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The Oxford American’s Southern Music Issue On Stands Now

Above: Photo by Erin Hansons, from her "Reminders" series.

Audio

Aired 12/8/09

Every year, the quarterly magazine The Oxford American produces a Southern Music Issue. The editors and writers do their best to find the most interesting music from history and contemporary southern culture. This includes the forgotten acts, the talented studio musicians who never made it big, the colorful street musicians, and the one-off gems in the genres that flourish in the south: country, blues, soul, gospel, funk and rockabilly. We'll talk with the editor of The Oxford American about this year's Southern Music Issue, which includes a CD devoted to the music of Arkansas, the first in their new southern state series.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Once a year, the publication that dubs itself the ‘southern magazine of good writing’ becomes all about the music. Oxford American magazine is out with its 11th Annual Southern Music issue. Occasionally the articles focus on well-known artists, but the real thrust of the Southern Music issue is to rediscover little-known and forgotten musicians. Finding the work of these obscure artists is a little like panning for gold, and the man who uncovers many of the nuggets is with us this morning. I’d like to introduce my guest. Marc Smirnoff is the editor of the Oxford American magazine. Marc, welcome back to These Days.

MARC SMIRNOFF (Editor, Oxford American Magazine): Well, I’m glad to be back in San Diego if only through the air lines.

CAVANAUGH: Well, it’s nice to have you here. You know, one thing after looking through the magazine and listening to the CD, the question is how do you find all of this music because a lot of it is by artists people have never heard of.

SMIRNOFF: Well, I guess, Maureen, I wish I could credit myself more but really I’m beginning to believe that it is no more possible to listen to every great record that’s out there in one lifetime than it is to read every great book. And when you look below the surface – when it comes to music, when you look below the surface in the south and, frankly, the whole world, there’s still countless great artists and records to discover.

CAVANAUGH: Well, apparently so because the fact is that there are so many in these magazines and I would imagine that very few people have heard of these artists. I’m wondering, what is it that you look for in choosing the artists to feature. Are – Is their obscurity part of their attraction?

SMIRNOFF: That’s a good question but, in a way, I try to make it not part of the attraction. I mean, it is and it isn’t. The thing I don’t want to do is put somebody on the CD just because he or she is obscure because that starts smelling like an academic or hipster exercise. And, really, we just want to celebrate great music and…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

SMIRNOFF: And, you know, I like surprises, and I think other people like surprises. I mean, I liked surprises at Christmastime when I was a kid. I always loved surprises. And the idea of not having a preconception about something great that’s just around the corner is exciting to me.

CAVANAUGH: I’m just curious as to how this works. Do people run into your office with old tapes or MP3 files that they send you and say you’ve got to listen to this, you’ve got to hear this. Is that how it works?

SMIRNOFF: Yes. There’s a combin – Well, it works in a number of ways, I should say. You know, I’m eternally looking through junk stores and record stores and it’s a nasty habit but I love it. But also the best trick is to listen to smart people and interesting people. And, you know, I haven’t yet found the musician who isn’t passionate about music and that means – or music listener who isn’t passionate about music, and that means that they love the music and not – and the stories are sort of secondary. So it’s not about – They’re not looking for records by famous people first and then records by secondary people second, and, you know, they’re just looking for great music and how it – who they are, who these people are who make the music is sort of what you are left with but it’s not what you seek out. You’re just looking for – You know, everybody loves great music and we all like to be moved by it, you know, and if we just remember that and stop buying into the, you know, the PR blitzes and the – all the surface noise, it’s fun. You know, music is fun. The celebrity stuff is annoying but the music itself still…

CAVANAUGH: That’s great. Now, I – Before we get to our first cut, I do want you to explain the fact that you’re debuting a new series, a Southern State series. In addition to the Southern Music CD you have, you have a music CD that concentrates solely on artists from Arkanasas. And I wonder, first of all, why you started this individual Southern State series and why Arkansas?

SMIRNOFF: Well, there are a few reasons. Boy, you’re asking tough ones. There are a few reasons we started the series, Maureen. Number one is – I mean, really, I thought it was a fun, esthetic challenge because like can we make a great CD focusing on one state? And by that, I mean, you know, it’s got to cover all these genres. It can’t just be – You know, if there were a state out there that only produced heavy metal, you know, and you’re only – and the only possibility was to produce a heavy metal CD, you know, it would just cause me to gag. And so, you know, the – And but what we found out, of course, is that every – What I suspect is that every southern state is a miniature of the south itself in the sense that every musical genre is covered, state by state, and that there are a plethora of amazing, unknown artists that we would – that many people would love if the music just resurfaced again.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re going to start with the Arkansas CD that’s included in the Oxford American Southern Music issue. And we’re going to start with an artist named Larry Donn and a song called “I’ll Never Forget You.” And, Marc, tell us a little bit about Larry Donn and how you discovered this song.

SMIRNOFF: Well, one strain of music that Arkansas happens to be very rich in – I mean, there are some genres that are stronger than others even though, again, all the genres are well represented in Arkansas and I think throughout the south. But rockabilly is a deep one in Arkansas. I mean, we have Sonny Burgess, Ronnie Hawkins, Billy Lee Riley, and I could go on. Well, and we have guys like Larry Donn. Larry Donn is a superstar in Germany and England and Holland and France and I’m probably forgetting a few. But he’s still sort of forgotten in Bonneau, Arkansas and yet he’s a total great one. I mean, he – I call him the Arkansas Buddy Holly because his music is jaunty and immediately accessible and fun, and he sounds – and he just reminds me a little of Buddy Holly, I guess. But, you know, I think he’s a total – a totally original songwriter and yet, you know, he’s not known just because, you know, for whatever reason, really.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear it. Let’s hear some Larry Donn. Here he is with his song called “I’ll Never Forget You.”

SMIRNOFF: Thank you.

(audio of clip from “I’ll Never Forget You” performed by Larry Donn)

CAVANAUGH: That’s Larry Donn performing “I’ll Never Forget You.” And, Marc, you say in your piece that Elvis should have sung “I’ll Never Forget You” and, boy, you can really hear that.

SMIRNOFF: Or Chris Issac.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: You know, I’m reminded and, you know, I’m listening to this – to that song through the telephone and I guess it’s mono-mono or something…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

SMIRNOFF: …and Tom Waits once said that the true test of a song was how it played through your – this is back in the day when we all had tinny car speakers…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

SMIRNOFF: …how it played through your tinny car speakers. And, you know, I just heard that song and it sounded like it was coming from another planet and it sounded perfect, and I’m so glad you played that after all my blathering because it’s such a sweet song and, you know, this is just – he’s the tip of the iceberg. I mean, there are so many great artists who just, for whatever reason, didn’t make it onto our, you know, didn’t make it onto our collective radar but you listen to the songs and you don’t – you just enjoy them, period. You don’t think about who – You don’t say, well, is this guy famous enough? Should I be listening to this?

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Good music is good music. There are two songs on this Arkansas CD that were actually recorded by teenagers and we want to play one. It’s a song by a band called the Esquires. They were a high school garage band from Arkansas in the sixties. I’m wondering, how in the world did you find this recording?

SMIRNOFF: Well, again, you know, I go to my superiors. I just find people who are passionate about music. And we have this insane cat in Arkansas—and, of course, I mean that in a good way—who has put out two collections of Arkansas garage rock called “Lost Souls” and he’s working on a third. And this is where you flee to enjoy the magic of Arkansas garage rock from the 1960s and, believe it or not, the stuff is magical.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, let’s hear it. This is “Sadie’s Ways” by the Esquires.

(audio clip of “Sadie’s Ways” performed by the Esquires)

CAVANAUGH: That’s “Sadie’s Ways” by the Esquires. This is making me sound like a top ten deejay, I love it. Now this song was eventually banned from the radio?

SMIRNOFF: Yes, apparently some adult in 1965 was offended by something that was said in that song. You know, for the life of me, I can’t hear it. I mean, this guy who was offended must’ve really been a – must’ve had huge ears. But, you know, alls I can hear is ‘I love you, Sadie, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But I’m sure it was a honest misunderstanding. You know how people were back then.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Well, so I hear.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, and we all know that there’s no sweeter kids on this planet than Arkansas kids, so…

CAVANAUGH: Well, there’s another teenager from Arkansas that made it to the CD. Her name is Kenni Huskey. She was 13, 13 years old…

SMIRNOFF: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …in 1966. She recorded a song named “Wildman Tamer.” Now how did Kenni Huskey know anything about how to tame a man at 13?

SMIRNOFF: Well, I guess maybe Arkansas kids aren’t so sweet after all, huh? Might’ve been wrong about that. Well, you know, Kenni’s dad was a musician and wrote the lyrics for his baby girl. But, you know what, as odd as – and the song is called “Wildman Tamer” and, you know, Kenni Huskey is just belting it out. But as odd as all that sounds, we’re sort of convinced that nothing weird was meant by this. You know, we have to remember, Sigmund Freud stole our innocence and he’s got to give it back because, you know, sometimes a cigar’s just a cigar. And, you know, we just think that the song is an innocent delight. But it’s a charmer, whatever it is.

CAVANAUGH: Well…

SMIRNOFF: A rockin’ charmer.

CAVANAUGH: …let’s see if we agree. This is “Wildman Tamer” by 13-year-old Kenni Huskey.

(audio clip of “Wildman Tamer” performed by Kenni Huskey)

CAVANAUGH: That’s 13-year-old “Wildman Tamer” Kenni Huskey. We have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue talking about the music in the Oxford American Southern Music issue here on These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. You’re listening to These Days in San Diego. And this is the Southern Music issue show for the Oxford American. We’re running through the CDs, the two CDs this year that the Oxford American magazine is putting out with its Southern Music issue, and we’re just into the Arkansas CD. My guest is Marc Smirnoff. He’s the editor of the Oxford American magazine. Marc, before we hear more music, I just wanted to ask you, do you ever run into copyright issues with these performers?

SMIRNOFF: Well, we run into rights issues as far as big – usually big record labels denying us rights to songs. The Oxford American is a poor nonprofit and the only way we can – we would be able to make these CDs is if we got gratis clearances – gratis clearances, sorry. And, thankfully, so many record labels do understand the validity of this project and play ball with us. But there are a lot of big record companies that, you know, if you’re not – if money’s not involved, they can’t think, and it’s all about money. And, you know, what we’re trying to do is sort of create new markets for people whose records are collecting dust in vaults and, you know, nobody loses by that as far as we can tell. But that’s – you know, some of these big dinosaur record companies have these rules and rules are meant to be followed, no matter what the situation is and, you know, they just slam the door on us.

CAVANAUGH: Well, despite that, you got in so many artists and so many genres represented on just the Arkansas CD, including gospel. So I want to talk about one of the acts that you’ve selected, called the True Gospel Wymic (sp), is that…? True Gospel Wymics, is that the name?

SMIRNOFF: Yes, but please don’t ask me what a Wymic is because I’ve looked and I have no idea. It’s not a town.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: A Wymic is a Wymic is a Wymic.

CAVANAUGH: Good.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, I mean, a lot of this music we know very little about. And True Gospel Wymics out of Crawfordsville, Arkansas or one such case. I happened to come across a 45 of theirs on eBay and that’s the only thing I really knew about them. And nobody else who I’ve spoken to—and I try to speak to a lot of music nuts—knew about them. And it’s just – I mean, it’s really – and, listen, I’m so grateful for it but it’s more evidence that there are surprises around every corner, you know. I mean, there – I don’t know of any music nut who thinks that all the great music has been discovered because it hasn’t. And, you know, you just have to look at – you can look anywhere and you can even not be looking and bump – and you can bump into some of this stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s discover the True Gospel Wymics right now. Here’s the True Gospel Wymics with their song “Oh, Yes That’s Right.”

(audio clip of “Oh, Yes That’s Right” performed by the True Gospel Wymics)

CAVANAUGH: That is nice. What stands out about this group for you?

SMIRNOFF: Well, I think there’s a warmth to it and I think that they are – they’re trying to just be themselves. I mean, I’ve heard a lot of – like a lot of contemporary gospel music that I’ve heard is over-produced and over-slick and which, to me, does not really connect with the whole idea of religion. And I find a performance like this in which the artists are, you know, they get this great groove, it’s bluesy, which, you know, people may say ‘groove,’ ‘bluesy,’ what does that have to do with the church? Well, you know, anything that’s human has to do with the church. And these guys just put their true souls into their music and it’s a revelation. You know, it’s like, yeah, this is – Gospel music can be as bluesy and groovy as anything and make you feel a little bit different.

CAVANAUGH: So we heard the True Gospel Wymics. There’s another gospel tune on the compilation. It’s by Sister Ernestine Washington. Who was she?

SMIRNOFF: Well, this lady was an Arkansan who was once a gospel queen. And now, you know, believe it or not, there’s not even a Wikipedia bio on her. And, my God, I thought everybody had those. And you listen to this and it came out in – this particular track came out in 1954, the same year that Mr. Presley debuted. And, I mean, I swear, I can hear Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis just in the background studying Sister Ernestein – Ernestine.

CAVANAUGH: Well, here’s Sister Ernestine Washington with “Holding On.”

(audio clip of “Holding On” by Sister Ernestine Washington)

CAVANAUGH: No Wikipedia entry, what are they thinking?

SMIRNOFF: I don’t know.

CAVANAUGH: That’s Sister…

SMIRNOFF: Maybe they just want people to listen to her and not be…

CAVANAUGH: Not read…

SMIRNOFF: …obstrepted – obstructed, excuse me.

CAVANAUGH: That’s Sister Ernestine Washington with “Holding On.” Now, another genre represented on the CD is funk and soul music, and in 1960s Arkansas, a label called True Soul was home to a funk sound. Marc, tell us about this label.

SMIRNOFF: Well, you know, one of the benefits of doing this Southern States series is that we can smush around preconceptions. And I don’t think a lot of people think of Arkansas – when they think of Arkansas music, they think of funk and R&B and soul, I think they think primarily of blues and hillbilly. But – And what we’re also trying to do is help Arkansans sort of take pride in their cultural contributions to the world because, you know, every southern state has had a tragic history and we’ve got to own up to that but we also have to take pride in the fact that our cultural experts – exports like Johnny Cash, who’s from Arkansas, I mean, people listen to this guy in Iran and Pakistan if only on the sly. I mean, Arkansas and many other southern states have contributed to world culture, not just state culture, not just national culture but world culture, and that’s something to remember. You know, when we look at the past, you know, it wasn’t just all bad stuff. You know, there was great art being made amidst all the bad stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s – Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry.

SMIRNOFF: Well, I’m sorry. I just – And, you know, the True Soul label is fascinating to me. Even a lot of people in Arkansas don’t know about it yet. I think that’s starting to change. But from 1968 to the mid-80s, Mr. Lee Anthony of Little Rock, Arkansas, who has, by the way, also taught art at the famous Central High School…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

SMIRNOFF: …for the last 30 years, and does to this – yeah, he’s still doing it. Made this – started a label called True Soul because he was tired of seeing all this Arkansas talent go to Memphis when they wanted to record. And he tapped into something special and we’re grateful that he was ahead of his time and paying attention even though, you know, he really didn’t make money from it but, you know, he just kept at it and recorded some really hot stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re about to hear a song that’s written and produced by True Soul’s Lee Anthony. It’s a tune called “Down Home Funk” by an artist named Larry Davis.

(audio clip from “Down Home Funk” by Larry Davis)

CAVANAUGH: That’s Larry Davis performing “Down Home Funk.” And, Marc, I’m wondering, this is the last bit of music we’re going to hear from the Arkansas CD. Did anything surprise you about the variety of music coming out of Arkansas?

SMIRNOFF: Yes, I mean, you know, I went into this – I was hopeful that there would be surprises because I’ve been snooping around music for long enough that I know that there are surprises out there. But, you know, the exact nature of the surprises still can take your head and spin it around for you, and that’s what happened here. And I was just amazed by the sheer amount of talent and the sheer number of genres that were represented in Arkansas. I mean, it’s a microcosm of American music, this state. I think all southern states can probably say the same. And there are talents that we need to bring up because only for the simple reason that they would sound great on a party tape at somebody’s house.

CAVANAUGH: They sure would. Let’s move on to the other CD that’s included with the Southern American Southern Music issue. It’s the Southern Masters CD, and this one you searched far and wide across the south for music to include. And, interestingly, there’s another teen band on this one. It’s a girl group called The Feminine Concept (sic) and, Marc, tell us a little bit about this band.

SMIRNOFF: Well, the weird thing for me is I hate teenagers but here they are all over the CDs. The Feminine Complex is a late ‘60s psychedelic pop band from Nashville, an all-girl band. And they made one record that didn’t go anywhere, and when they made it they got ace session players to stand in for the girls even though the girls all played instruments. The lone exception was the lead singer and lead songwriter Mindy Dalton. You know, she was in the – they let her play in the studio and she wrote the song and she sings it. And I think she’s got a great voice. It’s very – it’s very hucksy – husky, just like Kenni Huskey. And maybe it’s just me but it really gets to me.

CAVANAUGH: It is really hard to believe that this woman is a teenager or this girl is a teenager singing this song. Let’s hear it. This is The Feminine Concept with “Run That Through Your Mind.”

SMIRNOFF: That’s right.

(audio clip from “Run That Through Your Mind” by The Feminine Complex)

CAVANAUGH: It’s an amazing voice. That’s The Feminine Concept with “Run That Through Your Mind.” In the Southern Music issue, there’s a couple of great photographs of this group. They all have these frilly sort of mini-dresses on from the sixties. Do you know what happened to these women, Marc?

SMIRNOFF: Well, you know, really I don’t. And I did have the honor of speaking to Mindy Dalton and – but for me it was just like a time – being in a time capsule and I just asked her about the band and what it was like. And I forgot to ask her like, hey, what are you doing now? Because, you know, I mean, it’s – that music just – I just want to swim in it.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

SMIRNOFF: And, oh, by the way, I should – it’s The Feminine Complex and I’ve been garbling words left and right but it’s The Feminine Complex. And they are complex because they do all this weird – they do all these different genres on this one record. And that was their only – that was their only record.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, really?

SMIRNOFF: But, yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t…

CAVANAUGH: We don’t know.

SMIRNOFF: I’m full of questions and ignorance.

CAVANAUGH: But you have resurrected them from their obscurity if even just for this moment.

SMIRNOFF: No, not me. I mean, they were reissued a few years before us. What we’re just doing is, you know, just sharing, you know – they’re – yeah, they’re just a great band. I’m sorry.

CAVANAUGH: That’s okay. We’re going to have to take a short break and you can compose yourself.

SMIRNOFF: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And we’re going to go out on a rap act from Arkansas called Suga City. When we return, we’ll continue to talk about music from the Southern Music issue of the Oxford American. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

(audio clip of performance by Suga City)

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. And we are celebrating southern music this hour. The Oxford American magazine is out with its 11th Annual Southern Music issue. And my guest is Marc Smirnoff. He’s the editor of this Oxford American magazine. And I’ll tell you, Marc, let’s just start out with some music this time. Let’s go for something a little bit different. It’s an Alabama born musician named Andre Williams. The tune is “Cadillac Jack” and let’s listen to it first.

(audio clip from “Cadillac Jack” by Andre Williams)

CAVANAUGH: That’s “Cadillac Jack” by musician Andre Williams. And, Marc Smirnoff, that song doesn’t end too well for Cadillac Jack, does it?

SMIRNOFF: No. But, you know, it’s just – I mean, I just wish like Disney movies used songs like that. I mean, that’s one of those songs where I actually – I don’t know about you, but I remember when I first heard it and it just – I was actually driving over in – to a restaurant in New Orleans and the car lit up. And it was like a voice said to me, that must be on the next OA CD. I mean, it’s so special and loose and perfect. I mean, I just feel so lucky to be able to introduce this song to people who may not have heard it.

CAVANAUGH: Now Cadillac Jack actually gets driven off in a hearse at the end of that song but what can you tell us about the musician, Andre Williams? What can you tell us about him?

SMIRNOFF: Well, he’s – A few people have called him the godfather of rap but I picture Andre in a zoot suit more than I do a hoodie. And, you know, there’s a lot of people who you can say may have contributed to rap. I think what people get from Andre Williams, who had a long career in writing—and he’s still alive—R&B tunes and performing them, is he’s got this attitude that you notice immediately and he’s got this presence, I should say. And, you know, those are the kind of guys that you just sort of believe in.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

SMIRNOFF: Whatever they have to say, you just listen to and take it in and then you might ask yourself after you take it in, it’s like should I be listening to this guy? But, you know, the presence overwhelms you and…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, it does, yeah.

SMIRNOFF: …you know, that’s what I get from this song, you know, it just overwhelms you and your critical sensors are on pause while you listen to this song. It’s like it overwhelms you and then after it you just say, what just happened?

CAVANAUGH: Well, from “Cadillac Jack” there is a really very lovely song on the CD called “Color Him Father” by…

SMIRNOFF: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …an African American woman. Her name is Linda Martell. One of the things that’s interesting about her was that she was a country music star, is that right?

SMIRNOFF: Well, I wouldn’t say a star but I think she’s totally fascinating and I think you’re right, it is a really lovely song. I think it’s a heartbreaking song. Linda Martell was born in Leesville, South Carolina and she cut a few soul singles but as far as I can tell, the only full album she released was this thing called “Color Her County” (sic) in 1970 on Plantation Records out of Nashville, which is the same label that put out Jeannie Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA.” And what’s remarkable about this record, it’s just that it’s so – it’s such an individualistic statement. I mean, it’s not quite like a country album that you’ve heard before but it’s – I loved the entire album. It was very hard selecting just one track from it. I think it’s a masterpiece. I think that we were blessed to have it. I can’t believe that it hasn’t been discussed more often but I’m convinced that it will not be forgotten. It also touches on, of course, this whole notion of crossing over and the black and white relationship in music. Some people are still surprised to know that a lot of African Americans love country music. I’m not. I’ve done enough research and listened to enough to know that this is a natural impulse and that the sharing goes both ways. And Linda Martell proves that with this album and it’s totally natural. It’s no novelty album. It’s a beautiful country album by this great singer who should be better known.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear her sing. This is Linda Martell with “Color Him Father.”

(audio clip from “Color Him Father” by Linda Martell)

CAVANAUGH: Linda Martell with her lovely song, “Color Him Father.” Well, Linda Martell can sing but there’s somebody on the CD who wishes he could sing, is Bongo Joe Coleman. Wow. He’s got a great story. Marc, tell us about him.

SMIRNOFF: Well, you took my word away. All I was going to say was wow. Well, Bongo Joe is just – he’s one of these – I mean, God bless the south because we just produce these larger than life artists, and I don’t know why they come into being. I don’t know what they mean but I see them around, and Bongo Joe is one such cat. He – I believe he was born in Florida but he made his mark in Texas as a street musician. And he had the – basically, he had these empty oil drums that he banged on most creatively – he didn’t really – I mean, he banged on – they were real loud but he was a great drummer. And he sort of rapped over them and he got everybody’s attention and he would make up lyrics on the spot. And what you get from him when you hear him is you just feel something and, you know, maybe it’s a little bit novelty act in theory but in practice it’s just real great soul music. And, you know, I think we’ve all had this experience where once in awhile we pass a street musician who really hits us hard and I think Bongo Joe hits me hard. And I…

CAVANAUGH: I think we’re going to feel something, Marc.

SMIRNOFF: Oh, goody.

CAVANAUGH: This is Bongo Joe Coleman with “I Wish I Could Sing.”

(audio clip from “I Wish I Could Sing” by Bongo Joe Coleman)

CAVANAUGH: Ahh, Bongo Joe Coleman, “I Wish I Could Sing.” Marc, what can you say after that?

SMIRNOFF: Well, you know, artists are like space explorers, right, they go out there and they do things that we – and they find things that we mere mortals couldn’t find ourselves and then they come back with their reports. And it’s our job to just listen to the good reports, you know, ignore the bad reports but if one of these space men comes back with an important message, it’s probably to our benefit to listen, don’t you think?

CAVANAUGH: Amen to that. Now do you ever worry that you’re going to run out of southern music to include in the annual issue?

SMIRNOFF: No, Maureen, I worry that I’m going to run out of CD space.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: I mean, America and the south has produced so much great music. And, you know, I mean, sometimes, you know, we Americans can be so cocky about so much but when it comes to music, you can just look around the world and see how American music has influenced so much, and often this influence is very good. You know, there’s some negative influences, I think. I mean, some of our polished production is – has hurt other musics but, you know, it’s just – this – it’s just – it’s like another world in our midst where people are really being themselves through music and the only names that have stuck with us, unfortunately, are the ones that have been overly promoted via money.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

SMIRNOFF: But once we break – you know, once you break that spell and once you understand that there is – that there are musicians who can still contribute to your own life, whose names may be obscure to you, once you understand that concept, you sort of lead a different life. And that’s basically my – our message here is that, you know, just kind of scratch below the surface in genres or artists and you might be surprised by what you find and you might get a message that can be useful in other areas of your life as well.

CAVANAUGH: Marc, do you know which state you’re going to highlight next year?

SMIRNOFF: You know, I am so keen on so many states that I don’t know yet.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

SMIRNOFF: I mean, I go back and forth and it’s just, you know, I’m like – my head is like a ping pong game right now.

CAVANAUGH: You know, the Oxford American magazine is such a rare treasure for so many people. How – If you could tell us briefly, how is it holding up in these tough times? A lot of magazines are folding.

SMIRNOFF: Well, thank you for your nice words but, you know, I have to say, I mean, I think the Oxford American might be surviving during tough times because I think from the get-go we always wanted to be meaningful and we – our mission is, frankly, more important to us than making money. Now, of course, you need to make money in order to continue your mission but if making money is more important than your mission, I think in some ways you get into trouble. And we’ve just – I’ve always wanted to have a magazine and a CD and a mission that could impart, possibly, some meaning because right now all of us are surrounded by neon and flashing lights and computers and screaming and shouting and it’s all meaningless. It’s all just noise meant to rip our ears out and confuse us. And I just want to remind people of the pleasures of reading and listening to great artists. And, you know, reading great artists and listening to great artists, they can bring us back into ourselves and restrengthen us.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

SMIRNOFF: Oh, I’m going on.

CAVANAUGH: No…

SMIRNOFF: I got to get off my soapbox.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I appreciate you talking to us so much. Thank you so much for guiding us through all these wonderful musical oddities and wonders. Thank you so much.

SMIRNOFF: Well, being on radio land is a special privilege and I’m not a perfect fit but I am so grateful that you guys are interested. And thank you, San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: We gotta leave. Marc Smirnoff, editor of the Oxford American magazine. We’ve been talking about Oxford American magazine’s 11th Annual Southern Music issue. And let’s close the show with, actually, my personal favorite, Kelly Hogan & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts doing “Papa Was A Rodeo.”

(audio clip from “Papa Was A Rodeo” by Kelly Hogan & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts)

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