A Is For Arbus #46
The Acid Eaters #5

Mel Lyman, folk singer and author of The Autobiography of a World Savior (Feb. 1968)


That Guy said...

Oh, the tales to tell here.....I will if you will.

swac said...

Go for it.

swac said...

Note: entry ammended appropriately, although I'm thinking Great Madmen of the 20th Century might also be appropriate...Tom?

Tom Sutpen said...


That's an 'affirmative', mate.

That Guy:

As usual . . . feel free.

We love content 'round these parts

(btw, a long-delayed email is impending)

That Guy said...

The Diego Rivera of Americana, Thomas Hart Benton completed his set of murals entitled “America Today” for the New School of Social Research in 1930, flinging open the mighty double-doors to the true start of his career as a determinedly American painter. Grand-nephew of a famous Missouri Senator, son of a not-so-famous Missouri Congressman, Benton painted the Americana scene as if the vertiginous fields of waving grain had caused the farmers and sharecroppers alike to weave and wave in unison — whenever they weren’t all playing fiddles or banjos -- filling acre after acre with what Robert Hughes, that eminent Australian/American/Time-employee called -- and not at all inaccurately —“his huge murals writhing with buckskinned, blue-jeaned and gingham-clad Americans.” Those murals were the very models of what would become the mode of the WPA-comissioned art that by the late-Thirties was adorning post offices and bureaucratic lobbies from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam, most nearly all of which geographical features showed up somewhere between the skylight and the prairie and the metered mail slot. Benton put himself together a little string band to play “Red River Valley” and “Ida Red” and such at the mural’s dedication in January of 1931, and he got Charles Seeger to play guitar — Seeger always claimed that this was his introduction to folk music, pointedly forgetting the Thank-God-And-Greyhound going-away hoedown the moonshiners had thruwn him way back when. In 1935, Benton picked up his brushes and moved from Greenwich Village back home again to ol’ Missouri — though he avoided the authentically broiling summer harvest season by retreating to Martha’s Vineyard, eventually recording an album of fiddle tunes and inventing a tablature for harmonica players that has been used (with variations) ever since.

“Does anybody have an E harmonica? An E harmonica . . . anybody!”
Bob Dylan, after returning to the Newport Folk Festival stage solo with an acoustic guitar, 1965

"When Mel saw the chaos and confusion and rage which followed Dylan's performance, he was moved to do something to bring everyone back together as a family. He asked Pete Seeger and George Wein to let him go and play "Rock of Ages" on his harmonica. Neither of them thought it was a good idea, and told him that neither of them had the authority to tell him to do it. That was up to the Board of Directors. So Mel did it anyway. The concert was over, but the sound system was still on, and soon the sound of his harmonica floated out over the field. Everybody was just in the process of leaving the park emotionally drained after the events of the night. The first to stop and listen were the other musicians backstage and those sitting down front. Mel kept playing. Then others heard and stopped where they were. Mel kept playing. "Rock of Ages" washed over everyone again and again until they finally were satisfied and slowly left the park. It was pure music - folk music - and it said it all with no words".
from Baby Let Me Follow You Down, by Eric Von Schmidt & Jim Rooney, 1994

“Mel Lyman is playing the world’s first blues harmonica.
"Until now, harmonicas just weren't made for blues. For one thing, they didn't last. After two or three blues sessions it was tough even for a musician like Mel to get a good sound. The punishment of blues wailing often caused the reeds to lose pitch and flat out.
“Now you've got the blues harp. With a new kind of reed system. And you can get a great blues sound with a minimum of effort.
“Mel said the Blues Harp was the best harmonica he'd ever played. See if you don't agree.”
Mel Lyman endorsement ad for the Hohner Blues Harp from the 1966 Newport Folk Festival brochure;
Lyman was shortly to become the author of Autobiography Of A World Savior, and head of The Lyman Family, a communal living experiment and/or a cult

“At every turning point in the life of America a Cancer has stood up to sing a new soul as it flowed into the old and transformed it. Stephen Foster, George M. Cohan, Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie, Jessie Benton were all born as America was reborn and each was a prophet who did not speak of history but sung purely from the heart that creates it . . . and people who could truely [sic] hear them have felt history before it happened. ...
"...It is the story of life from the moment it doubts itself and receives its first intimations of immortality to the time it becomes God ... as it grows from Cancer to Aries. You can hear that story in this album if you will step aside and let your soul listen.
“I am singing America to you and it is Mel Lyman. He is the new soul of the world."
Jim Kweskin, from the liner notes to "Richard D. Herbruck Presents Jim Kweskin’s America - co-starring Mel Lyman and the Lyman Family"
Warner Bros/Reprise Records, 1971;
( Jessie Benton is Thomas Hart Benton’s daughter; Richard D. Herbruck is an alias for Mel Lyman)

Kimberly said...

Your site is fantastic!!!
It's a nice surprise to see that someone is blogging about Mel Lyman.