The mysterious life and music of Nelson.-born Stanley Triggs is the focus of the latest episode of The Folk, a 13-part podcast series that aims to shine a light on the history of folk and old-time music in Canada. The Folk’s tenth episode, “From the Backwoods,” is now available for free at thefolkpodcast.com.
Known in folk underground circles, Triggs quietly amassed one of the largest repertoires of mandolin tunes in the 1940s and ‘50s, and in 1961 released an album, Bunkhouse and Forecastle Songs of the Northwest, on the biggest folk music label in the world, Folkways Records. His rare recordings are considered some of the most important collections of folk music in B.C. history.
What makes Triggs’ story particularly unique is the path he took to get to the label. He worked odd jobs in logging in the backwoods of B.C., learning to play the mandolin between seasonal work. He spent a spell in southern California studying photography, and worked on a tugboat crew in Vancouver, where he began adding songs to his repertoire, performing the coffee house circuit.
When a musician friend recommended he send his work to a rep from Folkways Records, he did without any expectation of ever hearing from them. Days later, in an extraordinary feat of happenstance, he received a call from the rep telling him they’d like to record a full-length album with him.
“Stanley fit the archetype of an authentic folk musician in so many ways, and I think that made him very appealing to the label,” said Mike Tod, an ethnomusicologist and the creator of The Folk series. “He spent a fair amount of time living in the Lardeau Valley. I mean, he was a tradesman and mandolinist from the backwoods. It doesn’t get more authentic than that. He checked off a lot of archetypal folk musician boxes, and he was very fortunate to be who he was where he was when he got that call from the label.”
Bunkhouse and Forecastle Songs of the Northwest remains an audio portrait of Triggs’ working and musical life up until 1961, featuring workcamp songs from his time in the B.C. Interior, to tugboat and sailing songs from his life on the West Coast.
“Out of the thousands of releases contained on the Folkways label, Bunkhouse and Forecastle Songs of the Northwest was the album they chose to release as a representation of British Columbia at that time,” said Tod. “Hundreds of years from now, folk historians will be listening to that album for a snapshot of the music and lives of people in B.C.”
Now 91, Triggs (also the father of folk singer-songwriter Emily Triggs) still returns to his cabin in the Lardeau Valley to “put another shingle on the roof,” and continues to self-release his music through his website stanleygtriggs.com.
Those interested in getting their hands on a Triggs recording can send him a letter and a cheque and he’ll reply with a personal note and a CD.
“I think of Stanley rocking in his chair waiting for the next interesting correspondence to come in, like the one from Folkways label, or the one from me a few years ago, or the one from the listeners of this podcast,” added Tod. “Stanley’s music still exists in relative obscurity despite holding a great deal of historical weight, and I think that’s a shame. His music deserves a lot more recognition than it ever got. But I guess that’s how life in the underground goes.”
Narrated, written and produced by Tod, season one of The Folk crisscrosses the nation with an hour-long episode per province and territory. Each chapter introduces characters both familiar and unfamiliar that Tod tries to give their rightful due in history. These are thoroughly researched investigations on the pioneers and unsung heroes of Canadian folk.