Owsley “Bear” Stanley will forever be associated with the making and distribution of LSD in the 1960s, but he was also a sound genius who helped revolutionize the sound reinforcement business, and an expert live sound recordist. When he died in 2011, he left behind a cache of over 1,300 recordings—“Sonic Journals” he called them—by an astonishing array of disparate acts; most have never seen the light of day. Well, that changed this past summer when the Owsley Stanley Foundation released Doc and Merle Watson: Never the Same Way Once—Live at the Boarding House, May 1974. The beautifully designed box contains seven CDs encompassing 94 tracks culled from four nights at the Boarding House club in San Francisco—the same venue where Bear recorded Old & in the Way’s eponymous album (still among the best-selling bluegrass discs of all time) the previous year. The music covers an incredible spectrum of styles—folk, old-time country, blues, standards, even some Elvis Presley tunes—and captures the father-son duo at an early peak moment in their 15-year musical partnership.
“Bear had marked these shows among the gems in his Sonic Journal archive, for both the quality of performances and the quality of the sound,” commented Bear’s son, Starfinder Stanley, who is the president of the Foundation, “[That] is one of the reasons we chose them as the first project to develop since his passing.” It’s certainly an impressive start to what everyone hopes will be a steady stream of rare music coming from the Owsley Stanley Foundation. Among the tantalizing acoustic-oriented names in the untapped collection: Johnny Cash, Hot Tuna, John Hartford, Great American String Band, Taj Mahal, Ralph Stanley, the Rowan Brothers, the Chieftains, Kate Wolf, and Odetta.
For more, including the complete song lists, go to owsleystanleyfoundation.org —Blair Jackson
This version ‘Salty Dog Blues’ gives you a good picture of the sound quality on the box: