AFTER GIGGING SEMI-SERIOUSLY for half a year as The Sarajevo Folk Ensemble and/or Sarajevo International Band, we needed a new name pronto — Archduke Ferdinand be damned. David Skuse dubbed us The Klezmorim after I sneakily left a book open to a photo of Old World klezmorim.
Big-time recognition followed. The Berkeley Public Library, hosting multiple celebrations of ethnic culture, booked us for Jewish Month. The library shows on 19 and 22 April 1976 went well, indicating that we might some day find an audience. (Somebody video'd the Central Library show, but I've never seen the tape.) Since Russian Month was coming up soon, I proposed that we reconconfigure as a Russian band and snag the gig. The band didn't buy it; Klezmorim was our name, dammit, and klezmer our game.
This collective decision crystallized The Klezmorim as a band and as an artistic concept. Strange that I wobbled at that crucial moment; commendable that the less-tenured members stayed on track. The powerful, virus-like klezmer meme was already altering its environment to ensure its own survival.
Next rite of passage: auditioning at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley's venerable acoustic music hovel. We became one of the house bands, appearing every month for years, often doing two shows (four sets) back-to-back. I have the fondest memories of that dinky rathole's home-baked pastries, herbal teas, and ravingly faithful audiences. The Freight could seat maybe 60, with standing room for 20 more. On sellout nights I was amazed that ticketless fans would linger outside for the length of the show, listening through the walls.
Within a few months Chris Strachwitz, head of Arhoolie Records, had caught our act at the Freight and offered a recording contract. Chris had tramped the world's back roads for years, making great one-take albums of blues, zydeco, and norteño music on his portable, indestructible Uher recorder (a marvel of Swiss workmanship). He brought the Uher to our next couple of Freight gigs, trying to capture our spontaneous ensemble playing and the crowd's enthusiasm. But some acoustic gremlin afflicted the live tapes; an album would require studio time. Strachwitz arranged for us to record with engineer Bob Shumaker at 1750 Arch Street, a mission-style Berkeley mansion turned studio and concert venue. While Skuse and I had prior session chops, the other players were studio virgins... The inside story continues in 1977... >>