George “Smoke” Dawson played banjo in MacGrundy’s Old-Timey Wool Thumpers with Peter Stampfel (later of Holy Modal Rounders) in 1960, lived for years at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, and roamed around the US as an itinerant bagpipe and fiddle player for decades. His life is laced with small triumphs, and lots of tragedy. But he’s still with us.
Tompkins Square will reissue his only album, Fiddle, a remarkable 1971 private press LP, on 19th August in all formats.
The excerpt from the sleeve notes tell one of those brilliant musical stories of rediscovery.
“I was doing some research for a box set of music recorded at Caffe Lena, the hallowed folk music venue located in Saratoga Springs, NY, when I came upon a photograph of a musician I didn’t recognise. He looked like a sixth member of The Band – a handsome fiddler with wax moustache, goatee, black Western hat. There was a traditional air to him, a seriousness, but there was also something wild there.
I needed to know who he was, and everything about him. The producers told me his name was Smoke Dawson, and they had tape on him. We listened, and his live version of Devil’s Dream made it onto the box set. Then I started digging. I found a 1996 blog post from someone named Oliver Seeler, who claimed to have recorded a solo album by Dawson in 1971. I called the number on the site, not expecting much from an 18 year old blog post. But he picked up. He gave me background on the record. And, he gave me Smoke Dawson’s phone number . . .”
Listen to Connaughtman’s Rambles / Devil’s Dream / Marche Venerie.