He Knew All the Songs
The Sorry Muthas, Circa 1970, Photo: Jerry Mat
When I was just a lad, I would play fractured blues and proto-punk rock music in the band "The Others". We were OK, but we were dimly aware of a whole world of music beyond the scope of AM radio. We intently studied Bob Dylan's music and we knew that he had played at a Minneapolis coffeehouse - "The Scholar". The Scholar Bob had played had, by then, been converted to a pizza cafe, but its name (and its spirit) had moved across the Mississippi river to the "West Bank" which was then becoming a hangout for drop-outs, hippies and folk musicians. The cover charge was 50 cents (except when Leo Kottke played- when it was a dollar!) and there were seldom more than a dozen people in the audience. We'd sip our hot honey-lemonades and get a couple of hours of entertainment and refreshment for 2 or 3 dollars.
An act which played there often was called "The Sorry Muthas", a jug band which knew tons of obscure folk songs. One of its stalwarts was Bill Hinkley (center in above picture), who became the gentle giant of the Minneapolis folk scene. He died yesterday, in hospice, surrounded by his musical friends, singing and playing when he was able, still giving little histories about the songs, still being Bill. His work as a teacher touched hundreds of aspiring musicians, his performances (usually with his long time partner Judy Larson) could happen anywhere- I was once bicycling in my neighborhood (20 miles from the West Bank) and came across a wedding in progress- Bill and Judy were playing. The last time I saw Bill and Judy play was at a sales event at an outdoor equipment store on the West Bank:
I'll let a better writer write his obituary (scroll down for slide show and audio clips).