(Liner Notes by Alexei Panshin)
Josh Wachtel came into the Wagonwheel one evening when he was playing and set his guitar down. "I've thought of a name for the band."
There was no band then, just Josh and me and something we were working on. Josh had returned home from teaching with the Peace Corps in Romania with ideas in his head about the music he wanted to play. But the groups he joined or tried to organize quickly fell apart when he asked them to get serious. Not quite sure which way to turn, he'd asked me to give him a hand.
"What is it you're aiming for?" I said.
"I want to play all kinds of music and to keep things going."
So we'd set out to make that happen.
We began by collecting a wide variety of songs from the last hundred years or so, wherever we could find one truthful, observant, funny or catchy enough. Never mind the style. And Josh worked on learning to sing and play them all whether it was just him and a dream on stage or the band he wanted to put together.
So that night I asked him, "What's the name of the band going to be?"
"'Radio Free Earth.'"
"That will give you something to live up to," I said.
In 2000, Josh brought a full band to Musikfest, the ten-day musical marathon held each year in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
But then Josh moved from Dark Hollow to San Diego to study Aikido, the subtle martial art, with Chiba Sensei, his Aikido teacher's Aikido teacher.
While it was based in San Diego, Radio Free Earth was Josh, his new wife Kim and bass player Joe Hutchinson.
Kim is an art teacher, painter and photographer who turned out to be a singer as well. She remembers listening to Joni Mitchell in her highchair, and grew up listening to Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Sinead O'Connor and world music.
Josh earned his black belt in Aikido in the spring of 2005. And at the end of the school year, he and Kim moved back East to Massachusetts to build a barn.
I said to them, "You know, Radio Free Earth could be a full band again at Musikfest this year. Josh's brother can play keyboards, and you can ask Mike Stanley to play guitar and Matt Koch to play bass. They're sure to know a drummer."
Mike was Josh's guitar teacher and I've known Matt for twenty years or so. They're real players and I knew they could pick the music up fast.
It turned out that Mike and Matt were playing together now with drummer Allen Heppe as Two Scruffs and a Neat Guy. And they and Brother Ben were glad to join Josh and Kim to be Radio Free Earth for the day.
"Just what kind of music is this, anyway?" Mike asked.
It was August 13, the hottest day of the summer, and the band was cooling off between sets at Musikfest. It was 103 degrees on Main Street, and Josh and Kim had been performing in direct sunlight for an hour with the audience across the street finding refuge in whatever patches of shade they could find.
Mike said, "I think it's neo-folk."
He had something there. In folk music, it's the song that matters. And what is now known as folk drew music together from a wide variety of sources -- old ballads, blues, work songs, prison songs, protest songs, songs sung at camp and on the front porch -- and called them all by one name.
But folk music isn't usually played with an electric guitar, piano and drums. And the music that Radio Free Earth had just been playing included a standard, r&b, rock'n'roll, reggae and country as well as original songs.
Josh said, "We call it crossover music. It's music where everybody gets a chance to play and you play nothing but the good stuff."
Mike said, "A lot of bands play crossover music."
"Maybe for a song or two," I said. "Not as a principle."
Matt Koch spoke up. I knew he'd gotten flack for daring to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with a bluegrass band.
He said, "At a bluegrass festival, if they drew up a list of thirty core songs and made every band include at least four of them, the fans would think it was the best festival they'd ever been to."
"Then why do you play at bluegrass festivals?"
"Because of the music the musicians play when we get together after hours."
"Well, we're bringing that music out front."
"In that case," Mike Stanley said, "we're a song short for the third set. How about this?"
And he began to pick out a song on his guitar. It was the classic surf instrumental "Pipeline." Radio Free Earth has never had a song like that in its repertoire.
"That's the spirit," we said.
AND DONâ€™T FORGET IT! is a record of the music that Radio Free Earth played on that hot Saturday at Musikfest.
Radio Free Earth has two other CDs -- CROSSOVER and FORTUNE AND DEATH.
ABOUT THE SONGS
Radio Free Earth Is Our Name
Broadcasting nothing but the good stuff. The roots of our theme song go back to Bonnie and Clyde's favorite band, the great Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies.
Everybody hey dee hey! We got this song from Roy Loney who first did it with The Flamin' Groovies.
Can't Take Any More
We've had it with all that scuzzy behavior. We're fed up. How about you?
Under a Stormy Sky
Leaving the farm for the big city. Time for one last dance. Daniel Lanois wrote this, and we added just a little bit from the Holy Modal Rounders.
Since I Fell for You
The dog said he loved me and now he won't be seen with me. That's got to hurt. Dinah Washington did this in the Forties and Lenny Welch had a great version of it in the Sixties.
Stone Cold Dead in the Market
Sometimes it takes a rolling pin upside the head to get a man's attention. This calypso song by Wilmoth Houdini was a hit for Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald.
All Right Blues
Seems like everything is falling apart right now but eventually things have to get better. Don't they?
Piney Wood Hills
Home is where the heart is. Kim loves this Buffy Ste. Marie song.
Wanderin' in the Dark
What are you doing all alone there in the dark on a nice day like this when you could be outside playing?
Blue Moon of Kentucky
The story goes that some refugees from Jamaica washed ashore in Tennessee and started the Nashville Jug Band. This is their reggae version of the native music.
Something's gonna happen and you're looking forward to it. You don't know if you can handle it, but you're sure gonna try.
All God's Angels
Follow the angels. Do what you love. Be what you love.
This is Stoney Edwards' memory of the way things used to be and aren't any more. Where did it all go?
That's Mike Stanley on guitar playing lead on a rousing version of the classic Sixties surf instrumental.
Well Well Well
Some things are beyond price. Bob Dylan started this, Danny O'Keefe completed the song and made it what it is. We heard it from string wizard David Lindley who played it on a bowed joombush.
What's a lifetime for?
Check out the artist's website:
1. Radio Free Earth Is Our Name
2. Doctor Boogie
3. Can't Take Any More
4. Under a Stormy Sky
5. Since I Fell for You
6. Stone Cold Dead in the Market
7. All Right Blues
8. Piney Wood Hills
9. Wanderin' in the Dark
10. Blue Moon of Kentucky
11. Mardi Gras
12. All God's Angels
13. Pickin' Wildflowers
15. Well Well Well
16. Ancient Whispers