Harry Everett Smith (1923-1991) was a boyhood resident of Anacortes, Washington for ten years of the Great Depression. Sounding for Harry Smith: Early Pacific Northwest Influences is a visually compelling oral history-based biography that immerses the reader in Salish Sea traditions and discord to explore the myths of a countercultural shaman whose strange impacts on art, music and film resound from studies of place to beat improvisation, through brain paintings to a Grammy Award for his folk music bible.
"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." - Bret Lunsford