The show's origins
The naming of the show
The program was called 'Touchstone' by Dennis Cox, the first host of the show and it premiered on the first Saturday morning after FM broadcasting began in February 1985.
Dennis named the show after the North Carolina-based celtic group 'Touchstone', because his brother-in-law Otis Tomas, a luthier based in St. Peter's, Cape Breton, knew them and had composed a fiddle tune called 'The New Land' on one of Touchstone's albums. Having transplanted himself from the USA, it was a homage to his 'new land'.
Dennis and his wife Lori were folk performers from the USA. Dennis had worked at the famous Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York State, where he had seen and befriended among others, Mississippi John Hurt.
Dennis and Lori both released an album called 'The Welcome Table' which was later re-released on cassette as well. They had migrated from New York State to northern Cape Breton, where they homesteaded for a number of years and raised a family. Dennis led whale-watching tours from Cape North and fished lobster.
In the mid-80's, Lori decided to renew her academic life and they moved to Halifax. They performed occasionally and Dennis taught guitar. CKDU's program director had met Dennis and asked him to start a folk music program, which of course he did.
Dennis hosted for 2-3 months and when he had to return to his seasonal work in Cape Breton, he passed the program to a friend of his, Jaimie Moreira, who he'd met at Harbour Folk Society events.
Jaimie hosted the show for roughly the same time as Dennis and kept the name 'Touchstone' for the program. I listened to the program just as avidly as when Dennis hosted the show, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Jaimie was a fine guitarist and folk performer. He particularly helped my appreciation of Archie Fisher and Gordon Bok, by performing their music at Harbour Folk Society events, and playing their music on the show. Jaimie was already studying folklore at Memorial University, Newfoundland, when he took over the show from Dennis in the Spring of 1985.
He returned to Memorial later that year (in 1985) and eventually received his Masters and PhD in folklore, and was (and probably still is), excited to be Director of the Maine Folklife Center and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maine in Orono. Congratulations Jaimie for getting the well-deserved 'dream job'.
Dennis, Jaimie and I were friends and still are although we rarely see each other these days. I have a lot of respect for them both, not just musically, but for their knowledge of the music and of their open-hearted willingness to share it.
Passing on the torch
When Jaimie became too busy to continue hosting the show in July 1985, he offered me the chance of doing the program. I took time to consider it, because I didn't think I had the knowledge or smarts to host a folk radio show and I'd never even spoken into a microphone before.
However, I jumped in and its since become part of my very being, an extension of who I am, and a 'touchstone' of stability through some emotional and financial turmoils.
My first program aired on Saturday July 13, 1985 and I have hosted 'Touchstone' ever since. It's been a habit I can't seem to break an extremely satisfying weekly challenge of playing an eclectic mix of folk styles from recordings, and to have a medium in which I can ask people to talk about themselves and their music.
It's fun to learn by exposure, and to pass it on my nature which likes sentiment, history, music and curiosity has been basking in the Sun.
My folk origins
A Man of Kent or a Kentish Man?
I grew up in Kent, England -- an hour's drive south of London in what is called the Garden of England, in a town called Tunbridge Wells the only town in England to have the title of 'Royal'.
The first folk music I heard was through my brother Mike, and occasionally some selections that BBC chose to air on radio.
My brother Mike
My brother was 4 years older, headstrong, played guitar, went to art School and came back on weekends. He had a couple of Ramblin' Jack Elliot records (recorded in London), and the first record that Bert Jansch and John Renbourne ever made, on which they played as a duo.
Hearing that music and Mike playing his folk-influenced guitar licks, influenced me a lot as a 14-15 year-old. And he opened my ears to Django Reinhardt and Chet Atkins too — not purposefully, but more by just being exposed to their recordings.
I remember a few years later and in my late teens, listening to Radio Luxembourg to hear Stephane Grapelli's weekly radio show, which featured music he'd recorded with Django.
Mike and Ramblin' Jack and Keith
Mike took Technical Illustration at Sidcup Art School.
Keith Richards took Commercial Art there at the same time. When I went there four years later in 1962, the 'Stones version of 'Come On' by Chuck Berry was played a lot on a turntable in the canteen. It was their first single and they'd just been discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham, playing at weekend dances in Richmond, Surrey, not far away.
Mike had seen Jack Elliott play live at a few places around Sidcup. This, together with Mike's repeated playing of Jack's guitar riff from 'Cocaine Blues' (which he'd learned from Rev. Gary Davis), meant that I heard the riff a lot on weekends.
Keith heard him play it at art school too, because he reminisced that this was the first thing he learned on guitar, when he made reference to the 'bloke' he learned it from in a Rolling Stone magazine article from the 70's, when Richards was asked "Where did it all start for you?"
My brother never took drugs, but the song 'Cocaine Blues' was meaningful to a number of people for other reasons, including Jackson Browne, who recorded a version of it.
Everything came full circle in '66? at the Mariposa Folk Festival at Innis Lake outside of Toronto. Rev. Gary Davis, who was blind and who had written the song, played all afternoon with his back to a tree, singing blues to whoever was nearby, including me. It seemed like a free concert.
Sadly, people kept on offering free booze, so that when it came time to get on stage in the evening, he had to be carried off.
Fast forward to September 2004. I'm in the back of a van being driven to Halifax Airport from the Deep Roots Festival in Wolfville, sandwiched between Chris and Ken Whitely. We reminisced about the great music from the 60's and... can you believe it?...they were there as well, sitting beneath that same tree 36 years before. We sat so close to this legend, we could almost touch him and I believe Gary Davis sang 'Cocaine Blues', too.
That's the 'joy', the illogical randomness of disparate occasions that link-up years down the road, to make a moment that is magical... when you can share it... when someone else can say "you were there too?"... that's special.
I took a picture of Gary Davis beneath that tree -- and as soon as I find it, I'll post it right here.
Exciting times ahead
So as a teenager I knew of Ramblin' Jack Elliot and how he was influenced by Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, and I knew of Pete Seeger. Even though pop music was my main interest then, these folk performers were definitely in-the-mix.
In September '62, I started at Sidcup Art School, and took Technical Illustration, the same as Mike had done four years before.
Although it would take maybe a year for me to hear it (and that I heard 'The Times They Are A-Changing' first of all), earlier that same year on March 19, Bob Dylan's first record was released. This music influenced me very deeply. And music was never the same again...
In 1966 I emigrated to Canada a week past my 21st birthday. In Toronto there was the Penny Farthing and Riverboat on Yorkville Ave and the Mariposa's at Innis Lake and Toronto Islands -- a whole new world of music to explore. Who could ask for more?
Note: Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones played outdoors in Halifax on Sat Sept 23 -- the biggest rock concert ever in Halifax (50,000+).