Letters

Letters 08-03-2015

Real Brownfields Deserve Dollars I read with interest the story on Brownfield development dollars in the July 20 issue. I applaud Dan Lathrop and other county commissioners who voted “No” on the Randolph Street project...

Hopping Mad Carlin Smith is hopping mad (“Will You Get Mad With Me?” 7-20-15). Somebody filed a fraudulent return using his identity, and he’s not alone. The AP estimates the government “pays more than $5 billion annually in fraudulent tax refunds.” Well, many of us have been hopping mad for years. This is because the number one tool Congress has used to fix this problem has been to cut the IRS budget –by $1.2 billion in the last 5 years...

Just Grumbling, No Solutions Mark Pontoni’s grumblings [recent Northern Express column] tell us much about him and virtually nothing about those he chooses to denigrate. We do learn that Pontoni may be the perfect political candidate. He’s arrogant, opinionated and obviously dimwitted...

A Racist Symbol I have to respond to Gordon Lee Dean’s letter claiming that the confederate battle flag is just a symbol of southern heritage and should not be banned from state displays. The heritage it represents was the treasonous effort to continue slavery by seceding from a democratic nation unwilling to maintain such a consummate evil...

Not So Thanks I would like to thank the individual who ran into and knocked over my Triumph motorcycle while it was parked at Lowe’s in TC on Friday the 24th. The $3,000 worth of damage was greatly appreciated. The big dent in the gas tank under the completely destroyed chrome badge was an especially nice touch...

Home · Articles · News · Music · Jim Crockett and Fred Ball
. . . .

Jim Crockett and Fred Ball

Robert Downes - August 2nd, 2010
The River Runs Deep for Old Friends Jim Crockett and Fred Ball
By Robert Downes
Thirty-seven years ago, Jim Crockett set a pen to paper in a
reflective mood and wrote “The Manistee River,” possibly the
best-known folk song ever to come out of Northern Michigan.
Through the years the song, which is a waltzing melody of family
troubles washed away by a peaceful river, has been performed so often
at folk festivals, concerts, and on college radio station WNMC, that
the mantle of ‘elder statesman’ of Northern Michigan’s folk community
has settled on Crockett’s shoulders. Especially when taking into
account his other deep-folk compositions such as “The Last Believer,”
a defiant anthem for social justice and the values of the ‘60s, or
“Barrel of Whiskey,” about the American immigrant experience.
You can hear those soul-stirring songs this Thursday, Aug. 5 in a rare
public appearance when Crockett and long-time friend Fred Ball perform
at the Delbert Michel Studio at 516 E. Front Street in Traverse City.
With his shoulder-length, salt & pepper hair and mountain man beard,
Crockett, 68, projects an intense, almost fierce presence on stage.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that he teaches Spanish,
English composition and rhetoric at Northwestern Michigan College and
is as mellow as a shot of Jack Daniels in conversation.

A LIFE OF MUSIC
It’s no surprise, however, that music has been a big part of
Crockett’s life since childhood. He grew up in Kalamazoo, where the
school district had the novel idea of providing each student in the
fifth grade with a ukelele and weekly lessons.
“I’ve always done music,” Crockett says. “I had an a cappela singing
group in the fourth grade and was writing songs for it even back
then.”
He says his first guitar was an $18.50 Stella that he pestered his
mother to buy him at the age of 13. “It had a neck like a friggin’
two-by-four and I had an awful time playing it, but by the night I got
it I was playing three chords and singing.”
If Crockett looks more like a farmer than a college language
instructor, you can credit his roots:
“I used to be a dairy farmer and farmed for quite awhile in St.
John’s,” he says of the community outside Lansing. “But I started out
as a teacher first and I’ve always been ‘all of the above’ in the
things I’ve done. I moved here in 1970, and just like everybody who
lives here, I do a little bit of everything.”
“Here” is Kingsley, where Crockett owns a farm. Although he no longer
farms, he still cuts 60 cords of wood each summer to stay in shape.
Kingsley has served as the setting for several of his songs, including
one that involved a barroom confrontation, and of course, “The
Manistee River,” which runs near his home a few miles south.
How did he happen to write that particular song, merging the river
with family heartache in June, 1973 at the age of 31?
“I think I was just feeling sorry for myself at a time when I was a
new dad and was at a high point in my life -- just like rare nerve
ganglia,” he says. “And I realized that no matter how dysfunctional
the adults in your life are, you can still have happiness; it’s as
simple as having a beautiful new baby girl. When you’re feeling
crappy, you could just go down and sit there by the river for 15
minutes and feel better.”

SONGWRITING THERAPY
Crockett estimates that he’s written 100 songs or so through the
years. Some have the same gritty, underdog,
don’t-take-shit-from-no-one quality as those by Bob Dylan or John
Prine.
“I was influenced heavily by Bob Dylan and Prine when I was younger,
but I think everybody was, and I had other influences as well, such as
Motown or the songs we played when I was in four- and five-piece bands
back in the day. If we liked a song, we’d play it, no matter who
wrote it.
“But I try to keep an edge with my own songs,” he adds. “It’s about
protest as much as anything -- about the crap going wrong in the world
and about stuff in my own life. I think that’s the case with most
songwriters -- a sort of therapy for people who don’t want to pay a
therapist, or like self-medication without the drugs.”
In any event, comparisons to Dylan or Prine are a bit out of sync,
since Crockett began playing folk music well before the heyday of
either of those luminaries, and even before the Great Folk Scare of
the early ‘60s: he purchased his Martin acoustic guitar in 1957, “when
folk was just getting big.” Today, it’s a valuable collector’s item.
Fred Ball, a singer-songwriter from Charlevoix who will join him in
concert this Thursday, is an old friend who goes back 35 years.
“I met Fred in 1975 back when he turned the Glen Arbor Rolling Mills
grist mill into a recording studio,” Crockett says. “He had this
state-of-the-art recording studio with a 32-track recording equipment
and asked me to come up and break the place in for him. No one knew
at the time that he was also a singer-songwriter.”

Jim Crockett and Fred Ball perform this Thursday, Aug. 5 at 8 p.m. at
the Delbert Michel Studio, 516 E. Front St., Traverse City. $15
advance, $20 at the door. Info: 231-941-8667.

The Manistee River
-- by Jim Crockett

The Manistee River
it runs near my home
I sit on her banks
when I’m feeling alone.
She plays with my spirit
she eases my bones.
She’s the finest old lady
that I’ve ever known

My daddy was a blind man
although he could see.
He raised up my brothers,
my sisters and me.
He married my mother,
it didn’t last long.
She went to Chicago
and never came home.

If you see my mother
tell her for me.
I got me a woman,
tiny baby.
I’ve got cows in the stable
a nice piece of land.
I go to my river
whenever I can.

 
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