Postscript: An authentic cowboy crooner, straight from the wilds of NH | Guest columns


Missing among the entertainment notables whose death in 2021 received the proper ink in publications, both print and online, was a folk singer and songwriter who has performed here often and whose death begins December was hardly noticed.

Bill Staines died on December 5 in his home state of New Hampshire after living for years with prostate cancer. He was 74 years old.

If you don’t know his music, you haven’t listened. “The Roseville Fair”, “A Place in the Choir”, “Music to Me”, “My Sweet Wyoming Home”, “Child of Mine”, “Old Dogs” and, although I have long loved “The Roseville Fair “I would say what is probably his most poignant and lifecycle concert,” River “.

If you’ve never seen him live, you haven’t gone out enough. He did everything to come to you. He regularly performed over 200 dates a year. He performed at the former Westerly Center of the Arts in what has become the Chorus of Westerly building. He has performed Friday Night Folk at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London on numerous occasions. And then there was a memorable afternoon house concert in a technically first-rate music barn in Lyme, Conn.

He has performed and toured for 57 years, traveling literally millions of miles on the road and performing virtually everywhere. He had a soft spot for Alaska.

In 2015, Yankee Magazine ran a special edition that named Bill Staines as one of 80 freebies New England gave America.

Mel Allen, editor of Yankee, and I share an affection for Staines.

Here’s what Allen had to say in this 2015 edition:

“Bill Staines was tall and thin; he wore a cowboy hat with jeans and boots, and his songs were like short stories wrapped in singing melodies. They stayed with you like fragments of dreams. Many of his contemporaries wrote songs with a sharp edge; hers were rounded, smooth. He sang about the country he had already crossed several times since his debut in the 60s.

“He has been called Boston’s Most Engaging Artist. He was a national champion yodeler, for one thing – without a doubt the first one who was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts. Famous singers covered his incredibly sweet and romantic “Foire de Roseville”, which he wrote after seeing two young people dancing by campfire at a small town folk festival. He sang of the meadows, the mountains and the rivers. A Houston Post music critic lamented, “He’s a New Englander… and to hell with his soul, he writes better cowboy songs than anyone in the Southwest.” “

Fathers and sons traditionally bond at sporting events, a boy’s first game in a big league, the first admiration at a crowded stadium or, maybe, that first “Star Wars” movie.

My son and I, although veterans of the sporting ritual, better remember going to a Staines concert in New London together. We’re still talking about it, and it was my son, Sam, who lives in Portsmouth, NH, who told me of Staines’ death. News has circulated up there. I hadn’t seen a notice anywhere.

Obviously, I mourn his disappearance.

I knew Staines songs before I knew him. It was on an evening folklore show decades ago on WRIU 90.3 FM, from the University of Rhode Island campus, that I first heard “The Roseville Fair” sung by Nanci Griffith. , also died last year. Staines liked to present this song by saying that he was about falling in love and staying in love.

In the tradition of Elizabeth Cotten, Staines, who was left-handed, learned to play the guitar backwards.

On a temperate afternoon in December 2001, Staines, who had driven from his home in Rollinsford, New Hampshire to the Lyme Hills, gave what was once called a Home Concert, an intimate setting among can -be a few dozen guests. , a perfect place for folk music.

This particular place, a barn, on the property of Tom Neff and Lyndon Haviland on Grassy Hill Road, was built by DeCiantis Construction of Stonington, a 28 foot by 38 foot structure, furnished with 150 year old barn wood, dual system heaters, hanging fans, and a pole-and-beam construction design that renders sound with warm clarity rather than a barnyard scream. The capacity was 75 people.

The couple had their elegant 12 foot tree adorned with pheasant feathers, plenty of festive cookies, fresh cider and other drinkable drinks and, just for us, the guests, Bill Staines for entertainment.

Staines’ voice had a timbre of fire and ember that shielded the spell in the room from the fading light of a Sunday afternoon outside. He played for an hour and a half. When he was done, no one was quick to leave.

So I say goodbye to him, and I want to do it like Mel Allen did in his Yankee play, citing Staines’ song, “River”:

One day when the flowers are still blooming

A day when the grass will still be green

My rippling waters will round the bend

And sink into the open sea

So here’s the rainbow that followed me here

And here are the friends that I know

And here’s the song that’s in me now

I will sing it wherever I go.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime journalist and columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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