Sounding for Harry Smith

Harry Smith was an uber-nerd polymath deeply entwined in the audio history of the Lummi tribe, original American folk music, family friend of Bubble. A section of the book describes the early history of Guemes Island, including the potlatch structure on the west side and Indian Village.

"This village stood on the west shore of Guemes Island facing Bellingham Channel. The house was built on land homesteaded by Citizen Sam and Billy Edwards. Sam took the north and Billy the south of two adjacent lots and the house was built across them. It was built of lumber and shakes with a gabled roof but in internal makeup was aboriginal. It was about 40 feet wide and over 400 feet long. There were two plank partitions making separate segments. This house was built by nine men who were regarded as its owners. The occcupants included Newhaha and Klallam as well as Samish.

These people kept the powerful winter dance alive, as it was forbidden on reservations and reserves that other tribes were forced to live upon on both sides of the newly formed border. Many other spiritual and cultural activities were also kept alive at this village site. The families and clans the resided (most belonging to the Wolf Clan) gave some of the last great potlatches at the beginning of the last century, there on the shore of Guemes Island."


How can a small-town kid live to become, as Allen Ginsberg said of Harry Smith, “famous everywhere underground”—a shaman in residence for many profound cultural accomplishments—while remaining unknown or forgotten in the places he grew up? This book delves into the histories of Orcas and Guemes islands, Anacortes, Estacada and Fairhaven. Beginning over a century ago, we wade forward into marshy waters for a “frog’s eyes” view of biography, playing up the entire eco-system rather than the abstracted great man.

Harry was composing and conducting symphonic subterranean systems. What kind of voices can be heard? This book follows a version of Harry Smith who digs for the understanding way. He learns from, records and amplifies the voices of others, an advocate for unique beauties. Among Harry’s varied brilliances, it was his ability to listen and see and value and act in concert with the preservation of cultural treasures—those that surface forces had lost or tried to break and bury. In the mountains of scrapped 78 rpm records, Harry heard the patterns of disparate compositions as a choir compiled to sing a new American folk into existence.

Little remains of Harry’s childhood home and playground at the Apex Fish Co. The history is absent above the water’s surface, but when the tide is out, a rock made of rust tells of being formed from thousands of tin can scraps swept between gaps in the salmon cannery dock to land here.

This book offers itself as a meditation—an assortment of pieces that can be added to the incomplete puzzle which Harry Smith enthusiasts have been attempting to assemble. It is one of many studies and does not complete the picture. Harry’s habitat is described as it grows: wild. Be prepared to crawl off trail into understory.



About the Author

Bret Lunsford is a founding member of the bands Beat Happening and D+.

In addition to his own musical endeavors, Lunsford operates the loose collective of Knw-Yr-Own, an independent record and book maker based in his hometown of Anacortes, Washington. He is also a writer of history, author of “Croatian Fishing Families of Anacortes” and editor of “Lance Burdon: A Photographic Journey” and “Pictures of the Past: Celebrating 125 Years of Anacortes History.” He is currently the director at the Anacortes Museum.