Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler – in Port Townsend Again

Jeanie was one of my earliest musical influences; I fell under her sway at Sweets Mill where her strong, straightforward renditions of Carter Family songs seemed to mirror her personality. She was a stern advocate of self-sufficiency and yet there was also an aura of freedom and adventure about her.

I didn’t know then about the book she’d written in the 60’s, “Grow Your Own” (one of the first books about organic gardening) nor about the touring she’d done with her ex-husband Sandy Darlington, how she had sung with Bill Monroe and the Watersons.

I got to know her better over the next few years, when she was living in Mendocino, and then she started wandering (with her young daughter Nellie in tow, nothing slowed this woman down!!) to Europe and back to the U.S., finally settling in Eunice, Louisiana with a bearded mechanic and accordion player named Ken Keppeler. They lived in the buvette, a dilapidated shack behind Marc and Ann Savoy’s house. At that time (1978) Cajun music wasn’t popular like it is now, and there were very few folks from other places coming to seek out the older musicians. I think Jeanie and Ken may have been the first to actually move there.

The way they lived was probably mystifying to the locals; they lived and dressed like poor people, but by choice!  Jeanie played dances at rough dance halls with male musicians, wearing her home-made hippie clothes – borderline scandalous behaviour, implying loose morals at the very least.

But as time went on, they became accepted and Jeanie’s fiddling became just like her: strong, straightforward, adventurous, and without much concern for convention.  Since that time, she and Ken have moved to New Mexico, and just as they explored the indigenous music of southwest Louisiana when they lived there, they’ve  sought out  everything from the traditional northern New Mexico music of Cleofes Ortiz to the old-time music of the Lewis Cousins (kin to the Lewis Brothers who recorded  during the 1920s and 30s) to the Native American music of fiddlers on the O’odham Reservation. They perform under the name “Bayo Seco.”

This summer at Fiddle Tunes, Jeanie will  bring us the results of all her musical explorations, and she and Ken will also accompany Antonia (“Tonie”) Apodaca, with whom they’ve been working for many years.                                                                                                                                                          – Suzy Thompson