Been a Long Time (2021 Re-Release)
Rereleased October 15, 2021
Already getting lots of airplay on folk radio
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“Been a Long Time is political folk at its best and will be greatly appreciated by fans who have been waiting six years for a new Kahn album.” — Ronnie Lankford, AllMusic
“Si Kahn has created a sweet and lively collection of new songs on Been a Long Time” — Matt Watroba, Sing Out!
“Si Kahn’s Been A Long Time is the second great CD to come out of the late, great Charles Sawtelle’s Rancho DeVille recording studio this year…. Backed by a luminous band including Sawtelle on guitar, Laurie Lewis on fiddle and vocals, Pete Wernick on banjo, Tom Rozum on mandolin and vocals, Todd Phillps on bass, and a few special guest artists, this is the first time singer and songwriter Si Kahn has been able to record a bluegrass project, and it’s a gem.” — David J. McCarty, Bluegrass Unlimited June 2001
Si Kahn (vocals)
Laurie Lewis (fiddle, lead and harmony vocals)
Tom Rozum (mandolin, harmony vocals)
Todd Phillips (bass, harmony vocals)
Pete Wernick (bluegrass banjo, harmony vocals)
Charles Sawtelle (lead and rhythm guitar)
Mike “Woody” Woods (clawhammer banjo)
Sally Van Meter (dobro on “Just A Lie”)
Tom Haver (mountain dulcimer on “Grandma”)
Anita Dolen (additional fiddle on “Hear that Sound”)
Bonnie Carol (hammered dulcimer on “Dancing with the Johnson Boys”)
This 20th anniversary release of Been A Long Time is dedicated to Carl Apter, whose steadfast friendship and passion for music made possible both this and the original album.
As Si recalls it, “Pete Wernick of Hot Rize offered to produce an album for me that I could afford. He said he would bring in some local musicians who were top of the line but no one had heard of outside the area. On the first day of recording, Pete answered the phone and came back with a big grin on his face. He said it was Laurie Lewis. She, Tom Rozum, and Todd Phillips had just played the weekend in Denver and would play there the next weekend with no practical way to go home in between. Pete had three days of studio work they could do. Talk about an amazing stroke of luck.”
Thus, in mid-December 1997, a remarkable group of musicians gathered in Boulder, Colorado to record Si Kahn’s bluegrass classic. Si sent Pete a total of two dozen complete songs and one half written. “Selecting the songs from the 20+ Si sent wasn’t easy, especially when he came up with more while I was checking out the first batch.”
Charles, fighting leukemia, played on and engineered three songs. Pete remembers him “just being knocked out and resting a good part of the time, but he sure sounded good on guitar. His determination and excellent work gave us a lift.”
Despite glowing reviews, Been a Long Time lacked the distribution, marketing, and radio promotion the album needed. For a score of years, the album has languished as an underappreciated gem discovered by lucky fans at his record table. The discovery of 1000 booklets led to producing a new run of CDs celebrating the 20th anniversary of an album important in bluegrass and folk music that deserves a wider audience.
About Been a Long Time
I never waited in a house built of grey rock and stone for Gabriel Kahn, my father’s father, my grandfather, my Zade to come home from a job on the railroad. But it’s also true that after ‘Gabe’ deserted the Czar’s army in Russia, he indentured himself to the Canadian Pacific Railway, a year’s labor in return for ship’s passage to Canada, swinging a pick, digging with a shovel as they built the roadbed and laid the track.
Did hearing his stories, told in Yiddish-tinged English, inspire me to write the song “Been A Long Time”? I don’t know. It’s been too long a time. But listening to the song now for the first time in many years, I am grateful to welcome him home.
And I never lived in a tarpaper shack in a coal camp. But when our family drove along the narrow twisting mountain roads that led from our comfortable two-story house in State College, Pennsylvania to the train station in Lewistown, past the Devil’s Elbow where legend held that if you drove fast enough you could see the back end of your car as the front end rounded that sharpest of curves, we passed greying shacks where barefoot children and gaunt mothers stood side by side on weathered porches.
Did what I saw then, now locked in my mind as fading photographs, inspire me to write “Houses On the Hill”? How could I know? But listening to the song today, what so deeply troubled me when I was five years old comes back sharply and painfully.
Back when I wrote these songs, it was memories like these that inspired the music. Today, listening to this album for the first time in years, it’s the music that brings back the memories. The very last line in this entire album is “Deep in our hearts where the song never ends.” Was there a reason I sang that line twice? I’ll never know.
But I do know that the music on this album; the music I listen to during my nightly “graveyard shift”; the music I write, sing play with friends I’ve known for years, with musicians I’ve never met before; the music I perform, record, send out into the world; that music is deep, deep, deep in my heart. May that song never end.
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Labor Day, 2021
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About the Songs comprising Been A Long Time
All songs by Si Kahn © Joe Hill Music LLC (ASCAP)
1. Going Down to the Old Home Place (D): Asheville writer Thomas Wolfe probably wasn’t thinking of the “Over the Rhine” neighborhood in Cincinnati where so many Appalachian migrants ended up, but he sure was right when he titled his novel You Can’t Go Home Again.
2. Houses on the Hill (G/2): Back when I was an organizer with the Textile Workers Union of America, I wrote “There’s some things you can count on/Some things don’t ever stop/Like a lot of folks being on the bottom/And a few way up on top.” The old mill towns were designed to reinforce that reality.
3. Hear That Sound (G): Where would bluegrass music be without the sacred trilogy of music, moonshine, and murder?
4. Been A Long Time (G/5): After he deserted the Czar’s army in Russia, my Zade (Yiddish for grandfather) Gabriel Kahn was a pick and shovel laborer helping build the Canadian Pacific Railway. I would give a great deal to have him hug me again.
5. Long Way To Harlan (G): I love making traditional songs part of my songwriting. Here I take “It’s a long way to Harlan/It’s a long way to Hazard/Just to get a little brew, boys/Just to get a little brew” and turn it into a Los Angeles love story.
6. Just A Lie (Am/5): I was just parking my van in the nosebleed lot at MerleFest, when coming from the main stage a good quarter mile away I heard Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum dueting on this song, a wonderful welcome home to a great festival.
7. Tarpaper Shacks (D/2): So many people work their lives away, hoping for their award in heaven. As a lifetime union and civil rights organizer, my job is to help them try to get it here on Earth.
8. First Time Lover (C/2): If reincarnation is real, I want to come back as Laurie Lewis.
9. Dancing with the Johnson Boys (Am/5): For the Johnson boys in the traditional song, “the sight of a pretty girl makes them afraid.” As with so many men, did their fear of women lead them down the dark path to violence?
10. Brown Lung Blues (G): I worked for several years as a volunteer with the Carolina Brown Lung Association, helping workers disabled by the dust in the cotton mills get compensation. These courageous people are all gone now. So are the mills.
11. Grandma (D/3): I will always be grateful to have been raised by a large, loving, public spirited family, with 20 aunts and uncles, all but one z”l. In case you didn’t learn this in Catholic school, z”l is an abbreviation for the Hebrew phrase zecher l’shalom, “May their memory be for a blessing,”
12. Where the Song Never Ends (D/2): After the great musician and folklorist Ralph Rinzler died of HIV/AIDS in 1994 at 59, his spouse Kate Rinzler asked me to write a song in his honor and memory.