For the past 50 years, the German emigré Chris Strachwitz has been roaming the U.S., recording folk and ethnic musicians who were only known in regional circles — if that.
Those musicians would include Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez and Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, who introduced Strachwitz to his cousin, zydeco great Clifton Chenier.
The story of Strachwitz and his Bay Area label, Arhoolie Records, is told in the new documentary, "This Ain't No Mouse Music." The title refers to Strachwitz's disdain for music that he says is "inauthentic and wimpy." He's only interested in "music with guts."
Strachwitz worked with Les Blank on many of the late filmmaker's music documentaries such as "The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins" and "Chulas Fronteras," about Tex-Mex border music. That work went hand-in-hand with Strachwitz's vision for his label. (One of Blank's former partners, Maureen Gosling, is the co-director, with Chris Simon, of "Mouse Music.")
In the film, Strachwitz talks about his exposure to American folk and ethnic music after he moved to the U.S. as a teen:
Almost every morning when I woke up I'd turn on the radio and I'd listen to hillbilly music, Mexican music, gospel. I was always considered a weirdo. To me, [the music] just spoke...I just felt there was so much soul.
Strachwitz also talks about the artists he's worked with over the years.
The people I recorded, they were not amateurs. They were actually more professional than most of the people who are being recorded nowadays. People like Mance Lipscomb. He was a songster from Navasota [Texas] who had pretty much the entire body of material of rural black traditional music in his head. He knew ballads, blues, spirituals, children's songs, popular songs — you name it. And he'd been playing music pretty much all his life. He didn't make a living from it. He was a sharecropper most of his life — a pretty tough life.
"This Ain't No Mouse Music" screens Oct. 1-9 at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles.