Cootie Stark was an incredible Piedmont blues singer and guitarist whose repertoire harkened back to his youth, when he learned his music from the legendary Baby Tate. Cootie was the only fellow I have known that regularly traveled by Greyhound to visit me. When we did not have shows, Cootie would call me up to pick him up from the bus station in Durham. He loved staying with us; he enjoyed the meals, and most of all sitting in the studio and recording and listening to his music. . After over 50 years of playing street corners and having many disappointments in his musical career, he just loved to sit back and enjoy his life’s work.
When Cootie was in town, invariably fellow Music Maker artists would come by to just to hang out. Everyone just loved the man, and many informal jam sessions occurred.
One Christmas Cootie was visiting, and I went over to the studio and found Captain Luke, Cool John Ferguson, Macavine Hayes, Whistlin’ Britches and John Dee Holeman all sitting around working on a jar of moonshine that Captain had brought over.
On a lark I proposed we record a Christmas record. Within minutes Cootie picked up his guitar and began to sing, everyone else fell in behind. If they did not know the words, they made some up, if one got tired of that song, they would sing another, at the same time, parallel melodies, times, at first it seemed jarring, then after a minute, it all made sense. The group was happy, a song ended and they would go again. When a religious song was sung, Macavine would begin to cry, tears of faith drenching his shirt. The rough-hewn heart-felt harmonies kept me in the moment. All these guys lived moment to moment, acutely aware of who they were, what a blessing it was to be alive, together, doing what they loved, and celebrating the holiday with a true open heart.
Luckily I got most of this on tape and you can hear much of this on Christmas with Cootie.