Friday, January 28, 2011

Busker Days: Craig Ventresco "Margie Medley"

A few days ago on my way home I noticed a new (to me) person with an interesting acoustic guitar setting up at Montgomery BART. It was enough to make me linger a bit. He started right in with some well-rounded, well-articulated ragtime song. And with rag being one of my true joys, I knew I had to stick around.

Craig Ventresco for the last five or so years has been playing at an SF restaurant, I gather with at least one other musician. This night that gig ended and he decided to try his hand with the commuters. Here we have what he calls the Margie Medley, comprised of two popular songs from the early '20s, Margie and Singin' The Blues. Both tunes were written in part by J. Russel Robinson and Con Conrad. In 1919, Robinson, a ragtime pianist and composer, would join the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a seminal jazz group that recorded these tunes for the first time - also in medley form - in 1920 for the Victor label. Margie would prove to be a hit, and in time become a standard that was covered by many including the cornetist Bix Biederbecke in 1927, and later, John Coltrane. Craig is playing a custom made Fraulini guitar.


  1. Jack - this is really, really wonderful. I am so appreciative of the work you do on this project and the fact that you sit down and take time to not only listen to the music of a busker, but to interact with them, record them, and share with us. I hope they appreciate it too.

    This is one very infections groove and Mr. Ventresco performs it wonderfully. Those Django runs up the neck (and one down the neck) are done so beautifully. I'm not sure what the restaurant is that he is playing at but he would make even Arby's a better place.

  2. And I must add that his guitar work on these rags, mixed with the sound of a bustling city underground conjures up images of the Orson Welles/Joseph Cotten movie, The Third Man, whose distinctive score was composed by Anton Karas.

  3. This fellow is something of a fixture in SF. I first saw him playing guitar on Haight St. in the early '90s, tapping his foot on an old cymbal to keep the beat. He also had a group called Bo Grumpus that played around a bit. Brilliant musician, always a joy to hear him play. Thanks for the clip!

  4. Hey,
    Thanks for posting this clip of me playing..
    For the record, I NEVER have played a cymbal with my feet!...just wanna be clear about that! (I do play piano with my toes, of course.)
    I'll send you the cd soon--I'm out and have to order more.

  5. Glad you're enjoying the tune guys. If you would like to see Craig live click on his highlighted name in the second paragraph of the post above and this will take you to his website. He's playing regularly around town. Several times a month he's at Cafe Divine located on Washington Square in North Beach.

    While looking into Craig on the internet I learned that he's featured on the original soundtrack to the documentary about Robert Crumb from 1995. By the way, this soundtrack has a couple songs by Geeshie Wiley, including the one discussed here:

    Looks like a great soundtrack.

    Craig, no hurry on the CD, although I'm eager to hear it. Wondering if you learned the Margie Medley as a medley or if you put these tunes together? It's a great combination.