When the presenters of the long running blues music program ‘Stormy Monday’ on 2MBS-FM discovered that the late American writer, record producer and ‘forensic musicologist’ Peter B Lowry had moved to Sydney, they immediately made contact and invited him on air. Peter was an encyclopedia of the Afro-American music tradition and soon became a regular guest of the program.
The current presenter Austin Harrison recalls, “I always loved the way he could name drop without the clang. He personally knew many blues musicians and could always be counted on for a great anecdote on air. I always joked when introducing him as our regular resident ethnomusicologist.”
Sadly Peter died after a long illness in late June of this year aged 81, but left behind a wonderful legacy of writing, recordings and research. Born in New Jersey, he originally trained as a zoologist and became a highly qualified academic and lecturer. However, he soon found himself preoccupied with blues and jazz, forming his own record label TRIX in the early 70s and working extensively with UK folklorist Bruce Bastin. The record company was very much a labour of love and never a financial success with his business card listing him as ‘President, Chief Engineer, Photographer and Shipping Clerk’.
He later went on to join the renowned US ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax at the Folklife Archives of the US Library of Congress collaborating on the celebrated ‘Deep River Of Song’ project. A regular contributor to magazines such as Blues Unlimited and Blues & Rhythm he also wrote for the Australian mag Rhythms and the Sydney Blues Society Newsletter.
A lifelong friendship with B.B. King began in 1964 when he was possibly the first white person to interview the blues master, backstage at the Apollo Theatre in New York. As a shy young upstart he remembered the initial nervous encounter.
“Expecting a gentle brush off, he then said, ‘Go out front, watch the show – then come back here… I’ll be yours for as long as you want.’ Thus began a half-century relationship with the person I always styled as the NICEST man in show business…”
Austin Harrison remembers Peter as ‘a gentleman of the old school’ and recalls,
“Gary deWall from the Sydney Blues Society would receive articles and reviews for their newsletter, beautifully hand written and double spaced by fountain pen. Gary couldn’t ask Peter to email the copy and had to transcribe the copy to his computer, eventually buying a scanner to make it easier.”
Peter was quick to form friendships with Sydney musicians such as Bruce Bongers and Dom Turner and share his extensive knowledge. The Foreday Riders were just one of the local bands that Peter took an interest in and he is fondly remembered on their current Facebook page. He also regularly attended gigs and formed a strong friendship with serial tourist, Texas bluesman Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges.
Peter also embraced his adopted country by becoming a dedicated supporter of the Sydney Swans and that strange Australian game called Aussie Rules. When the Swans broke a long drought by winning the premiership in 2005 he was overjoyed and rang me to let me know just how excited he was. He was a genuine fan but sometimes joked he only followed the team because their club song featured a banjo – forever the folklorist!
As he once confided Peter moved to Australia with his wife Robbie and son Julian, largely to escape what he saw as the madness of right wing politics, racism and the gun culture in America. He gave up what could have been a highly successful career either as an academic or folklorist to make a new life for his family. Never one to beat his own drum, he kept a relatively low profile here and often described himself as ‘the accidental folklorist’.
In 2016, Peter donated his recordings to The Southern Folk life Collection at UNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for preservation and research purposes. For those who would like to learn more about Peter his blog Oddenda & Such at www.peterblowry.com is a fascinating and highly entertaining collection of photographs, reviews and interviews with not only some of the classic blues artists but the obscure and neglected.