In case you have not heard yet, Sean Blackburn died Thursday in Golden,
Colorado while driving to work. He apparently had a heart attack or a stroke
and drove his car off the road, coming to rest in a field. A memorial is
planned for him Sat. Oct. 15 at Swallow Hill Music in Denver. Pop Wagner and
Dave Hull are coming from Mpls. to play, and I'm flying in from my home in
Plans are almost firmed up for another memorial in Minneapolis in late Oct.
at the The Cedar Cultural Centre, 612-338-2674.
This has been a year of wrenchingly painful goodbyes, first Jane, my former
wife and singing partner, who fasted to death in the Mexican desert, then
Steve Alarik, Artistic Director of The Coffeehouse Extempore in Mpls. from
1977-1985, dead of a heart attack this past June, and now Sean. Jane and
Steve were 59, Sean was 56. Before that it was Dave Ray and Dave Van Ronk.
This continent is so goddamn huge, and I'm out here at the eastern end of
The Tour, and it's hard to be so far away from old friends at times like
Sean and I go back to 1965, in Anoka, Minnesota, where we each grew up. Sean
was the second of nine kids, all more handsome and charismatic that should
be allowed by any natural law.
He introduced me to almost everything I consider worthwhile in music, and if
I hadn't met him, I probably would be doing something completely different
now. He was probably my primary mentor, and I'll miss him like crazy. The
music he and Dakota Dave did for the years they were together holds up today
like a shining star that only grows brighter with time. Amid a murky din of
what passes for Folk Music these days, what they did together leaves today's
whiny, self absorbed, naval-inspectors in the dust. Part Woody Guthrie, part
Louis Armstrong, they busted their butts in countless Squat-n-Gobbles from
LaRonge to LaCrosse to serve up a musical stew that hadn't been tasted for
thirty years, and hasn't been since. They may have had only regional
"success" , but in the hearts and memories of many of us in the American and
Canadian Midwest, their contributions and their startling creativity remains
a beacon. Sure, Merle Haggard, Asleep At The Wheel and Willie Nelson were
the big guns who helped rescue Western Swing from the grave, but Sean and
Dave were, in my life, even more profound. They brought it directly into the
listening rooms, the colleges and the coffeehouses and folk festivals, where
the music grew new legs and danced again, after decades of purgatory.
I met Liz Masterson at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV in the winter
of either '86 or '87. We became fast friends. Sean had just recently left
Mpls. for Chicago, but I knew he had his sights on The West. I guess I had
something to do with introducing those two, maybe I was their Cupid, I don't
Sean and Liz had some fabulous chemistry. The combination of Sean's
formidable stagecraft and doctorate-level command of the music, and Liz's
pure-as-a-mountain -stream voice were something to behold. For the second
time, Sean made his mark as half of a dynamic duo.
In the last decade of Sean's life, I saw him only occasionally, sometimes at
Western and Swing Week at Ashokan, in the Catskills. He went west, I went
east, and it became geographically more improbable to get together.
He still wrestled with his demons, he was getting the best of them, but alas
now he's been called to be in a Higher Orchestra. It always seemed as though
Sean was part of another era, and now he belongs to Eternity. I'll miss him
more than I can say.
Adios, amigo. Buena Suerta.
extempore.com; Extempore Coffeehouse;
Minneapolis West Bank music scene 1960s - 1980s;
Minneapolis musicians; folk; bluegrass; country; rock; old time music;
fiddle; mandolin; guitar; banjo; pedal steel; harp; piano;
Sean Blackburn Memorial;
Sean Blackburn photo; Sean
Blackburn music; Sean Blackburn swing;
Sean Blackburn guitar;
Blackburn rope tricks; Sean Blackburn photo;
Steve Alarik Music Manager;
Steve Alarik Leathersmith; Steve Alarik photo;
Steve Alarik Sister Kenney Wheelchair Guy; Steve Alarik Coffeehouse Extempore