Upper Midwestern music collection features radio shows, ethnic records
“For entertainment, the boy living in the sticks of Outing, Minn., loved nothing better than hooking the ancient radio up to his dad’s car battery and spending nights gliding up and down the dial in search of stations. With good weather he could pick up Duluth, Fargo, Winnipeg, the Twin Cities, Chicago, Nashville. Sometimes Texas.”
— Bob Ashenmacher writing about Robert Andresen
for the Duluth News-Tribune & Herald, 1983
Robert Andresen (1937–1995) loved the diversity of old-time radio, the regional playing styles influenced by the ethnic makeup of a particular area. But as Andresen got older the radio became more homogeneous, more bland.
Andresen sought to recapture the multiplicity of regional radio by starting his own traditional music radio show in Duluth during the 1980s, where he highlighted his vast record collection and interviews with several old-time musicians of Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.
Now his extensive collection of LPs, radio shows, song folios, and other materials are available for public use at Mills Music Library. The Robert Andresen Collection is part of the Wisconsin Music Archives, a special collection housed at Mills that contains more than 35,000 items representing all Wisconsin musical traditions. A new Web site offers details about the collection, photos of Andresen and the old-time musicians he documented, and a sampling of sound clips from his radio show, “Northland Hoedown.”
The Andresen Collection consists of thousands of records, about eighty reel tapes of the radio show, and more than six cubic feet of papers that focus primarily on old-time music of the Upper Midwest. Included are subject files, song folios, photos, and new clippings on Andresen’s preservation efforts. Musicians Walter Eriksson, Leonard Finseth, Sulo Hackman, the Plehal Brothers, and Otto Rindlisbacher are among those featured in his collection. Fiddle folios and fiddle contest information are also abundant.
Andresen was a self-proclaimed hobbyist when it came to his love of Upper Midwestern music. Today he is considered a leading force in documenting the old-time music of eastern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin and a role model for folklorists working in the region. He was also a skilled rhythm-guitar player who drew upon his love of bluegrass and Scandinavian music to become an innovator, adopting Scandinavian accordion and fiddle tunes for the guitar.
Andresen’s commitment to preserving and sharing old-time music were apparent up until he succumbed to cancer in 1995. During a period of about six months, when treatment was keeping the disease at bay, Andresen used the time to organize his records, papers, and research. As a result, his vast collection of primary materials related to Upper Midwest traditional music is available to the rest of us.
Nicole Saylor is a project assistant at the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.