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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I have been very saddened to learn of the death, earlier this month, of folklorist, blues musician and cultural historian of Newfoundland, Peter Narváez. He died of lung cancer, aged 69, on November 11.

He was an important figure on the music scene, as this Globe and Mail obituary describes. He was also proud to be able to say that he had played music with Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Victoria Spivey, Johnny Shines, Fred McDowell and others, and it was his resourceful recording of Skip James’ concert in Bloomington IN in March 1968 that was given official release in 1999.

He was also a good friend to innumerable people - in my case initially and especially in the mid-1980s when I spent three months in Newfoundland and got to know him almost immediately I arrived.

Peter introduced me to the several invaluable 1000-pages-each hardbacks Blues Lyric Poetry: A Concordance and Blues Lyric Poetry: An Anthology by Michael Taft  -  from which I came to realise how enormously Bob Dylan had drawn upon, and must have known inside-out, that great ocean of pre-war blues work. Without Peter’s lead, the huge chapter on Dylan and the blues in my book Song & Dance Man III could not have happened  -  nor the many talks on Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues I have given in recent years.

Peter also gave me a great deal of other material about, and intelligent, enthusiastic comment on, the pre-war blues, including photocopying for me the sleevenotes of many rare vinyl albums that featured Blind Willie McTell - an invaluable help when, 20 years later, I was writing Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. I owe Peter a great deal.

He shared his time very generously  -  at his home, at the Ship Inn in St.Johns (a live-music pub still numinous in my memory) and in showing me rural outposts he loved. He visited us in England a couple of times in later years, endearing himself immediately to our then-small children, and always sent me advance copies of his CDs. (The photo above is of the front cover of the most recent.)

He last wrote to me, as cheerfully as ever, four days after his birthday this year. We have all lost a first-rate guitarist and a distinguished folklorist; some of us have also lost a gregarious, warm-hearted, shrewd-minded friend.


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