A visual storytelling celebration of American roots music in its rich variety through unseen and newly scanned photographs by the founder of the legendary Arhoolie Records.
Founded in 1960 by Chris Strachwitz, the one-man operation Arhoolie Records eventually produced more than four hundred albums during more than forty years in operation, exploring the far corners of American vernacular music—blues, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, hillbilly, Texas-Mexican norteño music, and more.
From the very beginning, Strachwitz brought his camera along with recording equipment as he met and recorded now-legendary artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Clifton Chenier, and Big Joe Williams. This book collects more than 150 of his best, most intimate, and exciting images—many never-before-seen—each with rich captions by Strachwitz and award-winning music journalist Joel Selvin, along with a substantial 20,000-word essay by Selvin about Arhoolie, Strachwitz, and the music.
INTIMATE AND AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHS: Although Strachwitz would always self-deprecatingly claim that the photographs he took while meeting and recording musicians were strictly documentary, and *maybe* of some use for a record sleeve later, they are much more than that. Lyrical, candid, real: His rapport with the musicians and their families is glowing and evident in these photographs.
RIVETING MUSIC HISTORY PHOTO BOOK: These are never-before-seen photos, and photos like you’ve never seen before. Every image is from freshly remastered scans, and the authors dove deep into the Arhoolie archives to uncover images almost no one has had the chance to see.
CRUCIAL AMERICAN MUSIC AND CULTURAL HISTORY: Strachwitz’s wide-ranging interest and unbridled enthusiasm for all sorts of roots music led to his crisscrossing the country from artist to artist based on recommendations, rumor, tips, radio broadcasts—the result being a portrait (in sound for the label, and image in this book) of vital American music in a wide range of genres. He has rich stories for each photograph and artist.
AN INVALUABLE DOCUMENT: Arhoolie fundamentally shaped our understanding of American music. Renowned music writer Joel Selvin has not only worked with Strachwitz to draw out the stories behind the photographs, but he has contributed an invaluable long-form essay about Arhoolie, Strachwitz, and the label's cultural legacy to anchor this incredible book.
Fans of American roots music, including the blues, folk, Cajun, Creole, zydeco, Mexican American border music, and more
Fans of Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Lydia Mendoza, Clifton Chenier, Flaco Jiménez, Mance Lipscomb, Narciso Martínez, Big Joe Williams, and the other fantastic artists whose records Arhoolie released over the years
Birthday, holiday, graduation, or anytime gift for musicians and music lovers
Collectors of music history, American cultural history, Black history, and music photography books
About the Author
Joel Selvin is an award-winning journalist and the bestselling author of more than twenty books on pop music. He was pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle for thirty-six years, first interviewing Chris Strachwitz as one of his earliest articles for the paper.
Chris Strachwitz is the founder of Arhoolie Records and the Arhoolie Foundation. Through his long and storied career as a record producer, record collector, filmmaker, and documentarian, Strachwitz worked to celebrate and promote what he termed “down-home” music: the tradition-based, regional styles of the U.S. and its borderlands, including blues, Cajun, Zydeco, Tejano/Norteño, mariachi, gospel, bluegrass, old-time, polka, and more. Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, describes Arhoolie Records as “the most important roots record label of the last sixty years.” As one of the most celebrated documentarians of American roots music over the past half-century, Strachwitz brought his tape recorder and camera into dancehalls, churches, garages, boucheries (pig roasts), and homes, where generations of musicians have kept the region’s music alive. The images Strachwitz captured, many of which graced Arhoolie album covers, are an enduring testament to American vernacular music.
“You hold in your hands a monumental treasure! Without the aid of Chris’s humanity, foresight, dedication, and love in recording these artists on wax, films, and photographs, this whole genre might have suffered and sustained massive dis-inclusion, lost forever, slipping away without a trace of existing. Go forth and enjoy it with great respect for a Man who made sure you didn’t miss the music and images of the unheard and unseen. Thank you, Chris.” —Taj Mahal
“Chris Strachwitz is a heroic figure if ever there was. This book gets to the root of roots music and tells the story of Arhoolie most brilliantly. Arhoolie all right!” —Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top
“No one has meant more to the preservation and appreciation of Americana roots music than Chris Strachwitz. He turned me on to Mississippi Fred McDowell and so many other greats. With his passion for the artists as people as well as their culture, and the creation of Arhoolie Records and Down Home Music, he’s given us some of the most thrilling and unique music we’ll ever know. How great that Chris and Joel have collaborated on telling his fascinating story in this wonderful book.” —Bonnie Raitt
“I traveled through South Texas with Chris for a few days once. He had his tape machine, a change of clothes, and a twenty-five-pound sack of oranges. Texas is big, you know. Five hundred miles a day—he stopped to eat only to be polite. He wore me out, but I learned a lot. The border Mexicans called him “El Fanático.” Chris is a really nice man—he liked the musicians, they liked him back. Even Mario Montes, the accordion player of Los Donneños, who had no use for white people, put up with him. Then, it was drink your orange juice, get in the car, and drive. Viva El Fanático!” —Ry Cooder
“Hey Chris: I wanna buy you a Mercury and cruise you up and down the road. Chris Strachwitz’s life-journey led him to become one of the world’s greatest musicologists. Were Lightnin’ Hopkins, K. C. Douglas, and a host of other cultural giants alive today, they would all say, Thank you, Chris Strachwitz. Thank you for your passion, tireless work, and generosity. Me too.” —Steve Miller
"Opening this book is akin to opening a treasure chest for the fan of roots…err, down home music. And each page reveals a new gem."
"A revelatory road trip with the founder of the legendary roots and blues imprint Arhoolie Records through his photos of the legends that he recorded."
"[W]ith Chronicle Books’ posthumous release of 'Arhoolie Records Down Home Music: The Stories and Photographs of Chris Strachwitz,' ...his work as a photographer gets the star billing it’s so long deserved. The crisp black-and-white photos, taken on his trusty Leica, offer candid and in-their-element glimpses of the artists he recorded. Shot as something of a personal diary tracking where he’d been and who he’d heard, the photos often ended up serving as cover art for Arhoolie albums...a treasure trove."