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Deadwood Songbook

Volume I

When Hank Harris released "A Deadwood Songbook", he quickly realized that he couldn't do justice to Deadwood's musical history with only one CD. This resulted in two volumes of early Deadwood music.


The first "A Deadwood Songbook" came at the urging of Adams Museum & director Mary Kopko, who encouraged Harris to research and then record the music of Deadwood from the years 1775 to 1910. The result was a CD filled with such traditional music as "On Top of Old Smokey" and "Greensleeves". 


Even during that first project, Harris recognized how rich Deadwood's musical history was and how difficult it would be to narrow the musical selections to fit on just one CD. He wanted to ensure that the musical influences of the various ethnic groups living in early Deadwood were recognized. 


"A Deadwood Songbook II" is filled with that music. 


Harris invited a slew of musicians to join him on the new CD. Minneapolis pipa player Gao Hong offered a Chinese song dating back to 1632. Oglala Lakota College professor Wilmer Mesteth performs an American Indian buffalo hunt song. 


Black Hills musicians Kenny Putnam, Ricky Jacobsen, and a group led by Sioux Falls Spooncat musician Jeremy Gegg also perform on the CD. 


"A Deadwood Songbook II" includes a Jewish Klezmer song, a Romanian Hora song, an Italian melody, Irish songs, as well as Scandinavian-influenced music. 


All of those cultures were prevalent during the early days of Deadwood, Harris says, "It was the true little New York melting pot out here on the prairie," Harris said. 


"A Deadwood Songbook II" is, like its predecessor, funded by the South Dakota Arts Council 

Volume II

The CD is a follow-up to Harris' successful "Deadwood Songbook," which was released in 2014. 


The CDs capture show tunes, folk songs, ethnic music, and other music that were enjoyed in Deadwood's opera houses, bars, brothels, churches, and homes from 1875 to 1910. Harris has received funding and encouragement from the Adams Museum, the South Dakota Arts Council, and the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission to research, record, and organize the songs and CDs. 


Mary Kopco, the director of both the Adams Museum and the Adams House, has been a tremendous supporter of the research project, Harris said. 


"As they say on Broadway, she's my angel. She believed in me to do it and I really appreciate it," he said. "The Adams Museum is very important in this. I wouldn't be doing this without them." 


He enjoys time spent at the museum and said he was captivated by the joy of the people who work there when he went there to hang a show of his artwork. "I remembered how everyone there seemed to love their job," said Harris, who took Kopco to lunch and asked her if he could play a role at the museum. 


That led to Kopco helping him obtain grants to research the music and begin the process of recording the first CD. It was released in 2006 to statewide acclaim. Sales have been strong, he said. 


The goal with the new record was to capture the ethnic diversity that existed in Deadwood in those pioneer days, Harris said, and to collect the music that was a major part of life in the frontier town. 


"There was no TV, no radio back then," said Kate Bentham, the Adam's Museum communications director. "Live music was very, very important for people's recreation." 


The new CD has 17 songs on it, including "Days of '49," a song about the California Gold Rush that was popular as South Dakota experienced its own case of gold fever. 


"We play them true to the song," Putnam said. "You put those songs with old instruments and it just sounds like a different time." 


Harris found an old setlist from Potato Creek Johnny, the Deadwood pioneer who was a fiddle player who performed many shows and at numerous events in the pioneer days, and added a song to the collection. 


Gao Hong, a Minneapolis musician who performs traditional Chinese music, provided a song played on the pipa, a Chinese lute. The song, "Wild Geese Ascending Upon a Sandbank," was almost assuredly played in Deadwood in the late 19th century, Harris said. 


"It's one of the most popular songs from the Qin Dynasty," he said. 


Harris and his fellow musicians also recorded klezmer, a Jewish folk song usually played while people perform a circular dance. "So that was a trip for a bunch of white boys," he said as he demonstrates some of the steps. 


A Native American buffalo song is also included on the CD. 


His friend Jeremy Hegg of the Sioux Falls band Spooncat teamed with his brother Jonathon and their parents to play "Wondrous Love," "Abide With Me" and "Midnight Cry." Some of the instruments played on those songs are period pieces, used in an effort to capture the sound of early Deadwood. 


Harris, a Florida native who bounced around the country as a member of an Air Force family, came to South Dakota in the early 1970s. He recalls learning some old songs from players in and around Vermillion. 


When he joined Red Willow, the other band members were amazed this southern boy knew so many songs from the Midwest. 


Now, Harris said with a smile, he's working with many of those same songs again. 


"Now I'm a, quote, historian, a musicologist," he said. "It's one rung above bar musician. Actually, it's more than one rung. And I'm happy about it." 


Harris, who lives in Johnson Siding, stays active on local stages when he's not working as a "musicologist." He plays with his own band, The Shades, is the bassist for DD and The Fayrohs, and does solo and duo work in the state and region as well. Harris also occasionally shows his artwork (photography and multimedia). 


He said he has enjoyed working with his old friend Putnam again and the world-class fiddle player agreed with that sentiment. "It's been a great project because I've gotten to work with Hank again," Putnam said. 


Both Deadwood CDs sell for $16. They're available at Borders, at the Adams Museum, on the museum Web site, or from the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce. 


Harris said there may be another "Deadwood" CD. 


"Hopefully there will be a number three," he said. "It's a good project. I'm just learning how to be a historian and a researcher." 

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