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Al Cromwell, any memories?

Related threads:
Remember Al Cromwell and Doug Bush? (21)
Does Anyone Know Al Cromwell?!!!! (10)


Rick Fielding 29 May 01 - 11:59 AM
Rick Fielding 30 May 01 - 01:01 AM
katlaughing 03 Jun 01 - 12:55 AM
Rick Fielding 03 Jun 01 - 01:30 PM
Charley Noble 03 Jun 01 - 02:14 PM
katlaughing 03 Jun 01 - 02:48 PM
flattop 07 Jun 01 - 12:06 AM
flattop 07 Jun 01 - 01:16 AM
balladeer 07 Jun 01 - 09:10 AM
Charley Noble 07 Jun 01 - 04:20 PM
katlaughing 07 Jun 01 - 05:35 PM
flattop 08 Jun 01 - 12:20 AM
Rick Fielding 08 Jun 01 - 09:09 AM
Rick Fielding 08 Jun 01 - 09:11 AM
Charley Noble 08 Jun 01 - 10:47 AM
Rick Fielding 08 Jun 01 - 07:10 PM
flattop 09 Jun 01 - 05:00 PM
Ebbie 07 Sep 10 - 12:46 AM
PHJim 06 Feb 11 - 08:12 AM
GUEST,M.T. 18 Apr 11 - 05:34 PM
GUEST,Lisa 26 Jul 11 - 02:46 PM
PHJim 26 Jul 11 - 08:57 PM
GUEST,Lisa 27 Jul 11 - 09:21 AM
GUEST,Lisa 27 Jul 11 - 04:27 PM
GUEST,scott shropshire 27 Nov 11 - 01:37 AM
GUEST,Jim Bush 16 Feb 12 - 11:45 AM
GUEST,Danny McGrath 18 Apr 12 - 05:34 PM
GUEST,larry and valerie densmore 01 Mar 15 - 12:36 AM
PHJim 18 Dec 15 - 11:41 PM
GUEST,Lesley (Dalrymple) O'Neil 08 Jan 17 - 02:10 PM
GUEST,Rencor 08 Apr 17 - 03:47 PM
GUEST 28 Dec 17 - 09:00 PM
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Subject: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 29 May 01 - 11:59 AM

Among the folks who inhabit that musical scrap-book in my head, the name "Al Cromwell" crops up often.

Al was a fine singer and guitarist who played on and off in Toronto for many years, and never seemed to find "a comfortable fit" for his great talent in the folk scene here. He was a very handsome, compact and graceful man of African heritage, with an articulate manner of speaking and seemed to have some of Josh White's style in his guitar playing. I always sensed that being Black among all us lilly-white folkies was very tough on Al. He was constantly asked to play Blues but (like Josh) really enjoyed British ballads and singer-songwriter stuff. He really liked my take on Yeats' "Wandering Aengus" and asked for a tape so he could learn it. Don't know if he ever did. What I DO know, is that in the days when I was too shy to go right up to musicians and say "hello", Al took me in tow, and introduced me to folks like Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Bukka White. I'll never forget that.

He was an extremely private man and it was only years after meeting him, that I found out he was from Ontario (and not from the Maritimes where there were many Black settlements). He seemed to have many unanswered questions floating around his brain, and turned to Scientology for answers, which needless to say, alienated him even further from the rest of us. His suspicion of Recording Companies kept him from being represented on vinyl (or tape or CD) and consequently all many of us have is the occasional jam session tape to remind us that the guy was "GOOD". Sometimes it seemed that the fates (as well as Al's own idiosyncracies) conspired to keep his music somewhat of a secret. Three times I had him on my radio show, and EACH time the tape malfunctioned, so there's no record of those great performances.

In later years he became an itinerant window-washer, to suppliment his music income, and I had to chuckle when I'd see him bopping along Bloor street with the tools of his trade. Al just wouldn't have made a good "telemarketer", or waiter (what a lot of actors and musicians do to pay the rent).

I remember how hugely excited he was when he found a GREAT Martin D-35 at a verrry good price and how it rejuvenated his playing and his enthusiasm for music. Sadly I also remember how devistated he seemed when he had to sell it a few months later for peanuts, to pay some landlord his back rent. Al simply WOULDN'T talk about it...but oh boy, was his heart broken.

He passed away without much notice a few years ago, and I miss him. Had he been able to afford a computer, I think Mudcat would have done him a HUGE service. He'd have found a community that would have made him comfortable.

Anyone else know 'em?

Rick

It was Flattop's mention of Al in another thread that got me thinkin' about him


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 30 May 01 - 01:01 AM

Oh, one other thing about Al. About 1 month after his death I got a call from a very nice young woman of about 28. She was told by her mum that her REAL dad had been a folksinger named Al Cromwell, and now that she knew, she wanted to finally meet him and hopefully develop a relationship. I had to tell her that she was a month late. Bummer.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: katlaughing
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 12:55 AM

Oh, Rick, that is so sad! I love to hear about phoaks that each of you knew something special about; who may not have been so well-known as others. This sharing is how I've learned so much at the Mudcat!

Thanks for telling us a bit about him. Sure wish we could hear what you did.

Anyone else have any stories about Al?

Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 01:30 PM

Thanks for the try kat, but without recordings, I guess Al's great talent is just a memory for those of us who were there at the time. Bet there are a LOT of musicians who are in the same boat.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 02:14 PM

Maybe he's another of those folks we HAVE to write a sung about, to pass on the story.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: katlaughing
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 02:48 PM

Charley, that sounds liek a good idea.

Rick, who else do you know, who knew him, whom we could entice in here to add on to what you've given us? I relaly would like to know more about this guy.

Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: flattop
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 12:06 AM

You can find faint echoes of Al on the net.

http://home.eol.ca/~gnwind/porcupines.html http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/indexmus-bin/itemdisp/l=0/r=1/i=15469 http://www.northernjourney.com/cdnfolk/book/artist/hamm.ken.html http://home.golden.net/~dgomo/reviews.html http://www.coolname.com/pipermail/cdnfolk-mirror/2001-March/001373.html http://nmr359.uoregon.edu/~blues/digests/pre-Nov97/95/Oct95/BL1019 http://www.icomm.ca/ocff/folkprints98win.htm


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: flattop
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 01:16 AM

Well I messed those links up.

Tonight I went to Fat Albert's for the first time. Fat Albert's is an open stage in a church in Toronto that has been going since the 1960s. In the early 1970s I often visited a friend who lived four doors away from the church but, until tonight, I didn't know Fat Albert's was held in that church.

I was just going to check the place out but when I gave a guitar pick to a woman who forgot hers, Mary, the poet who ran the show and whose last name I didn't catch, asked to put me on the list. On a hunch, I asked if anyone knew Al Cromwell. Several hands went up and Mary later told me that she didn't know Al but that she had always enjoyed his performances.

The three guys also took the position that they didn't really know Al and that Al was private about his personal life but they had stories. I can't remember them and write them down at this hour.

One guy just happened to be visiting from Ottawa tonight. When he as about 12 years old, his brother hung around with Al and ran a nightclub in Yorkville called The Inn on the Parking Lot (Toronto has an upscale hotel called, The Inn on the Park.) This guy is considering sending me information as he remembers it. He was pleased that I triggered memories that he had forgotten.

A second guy gave me his phone number. He remembers Al from several clubs. The third guy had hearing problems and seemed to get confused.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 09:10 AM

I remember Al well. I'm touched by this thread because I never hear anyone speak of him anymore and I miss him. Al Cromwell and I were friends when we were both young folk singers plying our trade on the early Toronto folk scene. Al's musical partner then was Doug Bush, who was also my accompanist at that time. The two of them made beautiful harmonies together, and it was from them that I learned Cotton Eyed Joe as a ballad (which I have just recorded a capella on my new CD.) Al had a droll sense of humour, and though conversationally a man of few words, he expressed himself with great depth and passion through his music. If memory serves, he and Doug were on the bill for the first Mariposa in Orillia. I remember them arriving at my gig at the Village Corner in Toronto, full of excitement and flush with their success at the festival.

Once upon a time, I was walking up Jarvis Street in the middle of the night. (Don't ask me why. We did things like that in those days.) As I passed a big old house (which I knew as a residence for young actors like Colin Fox) I heard red-hot music. Out of a basement door Al came flying. He grabbed me and dragged me into what had turned into the Interval Club while I wasn't looking. He was terrifically excited to introduce me to his new friends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Several hours of them playing, Al playing, many of us taking a turn, ensued. Needless to say the fun lasted till way past dawn. After Josh White, Brownie became the greatest single influence on Al's work during that period of the Cromwellian evolution.

And out of that night, I got a steady gig singing folk songs one night a week in the nine-to-twelve spot at the Interval, warming up the house for the jazz guy who came on at midnight, until the room was sadly destroyed by fire some months later.

Footnote: I was playing the Interval while the house upstairs was in flames. None of us in the club, hidden away in the cellar, knew the building was falling down all around us. Finally, firemen came in and dragged us out. We continued to play on the front porch for a while. It seemed the romantic thing to do. I was probably nineteen at the time. Next day the Toronto Star had my photo on page one with the caption, "She fiddles while home burns." Just had to tell you that. One memory leads to another....

Does anyone know what became of Doug Bush?

The last time I saw Al, he had become quite respectable and was playing in the courtyard of the very upscale Lothian Mews. He had a good sound system and a rapt audience. I wasn't around for the window-washing phase.

Wherever you are, Al, God bless.

Balladeer


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 04:20 PM

Great!


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 05:35 PM

WoW! Thanks Balladeer and flattop!


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: flattop
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 12:20 AM

Hey, there is more to come. I have been busy and away three of the days since Rick started this thread.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 09:09 AM

Bravo! Thanks again kat for keepin' this going. Guess if ya hang in long enuff.......

Hey Baladeer, I used to do a LOT of that "night time walkin'" Also night time bike ridin'.

I've seen Dougie Bush three or four times over the last few years. P.M. me and I'll fill you in.

That club in Lothian Mews was called "Baffles" and I played there quite a bit, as did Al. Funny story: Dave Van Ronk was playing at the Isabella, and came over after his gig finished. I asked him to pick a couple of tunes, and he started off with a verrry indecent sailor's song. Dave was singing about Carnal variations when the owner (or manager) came over to me.."Get him off!! He's filthy!" the mamager sputtered. I tried to explain that he was a famous folk singer and no harm would be done, but the manager was irate. I don't exactly remember what happened next, but the world didn't end.

I hunted down an old tape I made years ago of Al from the "Toad in the Hole" pub...and like the radio show tapes there was a glitch. A high pitched whine ran through the whole damn thing.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 09:11 AM

Oops. Hi "Top" glad you saw this. Fat Albert's is quite something eh? I played there thirty years ago. A lot of music has gone on behind that non-descript door.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 10:47 AM

Hmmmm! Sounds like maybe Al sold his soul somewhere, which could account for those messed up tapes. Well, there are other explantions...;-)


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 07:10 PM

Ha Ha Charlie! Well he sure didn't sell it for money! His involvement with Scientology for a few years sure convinced a lot of folks that he wasn't using the money he had to good advantage though. It certainly didn't seem to make him happy.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: flattop
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 05:00 PM

One of the time that I went to see Al at Baffles, Peter O'Toole was in the audience. I knew Al but I didn't have a clue who Peter O'Toole was. The two women with me got excited. I told them to settle down, stop staring and give the guy a break.

Later, when I spotted O'Toole playing a drunk outside an apartment in an afternoon movie on TV, I said to myself, hey, that's they guy who was in Baffles.

Al told me that O'Toole would often come to hear him when O'Toole was shooting a movie in Canada. (They shoot quite a few movies in Canada. Our dollar is so low that we will do just about anything you might ask for nothing.)

Al told me that O'Toole would come to Baffles to drink and listen to music in the evening. Then O'Toole would go over to Al's apartment to drink after hours. Al was embarrassed by his apartment so he moved into a more upscale apartment to entertain O'Toole.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: Ebbie
Date: 07 Sep 10 - 12:46 AM

Welcome, Arin. There'll be other Mudcatters chiming in shortly, I've no doubt.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: PHJim
Date: 06 Feb 11 - 08:12 AM

Didn't Al attend the OCA, or at least he hung out with some students there. John Layton and a guy named Brian who played an Epiphone 12-string used to hang out with him. I seem to recall that he did make a 45 of Dylan's Don't Think Twice that got a bit of radio play. I know he attended Mariposa in Orilia and the one at Maple Leaf Stadium (1965?) but I don't recall him being on the programme.
He often played the Black Swan on Housten Street in Hamilton and |I think I saw him at The Happy Medium, also in Hamilton.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,M.T.
Date: 18 Apr 11 - 05:34 PM

I am so sorry to read about Al's passing.

I knew Al back in the late 70's, early 80's.
One day he came into my office and I noticed his cologne; a very sexy scent. I told him I really liked it and he stepped closer so I could get a good dose. The next time he stopped by he said" Hey, I just took a shower, do you want to smell me?" And I laughed and obliged. Every time he came by it was the same story. This became our own private joke. I miss this scent, it was perfect for him.

The first time I met him he was playing somewhere in a bar, small place somewhere downtown Toronto, must have been 1977, Fall. I didn't know he knew my husband and, after finishing his music, he came over to our table and said hello. I( coming from a very small town and not being exposed to celebrities ) was very impressed and touched that the musician would actually come over during his break and chat.

We both miss him.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Lisa
Date: 26 Jul 11 - 02:46 PM

Hi Rick,
My name Lisa i am the girl you talked to years ago in search of my Dad Al....yes it came as quite a blow to find out he had passed i am so sorry i missed being apart of his life
I have been fortunate enough to meet many of his friends and my half sister Arin......i browse on the computer from time to time looking for info about Al ,from all i have learned he was quite a character
I also have pictures of him and a tape that was done at the Bow and Arrow that i have copied on to CD....as i have i have been very fortunate to have met so many kind people He seemed to have a large circle of friends and i sense he was loved by many and missed by all
I never knew him but i miss him as well

u can email me and fairygrl_6@yahoo.ca

thanxs Rick Lisa


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: PHJim
Date: 26 Jul 11 - 08:57 PM

Lisa,
Sorry to inform you that Rick passed away on March 20th, 2004.

Your dad was one of my introductions to folk music. I first saw him in about 1960 at The Black Swan in Hamilton. I recall him playing a Gibson J-50 with no pick-guard. I immediately became a fan.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Lisa
Date: 27 Jul 11 - 09:21 AM

Jim,
    My goodness,im sorry to hear about Ricks passing...thank you for informing me,i talked with RIck on a few occasions and he was very helpful with giving numbers and such to connect me with my Dads friends.....
I met guite a few of them down at the Grossmans where i recieved some tapes and pics of Al
Thank you again for letting me know about Rick and your connection with my Dad
               
    Warm Regards Lisa


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Lisa
Date: 27 Jul 11 - 04:27 PM

If there is anyone who can share more momories of Al...i would be so appreciative.....please let this site continue...i'm sure i have enough to create a page in tribute to him.....
please email me    fairygrl_6@yahoo.ca

thanxs so much...friends of Al


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,scott shropshire
Date: 27 Nov 11 - 01:37 AM

rick. i would like to talk to you about al.scott shropshire


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Jim Bush
Date: 16 Feb 12 - 11:45 AM

Hi all,   I am Doug's cousin from St. catharines , Ont. I am in search of him since last seeing him in 2000 when his mom passed away. Last i heard of him was in the Meaford area living with a woman named Heli, don't know her last name. Doug's son who is in his 40's and I am in a search for him also. I am told that if a person has passed away, there is a paper trail for that person, but there is no paper trail for Doug, so he is still with us. He is out there somewhere and it seems ther are a lot of people in search for him. IF anyone knows anything, please contact me at jbkj99@hotmail or call me at 519-330-3528. Thanks for letting me bend your ear on this matter. Jim


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Danny McGrath
Date: 18 Apr 12 - 05:34 PM

In my collection of stuff, I have a 3rd Annual Mariposa schedule for August 9, 10, 11 of 1963.
In the guide on page 3 is a bio. of Al.
"A Maritimer from Finney's Cove, Nova Scotia - Al from a very early age was surrounded by a wealth of spirituals, blues and folksongs that his father passed on to him.
With this as a source of material, Al sang with many diversified groups trying each medium of song expression. However, it was not until he had lived in Toronto for two years that he decided it was the folk idiom that seemed to satisfy him most. He began to sing in the various folk clubs in Toronto accompanied by a guitarist.
Al ventured out on his own and while learning to play the guitar, such artists as Jimmy Rushing, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Paul Robson made a marked impression upon Al. Since then he has developed a very distinct style of his own, concentrating on blues, English ballads, spirituals and work songs."


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,larry and valerie densmore
Date: 01 Mar 15 - 12:36 AM

I remember the Mariposa booklet in which Al was headlined. On the same pages were Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot and other notable contemporaries. He was proud of this but there was a sense of sadness in his voice. I don't wish or feel that I need to defend or apologize for being a Scientologist (re: Rick's statement, who I admire as a person and singer/songwriter)but that's where I first met Al - at a Church event. Al was kind and generous and gentle. He performed at several benefit concerts, one being at the Latvian Centre where I was the stage manager. He played often at Caps on Sherbourne. He was a practitioner of Tai Kwon Doh. He had a Guild D-28 which I had purchased with the agreement he could repurchase. However, he quickly obtained in a matter of a few weeks a nicely hand crafted guitar with distinct, clear sound and a cedar top. He stayed for a few months on the couch in our apartment when we lived Queen/Lansdowne. He had lock-jaw. My wife Valerie spoon-fed him during this time. I was saddened that Al couldn't stay with us longer. He brought a light into our lives. I hope he knows this.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: PHJim
Date: 18 Dec 15 - 11:41 PM

Al Cromwell: Al's Blues (Trad)
Grossman's Live: Spadina Beat Records – WRC1-5490

Anyone have this record?


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Lesley (Dalrymple) O'Neil
Date: 08 Jan 17 - 02:10 PM

No, Al didn't go to OCA that I know of, but I did, from 60 through 64. I knew John Layton, too (son of pro wrestler 'Lord Sthol Layton' but cannot place who Brian might be. Perhaps after I left. Lots of memories of Al from his Bohemian Embassy days!


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST,Rencor
Date: 08 Apr 17 - 03:47 PM

I got some old pics of him in his early days of playing.


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Subject: RE: Al Cromwell, any memories?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Dec 17 - 09:00 PM

He had the sweetest soulful yet delicate voice of all. His version of Follow the Drinking Gourd was an all encompassing epic. Sexy with great sense of humor.


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