Posted By David Licata on January 30, 2014
When A Life’s Work secret weapon Christine Lofgren asked if I’d be interested in an interview with Adam Lore of the record label 50 Miles of Elbow Room, her I’d love it, but asked if she’d conduct the interview, since she initiated contact with Lore. Ever the trooper, Christine, a musically voracious sort, took my suggestion and ran with it. Here’s the result.
Adam Lore is the force behind 50 Miles of Elbow Room (50MOER), a record label, mail order website, and occasional concert producer, focused mainly on blues, gospel, free jazz, old-time, and other American vernacular music. August 2011 saw the release of the first in a series of LPs that feature live recordings of Rev. Charlie Jackson.
CL: Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to become involved with 50 Miles of Elbow Room?
I fell in with some inspiring artists and was motivated to try to make a contribution, first through publishing a short-lived magazine called 50 Miles of Elbow Room. This process began in 1998 and issue #1 was published in 2000. Later the name evolved to cover a range of efforts that so far also include concert & record production, and a website that mainly deals in vinyl releases as well as the occasional CD and print publication.
CL: Where does the name 50 Miles of Elbow Room come from?
50 Miles of Elbow Room is a gospel song that has been recorded by many artists over the years. My inspiration came from the version by Rev. F. W. McGee that is on the Anthology of American Folk Music.
CL: How do you decide what artists and music 50 Miles of Elbow Room will feature?
Hard to say, but I guess the common thread is simply being stirred to action by some of the music that moves me. The results can take on different forms given the circumstances and what seems most likely to be effective.
CL: What is it like to run 50 Miles of Elbow Room out of your apartment?
Challenging! Steve Dollar wrote an article about 50MOER and he compared my studio to a walk-in closet, only a slight exaggeration. But he also described it as both aesthetic and abundant, which is a generous way to look at it.
CL: Can you tell us some more about your ongoing retrospective of Reverend Charlie Jackson and how that came about?
Rev. Charlie Jackson was one of the great guitar evangelists and he traveled extensively, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi. Starting in the late 1960s, he cut a series of top-notch, bluesy gospel 45s for Booker Records out of New Orleans and his own Jackson Records imprint. Most of these records were compiled by Kevin Nutt’s CaseQuarter label on a CD called God’s Got It that was released in 2003.
From around 1970 through early 2000s, Rev. Jackson would also often informally record his performances at church services on a portable tape recorder such as a boombox. That material has been the focus of the retrospective that 50 Miles has been working on. Two LPs have been released so far, with at least one more to come.
I first heard Rev. Jackson’s music in 2000. Brian Turner, WFMU’s music director, came to the release party for the first issue of 50MOER and he gave me a tape of a “listener hour” of gospel put together by a fellow from Alabama. It included 2 songs by Rev. Jackson that made an especially big impression on me. His music was so powerful, with such an immediate sound. Kevin Nutt was the DJ of that program and later he sent me a CD-R of Rev. Jackson’s Louisiana Gospel Dynamite tape that compiled 12 of Rev. Jackson’s Booker 45s, released by Chris Smith’s Curlew label in the late 1980s, which schooled me further on the greatness of his music. At the time I was unable to find much further information about Rev. Jackson, which probably goaded me to want to learn more and possibly write about him. Soon I became aware of Lynn Abbott’s pioneering research on Rev. Jackson’s life and music, and he graciously allowed me to reproduce an extensive article that he had written for Keskidee magazine in the mid-1980s in 50 Miles of Elbow Room #2 (one of many kindnesses Lynn has offered in conjunction with my work on Rev. Jackson).
CL: How did you gather the material for Reverend Jackson’s albums on the 50 Miles of Elbow Room label?
I had heard that Rev. Jackson lived in the Baton Rouge area so I asked the mother of a friend of mine who lived there if she would look for him in the phone book. She found a listing for him, so I sent a letter. Soon I received a phone call from Rev. Jackson and we hit it off. He was a very friendly, highly enthusiastic man. I tried to do a phone interview with him but after a few questions he cut to the chase and asked, “When you gonna come down here, man???” and declared, “We’ll get the church together and everything!” I couldn’t say no to that.
In June 2001 I flew down to Louisiana with Clare O’Dea, who took photos to accompany an article in 50MOER #2 and would also appear in the God’s Got It CD booklet. Rev. Jackson was just as kind in person as he was on the phone, with a big, infectious smile. When we arrived at his home he had his guitar and amp set up so he could play some songs for us, and demonstrate how he would play his guitar like a drum and imitate train sounds with it, etc. Then the next day we went to a church service and heard him perform there as well. We had a great time.
Now, backing up a bit, between the attempted phone interview and our in-person visit, I became aware of Rev. Jackson’s Way Over Yonder CD and made arrangements to order it direct from him. I sent him a check and a few weeks later I received a cassette in the mail but it was not Way Over Yonder. The first three songs on it were from his Booker 45s, followed by some even rawer, live-in-the-church recordings. I loved the music and it was especially exciting to get to hear this material that was not generally available. We stayed in touch over the years and eventually I learned the extent of his archive, with well over 100 hours of tapes. After Rev. Jackson passed, his widow Mrs. Laura Davis Jackson (a spellbinding singer who often collaborated with Rev. Jackson) kindly agreed to allow me to compile releases from these recordings.
CL: Does the 50 Miles of Elbow Room label have plans to release albums by any other artists?
Not at this time.
CL: Is there something out there that you know exists, or existed, that you’d like to feature or release on the 50 Miles of Elbow Room label, but it hasn’t turned up?
Well, speaking just as a listener, I’d love to see and hear more from the archives of Texas music researcher Mack McCormick and Juma Sultan’s audio/video/photographs of the NYC loft jazz era that is housed at Clarkson University . Sultan’s collection is similar to Rev. Jackson’s in that it was compiled by an active member of the community, rather than an outside folklorist. Nowadays with smartphones and so forth, my hunch is that most folklore is being documented by participants and their friends and is probably on YouTube and Facebook now.
CL: Do you have any especially memorable moments from your time with 50 Miles of Elbow Room, or from just being involved with & your interest in music?
So many that I would hardly know where to begin. When I was passing through Bentonia, Mississippi last summer, I cold-called Bud Spires, a great harmonica player who played with Jack Owens and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes among others, and without hesitation he invited me over to visit. A very sweet man, he played me a couple songs and told some long, winding jokes/folktales. At one point he held up his harmonica and reflected on how that little instrument took him all over the world and gave him experiences he never would have had otherwise. That resonated, as music has also led me to a wealth of life-enriching experiences and friendships.
You can find out more about 50 Miles of Elbow Room at:
You can listen to Adam Lore being featured as the special guest on Scott McDowell’s program on WFMU, “The Long Rally,” at this link: http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/47188
Would you like to interview someone for this here little blog? Let’s discuss!