Howard Armstrong, artist, muscian, pornographer and national treasure
August 5, 2003 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Howard Armstrong, artist and black string band musician who played 22 instruments--excelling by far on violin and mandolin--who spoke seven languages, who first recorded in 1930 and was still an active performer up into this year, died last Wednesday of complications due to a heart attack he suffered in March. He was the subject of the P.O.V. film Sweet Old Song, which will be reprised a week from today on August 12th, 2003. He was also the subject of Louie Bluie--the first film by string band muscian and director of Crumb and Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff--which is well worth your watching by itself. He was quite a character and lived quite a life.
posted by y2karl (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by scarabic at 5:52 PM on August 5, 2003

Excellent post y2karl. I count on you for my best musical education (when oh when will you get a radio show again???)

I noticed his obit last week, and meant to do some further googling because I didn't know much about Howard Armstrong...but then I got busy and never did get around to it. You have chronicled his life beautifully....what a remarkable person. Thanks for the tip on Sweet Old Song too - I hope to catch it.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:51 PM on August 5, 2003

That is fucked up. Louie Bluie ruled. I was lucky enough to see him at Carnegie Hall many years ago (actually, it was the little hall next to the big hall, but no matter).

There are far too few blues fiddlers. And damn, we lost another.
posted by Ayn Marx at 7:51 PM on August 5, 2003

He led a workshop at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes back in 1988 or so. I wish I could find my tapes from that; he was amazing.
posted by hades at 8:30 PM on August 5, 2003

Karl, I have been loving the music from the live concert in your link marked "musicians" and returned to insist that anyone reading this drop everything else and listen to that show now - it is great!

Too bad I missed the man when he was living. Particularly since from the playlist, I learn he played part of the linked show in a venue about three miles from my door four years ago. *sigh*

Ayn Marx, I agree about the dearth of blues fiddlers and would urge anyone who hasn't yet seen Clarence Gatemouth Brown live to do so if presented with the opportunity - he is getting up there in years too. Anyone have any other blues fiddler recommendations?
posted by madamjujujive at 9:27 PM on August 5, 2003

Sad to read about this!
posted by plep at 11:10 PM on August 5, 2003

Well, I saw Suzy Thompson up at the Blues and Heritage Festival at Port Townsend last weekend, and although she's not black nor of the original generation of fiddlers, she was very impressive--she really ripped out the Mississippi Sheiks Stop And Listen Blues. In fact, it was from going to the Festival that I found out about Howard Armstrong's death. He'd been an instructor at several of their workshops, as hades pointed out, and was well known and much loved by all involved. So there were many, many tributes done to him.

Jeez, I feel dumb--I never went to one of these Centrum events before this. I only wish I could afford the $400+ for the week of instruction they offer. It really is quite the deal, all things considered.

David Honeyboy Edwards was about what I expected: his guitar playing days are far behind him--although he did do a nice set at the Alki Tavern in Seattle the week before the festival.

John Dee Holeman was a pleasant surprise--I'd not heard of him. He was a buckdancer and used to teach people how to do the hambone--that whole ting where people play themselves as percussion instrument. I find that he has a scene in Kid and Play's movie House Party where he demonstrates this. Since then, he had a couple of strokes and doesn't do that or dance anymore but he could still play guitar well enough.

The festival was a lot of fun and Port Townsend is a wonderful little Victoran era town. I only wish I'd gone to one of these things before....
Sadly enough, Aldrich's Market, the oldest grocery store in the state, which was there, burnt down just a couple of days ago. That was such a cool place. I wish I'd gone this time when I was up there.
posted by y2karl at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2003 [1 favorite]

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