Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Roz and Howard Larman: A Letter of Reminiscence and Gratitude on the Passing of Roz Larman

Though not professional musicians themselves, Roz and Howard Larman and their Folkscene Radio Program (http://www.folkscene.com), which has continued on the airwaves for well over forty years (as well as on the internet in more recent years), had a profound effect on many thousands of musicians. Many of my "Facebook friends" have known the Larmans, and many have performed on their radio show. The gentle, but irrepressible, Howard and Roz Larman are truly irreplaceable. Below is the letter that I sent to Roz and the Larman family when Howard passed in 2009; it has been modified only slightly to acknowledge Roz's passing as well.

Dear Allen Larman and family:

My wife and I send our deepest condolences.

Just this morning (2009) I was searching to see if Mark Spoelstra had put up a myspace page so that I could "befriend" him, and I discovered that he had passed away in February. He was a significant inspiration to me; I not only bought a twelve-string so that I could learn to play it like him, but my decision to turn in my draft card and refuse induction during the Vietnam War was, in part, due to his example. Along with Phil Ochs, he was one of my musical idols. I had the chance to see him and spend some time talking to him in 1970 and again last year (after 36 years) in Claremont. I was grateful to have a chance to tell him what an inspiration he had been and to congratulate him on his return to performing.

Now, later the same day I find that Howard, too, has moved on, and though I know that many thousands of musicians have continuously made it clear what an inspiration and joy you and Howard have brought to their lives, I regret that I never adequately shared what a huge impact he and you have had on my life.

I quit teaching to attempt to play music in 1974. I played the local hoots at the Golden Bear, McCabe's, The Troubadour. I had gotten to the point where I could call up the Troubadour and not have to wait in line. After a series of unpaid gigs at The Ice House (it was Bob Stane's way), I finally got a couple of gigs doing the opening set. I was a semi-regular at The White House and UC Riverside's Barn, and a regular at The Penny University. Through all of that, my biggest goal was to get on Folkscene. I had listened to both Les Claypool and Skip Weshner, and a little later, John Davis, and they had introduced me to those great, out of the mainstream players like Bert Jansch, Pat Sky, and Steve Gillette. But when the Larmans began their Folkscene in 1970, folk music in LA truly blossomed: here was a couple with inexhaustible knowledge, unquenchable enthusiasm, and eclectic taste similar to my own (I still own about 6000 vinyl LP's, mostly solo acoustic songwriters). Suddenly, the opportunity to hear great live performances by singer-songwriters, both obscure and well-known, was simply amazing. 

Howard's wonderful, gentle presence in his interviews was unmatched, and you could tell it in the comfort with which each week's guest spoke and performed. I still cherish the remembrance of shows you had with Danny O'Keefe, Casey Kelly, Jesse Colin Young, Jim Post—amazing performances that would have never been heard elsewhere.

Then, in 1976, you coordinated the KPFK music festival fundraiser. In the off-chance that you might be willing to consider a complete unknown, I went down to the studio and auditioned. You were both very gracious. Having not done many sit down, office auditions, I played a couple of my best tunes, as well as a pastiche of Mike Nesmith's Joanne (Rodan) the opening line of which I had heard him play on Folkscene a few months earlier. Then, and I don't know why, I played a brand-new song. As soon as I finished, you, Roz, pointed out that the melody was extremely reminiscent of Steve Fromholz's "Dear Darcy," which, of course, it was. At that time, I doubt if even a handful of folk radio hosts would have recognized the source, but you nailed it.

Although I still like my lyrics, I have never found a suitable alternative to the quirky Fromholz turns, so I've never performed it again. Despite my glaring musical faux pas, you not only booked me for the KPFK fair, but you also asked me to come back and record an interview for the show. That radio show and my subsequent performance on the main stage of the festival, in front of four or five thousand people and just before another of my idols, John Hartford, performed, was a personal and professional highlight of a very brief, semi-serious musical career. Within a year, nearly all of the major LA venues had gone rock (Troubadour, Golden Bear), comedy (Ice House), disco (Penny U), or simply folded. I scampered back to teaching, none the worse for wear. Although I did nothing significant with the opportunity you afforded me, I am still eternally grateful for the shot that you gave me.

None of that begins to capture what was so marvelous about Howard's and your graciousness and generosity. You folks offered another of the major highlights of my brushes with fame. Having only met you those two times, and after not seeing you for two or three years, I and my wife were at the Roxy to see Townes Van Zandt. Diane Davidson and Tracy Nelson were also on the bill. I saw you folks there, and I walked over to reintroduce myself and tell you what a great inspiration you and your show continued to be, but before I could say anything, Howard reached out his hand and said, "Tim McMullen, nice to see you again." It had truly been years, and as far as the number of musicians with whom you had daily contact, I found his and your recollection of me from a fleeting forty or fifty-minute interview years earlier to be nothing short of astounding. After we spoke for a few minutes, Howard asked if I had met Townes. Van Zandt, like Ochs and Spoelstra, was one of my musical idols. I had been a fan for ten years, but I had never seen him perform. You folks said, "Come on in and meet him," then proceeded to take my wife and I back to the green room. You guys left after a few minutes, but Townes and I talked for twenty or thirty minutes before his set, and he invited us to stick around afterwards to talk a little more. The next night I came back to the Roxy and spent a couple more hours talking to him. I have you to thank for that experience.

Through the years we have seen you at various events, most recently, though several years ago, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen at Caltech, and Bonnie Raitt and Paul Brady at a local college (can't remember which one—we were actually dining with Paul and Dillon O'Brien that night, so I paid less attention to the venue). Despite the flurry of musicians around you two, you were still gracious in recognizing and acknowledging us.

I realize that this was very long winded, but I wanted to share with you the importance that you have had for someone like me with whom you have had such minimal contact and yet upon whom you have had such a profound effect. I am only sorry that I could not have shared with you and Howard what you have meant to me through all these years. I hope you know that there are many thousands of others whose lives you have touched in a truly meaningful way.

My heartfelt condolences to Allen, to Peter, and other family and friends. Howard and Roz Larman's professional greatness and their personal goodness will soon convert grief to joy in remembrance of the meaningful but fleeting encounters that I had with both Howard and Roz; I trust the same is true a hundred-fold for the family and friends who knew them well.

Deepest regards,
Tim McMullen