Ira McIntosh - interview

Ira McIntosh  (Ira's Workshop on 8/10/17 about Grant Rogers as Songmaker)                                                                                                                                          

0:00:57 Jim Haggerty

Welcome, everyone, we're really glad to have you all here tonight: musicians, singers, people interested in Grant Rogers, and most of all [Ira McIntosh]. We're real excited to have Ira McIntosh with us here tonight to do a special workshop and participatory kind of program in honor of Grant Rogers and carrying on his legacy. We have people here who have known Grant, or have been influenced by him or have had relatives that have known him, and we're really [looking forward to this] wonderful time to explore some of those connections. So, we're really happy to have Ira and that's all I'm going to say because he, [. . .] himself, has a great reputation for carrying on the legacy of Grant Rogers and other traditional musicians in the area. [He] has done a lot of work in schools and communities and we're really pleased to have you, Ira, so please, welcome.

0:01:48 Ira

Thank you, Jim. [. . .] I'm really glad to be here. I feel very lucky that I get to do this kind of work. I feel very lucky that I get to be here and share some of this stuff with you. So, since we're talking about carrying on traditions, and [. . .] regional traditions in particular, I figured maybe it'd be good to just start out with an international pop song.

0:02:20 Ira

music starts [“Puttin’ on the Style”]

0:02:50 Ira

This is the part of the song where I would sing the chorus, but I'm hoping that this is not going to be just a concert, but a sing-along. [I] love making music and sharing songs with people, but it always sounds better if there's lots of voices helping out. So, I'd like to encourage folks to sing, and [. . .] a little later on it'd be really nice if some of these fine musicians who brought their instruments could join in. So, here's how the chorus goes. Some of you already know it. Let's just sing it through a time and everybody else will pick it up. Here we go.

0:03:29 Ira

music resumes

0:04:31 Ira

That's wonderful. I'm so glad that so many people know it. If you don't know it, you'll learn it. I hear harmonies singing. Not everybody's singing the same note. If there's somebody who's afraid that they can't sing the same note as everybody else, sing a different note. That's harmony. That makes it bigger and better.

0:04:50 Ira

music resumes

0:07:19

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0:07:21 Ira

Wow, that was really nice. Oh, it's so beautiful to hear so many voices singing together. Speaking of our rural musical traditions, that's what it is, is our rural musical traditions, is people singing together and making music together just like (that's part of it). That is part of it. Just 15 or 20 minutes ago we were talking [and] somebody mentioned the radio. [R]adio might seem like a thing of the past, but you know when [. . .] the radio waves first reached this area and people could pick up those radio waves, and then later on they were able to watch people performing songs on television, our [. . .] local music kind of sort of got lost in a lot of ways. [I]t just blended in, and within a few decades the songs that people around here had in their heads were the sounds that everybody across the country had in their heads.

0:08:20 Ira

So, it's really nice to see appreciation of some of our local songs. That song, "Putting on the Style," I said it was an international pop song. Well, it came from a fella here in Delaware County, a guy that used to play a lot with Grant Rogers. His name was Ernie Sager, and Grant performed that song. [I] ,as a small child, I remember that being Grant's song. [G]rant didn't last long enough for me to actually get to play with him. He was always really encouraging. I remember him always being kind and generous to me and encouraging me to sing with him, and I'm very grateful that I got to learn some of his songs.  [L]ater on when I was a teenager, I got to play square dances with Ernie Sager. [He] made that song out of an older song that he learned as a young fella down south. [I]t really was a pop song because not only did Ernie teach that song to Grant who sang it a lot, but

0:09:25 Ira

in 1945 Ernie taught that song to Pete Seeger at a [. . .] festival where Grant was performing as well. [P]ete ended up taking that song around the world, and it became pretty popular over in Europe. So, it's a pop song, but it's kind of our own here in Delaware County. So, [G]rant was many, many, things you know. Lots of us remember him as a song maker because [. . .] he left us such a wonderful legacy of that, but [ . . .] he did lumbering work, he was a stone cutter, and this is a song that [. . .] I never knew about. [I never knew about] this song until long after Grant was gone, but it's a song that I know that he heard, and I bet he enjoyed it. It's a song that was collected by some folks here in the Catskills and brought down to Camp Woodland in [the] middle of the 20th century. Well, it's about working in the bluestone quarries.

0:10:28 Ira

music starts

0:13:17 Ira

music ends

0:13:22 Ira

[. . .] It's so satisfying for me, this is [. . .] such a privilege. It's really wonderful. I really love my job and    [. . .] the beautiful smiles that I see, and [. . .] all of your voices together are really rewarding. So, thank you for that. So, yes, Grant worked in a lot of things. [. . .] Growing up around Walton, [of] course he was no stranger to [. . .] lumbering, and stonecutting, and [. . .] the railroad, cause of course the [. . .] main line of a real major railroad used to come right straight through Walton. [. . .] He heard [. . .] lots of people as he was growing up singing their songs

0:14:23 Ira

that they had written about working in the woods around here, and [. . .] he was quite a musician himself. Played at lots of the local dances, and he learned lots of the popular music of his day and was   [. . .]  going more and more toward that. [. . .] He wound up getting hooked up with Camp Woodland and working down there, and he saw people who were honoring the elders and their old time songs. [. . .] He [. . .] realized how important it was to [. . .] collect some of that before it all disappeared. [. . .] Being a songwriter and a song maker himself, [. . .] he was thinking about those lumbering songs, and he figured that he could do a pretty darn good job of making a lumbering song of his own. [. . .] Here's the one that Grant came up with. I'm almost reluctant to do songs that don't have good parts to sing along with because I don't think I should waste any of the time I have with such a great collection of voices, but this one doesn't have any of those repetitive parts, so I'll just try it myself.

interruption

0:15:47 Ira      Pat McBraid???

music starts

0:18:01 Ira

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0:18:09 Ira

Yes, Grant was not just a song maker, he was a storyteller. He really fit, I mean, I just, I've always marveled at that last verse, how he fit [. . .] more than a century's worth of technology in that last verse. [. . .] What a guy. [. . .] When I was just a youngster, I mean as early as I can remember, my mom was a folklorist. I know some of you knew her. [. . .] When she was doing her research and working on her Master's Degree in Folklore, and later working on her PhD, she used to drag me all over the Catskills.      [. . .] Mostly Delaware County, here, there, and beyond, and she just [. . .] spent a ton of time seeking out old timers who had stories to tell and songs to share.

0:19:15 Ira

[. . .] I guess she figured she wouldn't bother spending money on the babysitter. Even these days it's hard for poor college students to do that. So, [. . .] she used to say that I pretty much got my degree in folklore along with her because I was along with her on a lot of her research. [. . .] I'm very grateful for that because Grant Rogers and Ernie Sager, and [. . .] the Cosses over in Andes, and Hilton Kelly, and     [. . .] Bill Sprague, whose son's sitting right here... (No, sorry, you just downgraded me. Bob Sprague.) Yea, but I don't remember you playing music when I was a little kid. [. . .] I'm talking about the people that inspired me in this music, and I sure remember your dad and Bill Shampine, fine fiddle player from Delhi, and [. . .] some of my earliest memories are [. . .] enjoying the music of these people. [. . .]

0:20:15 Ira

I've always been very glad that I got the idea driven into my head at an early age that making music and sharing songs and stories is what real people do with their time. [ . . ] I'm glad that I get to do it, and [. . .] Grant was [ . . . ] so encouraging. [. . .] Always eager and giving me [. . .] positive reinforcement for getting up there and singing. [. . .] (He was a great guy). Yup, and I've always been glad. [. . .] Grant wrote some songs about the building of the Cannonsville Reservoir that forced him and his family and friends and neighbors to [. . .] scatter around. [. . .] It was a very difficult experience for them.

0:21:18 Ira

There's a song of his that I've always appreciated. [. . .] For awhile, before I had kids and got too busy for stuff like that, I was pretty devoted to collecting songs about the building of the reservoirs. [. . .] For lots of good reasons most of the songs that I've been able to find from the building of the [. . .] Pepacton and the Cannonsville [. . .] have a very sad, bitter tale to tell. [. . .] It's not a good experience, having your community torn apart and pretty much erased. Interestingly, more than a hundred years ago when the Ashokan Reservoir was being built over in Ulster County, the songs were a little different. They were kind of glorifying the construction of these magnificent things that were going to do incredible things.

0:22:19 Ira

[. . .] The power of mankind to take millions of gallons of water and move it hundreds of miles. [. . .] They were songs about the heroes who designed and constructed it, and later on you get more songs from the perspective of the people who had to bear the brunt of that. So, I'll share with you what turned into a song. It was a poem that was written by Mary Fenton whose family had to move out of the area where the Pepacton Reservoir is now. [. . .] A friend of mine who [. . .] I grew up with and [. . .] made music with in Bovina, his name is Dan Finn, he found two stanzas of this poem in a book that was put together about the Pepacton Reservoir and he set it to music. [. . .] It was just in that book anonymously, and I did some poking around and some asking around and I found out that the poem was written by Mary Fenton.

0:23:21 Ira

I managed to get a copy of the whole darn thing, and so I put together some more verses out of [. . .] the rest of it.

0:23:31 Ira

music starts

0:26:12 Ira

music ends

0:26:20 Ira

So, that's the first dam song of the evening. [. . .] I understand that on Grant's recordings [. . .] they called this song the Cannonsville Dam, but I remember him always calling it his second dam song. [. . .] I know he wrote another one, and I don't remember it, so I'd love [. . .] if somebody knows where to find a recording of it, or knows how to play it, I'd love to learn his first dam song. [. . .] He always called this one his second dam song.

0:27:01 Ira

music starts  [“Cannonsville Dam”]

0:28:59 Ira

music ends

0:29:03 Ira

Now, out of all the songs that I ever found about the construction of the reservoirs, [. . .] the ones that   [. . .] are talking about the great hero Jay Waldo Smith who built the Catskill aqueduct in the first few years of the 20th century, or whether it's the songs of people having to lose their homes and towns and never see their relatives again, that's the only one. That's the only one that I ever found that tries to tell both sides of the story. [. . .] Of course, Grant knew that his friends and neighbors were pretty darn upset about it, but [. . .] I know that he [. . .] wrote that song to kind of try to help everybody understand that even though it was a difficult thing, [. . .] as he said, countless thousands of people were depending on it. So, [. . .] it's interesting that he had what it took to [. . ]  see beyond himself and be able to tell both sides of the story in that song.

0:30:18

interruption/discussion

0:30:49 Ira

One of the folks who [. . .] really helped get Grant exposed to [. . .] an audience wider than Delaware County--Grant was very well known around here, and [. . .] for good reason. He was [. . .] good to have for any of the dances, and in the days before radio, [. . .] if you wanted [. . .] music you either had to go to a dance where folks like Grant made the music, or you had to make it yourself. [. . .] He might not have wound up being known much beyond Delaware County if it wasn't for his mom. [. . .] That's one of the things I think that maybe I have in common with Grant [. . .] because if it wasn't for my mom encouraging me at a very young age, I probably wouldn't be here doing this. And, if it wasn't for Grant's mom, he would have never been found by Norman Studer who brought him over to Camp Woodland to share his songs and stories with the kids.

0:31:57 Ira

[. . .] Norman Studer wasn't looking for Grant Rogers when he came to this neighborhood. The kids at Camp Woodland once upon a time were collecting stories about Boney Quillan. Does anybody know that name? Well, let me tell you what. If I asked a bunch of people in Walton 60 or 80 years ago if anybody knew that name, or 100 years ago, probably, everybody would have [known] Boney Quillan. [. . .] Grant Rogers, [. . .] we're honoring him and celebrating him for good reasons, but Boney Quillan [. . .] was a legitimate folk hero here in this neighborhood. He was kind of like [. . .] larger than life. He was a Paul Bunyan or something. Boney Quillan was one of those rowdy, tough fellas that would raft the logs down the Delaware River. [. . .] Grant's mom, Ethel, had known Boney Quillan.

0:32:02 Ira

So, when Norman Studer came asking around this area for anybody who had known Boney and remembered him, he got directed to Ethel Rogers. [. . .] He thought, wow, bonus because she's also a renowned musician. She plays her concertina at the dances, so [. . .]maybe we could get her to come share some of that music. [. . .] It was through finding Grant's mom, Ethel, that Norman found Grant and [. . .] that led to just years of Grant bringing lots of his Delaware County buddies, including Ernie Sager and the Coss brothers, John and Art, and Marvin Atwell and [. . .] Grant's brother, Murray, [who] used to play with them too, down there. So, one of the folks down at Camp Woodland that Grant met and taught some of this songs to was this tall skinny kid who was there with some of his friends doing a puppet show for the kids at camp.

0:34:04 Ira

That tall skinny kid, his name was Pete Seeger. [. . .] Grant taught him a few of those songs and [. . .] they had quite a good friendship. [. . .] That led to Grant's horizons expanding. He [Pete Seeger] got him on TV and hooked him up with the traveling shows. [. . .] So, that was a really wonderful thing for all of us [. . .] because some of our local traditions got carried a little bit farther. [. . .] So, this is a song that Grant never sang, but it's a song that I used to get to sing a lot with Pete Seeger. [. . .] I knew him when I was a little kid, and he was kind of a friend of the family. [. . .] My mom was working with him at folk festivals and collecting old songs and stuff, and [. . .] then I grew up a little bit and I kind of, almost, I didn't really forget about him, but I just wasn't thinking about Pete and the stuff that he did

0:35:07 Ira

until I [. . .] was a young adult. [. . . ] Then I sought Pete out again in the Clearwater Festival on the Hudson River and wound up playing with him for a lot of years. This is a song that he taught me, and I think it's about time we get lots of voices singing together again. I've been missing that. I don't want to lose any more chances. So, here's how this song goes. You sing "down by the river" three times, and then after that it's pretty easy.

0:35:34 Ira

music starts

0:38:38 Ira

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0:38:46 Ira

Well, I see some beautiful musical instruments that are just kind of sitting there idle, and I'd like to encourage anybody who wants to [. . .] to maybe join in on a song or two or maybe share one. I certainly have a whole bunch more that I can share, and [. . .] hopefully a lot of them will involve lots of voices singing. Now, on that song I particularly like these [. . .] three fellas coming up with that nice, rich, low harmony. [. . .] Pete [. . .] is the one who really inspired me to [. . .] get acquainted with the power of lots of voices singing together. It's a special thing. [. . .] I perform in all kinds of different situations and

0:39:48 Ira

very often I just wind up singing by myself [. . .] with an audience just looking at me. [. . .] Maybe they appreciate it, but it's definitely a whole lot better with different voices working together. [. . .] Pete was so good, even people who didn't want to sing, he'd get people singing, and [. . .] he'd wave that long arm and say sing it. Nobody said no and he would tell people [. . .] if you can't sing at all, if you can't even sing a note, that's not a problem. You just holler along. The only way to do it wrong is if you're not singing. [. . .] Of course there were the [. . .] folks that sometimes I consider the old timers, that I knew when I was a little kid and [. . .] got inspired by, but [. . .] there were some folks, I mentioned Dan Finn earlier, who set the Shavertown poem to music,

0:40:48 Ira

some folks that I grew up with in Bovina [that inspired me]. I don't know what it is about Bovina, but there seems to be, maybe it's the water supply or something, but there seems to be an awful lot of musicians per capita there. [. . .] Some of the other folks that I grew up with who had a really profound influence on me were the Pelletier family. [. . .] Their dad was a professor at Delhi Tech. He was an English professor. [. . .] There were [. . .] seven brothers, and all but one of them were musicians and really remarkable songwriters. I guess something about growing up with an English professor for a dad put the poetry in them, but there's a song that one of the Pelletier brothers wrote... [. . .] When I was just a little kid, I can remember being like three years old, and they lived just two houses down the street from me, and [. . .] here I am, three years, playing out here,

0:41:48 Ira

and I would hear the rock and roll start up in the barn behind their house. [. . .] I would go up there, and I can so vividly remember that I'd just go stand by the door and I'd wait until the song ended. [. . .] Then, I'd beat on the door because I knew if I beat on the door in the middle of it, they'd never hear me anyway. So, there's a song that was written by Dan Pelletier, and it's a song that really means a lot to me. [. . .] I grew up in a dairy farming family, and [. . .] I might not be here today if I had to milk the cows, but when I was a teenager my uncles and my grandfather and my dad decided to sell the dairy herd. [. . .] At the time it just broke my heart [ . . .] because I knew that's what I was going to grow up doing, and then all of a sudden, here I am like 16, 17 years old, and they're gone.

0:42:45 Ira

But, I was 16 or 17 years old, and I pretty quickly figured out that if you don't have dairy cows, you don't have to wake up at four o' clock in the morning to milk them. [. . .]They swore that they'd never get cows again, but then they did wind up getting some beef cattle and I thought that was all right because   [. . .] all you have to do with beef cattle is bring them a few hay bales in the wintertime. [. . .] It's a lot less labor intensive for a teenager than going out to milk a couple times a day, but still this song, it means an awful lot to me. [. . .] Anybody, I know Susan comes from a farming family, so this song is for anybody whose family is still on their farm.

0:43:23  Ira

music starts

0:48:08 Ira

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0:48:13 Ira

Well, anybody care to grab an instrument? I'll keep going. [. . .] I have an idea. While a couple instruments are coming out and getting tuned up, there's a song that I [. . .] really enjoyed when I was a kid. It has kind of [a] weird melody to it, or maybe I shouldn't say weird, just kind of unusual. [. . .] It was collected [. . .] from a fella named George Edwards, and I know that [. . .] Grant heard George singing the song. Well, George sang in the old style unaccompanied by music, and the melody to the song, I guess it must not have seemed to Grant to fit the chords that he was familiar with on his guitar, and

0:49:15 Ira

Grant didn't very often sing unless he was accompanying himself with an instrument [so he wrote music for it]. I know Grant used to perform this song, but I remember him doing it to a completely different tune, so I'm going to try [. . .] to approximate the [. . .] tune that George Edwards used to use. [. . .] It's a song that [. . .] was written by George's dad, Pat Edwards, about trying hard to find work. [. . .] For all I know it might have inspired Grant to write his song about when a fellow was out of a job.

0:49:54 Ira

music starts

0:52:42 Ira

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0:52:45 Ira

Hey, look at this, we got a circle that's all set up here for folks with instruments. What a beautiful thing.

0:53:52 Ira

[. . .] There's one that I've been thinking about, and chances are you guys don't know it, but it's [. . .] pretty darn easy to learn. It's only got three chords to it. That's one of the makings of a good song. We'll survive. We're [. . .] musicians. [. . .] We're used to playing in a room with 100 dancers heating it up.

background discussion

0:54:49

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