That fragile paper tape became my personal treasure. I had no intention or permission to release it, but I felt I had to preserve it. In 1957, when I was Creative Director of CBS-Terrytoons, I had professional studio equipment at my disposal, and one night, the sound engineer and I tweaked the sound quality and transferred it to good quality plastic base tape. Shortly afterward, I loaned one reel to another collector, and then forgot all about it. My career and life were going through drastic changes. I was sent to Prague by a New York producer. I took very few items of personal importance with me. One was a reel of my 1949 John Lee Hooker recordings. My Czech wife and I shared a very small apartment, which required the storing of my older recordings in our cellar. As event piled upon event in our life and film work, the tape again became forgotten. It lay in that dark cellar, gathering dust, for 35 years…

…Until the morning of October 10, 1999, 50 years after I'd made the recordings… Dashing out my door on my way to the post office, still munching on a piece of toast, I nearly collided with an unknown bearded man who was peering at my doorbell. Surprised and embarrassed, he quickly walked away. But then he plucked up his courage, and paced after me. "Pardon me," he began breathlessly, "Are you Gene Deitch? I read your book, 'For The Love of Prague,' and deduced where you live. I greatly enjoyed your book, and read in it that you are a jazz fan, and that you were the author of the 'CAT' cartoons in the old Record Changer magazine. I am an old fan of yours!"

Amazing! I'd drawn those jazz cartoons nearly 55 years earlier! "Let's have lunch and talk blues!" I shouted with excitement. We did, but I soon found it hard to keep up my end. The man was Paul Vernon, British-born, now an American citizen, working in the U.S. Embassy, just around the corner from where I live in Prague. Paul turned out to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of blues artists and their recordings. I was searching my mind, trying to think of something meaningful I could add to the conversation. Suddenly, I remembered a long forgotten event.

"Paul, you may be interested to know that when I was working in Detroit in 1949, I recorded John Lee Hooker in my home."

"What???!!!" Paul Vernon's jaw dropped like a character in a Tex Avery cartoon. He knew that at that time John Lee Hooker was virtually unknown and had only made a couple of scratchy disc recordings in the back room of a Black record shop in Detroit. Any decent Hooker recordings of Hooker in 1949 would be of immense value in the world of the Blues. "D-d-do y-you still have those tapes???" He was positively slathering. That challenged my confidence…Was I conning this guy? Gulping my coffee, I dashed home, grabbed a flashlight and made my way down into the depths of my cellar, in the oldest part of ancient Prague, the center of Europe. There are shelves of jazz and blues tapes down there that I made during my 55 years of amateur recording. And there it was, a battered box of "Irish Brand" recording tape, marked… "JOHN LEE HOOKER 1949….REEL 2."

Reel 2 ??? - I searched again, forgetting the truth, but just assuming that if there was a reel 2, there must be a reel 1!!. I emailed my son Kim in New York, with whom I left the bulk of my old tapes and 78RPM records.

  next page >