2003 saw the passing of Johnny Cash, Warren Zevon, and closer to home, my dear friend, Chris Biggi. For over 40 years, Chris recorded the music of a very large group of musicians in the New England area, of which I am proud to be a member. It all began in Boston in the mid 1960’s. I had moved there in 1967 to play the small coffee houses on Charles Street and to become part of the very new Boston Folk Scene. There was Paul MacNeil, Nancy Michaels, Chris Smither, Bob McCarthy, Jaime Brockett, Bill Staines, Renee Boghosian Goodwin, Rocky Rockwood, Tom Hall, Danny Gravas, Kenny Girard, Lesley Moore, Diane Gagner, Eliot Kenin, Ray and Pam Clayton, Paul Geremia….(I know I might have left some names out let me know and I’ll add them here.)
I remember one afternoon sitting in the Turks Head Coffeehouse, I looked up as this sailor came through the door – pea coat and all. That was when I first met Chris. He was just getting out of the Navy. He soon grew to love the music that we were all creating. We had many jam sessions at various apartments – mostly on Beacon Hill. Chris began bringing along a small Wollensack tape recorder and he would throw the microphone out in the middle of the room and began recording everything. Some of those old tapes were quite good actually.
In 1970, a bunch of us moved to Newburyport. It was a truly magical place and time. Chris had moved to New Hampshire – not far from Newburyport and set up his first recording studio, which he managed to keep quite portable as well. He began coming to gigs and recording our performances. In town there was The Grog and The Stagecoach Tavern – and then came The Stone Church!
I remember a cold snowy night when Chris showed up at my place and said he wanted to take me to this new place that was opening in Newmarket NH – about 45 minutes from Newburyport. We climbed into his VW bus, which didn’t have much heat, and headed out. He had an 8track tape player in the bus and I remember we had a hard time getting it to work because of the cold. Eventually we got a tape working, but it was really “wobbly” sounding.
We soon arrived at this large granite “church” – which wasn’t a church anymore, it was becoming The Stone Church. It wasn’t officially open until the weekend and they hired me to play. I was the first one to play there. Soon, they started an open mike on Sunday afternoons, and served up a fantastic roast beef dinner which was served buffet style from the bar. This became very popular – very quickly. Musicians could eat for free and have free beer. It wasn’t long before the event which would start at around 2PM, lasted into the evenings. So many showed up to play and so many showed up for the dinner and to hear the music. Well, Chris began recording every single Sunday from beginning to end.
One time, we were all quite drunk, and the tape didn’t sound very good, so Chris took a nail and nailed that tape to the wall. I hear it still is hanging there on the wall of The Stone Church to this day! It should be noted that Chris was very good at puns and used them quite frequently. He was a very funny man. He even called his studio – “PUNishment Recording Studio!
In 1973, Chris recorded my first album – Sunday Mornin’ Hayride. He and I started Saloon Records with that album.
When his parents passed, he inherited their farm and set up his studio in earnest. That was Sunset Ridge Studio, which he ran until he couldn’t do it anymore.
He left us a huge legacy of recorded music – I would say thousands of tapes. Without that, as we are aging, I fear we would soon be forgotten, but because of Chris, our music will live on long after we are all gone.
There are so many stories about Chris – I invite anyone who would like to post a memory or story they have about Chris, to add it in the comment section below.
Thanks to Laurie McCarthy and Pam Biggi for the photo. Thanks for reading!