, director of licensing for the Lomax archives; and Chris Grier, a reporter for The Sarasota Herald-Tribune; all of whom went out of their way to track down Carter, who lives in Chicago and had never heard of the movie or the soundtrack.
Now a long lost jazz legend has returned from oblivion:
- In avant-garde jazz circles in the mid-1960’s, Henry Grimes was one of the most respected bassists working. Trained at Juilliard, he had already played with Anita O’Day, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins when he was in his 20’s.
He went on to play on some of the seminal albums of the free-jazz era, by such musicians as Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders. He was known for his ability to alternate from long Eastern-sounding bowing to hard pizzicato plucking, all of which generated tremendous calluses on his hands.
But in the early 70’s, after moving to California, Mr. Grimes disappeared. For three decades nobody in music circles heard from him. Several reference works listed him as dead.
And that is how the story of Mr. Grimes might have ended if it were not for a determined fan from Athens, Ga., named Marshall Marrotte.
Mr. Marrotte, a social worker, pored through court records and death certificates and interviewed family and friends of Mr. Grimes’s before finding him earlier this year living in a one-room efficiency in downtown Los Angeles. According to Mr. Marrotte, Mr. Grimes no longer owned a musical instrument; he had never seen a CD, although his work is on them; and he was unaware that many of his colleagues had died, including Ayler, the tenor saxophonist, who was found drowned in the East River off Manhattan in 1970. Now, thanks to Mr. Marrotte and the bassist William Parker, who donated a bass that Mr. Grimes received two months ago, Mr. Grimes is back on the music scene and plans to stick around. [NY Times]
Money, what money?
- During that California period, sometimes he was homeless, he said. He survived by working as a janitor at a Beverly Hills Hebrew school and at a bowling alley in Long Beach. “In between those jobs,” said Mr. Grimes, now 65, “I did a little construction work. It keeps me in shape now.”
As for royalties from his recordings, Mr. Grimes said he received none and never even thought about it after leaving New York. (Now, he said, he may seek advice on how to pursue payments.)