Art Thieme was a large man in his prime- not tall, but stout, with a full beard, a gentle smile and a constant thoughtful process going on behind the scenes. Art was grew up in an apartment in Chicago. He became a folksinger and a good ole 70’s hippie. He and his wife Carol took their VW bus and a small inheritance from Chicago to Oregon to open a craft store and live the dream. They returned to Chicago broke, but full of stories.
For Art, every song was a story and every story led to a song. He collected and told stories and jokes that were borrowed by the best, including U. Utah Phillips, The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, aka Bruce Phillips. Phillips became more nationally famous than Art. Art preferred not to travel as much or as far from his family, Carol, and son Chris. He was central to the Chicago folk scene in the 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s. He was there as the Old Town School of Folk Music was born, as blues clubs came and went, as folk clubs came and went, as “Come For To Sing” magazine emerged and eventually ceased publication.
Art made his living as a folksinger- not a singer songwriter whining about his own lost loves or pitiful life, but a collector of musical gold, folklore and jokelore and banjo styles and Travis picking on guitar and history and anecdotes and old songs and sometimes new songs. His few trips to Washington connected him with the Folklore Society, Craig Johnson, Bruce Hutton and like-minded folks. Art learned several of Craig’s songs.
Art’s last gigs were over 15 years ago, as music and story entertainment on the Mississippi Riverboat the Julia Belle Swain. As the boat meandered it’s way down the river, Art would tell true stories, jokes, point out places of interest, insert songs, and generally make the trip a 4 D experience for it’s travelers.
Art’s travels ended as MS slowly took over, but he began traveling on the internet, keeping up with Mudcat Café, folk friends all over, posting photos from his huge collection of folksingers who came through Chicago and staying in touch with as many people as possible. Sadly, MS took Art on May 27th at the age of 73, peacefully.
I’ve had few friends as close, as open and as ready to help in life as Art Thieme. I know many others feel the same way.
One of my favorite Art Thieme lines – “If it wasn’t for time, we’d have to do everything all at once.” He’s also the guy who said of his banjo, “It’s easier to tun-a-fish”. And to mimic Pete Seeger, Art wrote a note around his banjo head. It said, “THIS MACHINE KILLS TIME”.
Gone, but not forgotten. Cathy