Folk Arts Rare Records owner Lou Curtiss was recently awarded $35,128 by the Grammy Foundation Grant Program to preserve 400 tapes of concert performances.
"It only covers a fraction of my collection, but it's a start," he says. "I got my first reel-to-reel recorder in 1957, and I have over 8000 reels of live shows." The Grammy Foundation this year awarded a total of $650,000 to 18 recipients; the money will be used to preserve music and for research projects. The UCLA Library and the Library of Congress will be digital repositories for copies of Curtiss's tapes.
"I taped all 20 years of the San Diego Folk Festival," says Curtiss, referring to the annual event he launched at SDSU in 1967, "and a lot of Adams Avenue Roots Festivals. The local events go all the way back to the early '60s, with guys like Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and a Big Joe Williams concert I taped around 1960.... Aside from what I taped, I've acquired several collections, including one from a guy who used to follow the Duke Ellington Band and tape them in the '50s."
Curtiss says it's been a challenge to choose which 400 tapes to preserve. However, the oldest tapes aren't his biggest concern.
"The stuff from the '60s and '70s on their original reels hasn't deteriorated much. It's the tapes from the '80s that are fading [because] they were using inferior-quality components. Those are the recordings that need to be saved before they're gone forever."