The Shop Land, Part III

Editor’s Note: Last summer when I taught my class on writing local and family history I got to read some wonderful work. One of the projects I know will be of interest to my readers is this one by Mt. Blue High School senior Sylivie Haslam. Sylvie’s family history in Weld is interwoven with the Cushman family, prominent in the 1800s and with artist Seavern Hilton who made his mark in the mid twentieth century. Join us as Sylvie explores Weld history, family history and the folk art that traveled far beyond the village of Weld.

By Sylvie Haslam

Hilton’s Time at the Shop Land 

A book published in the early 90s by the Weld Historical Society describes the progression of Hilton’s shop. He opened it along with George Lee in 1935. According to the book, “As the business expanded, it became necessary to move to a larger building,” and Hilton moved the shop to the old Cushman barn. 

The shop employed between “10 and 30” workers during its time in the Cushman barn. My grandmother said it was quite common for young locals to work at the Woodworkers of Weld shop for a few hours a week. This is mentioned in many obituaries of people from Weld, These workers would do anything from carving the wood itself to painting the tiny details onto Hilton’s figurines. These figurines were sold separately and also as part of nursery lamps. At its height, workers in the Cushman Barn were turning out upwards to 60,000 figurines a month, and sales were made through big city agents and trade shows to gift shops and department stores up and down the East Coast.

    Locally Minear said the figurines were sold at a store called Gerty Trask’s. I found a mention of the store in a book called Aunt Susy’s Boarding House: The Story of A Girl Growing Up In Maine a memoir by Joy Swan about her time in Weld in the early 1900s. She mentions Gerty Trask’s, talking about “the beckoning smell of ice cream” and the “smiling shop owner.” Swan says that the store “is long remembered by everyone who had ever visited this unique little shop.” The store seems to have been a landmark in the town of Weld during its bustling prime.   

      John Cushman’s first wife, Sadie, was one of the locals who worked at the shop. My grandmother told me that she would paint the tiny details onto Hilton’s figurines. I can only imagine how talented she must have been. The people are tiny, perhaps about the size of a clothespin, and their features are tinier. 

The Weld Historical Society has a group picture of the workers in front of the shop. A big window frames them from behind, showing a little peek inside. The building is covered in wooden shingles. The barn itself looks very similar to the one still at my grandfather’s farm. It was likely built by the same people. 

Image may contain: 18 people, people smiling, people sitting

The group in the photo consists of twenty-two people, from young men and women, who look to be in their late teens, to much older women with short curly white hair. The age diversity of the group and the number of women surprised me; I wonder if the women participated in the woodworking itself. Many of the workers in the photo are smiling and are looking to the right of the camera. 

The people who worked at the Woodworkers of Weld in its heyday were mostly these young locals.  Most of them probably grew up on family farms in the Weld area during a difficult time. They likely lived without much money for the majority of their lives. This is evident in their clothing and hairstyles in the picture above; the women wore fairly plain dresses and kept their hair short, while the men wore a lot of flannels and workmen’s pants. 

During the time that Hilton worked at this shop in the Cushman barn, he lived on his family farm on Center Hill. The Woodworkers of Weld was located in the old Cushman barn for a solid fifteen years, from 1940 until 1955. Then, the shop burned down. At this time, Seaverns Hilton was in his late fifties. After the fire, the Weld Historical Society’s book says that Hilton moved his business to Wilton. I am not sure how long he continued woodworking until he retired, but I do know that Hilton died in the 1970s. 

Today on the property not much trace of this once thriving business remains except for the outlines of a foundation, saplings growing within it.

Works Cited 

Scott. Mountain Climbing from Weld, 21 June 2015, 

I Remember When– a Weld Family Album: a Celebration in Pictures of the Town of Weld, Maine. Weld Historical Society, 1993.

Weld Sesquicentennial 1816~1966: History and Program, 1966,

Titus , Mina M. “Like Swiss Toymakers and Woodcarvers of the Alps Are These Woodworkers in Maine Village of Weld.” Lewiston Evening Journal , 5 Oct. 1940,,456754&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwilhqPgrLHqAhXFl3IEHWkcAhEQ6AEwBXoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=Woodworkers%20Weld%20Maine&f=false

Graham, Amy. Personal interview. July 7, 2020.

Graham, Michael. Personal interview. July 9, 2020.  

Graham, Lee. Personal interview. July 12, 2020. 

Graham, Peninnah. Personal interview. July 9, 2020. 

Black and white photograph, year unknown, Weld Historical Society. 

Library of Congress. “Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series.” Google Books, Google, 1976,

Swan, Joy. Aunt Susy’s Boarding House: the Story of a Girl Growing up in Maine. Outskirts Press, 2015.

Welts, Raymond E. “‘The Farmer’s Wife.’” Life, 15 Aug. 1938, pp. 66–66,’s%20Wife%20Weld%20Maine&f=false

Sylvie Haslam is a senior at Mt Blue High School who has lived in the Farmington area her entire life. She loves reading, writing and chickens, not necessarily in that order. 

Learn how to generate traffic to your blog in our webinar. Learn more

Posted in Franklin County, History, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Shop Land, Part II

By Sylvie Haslam

Editor’s Note: Last summer when I taught my class on writing local and family history I got to read some wonderful work. One of the projects I know will be of interest to my readers is this one by Mt. Blue High School senior Sylivie Haslam. Sylvie’s family history in Weld is interwoven with the Cushman family, prominent in the 1800s and with artist Seavern Hilton who made his mark in the mid twentieth century. Join us as Sylvie explores Weld history, family history and the folk art that traveled far beyond the village of Weld.


Seaverns Hilton’s Life and Artwork

    Seaverns Hilton, the artist who rented the barn, was born in Rhode Island right before the turn of the century, in 1898. He applied his artistic skills to advertising and illustration in  New York City and began to divide his time between there and Weld when  he was still in his thirties. There is a photograph of Seaverns Hilton in the Weld Historical Society’s book, I Remember When – A Weld Family Album: A Celebration in pictures of the town of Weld, Maine. The photo shows Hilton smiling with his hands on his hips in front of a building. He looks happy to be working; from this photograph, it is easy to imagine that Hilton loved his craft. He is balding, though what hair he does have in the image seems to be white. He is wearing what looks like an apron over his pants and a bow tie around his neck. I imagine Hilton was dressed for woodworking and the picture was taken in front of one of his woodshops. The building looks different from the photos I have seen of the Cushman barn, so I doubt he is there. I believe the photograph may have been taken at the Farmer’s Wife, a restaurant on Center Hill, based on photos I have seen. 

Seaverns Hilton began his woodworking business on Center Hill, close to his home. This shop stood close to the Farmer’s Wife. My mother remembers the restaurant was still up and running in the summers when she was a kid. She recalls visiting it with her family during the summer months; “It was always a big treat,”she said, “ to go up the hill and get an ice cream cone from the Farmer’s Wife.” She also remembers clearly that some of Hilton’s artwork was on display at the restaurant. A pamphlet titled Weld Sesquicentennial 1816~1966: History and Program describes Seaverns Hilton’s artwork at the Farmer’s Wife as “fanciful decorations.” My mother says these included many sculptures of animals that enchanted her as a child. 

Hilton originally opened his woodworking shop with a man named George Lee. This shop was located in the back of the Farmer’s Wife, which was built and owned by a couple named Mr and Mrs Lester Lee. The Lees eventually sold the business and it passed through the hands of three more owners before it closed down in the late seventies. A picture of the Farmer’s Wife was featured in Life magazine in 1937. The Life article says that “all other roadside stands seemed unimaginative” after the Farmer’s Wife. It also mentions that Mrs. Lee had “the excellent judgement to talk over plans with S. W. Hilton” before building the shop.  The Farmer’s Wife operated as a restaurant in the summer months and “during the fall hunting season it operated as a hunting lodge to accommodate sportsmen.” 

Hilton designed the architecture of two Maine shops, the Farmer’s Wife and the Elegant Pack Rat, a shop in South Paris, Maine. The building featured several rats around the top of it, and a big rat in a top hat above each of the large signs that boast the name. I can imagine that these trademark pack rats made the shop a memorable destination. 

I came across a pamphlet titled Weld Sesquicentennial 1816~1966: History and Program. I assume it was published in 1966 for Weld’s hundred and fifty year celebration. The pamphlet features a schedule for the festivities, the page decorated by little sketches of a man in a top hat doing each of the activities. These included a horse show, fireworks, street dancing and a parade among others. My grandmother, Lee Graham, brought this to my attention, saying that she thinks the event sketches were done by Hilton. Looking at them, it is clear that they are in a similar style to Hilton’s figurines.

During my childhood, my mother had a piece of Hilton’s artwork. She kept it on a bookshelf in our living room. It was one of his little wooden sculptures, in the shape of a little girl in a pink dress, her hair so blond it was almost white. She was playing a grand piano set upon a wooden platform. The whole sculpture was only the size of a typical book. it was made at the Woodworkers of Weld shop. 

Another one of Hilton’s wooden figurines was a little man on skis wearing a dark green or blue uniform. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure he was wearing a hat that made me think of a band uniform. The man had the same type of round head as the little piano girl. He was a Christmas tree ornament, or at least that is how we used him. A special spot was reserved for him at the top of our tree, where he would hang every year. His skis made it look like he was skiing down the tree itself. I remember thinking he was really cool, wishing I had little dolls like him. He must have been fifty years old at least, but the paint was still vibrant and his body wasn’t chipped at all. Based on my experience, I would say Hilton’s figurines are definitely high quality. 

One of Seaverns Hilton’s pieces is fairly well known in the area. This one is a drawing, depicting a map of eight hiking trails in and around Weld. It’s titled “Mountain Climbing From Weld” and each trail is labeled. The drawing shows the familiar landscape of mountains in Weld, complete with fluffy clouds above them. The president of the historical society, Sean Minear, said that the panel is “one of the most familiar images of this town.”  The image was once painted as a mural on the side of Weld’s General Store and served as a landmark in the town for a long time.  

Woodworkers of Weld Little Bo Peep lamp

Minear described Hilton as “a published author, a noted artist, a business owner, a talented musician and a character of the highest order.” He wrote three books, Three for the Money, The Gods of the Greeks, and How to Retire Gracefully (Without Either Bloodshed or Boredom). I hadn’t heard of any of these books previous to reading a newspaper article titled “Weld Artist Publishes Third Book”. I also had trouble finding any trace of the books online, although I did find a copyright entry for The Gods of the Greeks made by Hilton in 1974. The article was published along with an image of Hilton and a dog, labelled his “friend” in the caption. 

    The same newspaper article that shared the information about Hilton’s books says that he is “most famous for his ‘pictorial panels’” which were placed along the Arnold Trail as well as at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Farmington and historic Maine forts. These panels featured informational text and illustration. They were well known to my mother. She can remember that the Arnold Trail panels were brought to her elementary school and put on display for a day or two. Her teacher taught the small group of kids all about Benedict Arnold during the school day and later that night they had a public open house. The panels were huge, the size of a sign that would be hung at a trail. At the time, she had no idea that these panels were made by Seaverns Hilton. 

End of Part II

Next week we’ll take a peak at the shop where the Woodwork’s of Weld made their creations.

Sylvie Haslam is a senior at Mt Blue High School who has lived in the Farmington area her entire life. She loves reading, writing and chickens, not necessarily in that order. 

Posted in Franklin County, History, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Shop Land, Part I

Editor’s Note: Last summer when I taught my class on writing local and family history I got to read some wonderful work. One of the projects I know will be of interest to my readers is this one by Mt. Blue High School senior Sylivie Haslam. Sylvie’s family history in Weld is interwoven with the Cushman family, prominent in the 1800s, and with artist Seavern Hilton who made his mark in the mid twentieth century. Join us as Sylvie explores Weld history, family history and the folk art that traveled far beyond the village of Weld. I have divided her fascinating account into three parts. In Part I, below, we are introduced to the Michael Graham farm and the Cushman family, whose ties to the land go back to the mid-eighteen hundreds. I’m sure you will agree that Sylvie is a talented writer. This high school student has a great future ahead of her!

By Sylvie Haslam

Weld, Maine

My mom grew up on a family farm in the small town of Weld, Maine which sits in the center of the state, small and unassuming. Until recently downtown Weld mostly consisted of a general store and a school, but now the store has been torn down, and the school no longer operates. Aside from a few lifelong, aging residents, these days most people in Weld are there for the lake, the mountainous hikes and the beautiful summer weather. An article in the Lewiston Evening Journal, written back in 1940, states that Weld had 437 inhabitants. That number has only gone down since that point; now about 415 year-round residents remain. In the same article reporter Mina M. Titus describes Weld as “nestled against the shores of beautiful Lake Webb and overshadowed by the dark wooded peaks of Mt. Blue and Tumbledown Mountains,” and says that “Weld has stood remote and ignored by the outside world.” I thought this was a beautiful depiction of the town. To me, Weld is a haven from the world, quiet and peaceful. 

The Shop Land

My grandfather, Michael Graham, still owns the Weld farm my mom grew up on. It consists of a few hundred acres at the end of a dirt road. It takes about half an hour to get to the nearest grocery store. My parents will be building a house on a piece of the farmland, a section lovingly called “The Shop Land” by my mom and her siblings. This land was once home to a locally famed wood shop, called the Woodworkers of Weld, as well as an old farm belonging to a man named Will Cushman. 

The land is surrounded by the forest on two sides, and leads out into a huge hay field. The air has the earthy smell of the woods and is absolutely free of all sounds but those of nature. The main road is too far away to hear, so all that remains is the calling of the phoebes and the trickling of the nearby stream. It is beautifully tranquil. 

My mom has always been enchanted with the land: “There was that old cellar hole and also some old perennials that had seeded themselves,” she said. She remembers her daily visits to the flowers during the spring. They were “dark, dark purple columbine and roses and lilies.” They originated from Will Cushman’s farm, leftover from the gardens of Will’s wife. “They were the survivors from this garden a hundred years earlier,” she recalls, “growing away from anything, with no one taking care of them.” 

The Cushman Brothers

Years ago, my grandfather inherited his farm from his “Uncle” John, a man who was not his real uncle. John acted as a grandfather figure for my grandpa through most of his life. John and his wife, Sadie, adopted my grandpa’s mom, a distant cousin of some sort. 

Uncle John’s full name was John Cushman. His father, Jesse Cushman, and Jesse’s brother Will both owned farms on the land. Will’s isn’t there anymore but Jesse’s original farmhouse is now my grandparents’ house. 

My Aunt Penninah, a genealogist, has a deed from October 28, 1864. It is a record of Simeon Cushman of Carthage selling the land to Maria Cushman for a hundred dollars. Both Jesse’s and Will’s farmhouses were likely built shortly after that time. The brothers must have shared the expansive fields that make up a large part of the property. I imagine they used the fields for haying, grazing animals and growing crops like beans and corn, things that would last through the winter. This is similar to the ways my grandfather uses them currently. They must have preserved their crops for the harsh Maine winters, since they probably relied on their farm for survival. Now, my grandpa can just go out to the store when his larder gets low. 

Will Cushman married a woman named Olive Ella Russell. They had a son together, named William after his father. Will and Olive lived on their farm until they suffered a fire in the 1920s, when they moved away. They later both died of heart related conditions, Will first and Olive a few years later. Their son William had two kids of his own, Delsie and Freelon. Freelon tragically died at only thirty-seven, and Delsie had no children, so, from what I have seen, that branch of the family ended there. 

Jesse’s son John, the one and only Uncle John, who gave the farm to my grandfather, was born around 1900. John grew up on the farm on Cushman Road and worked as a teamster in Temple, pulling logs.  When Will’s farmhouse burned down, his barn had remained intact. When John came into the possession of the two farms, he didn’t need the second barn so he decided to do something with the extra space. John was very active in the town government and had served for years as a selectman and a sheriff.  In his lifetime, he had seen the loss of many little mills that had dotted the landscape of the town, and with them had gone many people. Happy to promote commerce in Weld, he rented the barn to a local artist named Seaverns Hilton to use as a shop for his craft. Whether Hilton approached him or vice versa, John must have been happy to encourage business in Weld.

Next week meet Seavern Hilton, a fascinating artist and resident of Weld in the mid-twentieth century.

Author Sylvie Haslam is a senior at Mt Blue High School who has lived in the Farmington area her entire life. She loves reading, writing and chickens, not necessarily in that order. 

Posted in Franklin County, History, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

One Scan at a Time

Free Flower Bouquet Clipart in AI, SVG, EPS or PSD

Like a lot of cancer patients I live from CT scan to CT scan.  The last one was good. “I won’t need to see you again until the end of May,” my oncologist told me Thursday. 

So right now, I’m not obsessing on mortality.

Not all CT scan results have been so positive. The worst one was back in October, the one that showed the cancer had metastasized. Along with feeling defeated, depressed and angry, I felt embarrassed. Three months before I had proudly announced on Facebook that after a long run of chemotherapy I was cancer free.

I was. But then it came back.

And then I wished I hadn’t been so bold in announcing my freedom from cancer since it turned out to be premature.  It’s harder to announce bad news than good.  What was I supposed to tell the world now?  “Nevermind”?  I was too embarrassed to say anything, even to some of my closest friends and family members.

I have a genetic form of cancer that  doesn’t always respond well to chemo. It’s pretty aggressive. Five years ago I might have been near the end of my road when the chemo didn’t kill it.  Luckily, I have gotten just the right kind of sick at a time when immunotherapy is working wonders with my kind of genetic cancer. I’ve been on this new regimen of infusions for about three months now.  So far so good. The cancer hasn’t spread. It hasn’t entirely gone away either; hence, the experience of living CT scan to CT scan.

But the last one was good. When the semester is over, Frank and I will reunite with our sons, daughters-in-law and grandkids. Spring is coming.   

Posted in Health | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul”


Immediately after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 people turned to one another in shock and apprehension and knew inistinctively that this changes everything. We’re in a similar situation now, which I suppose is why Bob Dylan rummaged through his unreleased material to find the song “Murder Most Foul” which he released a few days ago.

It’s something of a dirge, slow and dramatic and most definitely not hummable. The lyrics focus  on the assasination itself, describing much of the action, the violence, the panic, and how it was “the greatest magic trick under the sun” because “thousands were watching and no one saw a thing.” Dylan hints at conspiracy.  The villain speaks in plural, as in “we’re going to kill you with hatred without any respect,” and at one point Dylan asks “What is the truth and where did it go?” and answers “Ask Oswald and Ruby, they ought to know.” And yet, this is not a finger-pointing song like the ones he was so famous for long ago. If Dylan has a theory about who was behind the Kennedy murder, he isn’t saying here.

A few things I learned as I studied the song:  Deep Ellum is the neighborhood in which Kennedy was shot; the Trinity River flows through Dallas (and speaking of a trinity, who are the “three bums…dressed in rags?); Parkland Hospital was where they took Kennedy, and Zapruder’s film caught the murder and has been studied ever since.

The title of the song is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet wherein Prince Hamlet’s uncle has murdered Hamlet’s father, so he can marry Hamlet’s mother and be king. The uncle wants power. Hamlet wants revenge. In the end no one in Denmark gets what they want. The ghost of Hamlet’s father describes his demise as “murder most foul,” and Dylan applies the phrase to Kennedy’s assassination in the beginning, middle and end of the song.

But Dylan does not just focus on the assassination. The song is seventeen minutes long, so he has plenty of time to move forward through history and mention the subsequent touchstones of sixties rock music:  the Beatles, Woodstock, Altamont. It seems funny that he would conjure up these iconic images now when he tried so hard to avoid that scene at the time and preferred to “just sit here and watch the river flow.”

Dylan moves on to name check many musicians. He seems to be paying tribute to performers he admires, much as he did time and time again in his  autobiography Chronicles. Here he also quotes from countless songs, and at first the lyrics and song titles seemed rather random. But upon further listens it’s easier to see how he weaves in the titles to tell the story of bygone times.

I remember how Dylan’s Love and Theft was released on 9/11 and how I’ve always associated the album with the tragedy. And, in fact, how songs like “Mississippi” and “High Water” seemed to be written about the terrorist attack.  “Murder Most Foul” will be remembered the same way, as somehow pertinent and necessary in our current struggles.

Posted in Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Albums for 2019

One thing good about having lots of medical issues, it has meant I’m homebound, and this unwelcome lack of travel has given me time to work on my annual top ten list. Instead of exploring the deserts of Southern Utah or the beaches of Southern California I came up with a list of my favorite albums from the past year:

Image result for better oblivion community center


Better Oblivion Community Center, self-titled:  Conor Oberst’s latest collaboration is stellar thanks to Phoebe Bridgers’ ethereal voice, and her own songwriting, which stands up to that of her mentor. Rumor has it this album signaled the end of his marriage, and if that’s the case, I’m truly sorry. But it’s a good album. Check out tracks “Dylan Thomas” and “Chesapeake.”

"TIPS" - Vinyl

Tips, Miwi LaLupa:  I’ve been waiting for this one, and Miwi’s new material is full of nuance and surprise once again. I’ve mentioned before that I love his voice, so much humanity and kindness in the vocals.

Image result for sunset kids Jesse Malin


Sunset Kids, Jesse Malin:  This singer/songwriter is underrated, for sure. Along with some midtempo rock on this album, Malin changes the sound up just enough with some smooth R&B undertones. “Room 13” featuring Lucinda Williams belongs on my favorite song playlist.


Lahs, Alla-Las:  The album to play when you want to listen to 1960s psychedelia but you’re tired of all the good stuff.



Days Of The Bagnold Summer

Days of the Bagnold Summer, Belle and Sebastian: The band’s latest release is a  soundtrack, and the movie must have a wistful tone because the band has provided that with their signature brand of pretty songs and instrumentals.



Image result for Life of Compromise Stathi

Life of Compromise, Stathi (EP) — Stathi’s songs and delivery feel personal in a folk singer kind of way, but on this EP they include instrumentation that make them memorable. Check out “Cache Start” and “Angeline.”


Image result for father of the bride vampire weekend

Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend — It’s great to get some new Vampire Weekend after a six-year hiatus. Even without former member Rostam Batmanglij the band continues to create bright, tuneful songs with deceptively thoughtful lyrics. Eighteen tracks long, the album is cohesive without being monotonous.


Image result for thrashing through the passion

Thrashing Through the Passion, Hold Steady. Craig Finn is a heck of a songwriter. He’s a storyteller along the lines of Charles Bukowski, painting portraits of likeable characters who nonetheless keep doing really dumb things. Finn has released some decent solo albums, but he’s at his best with this band behind him.


Ode To Joy

Ode to Joy, Wilco:  A very mellow offering from Wilco which shows off Tweedy’s sweet, tender vocals as well as the band’s melodic side. Check out “Everyone Hides.”



Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen — The orchestration and production here make the album feel like it comes out of the early 70s. “Hello Sunshine,” for instance, is reminiscent of Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blue.” Comforting and nostalgic.


Posted in Music | Leave a comment

There is No Other Way, Let’s Try it Another Way…a history of the Hammond Organ

A Guest Post by Nathaniel Gordon

I often use rock music themes in my college writing classes, and once in awhile I run across a student essay that really gets me thinking. While Dylanologists have written at length on the impact of Bob Dylan’s opus “Like a Rolling Stone” rarely do they focus on the use of the Hammond organ, crucial to the sound of that original recording.  ~Lu

Despite huge leaps forward in technology, in the early 1960s rock and roll bands most often performed as a four piece: drums, electric bass, and two electric guitars. As much as they pushed the genre forward, groundbreaking bands such as the Beatles were still performing music that directly echoed the 50s rock ‘n’ roll from which they were born. Though what they were doing with these instruments was innovative, the basic tools used to create these works were not. It wouldn’t be until 1965, when a former folk musician named Bob Dylan released his sixth album, Highway 61 Revisited, that something new would hit the mainstream, an electric instrument that rock hadn’t considered valid before: the Hammond organ.

Hammond with speakers

Photo courtesy of Retro Rentals, Burbank, CA

The Hammond, invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert, consisted of one hundred twenty two keys on two drawers, reaching five octaves. The organ also featured twenty six pedals that could be used to further expand the organ’s range, or warp the sound. This made it popular with electric blues musicians, much of whose sound came from the emotion found through intentional distortion. Setting the Hammond apart from its contemporaries were its preset keys, which could be edited to make certain combinations of sounds that otherwise would be unobtainable. Released in 1935, the Hammond and Harnet marketed as a cheaper alternative to the classic church based pipe organ. Its detractors, however, argued that the Hammond was simply too dolce to be conventionally used. As a response, the Hammond BC was issued, featuring more powerful sound production technology, along with what has come to be known as the Hammond’s signature cabinet. This innovation came about in 1937 when Donald Leslie purchased a Hammond for his own enjoyment but was disheartened at how weak the sound was in a room with sub par acoustics. To remedy this, he created a device that boosted the audio signal by rotating the output around a circular motor, creating a spooky and distinctly modern sound. The instrument would go through numerous additional revisions, improvements and additions over the next thirty years, until Dylan featured it on Highway 61 Revisited.


courtesy Wikipedia

“Like a Rolling Stone,” the first track on the album, was six minutes of pure rebelliousness as Dylan brayed “How does it feel/How does it feel” on each chorus over a swelling, raucous, abrasive Hammond organ. This organ was played by twenty-one-year-old session guitarist Al Kooper, who had been invited to watch Dylan record in the studio. When Kooper felt inspired to play along, he decided to join in on the Hammond organ, simply because it was the only instrument in the room not being played. When Dylan heard it, he demanded the organ be turned up and used in the final mix. This created a particularly warped, psychedelic sound that was new to folk music as well as mainstream pop. “Like a Rolling Stone” would go on to be Dylan’s best selling single, and introduce the Hammond organ to the public eye.


courtesy Wikipedia

Over the next few years, the instrument’s prominence grew to the point that it became nearly as ubiquitous as the guitar. A young British band called Procol Harum released their self titled debut album in 1967 featuring a dedicated organ player who often performed the lead role in songs. Their debut single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” featured this organ over the top of the mix, louder than any other instruments, even the vocals. As singer/songwriter Gary Brooker crooned abstract lines such as “One of sixteen vestal virgins/Who were leaving for the coast” Matthew Fisher’s organ rose and fell, swelled and subsided as if to give the song a sense of traveling through space. The crowd called out for more, and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” shot up the charts becoming the band’s first number one single, and has gone on to sell over 10 million copies across the world.


courtesy of Wikipedia

At the same time, future progressive rock stars Pink Floyd were recording their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The first track on the American edition, “See Emily Play,” once again featured the Hammond organ as the lead instrument. This song started to show the psychedelic influences of the time, and the organ’s sound reflected this. After each chorus of “free games for May/see Emily play” Richard Wright’s organ would break into a free-form, distorted section that showcased the instrument’s unique sound and range.


courtesy Wikipedia

Just a few weeks after this, The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which prominently featured the Hammond on most of its tracks, including the fan favorite Ringo Starr showcase “With a Little Help From My Friends.” From here, psychedelic rock would experience a boom in popularity, growing into one of the most groundbreaking genres of the next decade.


courtesy Wikipedia

In Hang on to a Dream: the Story of the Nice, Martyn Hanson writes that inspired by the enigma that was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a young British keyboard player named Keith Emerson decided that he could do more with the Hammond organ, if he only had the capitol. When his blues band imploded in 1966, Emerson made a bargain with record company executive, if he could cannibalize and rebuild one of Immediate Records’ Hammond organs, he would perform in multiple Beatles-knockoff groups to pay the company back. The record company thought that Emerson’s innovations would go nowhere, but they could still make money off his ability to play simple music well in front of an audience. Therefore, the company’s head obliged, and Emerson went to work rebuilding. During this time, Emerson formed a band called The Nice which became Emerson’s showcase for his Frankenstein-ed instrument, and it was something completely new for the time. The band performed electric renditions of old classical songs, rearranged by Emerson for guitar, drum, bass, and, of course, Hammond organ.


courtesy Wikipedia

From the first notes of the band’s first album’s first track, it was apparent that the Emerson’s organ and piano work was nothing short of virtuosic and clearly the driving force in the band’s sound. Despite this, all five of the band’s albums subsequently failed commercially. Much like Procol Harum before them, the public wasn’t ready for a band quite that progressive. After the demise of The Nice in 1969, Emerson went on to form a group called Emerson, Lake and Palmer which continued to feature Emerson’s organ playing, with the addition of newer keyboard instruments such as the mellotron and moog synthesizer. ELP revolutionized the way in which music was recorded, but that’s a story for another day…

Dylan continued to experiment with new musical styles for the rest of career, everything from country to R&B to the Great American Songbook. Excluding a few outliers in the mid nineteen seventies and early nineteen nineties, all would include the Hammond organ which continues to be featured in popular music up through the present day. Artists across all genres include the instrument on their albums, ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Evanescence, from Frank Zappa to Taylor Swift. Other than guitar, no instrument has impacted popular music so instrumentally.


For any classic prog fans, that’s a Larks’ Tongues in Aspic shirt.

Nathaniel Gordon is sophomore studying psychology at the University of Maine at Farmington. He hopes to one day become a therapist like his father before him. In his free time he listens to music, reads about music, writes about music and thinks about music. His tastes range from classic blues to modern progressive metal (but not rap…anything but rap…). He’s pictured here with his friend Ozzy the snake.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beat

Conor bandWe’re out on the thumb here in New England, not really on the way to anywhere, and what that sometimes means for logistics is that we’re the first stop on someone’s tour. That was the case last night when Conor Oberst and band defied the rain and triumphed over a ridiculous Beauty and the Beast castle backdrop to deliver a really enchanting night of outdoor music at Prescott Park in Portsmouth.



multi-instrumentalist Miwi La Lupa

This gig was not only the first of an eleven night run through the East Coast and Midwest but very likely the first live performance ever for this line-up. The band features Miwi La Lupa , who has often played with Oberst and also put out a killer album of his own on Oberst’s Team Love Records a couple years ago. (Ended Up Making Love. Listen to it!) On bass is Stephanie Drootin, who plays with a couple Saddle Creek bands. Oberst referred to this group of musicians as “family”  so chances are the drummer and keyboard player are also part of that extended Omaha network of his.

conor.jpgOberst opened with “I Won’t Ever be Happy    Again (great title for Conor song…) from a little-known 2008 compilation album called Rock the Net.  Little known to me at any rate. In fact, I got pretty excited thinking this was a new unrecorded song and told my concert-mate Katie that it was possibly the first time he’d ever played it live, but I suppose that’s not the case. Before he launched into “Trees Get Wheeled Away,” he mused that he had written up the setlist and sent it to the band awhile ago, and now he was kind of shaking his head over some of his obscure choices.  Also from his rarities album was “Blue Angels Air Show,” which begins “Claire’s turning blonde for the summer I guess” and which he dedicated to his cousin, one of his best friends “who is really ticked at me right now.”

Guitarist La Lupa did double duty adding color with horn parts, as did the keyboard player, and I wonder if maybe knowing that he had a couple of talented horn players Oberst chose songs that had either been recorded with horns (like “Hundreds of Ways”) or lent themselves nicely to them.

Towards the end the band leaned more heavily into Oberst’s latest solo effort, Salutations, building to an energetic “St. Dymphna,” (“we can keep drinking til St. Dymphna kicks us out”) a paean to both the patron saint of the emotionally distrubed and to a New York City bar once frequented by both Oberst and La Lupa). The encore included a killer version of “Napalm” which used to sound kind of like Bob Dylan’s “On the Road Again,” but last night sounded more like an urgent Despercidos song.


Joanna Sternberg playing in the rain

I should also mention that before the rain let up Joanna Sternberg opened the show with a quirky set that managed to keep the audience’s attention. How to describe Sternberg? Talented. Deceptively simple lyrics. And an odd sort of awkward stage presence that was really quite endearing.


I suspect as the tour moves on this band of seasoned musicians will add more of their own flourishes to the songs. Last night they seemed to still be feeling them out, and a sound check abbreviated by the rain probably didn’t help. But these straight forward versions put the lyrics front and center, and a Conor Oberst song can always stand up to a low key arrangement, a few rain drops, or even a cheesy castle backdrop from a children’s play.

Conor band 2







Posted in Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cold Chocolate and Pumpkin Pie

Frank and I strolled over to High Street tonight for some live music at the North Church. This is a wonderful old venue right in our neighborhood, built about 150 years ago by the Unitarians. Owned now by the Farmington Historical Society, it’s a rustic, cozy place, romantic enough for a wedding (indeed, son Nate and daughter-in-law Justina were married here) and charming enough for an evening of live music.

North Church

The North Church, which has been beautifully restored by the Farmington Historical Society. The steeple blew off in a wind storm in the late 1940s. (Photo courtesy of the Farmington Historical Society)

We treated ourselves to a pieces of pumpkin and apple pie in the basement reception area, chatted with friends and neighbors, and then strolled upstairs to take a seat in one of the long wooden pews.  Tonight’s offering was Cold Chocolate, a folk rock trio from Boston.

These accomplished musicians rocked the old church a little harder than the usual folk artists I’ve seen there, and I enjoyed their energy. A memorable cover from early in their first set was Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You,” a good choice for them since their original songs fit that same mid-tempo, Americana sort of sound. Their originals were entirely new to me. I enjoyed them but will not try to review them after only one listen. I did buy a cd, however. Maybe a review, or an interview with the band, will happen in the future.


Cold Chocolate at the North Church. You can listen to them here.

Venue is so important to a live music experience. I like the dark, noisy, crowded atmosphere of Tuck’s, our neighborhood bar, and I like the elegance and expanse of the State Theater in Portland, but there’s a place too for the casual, intimate ambiance of a restored 19th century church, where ticket prices are reasonable, pie is free, kids are welcome and those who aren’t much for the bar scene can feel comfortable.
Cold Chocolate warmed  to the venue. We were a small but appreciative audience, and we warmed to them too.
Posted in Franklin County, History, Travel, Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment