Backwards Sam Firk passed away

Ron Weinstock rbluesw@YAHOO.COM
Sun Oct 14 08:59:19 EDT 2007

>From a post on the post-war blues list and I would highly recommend the album by Firk and 
Delta X that is referenced in the obit.

"Michael A. Stewart, who recorded under the name Backwards Sam Firk,
suffered a heart attack and died on October 11, 2007. Backwards Sam
had recorded as backup guitar behind Yank Rachell and others on
several LPs, and made two of his own for Adelphi records, the second
being a duet album with me. We also produced a guitar duet CD on
Physical Records.

In the pre-war blues context, Backwards Sam is, or should be known as
one of the last, and arguably the best of the "kids" who learned,
first hand, from the old blues players, as they were rediscovered in
the 1960s and 1970s. He was particularly close to Mississippi John
Hurt, Hacksaw Harney, and Henry Townsend, although he played with many
others, and impressed them all. In the same context, using his real
name, Michael ran Green River Records, trading 78 rpm records as well
as building a well-renowned collection of blues, gospel and foreign
78s. That business is likely to be maintained by his son, Jesse.

It has long annoyed me that Michael's first wife, Carol Rosenthal, is
listed as a blues character in Eric's Blues List, for her
part-ownership and marginal participation in Adelphi records; whereas
Michael himself, who provided the musical direction for that company,
has not been listed. Adelphi, by the way, is next to Takoma Park in
Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. The name clearly indicated a
rivalry---I trust a friendly one---with Takoma Records, as Backwards
Sam Firk was a musical colleague of John Fahey, a Takoma Records founder.

Michael A. Stewart was born on September 18, 1943, which means he
died shortly after turning 64. He leaves his wife Kathy, and his two
children Carolina and Jesse. Although perhaps I benefited more than
anyone else from playing guitar duets with Backwards Sam Firk, no one
who had that opportunity could ever forget it. He was, simply put,
masterful. More than technique, he had taste. And more than
technique and taste, he had originality. From his mentors and from
records he did not so much copy notes as learn sounds and how to make
them. What we might call country blues styles. He played old-time
blues as if he was living in the 1930s, as if this was the music of
his day. For him, it was. To visit him was to be immersed in a world
of 78 rpm blues masterpieces, piano perhaps even more than guitar.

He will be buried in western North Carolina, where he spent both his
first and his last years.

Stephan Michelson
(Delta X)"

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