Friday, August 05, 2005

Behind The Music: Gary Higgins

Small town newspaper writes about the indie superstar suddenly in their midst - E. L. Lefferts writes:

At first, Mr. Higgins worked odd jobs. Then he met Carol Hotchkiss, and the couple married in 1979. A son, Graham, followed, and now a dad with responsibilities, the musician put his guitar in its case and got a job in 1982 with the state of New York. He became a registered nurse in 1988, and now oversees community-based residences for mentally disabled people in Columbia and Dutchess counties.

The years ticked by, and the Internet came into households. That was quickly followed by eBay, and without any prompting by Mr. Higgins, "Red Hash" slowly took on a life of its own. Because it was a short print, the album morphed into a highly desirable collector's item, fetching more than $200 a copy.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Higgins, a completely new generation of folk listeners came to consider the album "one of the pinnacles in lost-soul beardo psych/folk records," according to Brian Turner of WFMU, a New Jersey-based alternative radio station.

Tracks on "Red Hash." such as "Thicker Than a Smokey," "Down on the Farm" and "Lookin' for June" became popular in Europe. Then one day, a European gave American recording artist Ben Chasny a copy of the album, and he did a cover of "Thicker Than a Smokey" on his next CD.
"Last summer, I got an e-mail from a guy who works in a New York City record store asking for an interview," Mr. Higgins remembered. "I have no idea how he got my e-mail address, but the guy got in a car accident and the interview never took place. But that was kind of the beginning of the energy buildup."

About two months passed, and a letter arrived in the mail from Zach Cowie, an employee at Drag City, a well-respected independent label out of Chicago that produces alternative music. The letter invited Mr. Higgins to give Drag City permission to re-release "Red Hash" on a CD.
Mr. Cowie had been searching for months for Mr. Higgins. He'd sent letters to hundreds of Gary Higginses across the country, and clocked hours dialing those listed in Connecticut telephone directories.

"I read the letter, then I sat on it for a few days," Mr. Higgins recalled. "Then I thought, 'What have I got to lose?'"

In rapid order, Mr. Higgins sent the master tapes to Drag City. Then Ben Chasny invited him to play a tune or two during a set this winter at Tonic in New York. "It was really uplifting," Mr. Higgins said. "Everyone knew me. I got a standing ovation when I walked on and off the stage, and they were all in their 20s. It was jammed and you could hear a pin drop."

Wanting to let them know what was happening, Mr. Higgins scrambled to find the original gang of six musicians who helped him cut "Red Hash." Everyone had taken up new lives. Jerry Fenton was teaching at Harvard. Jake Bell had disappeared into Russia.

Mr. Higgins despaired of ever finding cellist Maureen Wells [now Jones]. "I looked through every single Wells or Jones in the local phone books," he reported. "I figured she was in New Mexico. Then a mutual friend said they knew where Maureen's daughter works."
Through the daughter, Mr. Higgins learned that Ms. Jones was living just down the road in Torrington.

On July 23, Drag City booked everyone who could be found from the "Red Hash" originals into Tonic in anticipation of the CD's release July 27.

The gathered musicians, all 30 years older, looked out at the expectant faces in the packed crowd, and when they strummed the first note, the place went wild.
"I said to this guy from Drag City, 'Where were these people 30 years ago?'" Mr. Higgins recalled.

"They weren't born yet," was the record producer's reply.

Reviews of the CD have been "incredible," Mr. Higgins said. The "Red Hash" revival is the talk of almost every major publication, including The New York Times, which is slated to run a piece on it in its Sunday edition within the next few weeks.
Read the rest in the Litchfield County Times

Vinyl Mine companion piece


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