'This Ain't No Mouse Music': Film Review

This Ain't No Mouse Music Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Argot Pictures

This Ain't No Mouse Music Still - H 2014

Essential viewing for anyone interested in roots music

Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling's documentary profiles Chris Strachwitz, the legendary founder of Arhoolie Records

There’s nothing quite as fun to witness as unbridled enthusiasm, and that’s exactly what the subject of Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling’s documentary has to offer. Profiling Chris Strachwitz, the founder of the El Cerrito, California-based roots music label Arhoolie Records, This Ain’t No Mouse Music is an infectiously enjoyable portrait of a man who has devoted his life to doing what he loves.

The now octogenarian Strachwitz would seem an unlikely candidate for his position. Born a German count, he literally grew up in a castle before emigrating to the United States as a teenager in 1947. His life was changed when he saw the movie New Orleans starring Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, instilling in him a love for the music that inspires the film’s title--music with, as he puts it, “guts to it.”

“I didn’t want to record stuff I don’t like,” he comments succinctly.

He founded his label, whose name is another word for “field holler,” in 1960, with Mance Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and Songster being its initial release. Traveling through rural America, particularly the South, he went on to record such artists as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton (the original performer/songwriter of the classic “Hound Dog,” later popularized by Elvis Presley), Clifton Chenier, BeauSoleil and many others. Recording many of his artists not in the studio but rather in live performances, he helped popularize such American musical styles as Cajun, Tejano, zydeco, bluegrass, New Orleans jazz and, of course, blues and folk.

He scored a financial windfall by procuring the publishing rights to Country Joe and the Fish’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag,” which became a sensation after it was performed at Woodstock. The resulting proceeds helped fund a record store which he still runs, but he later returned the rights after “Country” Joe McDonald asked him to.

Testifying to his influence are such like-minded musicians as Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Richard Thompson and Taj Mahal, the latter commenting that “I had no use for the accordion” before he was exposed to zydeco music.

Strachwitz makes for an endlessly engaging subject as he’s filmed pursuing his various passions, whether recording little-known musicians in out of the way locations or hand washing his precious vinyl records with soap and water.

Although the film tends to ramble at times, it’s helped immeasurably by the wonderful performance footage featuring Arhoolie’s past and present artists. It ends on an appropriately a joyous note with a scene featuring Strachwitz exuberantly dancing to the music of the Treme Brass Band in a parade marking his label’s 50th anniversary.  

Production: Sage Blossom Productions

Directors/producers: Chris Simon, Maureen Gosling

Director of photography: Chris Simon

Editor: Maureen Gosling

No rating, 93 min.