I’ve just started rearranging my collection of cassettes. It’s a job that had to be done and that I like it. Putting them in alphabetical order would be madness so I’m dividing the tapes by labels. Bacchanalian Revel, Theme Park and Traumatone on one side, those released by Shrimper on the other. A pile of Rok Lok cassettes and one by Bridgetown. Union Pole and Catsup Plate. There is no shortage of Unread, Fuck It Tapes, Doormat, TX, Studio Muscle and Sing, Eunuchs! releases. And there are obviously tons of cassettes released by Flannel Banjo: Charlie McAlister’s record label.
The first Charlie record that came into my hand was “Mississippi Luau”. Beautiful, starting with the cover. There was a scrap of fabric, a canvas or a piece of upholstery from an old sofa, on which a very enigmatic photocopied piece of paper was glued. The music was what you would expect to come out of a banjo played by Huckelberry Finn or Rip Van Winkle immediately after drinking something prodigious. I was hooked.
A few years later I bought a stock of cassettes and in the lot, by chance, there are about twenty Charlie cassettes. It was love.
I tracked down Charlie in 2009, before putting Almost Halloween Time Records back on its feet, I wrote him because I needed more music and he had more… Oh god if he had.
Nobody knows the total number of cassettes made by Charlie, neither I do.
I started working at this project with Caleb Fraid. It was January 2020 when we received the first set of songs. We tought: “we will release this tribute and then will build the hightest fire ant mound in the world, it will have the size of the Taj Mahal and the magnificence of the vault of the Sistine Chapel.”
“Darla come down from Jackson” is exactly this, a tribute to the greatest home taper of all times, a collection of songs written by Charlie and covered by his many friends. Songs that originally appeared on long out of print tapes and records, that Caleb Fraid and I are not the only one to venerate. There is enough material in Charlie’s songs to start a cult.
But all we have now is this collection of songs for you, you will help us with the rest.
This compilation is dedicated to Charlie which although I never managed to meet, it was an ever-present voice in my head and my ears. It would never have been possible without the contribution of Jonathan Boulay who oversaw the mastering of all the material received (59 songs) and the approval of Charlie’s family and friends.
Now I leave the floor to Caleb Fraid.
The first time I did this was in the late 90’s and I managed to gather a whopping 29 tracks! Considering that it was all done by actual letter writing and long distance phone calls makes it all the more an achievement. All of the tracks were also submitted on cassettes. Of course, that was normal then.The end result was a tape called The Prisoner of the Spectacle. I couldn’t be more proud. To me, Charlie was a larger than life folk hero like Johnny Appleseed. He was a friend, as well. I knew I couldn’t be alone in thinking he was a genius so I reached out to everyone I knew and everyone I could think of that Charlie knew, etc. To my delight, people seemed pretty enthused about the project. I can’t recall all the details now but it definitely wasn’t a struggle. I didn’t have to plead and beg. I just asked for tracks and got ’em. Charlie and his music really made this happen. Can’t say enough about the packaging either. The cover art, created by Ashley Holt is just brilliant. He loves Charlie as much as anyone. He printed the actual covers himself to ensure they were of fine quality. Nothing but the best for this project. What’s more… we were able to keep it a secret from Charlie until it was complete. I then mailed it to him. Needless to say he was surprised and pleased. Ashley told me that Charlie told him that it made him feel “strong!” Ha! I love that! Currently there is an incomplete version of this comp on my Caleb Fraid Bandcamp page. I need to put up a better version. A goal for 2023.
So why do a second tribute if the first is so perfect? Well, there’s lots of reasons. First and foremost, it’s just fun. It’s been a quarter century since the first one came out. Time to see what all our new friends came up with, as well as the repeat offenders. Not only that but I long for Charlie to be more well known than he already is! Remember when they sent a Blind willie Johnson track up into space in the 1970’s?? They may do something like this again! “Space Play” going to Mars seems appropriate. (Or wait.. you would be dangerously less close to the sun if you were headed to Mars…pfft… details. Space! That was the key there.) My fantasy at the beginning stages of this second tribute was to hopefully get some real famous folks involved. To that end we failed or I failed. Doesn’t have any effect on the quality of the comp but I just think it’s going to take someone bigger than the people I know to cover one of his songs and get Charlie more recognition. If you’re reading this and you know how to get someone bigger involved then by all means please make it happen. I think it will be good for the world. You love him. I love him. Shouldn’t it be the case that some kid in 2069 gets a chance to love him? Charlie McAlister and Phillip Lee Duncan are the 2 super creative standouts I ever met in life and I’ve known plenty of very talented people. Since they are no longer with us it is our obligation I believe to spread their gospel. I don’t know how many years I have left championing them so finding more to carry the torch seems important to me. I just heard about a reissue on vinyl of some old Charlie tapes yesterday. All of these things help. Let’s always keep this ball rolling.
Anyway… big thanks to Luigi and Almost Halloween Time for everything. I’m excited to say that this time around we collected 59 tracks! We doubled the number of tracks this time around and have one extra to grow on! I’m at a disadvantage here having only heard a handful of the tracks but I know it’s going to be good.(btw…I was told that the sooner I write this the sooner the comp gets released so forgive me if I rushed thru it. I’m just as ready as you are to hear it in its entirety!) Thanks to everyone who participated and viva Charlie! I miss him as a real live human but at the very least we have his works. Please continue to share them.
Listen to Darla here