Lou and Virginia Curtiss in front of their old India Street location in Five Points.
Yale Strom first learned of Lou Curtiss back in the 1970s. He attended the folk festivals that Curtiss held annually at San Diego State University. Strom’s father encouraged Yale to ditch high school to attend these events. The elder Strom instructed his son that “it is well worth missing your classes to go to these amazing concerts.”
The education that Strom received at those concerts played a role in shaping his future. He eventually became a musician — a violinist who specialized in klezmer music.
“I really felt I made it here in San Diego when one day eight or nine years ago I was in [Curtiss’s] store, Folk Art Rare Records, on Adams and we were chewing the fat,” Strom explained. “I went back to the Eastern European section to see if anything new came in. Sometimes there was some interesting stuff. And then I saw the first album I had put out! I said, ‘Lou, I made it! I’m in your record store! Someone no longer wanted to listen to it, but they didn’t just want to throw it away!’”
Married musician/filmmakers Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom want to tell the late Lou Curtiss’s story.
Besides being a professional musician, Strom is a professor, an artist-in-residence at San Diego State University, and a filmmaker. He was wrapping up production on a documentary about Eugene Victor Debs, an American socialist and political activist who died in 1926, when he began to brainstorm ideas for a new film. A friend of Strom’s had completed a short story on Curtiss for NPR’s California Report, and Strom decided that “Lou deserves more than just a ten-minute podcast.”
The Lou Curtiss documentary would be his next project. One of the first shoots would be the closing day of Folk Arts Rare Records in 2014. “There were some concerts outside,” Strom explained. “Gregory Page was there. Lou and his wife Virginia Curtiss were playing some music. Lou played the autoharp and some guitar, and his wife played guitar, and they were playing the old-timey music.”
Curtiss passed away in 2018 at the age of 79. Strom and his wife Elizabeth Schwartz were lucky to tape interviews with him before he passed. “We’re gonna be able to let Lou tell his own story, posthumously,” Schwartz explained.
Schwartz added that they have “all this amazing archival footage and interviews with extraordinary people who were shaped as artists by Lou. I like to think of them as the crayons in the coloring book. They’ll be able to do some commentary, but Lou’s gonna tell his own story.”
The film will also include pics and video from Curtiss’s folk festivals over the years, and audio from them as well. “The backdrop of this film will be an exploration of the history of folk music in San Diego from the 60s onward. So, there are a lot of people who are really rich subjects for that,” Strom added.
The pair are hoping to complete Recordially Yours: The Lou Curtiss Story by 2021. Most of the key interviews are done, but some, such as Curtiss’s sisters, remain. The filmmakers are lucky to have San Diego Folk Heritage as a non-profit sponsor.
Interested parties can donate directly to the charity to support the film. “We hope that all San Diegans who knew Lou or know of the folk festival or the Adams Roots Festival can pitch in,” Strom explained. “It’s not a huge budget, but if we get 1000 people to give ten bucks each we’re doing pretty well.”