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Head and shoulders portrait of a man and a woman
Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin. Courtesy of the artists.

Homegrown Plus: Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin’s Old Time Music from California

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Welcome back to Homegrown Plus! We’re continuing to place the 2021 series of Homegrown Plus online, after interrupting it to premiere the 2022 series right here on the blog. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here.) We’re continuing the series with Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin, a duo that has been at the forefront of old-time string music and other folk styles for decades. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with the featured performers, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.

Kate Brislin is a specialist in singing with others, a peerless blender. She was a founding member of the all female Any Old Time String Band in the 1970s. Tone and rhythm are paramount in the way she plays five-string banjo and guitar. Jody Stecher has been a soloist, a band member, an amateur folklorist, a record producer, an unusually enabling teacher, and an individualistic multi-instrumentalist and singer. In recent years he has been dreaming and composing new songs and tunes that sound old.

A man plays a banjo and a woman sings
Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin. Courtesy of the artists.

Kate and Jody have been musical partners for close to 50 years. Their duet vocal sound is at once soaring and soothing. Combining it with their deft playing results in a fully unified sound in which voices and instruments blend into an inseparable and singular musical entity. Their craft is twofold: The creation of arrangements and versions of traditional songs, and the way they perform them, which includes a good deal of spontaneity. They aim to draw the audience in, rather than projecting outward as entertainment. Their recordings have twice been Grammy finalists. Over time, some of their versions of traditional songs have become the standard versions around the world. In their concert they played some of their well known classics, and some lesser known songs. Watch it in the player below.

In the interview, We discussed Stecher and Brislin’s career, including their music together and the projects they have been in separately. We talked about Jody Stecher’s fieldwork in the Bahamas; he learned “I Bid You Good Night” from Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family in the Bahamas, and taught it to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on his return. Watch the interview in the player below.

[Transcript of Interview]

Collection Connections and Links

Here you’ll find links relating to Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin’s music, as well as links to Library of Congress collection items connected to their songs and the traditions they draw upon.

You can visit Jody and Kate on the web at this link. 

The line “The Sun’s Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday” also turns up in one of Vera Hall’s songs, “Trouble in Mind.” The song was covered in an Archive Challenge video by Piper Hayes, and you can read about that and see the video over at the blog post at this link.

In the lead-up to this concert, we wrote about the connections of “A Roving on Last Winter’s Night” to Robert Burns, Doc Watson, and Dolly Greer. We presented a great version from our archive, sung by Hettie Swindel.  Find all that at this link. 

We also presented an archival version of “The Bonny Bunch of Roses” with more background at that same blog post, at this link!

“Elkhorn Ridge” is a classic banjo tune. For a few of AFC’s banjo recordings, visit this link  

 “Red Rocking Chair” is a variant of the rounder song sometimes called “Sugar Babe.” With that title, it was played by Burl Hammons and recorded by Carl Fleischhauer and Alan Jabbour for the Library of Congress in the 1970s.  At this link see a short video about the Hammons Family, which features Library of Congress recordings and photographs, and opens with a Hammons version of “Sugar Babe.”

Alan Lomax recorded many versions of “Fair and Tender Ladies” from Kentucky singers, most famously from Aunt Molly Jackson and from Jean Ritchie, who sang several variants with different tunes. Find three recordings of Ritchie, two of Jackson, and more versions from Lomax’s collections at this link.

“Going to the West” is closely associated with Alabama—first collected there and published in the early 1950s.  Find out about AFC’s Alabama collections at this link.

In the interview, we discussed “I Bid You Good Night.” We wrote a lot about that song in our 500th blog post at this link!


As always, thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. The idea of the Homegrown Plus series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)

For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress.

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