Gilded Folk and Motorcycles (1960s)


From Steve Gilford

In the mid-Sixties, we produced a show called "Folk Music, USA". The "we" is corporate-speak. I think the real producer was Fred Barzyk. In any case, I was stage manager.

I enjoyed working that show more than any other during my time at GBH. Traditional music was, and is, a big part of my life. Folk Music USA was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet some of the better known traditional musicians of the time.

One guest act was Mimi and Dick Farinia. They did wonderful duets. Unfortunately, he died not long after in an motorcycle accident but, of course, they didn’t know that the evening they appeared on Folk Music…

They were going to perform "Jelly Roll Blues," a song whose double entendres had amused people for at least seventy five years and probably longer. Farinia was introduced and began, straight-faced, to spin out an ad-libbed introduction about this being a labor song that had come out of a baker’s strike in New Orleans. He said it with such sincerity that I have no doubt that there are still a few people around Greater Boston who are happily passing on this bit of labor history, "Of course I’m sure, I heard it on WGBH."

There was another group that appeared one evening. They were the Lilly Brothers. From West Virginia, they were the house band at the now long-gone Hillbilly Ranch, filling in between the featured rockabilly bands. The audience seemed to be made up primarily of sailors on leave with their pay bulging in their pockets, and the women who loved them.

Scattered through this audience were people who somehow had heard of the Lilly Brothers and appreciated their music , which was based so firmly in the mountain tradition. I had been delighted to hear they were going to be on the show although I was a bit uncomfortable telling them that I was going to have to put make up on them.

Since they always play together and get referred to as "The Lilly Brothers," I never have gotten their names straight but I remember I was putting makeup on the one who wore his cowboy hat resting on his slightly down-folded ears so the hat looked as though it was supported on sidemounted cartilidge springs.

All of a sudden, I had a realization. Filled with the enthusiasm of the thought, I called out to everyone in the room, "Do you know what I am doing?"

When my only answer was a confused buzz from people who didn’t understand why I was asking, I replied to my own question proudly, "I’m gilding a Lilly."

Because I lived on Beacon Hill, (in an apartment I’d taken over from Don Hallock), it was always a temptation to ride my motorcycle to work, even during a Boston winter. If Storrow Drive was free of snow and ice, I could put up with the ten or fifteen minutes of windy cold rather than waiting an equal amount of time on the windy Charles Street subway platform and Central Square bus station — and I could do it on my schedule.

There was a problem in winter, though. My bike, a BMW twin of the type called "Boxer," had a kick starter. When the temperature got down to 30 degrees or below, the engine oil got thick and kicking-starting the bike was hard. Since we didn’t finish work in the studio until ten or eleven at night, it was often pretty cold on a winter’s night when I would go out to begin the laborious process of starting the bike for the trip home.

The solution turned out to be right in front of the building. The air exhaust duct for 125 Western Avenue was just off to the side of the main entrance. Through this duct came the "used" warm air of the building. By placing my bike in front of that duct, I was able to leave it bathing for eight or ten hours in the 65 degree air exhaust. Starting the bike in the evening became easy and, since the duct was in a portico, the bike was out of the rain and snow. It was such a good spot for parking that even after winter passed, I kept parking the bike in there, out of the weather.

Twice a week, Julia Child would be in the studio. On the first day, she, Ruth Lockwood and the rest of her crew rehearsed. They would run through the recipes for the show, and then there was the show day itself. On "Julia days," the studio would be filled with the wonderful smell of poultry and meat being cooked in odiferous sauces that smelled wonderfully of challots, garlic, and a few things I’d never heard of. That flavored air would be gathered up by the air exhaust system and that is what would flow over my motorcycle outside in the portico, keeping it warm.

Week after week I parked the bike there and even on the coldest nights it started with one kick of the starter. Month after month, my BMW marinated in the smells of a French kitchen until my motorcycle was so infused with the smell of Julia’s kitchen that wherever and whenever I would start my German motorcycle, it would give off a unique combination of odors from the finest French cuisine. While I was working at WGBH, I had the distinction of driving what may have been the world’s best smelling motorcycle.

3 thoughts on “Gilded Folk and Motorcycles (1960s)

  1. The Lily brothers performed on a WGBH show called FolkMusic USA. The unions did allow us to keep copies of their performances. There is a historian writing about our TV show. Maybe he can help you find other places for songs. I do not know how to contact him but the WGBH archive Leah Weisse could give you the contact number. Her email is leah_weisse (at) wgbh (dot) org. (I think I have it right) Good Luck. Fred Barzyk

  2. I am a nephew of the Lilly Brothers and helping family members gather recordings of their music – audio or video. Would any such recordings of the Lilly Brothers be available. If so, what would we need to do to obtain a copy? Everett and Bea, The Lilly Brothers, have been deceased for several years. Thank you.

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