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Other photo books have already documented this scene, including one by John Cohen (who appears in Chicago Folk as a member of the
Red Clay Ramblers Lost City Ramblers) and The Face of Folk Music by Dave Gahr, but it’s awfully nice to have another, especially of pictures all taken in Chicago. In addition to the U. of C. Folk Festival, Flerlage shot at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Orchestra Hall (the book includes some Bob Dylan pics from 1963), the old Kroch & Brentano’s bookshop, and folk clubs like Gate of Horn, Fickle Pickle, and Mother Blues. Flerlage took performance photos and casual candids of the usual suspects—Big Joe Williams, Roscoe Holcomb, Odetta, Bill Monroe (whose band at the time included Jack Cooke and Del McCoury), Hobart Smith, Son House—but though his subjects were familiar he usually captured something riveting if not revelatory about them.
The book includes more than 200 photos, most have which haven’t been previously published. A fascinating introductory essay by Ronald D. Cohen, a history professor at Indiana University Northwest, details Flerlage’s obsession with folk music—he discovered early on that he could score free records if he wrote about them—and with racial equality. He eked out a meager living while doing everything he could to promote the music and the musicians. He was an early supporter of Pete Seeger’s People’s Songs movement and spent much of the 50s and 60s working as a midwest distributor for Folkways, the legendary label owned by Moses Asch. Flerlage comes off as a guy who felt that he couldn’t get close enough to the music he loved, but Chicago Folk proves that he found just the right place from which to capture it.
Diego El Cigala, Corren Tiempos de Alegría (Ariola)
Spellbinders, Chain Reaction (Shout!)
Emeralds, What Happened (No Fun)
Caetano Veloso, Zii e Zie (Universal, Brasil)
Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, and Craig Taborn, Farmers by Nature (Aum Fidelity)