In case you have not heard yet, Sean Blackburn died Thursday in Golden, Colorado while driving to work. He apparently had a heart attack or a stroke and drove his car off the road, coming to rest in a field. A memorial is planned for him Sat. Oct. 15 at Swallow Hill Music in Denver. Pop Wagner and Dave Hull are coming from Mpls. to play, and I'm flying in from my home in Maine.
Plans are almost firmed up for another memorial in Minneapolis in late Oct. at the The Cedar Cultural Centre, 612-338-2674.
This has been a year of wrenchingly painful goodbyes, first Jane, my former wife and singing partner, who fasted to death in the Mexican desert, then Steve Alarik, Artistic Director of The Coffeehouse Extempore in Mpls. from 1977-1985, dead of a heart attack this past June, and now Sean. Jane and Steve were 59, Sean was 56. Before that it was Dave Ray and Dave Van Ronk. Nuff said...
This continent is so goddamn huge, and I'm out here at the eastern end of The Tour, and it's hard to be so far away from old friends at times like these.
Sean and I go back to 1965, in Anoka, Minnesota, where we each grew up. Sean was the second of nine kids, all more handsome and charismatic that should be allowed by any natural law.
He introduced me to almost everything I consider worthwhile in music, and if I hadn't met him, I probably would be doing something completely different now. He was probably my primary mentor, and I'll miss him like crazy. The music he and Dakota Dave did for the years they were together holds up today like a shining star that only grows brighter with time. Amid a murky din of what passes for Folk Music these days, what they did together leaves today's whiny, self absorbed, naval-inspectors in the dust. Part Woody Guthrie, part Louis Armstrong, they busted their butts in countless Squat-n-Gobbles from LaRonge to LaCrosse to serve up a musical stew that hadn't been tasted for thirty years, and hasn't been since. They may have had only regional "success" , but in the hearts and memories of many of us in the American and Canadian Midwest, their contributions and their startling creativity remains a beacon. Sure, Merle Haggard, Asleep At The Wheel and Willie Nelson were the big guns who helped rescue Western Swing from the grave, but Sean and Dave were, in my life, even more profound. They brought it directly into the listening rooms, the colleges and the coffeehouses and folk festivals, where the music grew new legs and danced again, after decades of purgatory.
I met Liz Masterson at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV in the winter of either '86 or '87. We became fast friends. Sean had just recently left Mpls. for Chicago, but I knew he had his sights on The West. I guess I had something to do with introducing those two, maybe I was their Cupid, I don't know...
Sean and Liz had some fabulous chemistry. The combination of Sean's formidable stagecraft and doctorate-level command of the music, and Liz's pure-as-a-mountain -stream voice were something to behold. For the second time, Sean made his mark as half of a dynamic duo.
In the last decade of Sean's life, I saw him only occasionally, sometimes at Western and Swing Week at Ashokan, in the Catskills. He went west, I went east, and it became geographically more improbable to get together.
He still wrestled with his demons, he was getting the best of them, but alas now he's been called to be in a Higher Orchestra. It always seemed as though Sean was part of another era, and now he belongs to Eternity. I'll miss him more than I can say.
Adios, amigo. Buena Suerta.
Condoloences should be sent to
4460 Zenobia St.
Denver, CO 80212