July 13, 2008

Lenny Bruce is a singing dog

Lenny Bruce Peltier is a dog who lives in a cabin at Grimes Creek, outside Boise, Idaho. He doesn't go on the road to sing with his traveling lady guardian/owner. Lenny Bruce sings at home.

Lenny Bruce knows more about American folk and roots music than just about any dog alive. His lady is travelin' folk legend Rosalie Sorrels, who turned 75 this year and is one of the first ladies of American folk song. His guardian lady is so impawtant that UC Santa Cruz set up a Rosalie Sorrels Archive in recognition of her contributions to American culture as a songwriter, singer, and storyteller.

Rosalie Sorrels and Lenny Bruce PeltierMs. Sorrels is a favorite at Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival and a former resident of Marin and Sonoma counties. Many roots music lovers know that she was friends for 55 years with the late singer/songwriter Utah Phillips.

Dog-ma told me Rosalie Sorrels was in Petaluma on July 12. She sang Phillips' song "Starlight on the Rails" — the opener to her tribute album, "Strangers in Another Country: The Songs of Bruce 'Utah' Phillips," due out August 5, 2008, on indie Red House Records.

In an NPR interview, Rosalie Sorrels described her music as "a way to take sorrow and turn it into a thing you can hold in your hand and throw away." She has also said, "People create folksongs because they need them to get along with life and the stuff it throws at you."

Life has thrown a lot of interesting people her way. Many of them in turn find their way into the wonderful storytelling that's a trademark of the Sorrels performance. There are Utah Phillips and Kate Wolf, of course. Other names in a long, long list include Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Malvina Reynolds, Jack Kerouac, Phil Ochs, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Storytelling is fundamental to folk music 'cuz it is music that has been passed down largely by oral tradition. Listening to all these stories and songs is how Lenny Bruce Peltier got so smart.

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