THE SKY ABOVE, THE MUD BELOW.
Tom added his perspective on the camaraderie that developed as the tour progressed: "I think, as I recall, that all happened naturally. Back then, unlike now, musicians hung out a lot more and jammed and swapped songs in motel rooms. That world is sort of gone. It seemed to die with people like Guy Clark," Tom said. "We seem to be islands now. We bump into each other from time to time. (We're) troubadours on the road."
Dave Alvin recalls: "Chris Smither is so self-contained. All his guitar parts are so perfectly worked out because he is used to playing unaccompanied. It was very intimidating to follow Chris when we were all playing our own songs - just because he is just so friggin' good."
Chris recalled that the performers adjusted to each other quickly. "As I remember, there was no rehearsal at all, but things came together pretty well right from the get-go, and got better as the tour progressed," he said. "The more familiar we got with the material, the more adventurous we would get."
That adventurous spirit was demonstrated in a train medley that featured all four singers and served as the finale for each show. The medley began with THE WABASH CANNONBALL and, as the tour progressed, grew to include Chuck Berry's THE PROMISED LAND, Lead Belly's ROCK ISLAND LINE, plus WRECK OF THE OLD 97 and Woody Guthrie's GRAND COULEE DAM.
After the tour, the performers continued to collaborate. Both Dave and Tom sang on Ramblin' Jack's 1999 album The Long Ride, and contributed liner notes. Dave and Chris performed together on the Avalon Blues tour in 2003 and have done occasional shows together, as have Dave and Tom.
Aiyana Elliott, daughter of Ramblin' Jack, filmed part of the tour at the Bottom Line in New York City, and included excerpts in The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, her 2000 documentary that won four awards at film festivals across the United States.
Mark Pucci, who saw the Bottom Line show, recalls it was a special evening. "I remember it was a wonderful night at the Bottom Line, with a packed house loving every minute of it."
Twenty years later, Chris offered a memory of the tour that still sticks in his mind: "One of my most vivid memories is Jack Elliott being surprised that we didn't want to go out partying after every show. As long as he'd been in the business, he'd never done a tour that was night after night like that one. He learned pretty quickly, though."
The Monsters of Folk has proved to be a one-time affair, but the memories remain for the performers and those who were in attendance. Changing times in the music business have prevented a sequel, according to Chris and Tom. Chris: "The subject has come up from time to time, but never progressed past that point. It's the sort of thing that requires someone outside of the group to take charge and organize."
Tom: "It's a lot harder to pull off now without the sponsorship of a record label. HighTone and Larry Sloven were very supportive of that tour, and that makes a difference. There's so many expenses it would be hard to do now. I'm heading more and more towards solo concerts." --AM